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Research in Progress: Ben Bowles

January 30 2015 @ 4:30 pm



Friday 30th January, 4.30 pm

Inside the (Dis)Organisation: Political representation and the Boaters of the southern waterways

Ben Bowles, Brunel University

This event is free, but places must be booked.  To book tickets please go to: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/rai-research-in-progress-ben-bowles-tickets-14533876215

The itinerant Boaters of the canals and rivers of London exist in a political climate whereby their lifestyle is under constant threat from a number of agencies, including those connected to the British state. This paper explores how and when Boaters chose to represent themselves officially and politically in the face of these threats. It is contended that Boaters, who value freedom and individuality as ideological cornerstones, organise corporately only when under direct and specific threat (showing features of the ‘nomadic war machine’ as described by Deleuze and Guattari) and even then often attempt to do so in a consensus-based and non-hierarchical manner. Political organisation, when it arises, is usually a response to an immediate and specific threat from agents of the state. Attempts to impose representational or hierarchical organisation are distrusted, ridiculed and ultimately subverted; it is argued that these formal groups represent an inappropriate translation of systems and processes to which many Boaters fail to respond. Such distrust of formal political forms and an insistence upon horizontal and egalitarian organisation supports the conception of Boaters as being part of a project of state/governance avoidance through personal mobility, as Scott describes in The Art of Not Being Governed (2011) from within a southeast Asian context. ‘London Boaters’, a self-styled ‘disorganisation’ which brings together many of London’s itinerant boat-dwellers, is used as a case study to demonstrate each of these points in turn; from its creation to combat the threat of the 2011 Lea and Stort Mooring Consultation through to the meetings questioning of its ‘right to represent’ in the spring of 2014, London Boaters lasted longer and achieved more than many other Boaters’ advocacy groups. It is argued that this is due to London Boaters’ attempt at creating a utopian participatory democracy on the waterways; a political project which is closer to the Boaters’ desired relationship with others (described as “community”) and with the state (characterised by a partial non-engagement or marginality). This attempt was ultimately undermined by structural changes occurring within the boating community and by falling participation leading to allegations of power becoming clustered with a few committed individuals. Thus it is contended that the political struggles and disagreements which mark any and every attempt at Boaters’ (dis)organisation are not a result of accident or failing, they are a deliberate and inevitable political result of the boaters’ radical and nomadic (in the Deleuzo-Guattarian sense) lifestyles.


January 30 2015
4:30 pm
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