Author Archives: Stefano Morello

About Stefano Morello

Stefano Morello is a doctoral candidate in English with a certificate in American Studies at The Graduate Center, CUNY and a Teaching Fellow at Queens College, CUNY. His academic interests include American Studies, pop culture, poetics, and digital humanities. His dissertation, “Let’s Make a Scene! East Bay Punk and Subcultural Worlding,” explores the heterotopic space of the East Bay punk scene, its modes of resistance and (dis-)association, and the clashes between its politics and aesthetics. He serves as co-chair of the Graduate Forum of the Italian Association for American Studies (AISNA) and is a founding editor of its journal, JAm It! (Journal of American Studies in Italy). As a digital humanist, Stefano focuses on archival practices with a knack for archival pedagogy and public-facing initiatives. He created the East Bay Punk Digital Archive, an open access archive of East Bay punk-zines, and worked as a curator and consultant for Lawrence Livermore’s archive at Cornell University. He was a Wellcome Trust Transdisciplinary Fellow in 2019-2020.

The University is NOT a Commons (Unless We Make It One)

I want to pick up from where we left off last week: is there any value in performing service work within an institution? I think this is a valid point of entry into the conversation about commoning because some forms of service – e.g., sitting on committees, mentoring colleagues, organizing events on campus, and advising students – have a great potential to catalyze a practice that David Harvey understands as “produc[ing] or establish[ing] a social relation with a common” (75), one that is both collective and non-commodified. Allow me to take a step back – Harvey frames “the right to the city,” the larger paradigm within which he engages with the urban commons, as far more than a right of access urban resources: “it is a right to change and reinvent the city more after our hearts’ desire” (4). My reason for arguing in favor of performing certain kinds of service – notwithstanding some legitimate concerns that have been raised in class and elsewhere – is that it is often one of the few avenues we (yes, graduate students, contingent faculty, and precarious workers especially) have to exert a similar right to shape the infrastructure of knowledge production/dissemination within which we operate. 

While reworking an institution as inherently conservative as the university is, into a truly (and not only performative) radical haven is beyond our capacity, the value of commoning may lie beyond such grand goals. Whether we are taking an active interest in the clouding agreements in which the institution engages, serving on a student association, or attending tedious department meetings, I think there is value in engaging in service that goes beyond monetary retribution – it is, after all, of little surprise that we are disincentivized from coming together and to propose change from below. Rather, what we gain is being part of a dissonant conversation that makes the institution; attuning to like-minded voices within it; and contributing to it with otherwise modes of engagement. For example, following Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s lead, through “generous thinking” (expressed in the chapter we read for this week, through David Foster Wallace’s concept of “giving it away”) we are already performing and perpetuating “means of escaping the self-destructive spiral of addiction and self-absorption that constitutes not an anomalous state but rather the central mode of being in the contemporary US” (152). 

I thus want us to think of commoning as an ethos, as ways of engagement through which we are already hacking and reshaping academic (and knowledge) infrastructures that are, very much like Harvey’s city, dominated by capitalist class interest. The university is NOT a commons, unless and until we make it one through collective political action. From this perspective, commoning is inevitably part of our work as scholars. 

Looking forward to our class discussion and to proposing concrete examples of commoning spillages and outliers. In the meantime, below are some questions I’d like to invite you to think about. Stay safe, all! 

  • How do the models of commoning proposed by this week’s reading stand in relation to Stefano Harney’s and Fred Moten’s understanding of the Undercommons
  • Is commoning inherently good?
  • Where do we stand, with knowledge infrastructures in mind, in relation to the Lockean formulation of the fair market (76)?
  • What are some of the limitations of the commons of knowledge proposed by Fitzpatrick, Hess, and Ostrom?