ROG as assemblage: initial discussions

In this post James Scott Vandeventer offers an alternative viewing of ROG by presenting it as an assemblage. This viewing allows us to incorporate multiple temporalities and scales in our narrative that will subsequently assist in the evaluation of the squat’s past, present and future. ROG is juxtaposed against extensive ties that do not form direct part of the squat, in an attempt to posit this urban assemblage in a wider local, national, and international context.

 

As we continue to explore the urban squats in Ljubljana, our thinking about the ROG is developing around the notion of an assemblage. Assemblage thinking proposes a way for making sense of the complexity and multiplicity of the world, and about how both processes and forms (be)come together, as assemblages. In this post, I’ll examine several ways that the notion of assemblages helps us better understand ROG and its contexts. This short piece marks a temporarily fixed point in an ongoing, abductive approach to analysis (Dubois and Gadde, 2002). In other words, as a research team, we are iteratively moving between data gathering, analysis and writing; this blog is a temporarily stabilised middle from which to reflect on our thinking thus far. From this middle, we first turn to the connections that comprise ROG itself.

Intensive and Extensive Ties

In interviews and conversations about ROG, a whole range of connections with the squat were discussed. Some of the participants interviewed are ongoing users of the space, some were users in the past, others are affiliated with institutions in Ljubljana with influence over ROG both now and, especially, in planning for its future. Still, these different connections to ROG are not in and of themselves surprising – in fact, we actively sought out different perspectives. Still, what emerges through them are multiple distinct understandings of what ROG itself is. One participant reflects on how ROG is viewed:

I would say that there are two, two perceptions of ROG. Perceptions. One is this, that this is, um, space—cultural space for parties and skate park and stuff like that. So this is one part of it. The other perception is that this is hardcore political space for—not anarchists cuz anarchists are in Metelkova—but more this—people who are organising around, uh, minority issues.

Here there are two perceived properties of ROG that make up ROG: a cultural one a and political one. However, the participant fragments each further: culturally there are parties, skating and other ‘stuff like that,’ while politically a range of ‘minority issues’ might be taken up in ROG. Even if the cultural and political properties are multiple, however, they are more focussed on relations that are within ROG, or ‘intensive’ to the assemblage (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987; DeLanda, 2002; 2006).

In addition to these intensive features of ROG, the participant also articulates a tie to Metelkova, which is physically close to ROG but also another world away. Indeed, equally as important are the extensive ties giving meaning to the ROG assemblage, not only to a related political space like Metelkova, but to other entities as well.

While some extensive ties connect ROG to similar spaces in Ljubljana (or even Europe), participants also articulated the relation between ROG and very different groups. For instance, from their names, the connection of ROG with ROGLab is clear. But as a hi-tech ‘creative hub’ and production laboratory in a small shipping container next to ROG, ROGLab is most distinctly not ROG.

ROGLab: ROG in name only?

In further contrast, participants counterposed the ROG squat to Ljubljana’s mayor and several municipal departments, to the Slovenian national government, and to the European Union, and the European Capitals of Culture (ECOC) programme in particular. In each case, extensive ties constitute ROG as an assemblage in opposition with these entities.

Still, as a participant reminded us, Ljubljana is submitting an application to the ECOC, and ROG is a cultural feature of that application. Similarly, ROG is integrated into the municipality’s broader development strategy and plans for the future of Ljubljana. We can deduce that rather than two distinct properties, in ROG the political is entangled with the cultural.

At the same time, these efforts at defining ROG look to its extensive ties, but specifically to ties that do not constitute the assemblage. Defining ROG either through intensive relations or extensive ties also points to an unclear boundary of the ROG assemblage: some ties circulate within the assemblage, but are simultaneously tied to (or contrasted with) other assemblages at different scales. ROG is a multiplicity of such relational ties. However, there are also limits to the ROG assemblage, as well as the boundaries of ROG. These are interwoven with the past of the squat, and are taken up next.

On Boundaries

While our research explores ROG as it exists now, considering it as an assemblage involves recognising the past as consequential to how the present came to be. Peering into the past, we know that, following its history as a site of bicycle production, the squatting of ROG began in 2006. This generated what might be seen as a heterotopic space for experimentation where difference could be made (Johnson, 2013). More recently, particularly after the 2008 economic crisis, ROG has continued to function in this way. As one user comments:

ROG was still, at that—still at that time [after 2008] recognised as the main political space in Ljubljana. Um, and so it was more, ROG was involved as a space for organising.

In addition to reiterating the aforementioned political property of ROG’s intensive ties, which demarcate it as the ‘main political space in Ljubljana,’ the use of past tense is also important. While ROG was a site for political activity and organising in the past, there is an implication that this may have changed in the present. Others reiterate this view, which establishes temporality and the past itself as a boundary to the ROG assemblage. Prior unfoldings generated a particular kind of ROG, which has undergone subsequent change. Furthering this point, a former user of ROG describes the past relationship of political activities at ROG with NGOs in Ljubljana:

They supported us very well, all the time. And they never asked anything to be paid back for their financial, political support. Every time when we wanted to have signature, we went to NGOs. Because all professors are sitting there. We said, ‘You, because you are a recognised person in this society, you will be the first. Sign this and then all, and then in the end, us.’ Because we are, we are margins in this society.

Here, the participant describes how activities associated with ROG were extensively tied to other NGOs, implicating them in political activism in order to build and broaden support. But more importantly, users of ROG are circumscribed as ‘margins’ in Ljubljana, Slovenia and ‘this society’ (“mainstream society” as perceived by ROG users/ unspecified). The movement between temporalities (from ‘we wanted’ in the past to ‘we are margins’ in the present) suggests a boundary to the political activism of ROG in the past, but also the redrawing of boundaries around a present ‘we’: those at the margins of society. As well, there is a related recoding of the past activities of ROG as a margin. All this points to ways that describing ROG also enacts boundaries around the ROG assemblage across time: it was a space for political activities in the past, and today is a margin, or rather ROG is becoming enrolled in the continued assembling at the margins of society.

On Events

Turning to the past few years, ROG has been significantly affected by a series of events. In 2016, the demolition attempt from the city led to a clash and subsequent defensive closure to prevent the squatters’ removal. Shortly thereafter, participants described how disagreements between individuals and different groups ended in a confrontation and subsequent decision by several groups to move out of ROG. The legal case referred in an earlier post here (https://autonomousljubljana.home.blog/2019/12/04/the-quasi-public-functions-of-rog-numerous-unrelated-and-unknown/) as well, is a significant event, not least for the way it has affected the relations between ROG and the municipality.

At present, there is an assembly that meets regularly and serves as a forum for decision-making. Still, different projects operate for the most part autonomously and without a clear structure. As one current ROG user describes:

This is one of the advantages we have… we don’t need to do things through like these formal processes and, um, uh—there’s really no money involved and we don’t have obligations to any institutions and this allows us to be really, like, straightforward with the refugees and address things in a straight way. We don’t have to package things in like some kind of bullshit project, you know.

The ROG user is directing their feeling against grant-funding and institutional requirements, which often require applicants to structure and ‘package’ projects. But their ire toward ‘formal processes,’ ‘obligations’ and so on might be reasonably expected sentiment to extend to past activities. Previously, the ROG assembly was more widely attended, and maintaining a political assembly with alternative processes was an end in itself. A former user explains:

And for us, it was a kind of, uh, assembly, the political assembly was the point of ruling the space.

Thus, the commitment to processes entailed the realisation of political ideals, seeking to enact an ‘alternative space where a de-totalization of the dominant forms of organisation comes about’ (Dale and Burrell, 2008:278). Nevertheless, events, possibly the confrontation between groups within ROG, have meant ruptures to ROG as an alternative space, and indeed as one assemblage. Thus, the break to ROG generated an affective animosity from the earlier participant toward ‘formal processes’ or packaging things in ‘bullshit projects.’ In this sense, processes of organisation are historically informed and, while space has been considered an assemblage in accounting for the endurance of organising (Cnossen and Bencherki, 2018), ruptures to the ROG political space point that the converse might also be true; considering spaces such as ROG as assemblages also must account for the events that unfold and splinter, fragment or even rupture intensive relational ties constituting the assemblage.

Finally, in both interviews, the use of ‘we’ and ‘us’ asks us to move across time, and asserts a singularity that universalises a particular entity (a group working with refugees or a political assembly) to the entire ROG assemblage, despite the fact that ROG is of course comprised of many individuals, intensive and extensive ties and so on. In fact, also enrolled in the multiplicity of ROG is the materiality of the squat itself. The role of materiality in constituting ROG as an assemblage deserves further scrutiny, and we plan to take this up in further analysis. In addition to materiality, we as researchers should acknowledge our role as a part of making ROG, and as enrolled in the ROG assemblage. In this sense, we are not removed from the research process, but are emphatically in the middle of it. Indeed, a reflexive lens on this subject is worth further reflection moving forward.

To conclude, here I have introduced and begun to develop a different way for examining ROG by thinking about it as an assemblage. Drawing on some initial analysis, I have pointed to the kinds of relations and ties that both intensively and extensively constitute the ROG assemblage, to the challenge of demarcating the boundaries of ROG, and to the importance of events in making sense of the unfoldings of ROG. This way of thinking is helping us make sense of ROG as a squat in Ljubljana by drawing its different and disparate elements together through the notion of assemblage. This stands in contrast to ideas such as place, network, or community that might be assigned to ROG, and we would argue offers a better way for exploring and understanding the alterity that exists in ROG, how it came to be, and what might unfold there in the future.

By James Scott Vandeventer

References

Cnossen, B. and Bencherki, N., 2019. The role of space in the emergence and endurance of organizing: How independent workers and material assemblages constitute organizations. Human Relations 72(6):1057-1080.

Dale, K. and Burrell, G., 2008. The spaces of organisation and the organisation of space: Power, identity and materiality at work. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

DeLanda M., 2002. Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy. New York: Continuum.

DeLanda M., 2006. A New Philosophy for Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity. New York: Continuum.

Deleuze G. and Guattari F., 1987. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Dubois, A. and Gadde, L.E., 2002. Systematic combining: an abductive approach to case research. Journal of Business Research 55(7):553-560.

Johnson P., 2013. The geographies of heterotopia. Geography Compass 7(11):790-803.

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