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Sunday -- 05.12.13 -- Currency = Territory -- A discussion and launch of Issue #4 of Scapegoat: Architecture / Landscape / Political Economy

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Sunday -- 05.12.13 -- Currency = Territory -- A discussion and launch of Issue #4 of Scapegoat: Architecture / Landscape / Political Economy

0. About Sunday Night
1. About Currency = Territory
2. About Scapegoat: Architecture / Landscape / Political Economy
3. Issue 04 - Editorial Note
4. Solidarity with Workers/Students/Strikers of Cooper Union

0. About Sunday Night

What: Discussion, Launch, and Potluck
When: Sunday May 12th 7:00pm
Where: 16 Beaver Street, 4th Floor
Who: Free and open to all, please bring some food and beverage to share

The question of money and our ability to outlive it, remains central to many efforts ongoing in the city to orient towards other forms of collective life and subsistence.

This Sunday night, we would like to invite all interested to a discussion organized with the editors and some of the contributors of the Toronto based journal Scapegoat. Their latest issue entitled Currency is an effort to bring together different perspectives which gather around notions of currency.

People are invited to bring some food or something to drink for the evening.

Please note:
For those interested in discussing the possibilities of outliving money. On Monday afternoon, at 4pm, we will convene an informal conversation with George Caffentzis who has, among various inquiries, devoted a large part of his work on the philosophy of money. More details forthcoming.

1. About Currency = Territory

Currency = Territory

Scapegoat: Architecture / Landscape / Political Economy

launch of issue 04—Currency

w/ issue editors:
Adrian Blackwell
Chris Lee

& Scapegoat contributors:
Steven Chodoriwsky
Jack Henrie Fisher
Cristina Goberna
Urtzi Grau
Andrew Herscher
Nasrin Himada
Alessandra Renzi
Paige Sarlin

This launch event will be a gathering of past and present contributors and friends of Scapegoat to discuss the question of currency's relationship to the production (and design) of space.

At our recent Boston launch, political economist, Anush Kapadia, suggested that currency was fundamentally relational, in such a way that any attempt to ground it in things – such as labor or land – was nostalgic. In response to this proposition, we would like to continue to question the issue’s hypothesis that currency has a special relationship to territory at both the origin of the capitalist money form and in the present moment. Modern currencies were founded in three intertwined spatial dimensions of primitive accumulation: first in the capital accumulated through the forcible seizure of labour and resources under colonialism, second in the bounding of sovereign territories as the guarantee of new national currencies, and finally in the private enclosures of common lands. Today, we are witnessing the becoming currency of territory within our neoliberal period of financialization. So what interests us is not that the value of currency is firmly based in land, but rather the way in which the increasing immateriality and relationality of property has provoked our current financial and existential insecurities.

To approach this question and unfold its implications for design practice, we are asking a number of contributors to reflect on this question through their own contributions to Scapegoat.

In preparation for the meeting please read the issue’s “Editorial Note” (pasted below) and the opening feature, “Fabrica Mundi: Making the World by Drawing Borders”, by Sandro Mezzadra & Brett Nielson, which we hope will serve as a start for our discussion.

2. About Scapegoat

SCAPEGOAT is an independent journal focusing on the relationship between architecture, landscape architecture and political economy. The journal examines the links between capitalism and the built environment, addressing the power relations that structure space, the exploitation of labor and resources, and the uneven distribution of environmental risks and benefits. Since 2009, Scapegoat has examined foundational themes of spatial design including: PROPERTY, SERVICE, MATERIALISM, REALISM and CURRENCY.

3. Issue 04—Currency, editorial note:

Currency is structured by a fundamental contradiction between its necessary circulation and its stubborn foundation in sovereign territories. On the one hand, it is designed to represent value and facilitate its exchange in standardized, fungible units; on the other, its relative scarcity generates a strong incentive to hoard it, withdrawing and storing its value, converting it into fixed assets such as property whose existence relies on the same institutions of coercion that maintain national borders.

Fiat currencies, the current hegemonic form of money, while not backed by material commodities, derive their legitimacy primarily from the power of states over and within national territories. Société Réaliste remind us that the word mark, in the Deutschemark, has roots in the Gothic word marka, for “sign of a frontier.” This suggests that the national currencies that we are familiar with are at once completely abstract—special commodities containing only exchange value providing a perfect break between spheres of production and consumption—and coextensive with the very material space that the state’s military force secures.

Today’s globalized capitalism only exacerbates this paradox. The ascendency of finance capital in North America and Europe has created a condition where the accumulation of capital is based almost purely on speculation, and money is multiplied through its circulation. At the same time, the struggle to secure the territories and bodies that guarantee it has become ever more desperate as civilian spaces have been more and more militarized. The result has been an increasingly complex space of value, where the borders that produce its distinctions are no longer located at a nation’s edges, but rather lie both within and beyond it.

The diverse contributions to Scapegoat’s fifth issue, Currency, investigate these contradictory tendencies within the spatiality of currency and present ways that they can be resisted. We follow a line that runs from the material to the immaterial, exploring divergent scales and topologies in the process.


We could say that currency is land that has become mobile. As such, it is no accident that the origins of what we commonly understand as money, lie in precious metals such as gold, silver, and copper. There is a striking coincidence in the emergence of two important forms of general equivalent during the primitive accumulation of capitalism: currency and maps. As Anna Artaker shows in her project World Map, it is the Spanish extraction of silver from South America using slave labour that fuels what Giovanni Arrighi has called the first systemic cycle of capitalism in the sixteenth century. The strong relation to land and territory remains in our system of national and supra-national fiat currencies. The growth imperative inherent to naturally and artificially scarce representations of value drives the expansion of empires and states. Money, through tax obligations, becomes the reification of a sovereign claim to territory and the interpellation of a citizenry.

Local Currency

Local is understood here as a relative term—the articulation of a minority counterposition. There are innumerable historical and contemporary instances of alternative forms of money, from the siege of Leiden and anti-fascist Spain, to Brixton and Greece. The creation of currency is a political power—an apparatus that sometimes appears as a prefigurative tool, the immediate social reification of exodus, and at other times, an arbitrary disciplinary machine, standardizing desire and incentivizing conformity.


The voracious process of urbanization that dominates and transforms our planet is a capitalist process, historically tied to its long cycles of alternation between industrialization and financialization. However, city building has an especially close relationship to the second of these moments: cities are built as speculative instruments. While they appear solid and material, they are built as vehicles of investment. The liquification of urban space lies at the origins of the modern infrastructural city in Baron Haussmann’s Paris. If neoliberalism is the name we give to the most recent moment of financialization, then today we can see the virtual superimposition of these two concepts in the explosion of global urbanization over the last four decades. Nowhere has this appeared more clearly than in the most recent financial crisis whose roots lie in the predatory lending practices of the subprime mortgage.

Recovered Spaces

Urban space is also a site of struggle against financialization. What if we exit the violence of private debt that current monetary relations produce? One of the most powerful examples of resistance to urban neoliberalism in the new millennium is the Argentinian recovered factories movement, in which workers seized the means of production, transforming sites of exploitation, into horizontal workplaces and social centres. This move, which appears to North Americans as an almost magical impossibility, has to be understood as a practical and justifiable action. More recent examples of recovery are prefigurative in other ways: fromthe assertion that the production of space need not be profitable in a narrow monetary sense, as in the case of the cooperative transformation of the former industrial complex ExRotaprint in Berlin, to the appropriation not of the obsolete spaces of industry, but of a vacant space of financial speculation in Milan’s Macao.

Informal Exchange

Fernand Braudel argues that markets are institutions of material exchange, over which capitalism has no special purchase. Markets have existed for millennia and they will reappear with the emergence of future modes of production. Even in our time, markets exist that have escaped the collusion of governments and financial capital that Braudel names the anti-market. These informal exchanges may or may not involve money, but in either case they exceed the logic of mere equivalency and reward their participants with “social and cultural wealth” in addition to a means of survival in an economy that excludes them. Informality encompasses half of the world’s wealth, and it explodes at many scales, from bartering between neighbours, to the urban markets within emerging metropoles, to the governance and provision of infrastructure of these cities themselves.

Information Currents

If money is both a pure sign and a pure number, then we need to understand currency as a system of information that circulates through the social body. Through this lens, other informational currents as varied as soil, data, and dna appear to us as valuable currencies as well. While these systems have also been colonized by capital, they are not overdetermined by it in the way that money is, and for that reason they remain crucial sites of contestation and experimentation. It is precisely systems of information technology and bio-science that sit at the forefront of the New Economy, and it is these disciplines with the potential to promote the increased complexity of global ecosystems that are constantly standardizing differences, constructing each of these exchange systems under the model of money as general equivalent.

Affective Circuits

There are of course forms of currency beyond money: there are other ways that value circulates. People exchange many things that exceed and elude quantification in dollars and cents. Unlike the abstract social relations that are structured by cash, affective exchanges are qualitative, relying on their singularity for value. Affect circulates as unquantifiable measures of happiness, love, anger, pleasure, and community, providing us with a sense of meaning. Within this issue, contributors examine the relations of mutual aid that emerge in moments of crisis, the value that comes through spiritual practice, and the joy of bodies in motion, set free from purely disciplinary technologies. Each of these affective expressions is a resistance to the cold indifference that currency holds over us, while it silently structures and sustains absolutely unequal relations of power.


4. Solidarity with Worker/Students/Strikers of Cooper Union

On the subject of money. We wrote for the last meeting about the plans of charging tuition at Cooper Union and the struggles against this and other attacks in institutions of education in New York and globally.

Since Wednesday morning, students have occupied the president's office (currently being threatened for "undermining campus safety").

This is a statement of solidarity with this sit-in and their call for the president of the college to step down. In fact, the entire board should step down.

There has, in this period, been talk to pursue this matter legally and/or to resolve these decisions through some economic maneuvering. But what is clear about this case, as with so many other "austerity measures" and cuts being justified or rationalized today is that all of these are based on a political exigency and not simply miscalculation, bad management, incompetence or disaffirmation of legal processes or responsibilities.

The decision is first and foremost a political decision. And it uses a particular idea of economic viability (everything reduced to an exchangeable good or service on a manipulated marketplace which is underwritten by finance/debt, growth and profit model) as the basis of all decision making. All the while, through governance of institutions, financial realities are put in place to make this idea of economic viability, the only available option; namely to grow, to compete, to further monetize and financialize. This is neoliberalism 101, and neoliberalism is a political program for restoring and securing the power of the wealthy: call them the bourgeoisie, call them the vectoralist class, call them capitalists, the 1% or the .1% and their lackeys.

In our Continental Drift seminars 8 years ago now, Brian Holmes once characterized neoliberalism as constructivist. By constructivist, he described that from its origins, neoliberalism required the bringing into being of a complex arrangement of legal measures, rules, standards, institutions, discourses, procedures - which together construct a world - which together reflect and reify those same ideas/values. That such processes can merely be resisted on technical grounds may postpone the process, but without addressing, understanding, questioning, and establishing this disagreement on political terms the door is left open for further enclosures.

That a president of a school founded on the idea of returning the surplus wealth back to a common good, could find the goals of a college based on free education commensurate with the following statement (which was quoted from a leaked boardroom meeting) is highly revealing:
"I resonate very much to future-oriented thinking about higher education. I assure you that I will be guiding the institution to embrace these technologies and we’re not going to be trapped in the past. I think if we get over this hump there will be so much opportunity… I think we can lead… We don’t have a global brand. We’ve got to build that global brand."

One can't help but ask, "Just what is this future? And what do you mean by brand? Are you the president of a college or a shoe company? "

This ideology knows no bounds between a private and public, for-profit and not-for-profit, civic or competitive, something useful and something sellable, its all the same, all money, all exchange.

A final note about the imaginary - A simple visit to Astor place is very revealing for understanding the future these 'benefactors' and 'stuards' have in mind for the college: a 'luxury residential' building and a downtown-any-city-corporate-america-glass-office, both of which have been built on land sold by Cooper Union in the last years. Turn the village into middle-of-nowhere-corporate-anywhere-welcome-those-who-can-afford-it-who-knows-those-who-cannot is the idea here. And it must be said, this kind of 'leadership' has been there even while the college has remained free. And so whatever struggle ensues or is unfolding, one must recognize that even when the school has been free, it has not been open enough and not connected enough to the city.

How can that be changed? What kinds of solidarities can emerge? One potential beyond the networking between students of other universities facing cuts or even loss of accreditation (in the case of Medgar Evers College) is to also look around at struggles in the neighborhood. It has recently been revealed that the college may be aiding speculators (who have long sought to destroy the former CHARAS/El Bohio community center and turn it into some money making operation) by endorsing their 'turn a community center and former public school into a pay $1,500 per room dorm scheme'. This is an active struggle being resisted by people in the city and also implicates the college.

If the outcome of any political struggle is determined by the community that it can call into being or open up to, then among the many questions which stand out, is how might this or any student based struggle generalize and open up to those who don't yet identify with their struggle as a common one?

This question may not have to be asked by the students of Cooper Union, but for everyone else who feels solidarity and yet has not found a way to make that feeling actionable.

16 Beaver Group
16 Beaver Street, 4th fl.
New York, NY 10004

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