Fertilizing Problems: Singularization and the Guerrilla Gardens at the University of Victoria Nicholas Montgomery

Fertilizing Problems: Singularization and the Guerrilla Gardens at the University of Victoria 
Nicholas Montgomery 
University of Victoria 

This paper discusses the guerrilla gardens planted at the University of Victoria using Félix Guattari's concept of singularization. Rather than explaining reasons for planting the garden, or speaking on behalf of others who were involved, this paper argues that these forms of representation are complicit with hegemonic procedures of classification, judgement and decision-making. Instead, this paper puts forward a conception of relational politics, in hopes of interrogating the procedures that classify and contain processes of political transformation. This paper interrogates processes of habit, recognition and judgement in the context of the University of Victoria, and the ways in which they were problematized through the guerrilla gardens. Protest, bureaucracy and resolution are conceptualized as interlocking forces that inhibit radical political transformation. It is argued that the guerrilla gardens were enveloped by a process of open-ended change or singularization, which seems inchoate because it does not fit within established categories of political analysis. Political theory can affirm processes of singularization by connecting and deepening political problems, rather than seeking their resolution. The article concludes with a more general discussion of singularization and the promise of relational political theory. 

Guerrilla Gardening and the Politics of Representation

On March 24th 2010, a garden was constructed at the center of the University of Victoria, outside MacPherson Library, in the university quad. It was constructed without the permission of the University administration, and without informing them. The gardening occurred at the end of a teach-in that included free food, music, and speakers who talked about the problems of colonialism, food insecurity, corporate agribusiness, and bureaucracy. Police eventually arrived and threatened the gardeners with arrest, but others formed a large circle around the gardeners, and no one was arrested.

Late that night, Campus Security officials and police officers accompanied grounds management workers to destroy the garden using small bulldozers. The plants, fencing, and other materials were disposed of. Gardeners returned the next day to find the garden demolished. It was decided that the garden would be rebuilt, the following week, at the same time: Wednesday at noon. Gardeners began writing press releases, doing class talks, and developed a website documenting the events. The website now has an archive with the press releases, a zine, links to news articles, photos and video of the garden (Food Not Lawns! 2010a).

The following week, on March 31st at noon, gardening started again. This time, police were already on hand. Reporters representing local, provincial and national newspapers and television stations were also in attendance, along with hundreds of students, faculty and community members. Once again, speakers talked about problems of food insecurity, colonialism, and corporate capitalism, situating the garden as a response to these problems. Then the digging began. In the same place, gardeners turned over soil, constructed raised beds with fencing, and planted vegetables and native plants. Police stayed back, watching the events and recording it with video cameras.

The garden remained intact until April 9th. Early that morning, grounds management workers arrived again and dismantled the garden, except this time, they dug up many of plants, put them in pots, and kept them at Campus Security, along with shovels, signs, and other materials that had been left at the site. A fence was erected around the perimeter of the former garden (now a flattened patch of dirt) that read: AREA UNDER RESTORATION: DO NOT ENTER.

By this time, most students were in the middle of exams, and many were leaving for the summer. No new garden has been constructed (yet). Grass has been seeded and grown where the garden once was, and one can see faint outlines of the former garden beds. If one learned about the garden through media reports and press releases, it appears to have been a protest, albeit an atypical one. According to a number of articles, students wanted more gardens on campus, so they built one in the middle of the campus as a symbolic demand for more gardens (Globe and Mail, March 31, 2010; Times Colonist, April 1, 2010). From this perspective, the protest was entirely ineffective: the garden was destroyed, and the University did not agree to construct any new gardens.

These assumptions are reflective of hegemonic common sense about politics, dissent, and protest. The same questions were posed again and again about the garden: Who were these gardeners? What did they want? How did they propose to get it? Was the garden successful? I participated in these events; however, my aim in this paper is not to answer these questions, or to reveal a true reason for the garden. Instead, these questions need to be interrogated as part of a hegemonic regime of politics. The garden was a strange spectacle because it did not fit with the routines of protest and other forms of activism that normally take place at the University. The aim of this paper is not to explain away the garden's strangeness so that its purpose can become clear. Instead, this strangeness needs to be amplified in order to tease out its political implications. Part of what needs to be questioned is the notion that there is a group that has access to what the garden was really about. Political struggles tend to be made intelligible through an account of what these subjects did or intended to do. This leads to a search for the group -- in this case, the group who planted the gardens. Those assumed to be in this group are thought to have privileged access to the truth behind the events, and someone like me is supposed to be able to speak on behalf of this group. In contrast, I argue that there was no unitary goal, purpose, or group "behind" the gardens. However, there were all kinds of attempts to locate a goal, group, or purpose. I will argue that the garden raises a host of political problems that point far beyond any particular group. In order to get at these problems, it is necessary to suspend the procedures that clarify, explain, and represent political struggles in an effort to point to how they simplify political complexity. This simplification is itself political because the procedures that clarify and explain also function to cut off possibilities for radical transformation.

In what follows, I will contrast mainstream politics with a more radical alternative that might be understood as relational politics. Relational politics helps to foreground the way in which the guerrilla gardens were systematically depoliticized through processes of representation and clarification: we are told what the garden was, and this telling leaves little room for the uncertainties and creativity of politics. Politicizing the garden does not mean speaking on behalf of the gardeners or explaining its purpose. It does not mean making it intelligible in a straightforward way. On the contrary, I will argue that part of the radicalism of the garden consists in the way it called into question the procedures that clarify, represent, and judge political struggles. I introduce the concept of "singularity" in order to foreground the political significance of relationality and its connection to open-ended transformation. Protest, bureaucracy and resolution are conceived as interlocking forms of common sense that work to regulate and discipline politics. The garden is significant because it short circuited these forms of common sense, enabling open ended processes of transformation (singularizations) to take place. Rather than formulating problems in a way that could be resolved by the University administration, these processes connected and intensified long standing political problems. This paper seeks to intensify these problems in turn by relaying them into the field of political theory.

From Representational to Relational Politics

This paper's argument entails a reconceptualization of politics. Mainstream political science tends to focus on routines of bargaining, persuasion, and agreement between pre-established interests, with pre-established ends in mind. For example, a political science textbook used in undergraduate classes at the University of Victoria defines politics as "the activity or process by which groups reach and enforce binding decisions affecting the collectivity as a whole" (Hague and Harrop 2004, 3). This definition resonates with common sense understandings of politics that orient us to the relations between pre-established individuals and groups and the way they make decisions and set down principles. Political struggles tend to be conceived in terms that can be measured, observed, or represented with clarity. When they frustrate this clarity, political struggles are often banished to the negative: they lack a clear political direction, purpose, or identity.

In contrast, the conception of politics offered here is not simply about deciding what to do when uncertainty arises; it is also about the uncertainty itself, and the problematization of established, sedimented practices. Uncertainty, complexity, and intractable problems are immediately political, and they are more significant than the procedures that wash them away in favour of decisions, principles, or judgements. This conception of politics is relational in the sense that it politicizes representation and the role of political theory itself. Political theory does not merely represent struggles with precision and clarity; it may also work to problematize this clarity, raise new questions, and reveal what is at stake in simplification. In this sense, relational politics questions the common-sense notion that theory represents practices "out there." Theory becomes part of the world it represents, and the concepts that seem most natural and necessary are always the outcome of past political struggles.

I argue that the events of the garden are significant because they upset the established practices of the University and the practices through which political struggles themselves are understood, represented, and judged. In this sense, political theory and analysis are practices themselves. They can be complicit with hegemonic notions about what politics is, and they can be practices that inhibit radical transformation. However, political theory may also relay the problems and potentials of political struggles into new fields, sites and contexts.

Singularity as Relational Politics

To get at a more radical, relational politics, this paper uses two crucial and related terms: the concept of "singularity" and the process of "singularization". "Singularization" is the destabilization of established habits, procedures and practices, opening up new potentials for transformation. These concepts are borrowed from Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, and Brian Massumi (Deleuze and Guattari 1983; 1987; Guattari 2008; Massumi 1992; 2002) [1]. However, I will not spend time with detailed exegesis of their texts -- instead, I take the concepts and run with them in hopes of using them in ways that do not depend on a familiarity with Deleuze and his interlocutors [2]. A limited reading of these texts is undertaken in the footnotes. These concepts are deployed in order to think the garden as a site of politics, but it is hoped that resonances can be found with other sites and struggles elsewhere.

According to many observers, the garden accomplished next to nothing. It was built and destroyed twice, and the University reports that it spent over $10,000 in the process of restoring its lawns (Victoria News, April 6, 2010). An investigation by the University and the Saanich Police is ongoing, and police have threatened 10 individuals with criminal charges (Oak Bay News, May 19, 2010). Nothing has been institutionalized, and the University has neither altered its policies nor agreed to expand garden space on campus. Indeed, University officials complained that they weren't even sure what the gardeners wanted (BC Local News, April 6, 2010).

From the perspective of the University administration, the events seemed incoherent, without leaders, platforms, or clear objectives. The concept of singularity makes it possible to insist that the apparent lack of direction is not a simple absence. This incoherence, I will suggest, marks the ingress of singularizing processes of open-ended change.

Singularization is open-ended change: it is a disequilibrium where typical processes of stabilization no longer hold. Singularity is a tricky concept because it cannot be located with precision, even though it is absolutely real. This is because singularizing processes make it difficult to assume essences, totalities, or relations "between" wholes. An event's singularity is the inseparability of its relations, prior to the things they are thought to connect [3]. Singularization produces inventions immanent to a specific situation. This is why singularity cannot be discussed "in general": that which is normal and natural in one context can be inserted into another context in a way that politicizes the space, packing it with potential. The unproblematic practice of gardening becomes something else entirely when it happens in the middle of the University, with hundreds participating, without the permission of the administration. Clearly, this garden was not just like any other garden. It could not be contained as a particular instance (a garden) of a general type (gardens). Its relationality, and the processes that constitute and condition it, are much more significant than the garden conceived as an object.

Stimulus-Response Circuits and Recognition

What needs to be appreciated is that singularity is lost as soon as it is abstracted from its situational mix, from its process of becoming what it's not (yet). Processes of singularization are inhibited and contained by the perpetuation of habits, regularities and representations. The conception of singularity therefore refuses the assumption that representation grants us access to the world and to politics "out there." Representations become part of the world they represent, and they often function to separate, regularize, and reify, understanding objects, groups, and interests apart from the processes that constitute them. Relational political theory, in the way it is used here, points us back to these constituting forces: it orients us to the ways in which possibilities of transformation are inhibited by making things coherent and intelligible in general terms. Furthermore, political struggles are not merely disciplined and controlled by forces "out there"; these processes are also immanent to the struggles and its participants. There are always new sedimentations, habits, routines, insides and outsides being developed or reestablished.

From the perspective of the University bureaucracy, the processes of singularization (particular to the garden) were unintelligible: incoherence was understood in terms of a lack of serious political commitment. At other times, demands and claims were discovered, and they came to be articulated as the central basis on which the garden should be understood. They formed the basis of a dismissal of the garden by the University: these demands were entirely unrealistic, and provided evidence that these people were just utopian dreamers [4].

Similarly, activists can represent themselves as coherent and unified, with clear objectives and a linear strategy. These forms of representation work together with forms of perception and recognition that allow events to be classified and understood unproblematically: this is just another protest. This recognition is not merely linguistic or conceptual: it also insinuates itself into bodies, reproducing normalized stimulus-response circuits (or inventing new ones), so that everyday practices and routines become unproblematic, normal, and natural [5]. As we move through the world, we develop a repertory of stimulus-response circuits. These are material processes through which our bodies are inscribed in the regularity of normalized situations, leading to the development of predictable reactions to stimuli: "same stimulus, same response. On schedule. The circularity of the everyday. Training. 'Growing up.' Reactivity" (Massumi 1992, 99). Training, discipline, and common sense ensure that the appropriate response will be matched to a given stimulus: we need to be able to categorize and recognize the world instantaneously in order to move through it unproblematically. Environments are made unproblematic when everyone can move through them easily, according to naturalized habits of thought and action: they become habitats. This common sense is the same mode of thought as the objective, analytical approach of mainstream political science, which operates through continuities and classifications, proceeding by analogy: the gardening looks like a protest, so it can be classified as one -- a particular instance of a general type [6].

Processes of singularization emerge when these stimulus-response circuits are disrupted. When we select a response that deviates from the normalized circuit, singularity is glimpsed in the space between stimulus and response. This gap can be widened, filling it with more and more potential responses, by introducing contingency into the mix -- showing that things could be otherwise (99-101). That which seemed necessary or natural is thrown into question. Established stimulus-response circuits are suspended so that chance and change can intervene. This change is what I am calling a process of singularization.

The emergence of singularity is not a totalizing revolution, where habits, norms, and classifications are overthrown once and for all. Response selection is always informed by the particularities of the shared environment, which is why singularity can never be understood as a general model. The singularity of the garden is non-localizable: every attempt to represent it in a totalizing way cuts it off from its singularity. Its singularity is what makes it problematic, dynamic, and difficult to understand through common sense and dominant categories. This means that there can be no formula for engendering processes of singularization. As Warren Magnusson explains, "the politics appropriate to a particular [singular] situation always has to be invented" (1996, 91). This invention may create the conditions where established forms of response-selection no longer hold: something new is allowed to emerge. We are forced out of our habitats into new processes, practices and relations. When singularizing processes suspend habit and control, stimulus-response circuits can always creep back in, steering singularities towards general categories, or towards the reproduction of the same: "I've seen that before"; "It seems a lot like..."; "That was interesting -- let's do it again (and again...)." The fact that a particular response can always be articulated retrospectively is also a way of capturing the singular process that was opened up; however, these processes are packed with potential, since no future can be perfectly predicted where a growing number of possible futures are present [7]. The aim here is to make this potential palpable with the garden. Read the media reports (or our summary of it at the beginning of this essay) and the garden seems relatively straightforward, a particular instance of a general type: it was a protest, or a form of civil disobedience that looked a lot like other student struggles elsewhere

Some gardeners emphasized the problem of food insecurity, pointing to the growing dominance of corporate agribusiness our reliance on it. Others emphasized the ongoing colonial occupation of Indigenous territories in British Columbia, and the ways in which these territories were being progressively exploited for natural resources. Some pointed to the problem of bureaucracy, and the ways in which it stultifies creativity with proceduralism. Some emphasized the depoliticized nature of academic study, in which students often have the opportunity to learn about global political problems, but never seem to get a chance to connect these problems to everyday life. Some emphasized the monotony and repetitiveness of university life, situating the garden as a creative experiment that modifies our relationship to space. Others emphasized creativity and direct action as ends in themselves, and as practices of direct democracy. Some pointed to the pervasiveness and naturalization of lawns as archaic land use practices inherited from Europe. Others suggested the need for more gardens on campus, pointing out that the Campus Community Gardens had recently been told that they would need to move, with no guarantee of a new location. Others framed the event in the context of campus groups that had been lobbying the administration to dedicate a portion of its unused land, a few kilometers from campus, as a working farm.

After the garden was constructed for the second time, the gardeners began organizing workshops at the garden. An experienced activist presented a workshop on consensus-based decision-making that he had learned after visiting the Zapatistas, and another local activist shared her experience in anti-poverty activism. Three faculty members had agreed to hold workshops by the time the garden was destroyed for the second time. Another group organized an open forum on the gardens, with small, facilitated discussions on specific issues that had been raised, including vandalism, private property, food security, and direct action. These practices made it more difficult to reduce the garden to a spectacular act of vandalism. Furthermore, connecting the garden to these problems helped to situate it as part of struggles and histories that point beyond any particular group, or any particular "reason" that could explain the garden in its totality.

Replanting Common Sense, Razing Problems

The University administration perceived the garden as a criminal act of vandalism. They attempted to position the garden as an undemocratic infringement on a large "university community" legitimately represented by the administration. It would be a mistake to understand the garden as a conflict between "the administration" and "the gardeners," not only because this reifies these groups as coherent wholes, but also because it excludes other groups and processes that were always already involved in this event. Some students were outraged at the events, questioning what right students and community members had to construct a garden on space that was owned by the University. Others wanted to know what the garden was for, who had committed to maintaining it, and who would get to eat the food. Some even organized a Facebook group in opposition to the gardens, entitled "Yes to Gardens, No to Vandalism at The University" [16]. They recapitulated one of the main reactions to the event: the aim of more gardens was admirable, but the gardeners went about it in the wrong way.

In this sense, the "means" were conceived as separate from the "ends." The means (planting a garden) were not justified by or appropriate for the ends (more gardens on campus). This separation retroactively articulated the garden in a linear way. The objective of "more gardens" was back-projected as the reason that the garden was built, conceiving the garden as the instrumentalized means towards achieving the ends of more gardens. If the end goal was more gardens, the means should have been different. This is a good example of linearizing dissection: first, discover a goal and assume everyone who participates has this goal in mind (the ends); second, subsume the planting of the garden as a 'means' (an instrument to achieve the ends); third, decide whether the "means" were appropriate for the "ends" (were they effective?). These steps combine into a linear narrative that strips away broader political problems, experimentation, and any notion of open ended or uncertain transformation. This linearity is also the condition of possibility of judgements about the garden's successes and failures. If a single objective can be back-projected as the reason behind the planting of the garden, then it can be subjected to judgement about its success and failure. By making this mode of analysis explicit, it can be seen as a contingent practice that functions to sap the event's problematic singularity in favour of detached judgement.

In many ways, these judgements were a recapituation of common sense, and they were reproduced by students as well. Many students simply refused to question private property, basing their rejection of the garden on the fact that it was planted on land owned and administered by the University, without permission from the administration. Others reproduced the classification of the garden as vandalism. Others saw the event as misguided and poorly organized, lacking careful planning, a coherent message, and clear spokespeople.

These judgements were also reproduced through media reports and University press releases. Media coverage of the garden was often sympathetic, and reporters even insisted that they fully supported the garden, but their reports -- however celebratory -- tended to articulate the garden as a simple protest for more gardens, or as a reactionary response to a decision made by the University. From the multiplicity of explanations articulated by the gardeners, the simplest ones were selected: the garden was a protest to raise awareness about food security (in general) or to get more community gardens on campus (in particular) (Victoria News, April 6, 2010). Another selection positioned the garden as a protest in reaction to the Campus Community Gardens: it was a particular response to a local problem, with a clear possibility of resolution (Globe and Mail, April 1, 2010). This was all very perplexing to the Campus Community Garden executive, a small bureaucratic entity who had not even been involved in the guerilla garden. When interviewed, Campus Community Garden representatives noted that the community gardens needed volunteers, suggesting that the gardeners' time could be better spent tending gardens that already existed (Times Colonist, April 1, 2010). From this perspective, the gardeners appeared as a naïve and utopian bunch who just wanted to cause problems and shirked the long, patient work of maintaining gardens. Once the event was articulated as a struggle for more gardens, it could be easily dismissed on the basis that the existing campus gardens were in disrepair. If these gardens weren't being properly maintained by students, what made the gardeners think there should be more on campus?

I have argued that these articulations work by selecting particular, linear understandings of the garden, and back-projecting them so that they stand in as its "cause." I have tried to argue, to the contrary, that linear notions of causality and the assumptions of clear objectives work to obfuscate the singularizing processes at work in the garden. This is not a question of sinister manipulations orchestrated by the the University administration in an attempt to obscure the "truth" of the garden. On the contrary, habits and common sense are part of everyday life, and they are reproduced by the administration, observers, campus groups, and the gardeners themselves.

However, these understandings were continually disrupted by situating the garden in the context of political problems. The garden was situated in the context of colonialism, corporate agribusiness, bureaucracy, private property, and other long standing processes. Understand the event in terms of these processes -- or as resistance to them -- and the event is part of much older struggles and histories. Furthermore, there is no group or institution "at the center" capable of resolving these problems. What does it mean to consider the fact that the University of Victoria is built on unceded indigenous territory? Raising the problem of colonialism does nothing to shore up the legitimacy of the garden, but it does call into question the simple reassertion of property and administrative authority. This is another mark of singularizing politics: people begin to formulate problems themselves in ways that can't be resolved by authorities [17].

Formulating problems that do not lend themselves to resolution by authorities opens politics up to experimentation and invention. These problems are amputated through processes of clear representation, such as the attempt by the administration to articulate itself as the legitimate representative of the 24,000-member University community.

Fertilizing Problems

Attempts to explain, categorize, and understand the garden tend towards this reduction. This is not an opposition between a pre-linguistic dynamism and the reductions of language. Language itself is a field of struggle that can reaffirm common sense or problematize it and open up new potentials. I am suggesting that a sensitivity to problems and their connection to everyday life can help to intensify processes of singularization, connecting problems in ways that make common sense resolutions difficult.

A press release written by "Resistance is Fertile" is interesting in this respect. Rather than countering the universalizing response of the University with its own claim to universality, representing "the students" or "the true interests of the university community," it did something else: it situated the administration as a particular group, and recapitulated the problems raised by the garden, implicating the administration and its authority. It politicized the processes of representation through which the administration maintains its authority, situating these processes as part of a set of political problems, and situating the garden as a response:

When UVic asserts that gardeners "impose [their] views about the use of land on the entire 24,000-member university community" they hope that no one will recognize the status quo: that land use on campus is administered and controlled by a tiny group of university officials.

Of course, the bureaucracy is not tiny, and there are consultations. There are proposals, meetings, committees, groups, petitions, and reports by all kinds of people. People work tirelessly within this system and sometimes achieve meaningful changes. For example, there is a petition circulating that advocates for dedicated agricultural land at UVic, as well as other important commitments to food security. But at the end of the day, after 'consultations' have ended, these decisions are not made collectively. They are made by a tiny group at the top of UVic's bureaucratic hierarchy.

What would it mean for the university community to make collective decisions about how we -- as members of the UVic community -- relate to the campus, and how its spaces are used? What would it mean to think about UVic as a colonized space, founded on the dispossession of Indigenous land, and how might we begin to change the way it operates? What would it mean to grow our own food and reduce our reliance on transnational corporations?

These are only some of the problems that are raised by Resistance is Fertile. For many of us at UVic, the notion of collective decision-making is unthinkable: bureaucratic, hierarchical processes seem natural, as if there have never been other ways of deciding how to live and learn together. Similarly, thinking about colonialism as a present reality -- rather than a part of history -- makes us uncomfortable and throws our ways of life into question. It's becoming increasingly apparent that we need to be growing our own food locally and sustainably, but corporate control of the foodchain continues to intensify. The UVic administration is not capable of solving these problems, and no one is asking them to. Resistance is Fertile offers no catch-all solutions either; only responses, which may deepen these problems further, connect them, and tease out the implications they have for our everyday lives. These problems are anything but marginal: they concern us all, and they won't go away. They need to be fertilized, and if they get bulldozed, they'll only grow back (Food Not Lawns! 2010b).

The account above produces a political space in which "the university community" is affirmed as a site of political struggle. Problematizing the practices of consultation and decision making through which the administration maintains its legitimacy and authority helps to foreground the question of land use as an open ended problem, made intelligible by the garden, but not resolved by it. Instead, the garden intensifies these problems, making them palpable, and making it more difficult to perpetuate sedimented routines, processes and resolutions.

The language of problems helps to avoid the reductions discussed earlier, warding off resolution and simplification, and gesturing towards the complexity of the situation. These problems cannot be resolved by any of the groups involved: who could resolve a problem like colonialism? Rather than seeking resolutions to political problems, the garden helped to connect problems to each other and to everyday life at the University. Colonialism, bureaucracy, food insecurity, lawn maintenance, commodification, and other processes are connected through a process that suspends common sense habits and perceptions that pervade university life. This helps to foreground the need for creative, experimental politics. There is no formula for determining which tactics will disrupt common sense, or how to respond to complex problems.

What is significant about the garden is that it disrupted these habituated circuits and opened up processes of singularization, creating a space for new practices and relations. It did this in three interconnected and ways: first, by pushing common sense representations and perceptions to absurdity, exposing them as contingent reactions to singularity and newness; second, by inventing a political practice (guerilla gardening in broad daylight) that side-stepped the processes of consultation and proceduralism through which the University administration maintains its authority over land use; and third, by pointing beyond itself, situating the garden as a response that deepened (rather than resolving) the interconnected problems of food insecurity, bureaucracy, colonialism, corporate capitalism, and politicizing the ways in which these problems are reproduced through everyday, common sense practices. By inventing ways to suspend common sense, the garden orients us towards open ended transformation that is normally kept in check by representation, judgement, and habituated stimulus-response circuits.

This theoretical vocabulary may be useful wherever processes of control and common sense are suspended, and people are forced to make sense of events in a new way. The uncertainty and dynamism of singularity can be intensified by connecting singularizing processes to long-standing political struggles and problems. I hope that these ideas resonate with political struggles elsewhere, and that they inspire others to think and act differently. Parallels might be drawn with the events of May '68 in France, where the reaction of authorities and experts was very similar: What do they want? Where are they going? What is their political programme? Neither the guerrilla garden nor the May '68 uprising could be contained in such simplistic ways. In other ways, these struggles are completely disparate, with different issues raised, tactics deployed, and a whole different historical context. There is a whole nest of traps awaiting any attempt to conceptualize this politics "in general"; however, I hope to raise some questions that might be relevant to other contexts.

If hegemonic processes and common sense are reproduced through representation, categorization, demands, and resolution, what implications does this have for politics? If pre-established goals and strategies end up linearizing politics and inhibiting creativity, how can goal-oriented politics be pursued while remaining sensitive to tendencies of control and simplification?

Aspirations for more gardens, institutional reforms, and other objectives are by no means inappropriate or misguided. The problem lies in the way that these objectives come to monopolize the field of intelligibility, so that a search for coherent groups, aims and trajectories is necessary and unquestioned. It is never a choice between common sense and hegemony or singularizing processes, but a question of their dynamic interrelationship: how do we think these relations politically? Perhaps this is part of the promise of relational politics. If mainstream political analysis is complicit with control, judgement, and the representation of political struggles, how might a conception of relational politics suspend these stimulus-response circuits, and sensitize political analysis to problems, complexity, and singularity? If relational politics can orient us to the ways in which representations, habits, and perceptions are political, perhaps it can help to undermine and contest these representations and the forms of control they enable, and to intensify processes of singularization. If relational politics orients us to the dynamic interplay of processes that constitute, reify, disrupt, and transform relations, then perhaps political theory can participate in politics, rather than merely representing it.

This paper offers no easy answers to the questions it raises. Any attempt to formulate an answer "in general" misses singularity from the start, steering us back to universal judgements and the containment of singularity. This is because processes of singularization are always immanent to a particular situation: they draw on these particularities and combine them in unforeseen ways. That which is revolutionary in one context may be stultifying in another. Processes of singularization are contained when groups, coherent demands, and linear strategies are taken for granted and everything is understood with clarity. What needs to be investigated are the processes through which struggles are simplified and complexified, potentialized and reified. Perhaps what we need is an uncommon sense, unafraid of paradoxes, experiments, and the intensification of problems rather than their resolution. 


[1] Singularization can also be understood as a process of becoming, in Deleuzo-Guattarian terms. I prefer the concept of singularization because it avoids the implication that there is a subject of becoming, or an end-point. Guattari privileges the concept of singularization, used interchangeably with "molecular revolution," in a set of interviews and lectures that has only recently been published in English (Guattari 2008), from which much of the inspiration for this essay is drawn. The second major source from which singularity is developed is the final chapter of Massumi's (1992) A User's Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia, 93-141. Finally, Massumi's (2002, 68-88) chapter on relationality is a major inspiration; however, the terms he uses are quite different. Nonetheless, what he calls "becoming" in "the field of immanence" (76) can be understood as a process of singularization, or open-ended change.

[2] I avoid the rest of Deleuze and Guattari's jargon-laden register in hopes of being read beyond Deleuze scholarship. For some, this will be a massive simplification of Deleuze and Guattari's philosophy because it abstracts two concepts from their much more complex philosophical universe. However, concepts need to be evaluated based on what new thoughts they allow us to think, and the ways they allow us to conceptualize political problems, not simply on their similarity to or divergence from canonical texts. It may be that the concept of singularization fails to register the complexity and depth of Deleuze and Guattari's collaborations, while simultaneously opening up new spaces and problems to thought and intervention.

[3] Massumi (2002) makes the problem of relationality explicit: "The terms of a relation are normally assumed to precede their interrelation, to be already-constituted. This begs the question of change, because everything is given in advance" (70). Massumi goes on to develop a conception of a soccer game as a process of collective individualization (the actualization of singularities) around a catalyzing point (70-88). The garden can be understood in similar terms. Whereas variation in a soccer game is captured and maintained by explicit and formal rules, the garden is open to a higher degree of variability because the formal rules dictated by law and the University administration were problematized, along with the routines and regularities that normally contain protest and university activism.

[4] When some students presented a list of demands to the administration, these demands were taken to represent the gardeners as a coherent whole, despite students' insistence that they did not represent the gardeners as a whole. This process of reification was reinforced by media reports, which quoted University spokesperson Bruce Kilpatrick's dismissal of the demands as "nuts" (BC Local News, April 6, 2010).

[5] The language of "stimulus-response circuits" is particularly useful for understanding the ways in which representations function to reproduce habits. This analysis is developed by Massumi (1992, 93-141), and my own explanation borrows heavily from his.

[6] Massumi (1992) makes the link between "common sense" and scientific/philosophical "good sense" (97). Both share the tendency towards the typical and the general, understanding individuals as particular instances of general types, which then facilitates comparison between these molar wholes. He calls this "analogical thought" (93-103).

[7] "It envelops a growing number of bifurcating futures in a each of its presents, but none is preordained... increasing complication. A fractal abyss has reopened where there was only a hyphen between stimulus and response" (Massumi 1992, 100). Elsewhere, Massumi explains that this field of potential is the effect of "the contingent intermixing of elements, but it is logically and ontologically distinct from them" (2002, 76). This field "is composed not of parts or terms in relation, but of modulations, local modifications of potential that globally reconfigure (affects)" (76). This relational field is not "outside" the elements, but in a "distinct ontological level doubling their substantial being" (76).

[8] Deleuze and Guattari (1987) call this "rigid segmentarity" (210). This form of segmentarity functions not merely by reproducing a hierarchical structure and centralized decision making apparatus, but also by overcoding other groups in relation to the central authority, so they are rendered as interest groups that can be involved in a process of consultation (208-31).

[9] According to an article in the Times Colonist (April 1, 2010), University spokesperson Bruce Kilpatrick was frustrated because "protesters insist on vandalizing university property instead of participating in the existing consultation process, which is looking at expanding community garden beds with the installation of a new garden in the family residence area."

[10] These negotiations date back to 1994 with the proposal for a sustainable farm on these lands, called Cedar Hill Corner or the CJVI lands. A petition circulated during the guerilla gardening events at the University documents this history of proposals (Garden Campus Collective, 2010).

[11] The following argument is developed from Warren Magnusson's (1996) analysis of the State and the "vortex" it creates (1-67). This resonates with Deleuze and Guattari's (1987) analysis of the process of overcoding, in which groups structured into a rigid hierarchy of fixed functions in relation to the State (218, 222-27).

[12] In Deleuzean terms, this is an exclusive conjunctive synthesis: reacting to an event in a way that reduces it to a particular, bounded set of individuals, whose actions could be responded to in a predictable way. In contrast, the garden brought together problems, practices and bodies that are normally kept separate, producing unpredictable effects. This was an inclusive conjunctive synthesis. Massumi (1992) provides a succinct and helpful distinction between these syntheses, (54-58).

[13] This was described in a Food Not Lawns! (2010) press release. A copy of the letter (University of Victoria, 2010b) is also available on the Food Not Lawns! website, with the names redacted.

[14] Deleuze and Guattari (1986) consider a similar form of parody in their discussion of Kafka and his comedic enlargement of the voice of the father: "to augment and expand Oedipus by adding to it and making a paranoid and perverse use of it is already to escape from submission" (10). Pushing Oedipus to its limit reveals "an entire micropolitics of desire, of impasses and escapes, of submissions and rectifications... but to do this, Oedipus had to be enlarged to the point of absurdity, comedy" (10). What Deleuze and Guattari find interesting about Kafka here is his capacity to connect diverse sites where submission is maintained: familial, judiciary, bureaucratic are always seeping into and reinforcing one another. Comedic excess can reveal these interconnections and suspend their common sense reproduction (9-15).

[15] Massumi (1992) explains that sensitivity to molar constraints is the beginning of becoming, or what I am calling singularization (102).

[16] The Facebook group is now defunct, but it was reported in an article in the Times Colonist (April 10, 2010).

[17] Deleuze and Guattari (1987) call this "minoritarian politics": "The axiomatic manipulates only denumerable sets, even infinite ones, whereas the minorities constitute 'fuzzy,' nondenumerable, nonaxiomatizable sets, in short, 'masses,' multiplicities of escape and flux" (470). Minoritarian struggles emerge "when people demand to formulate their problems themselves", which frustrates any capacity of authorities to resolve the problem (471). They insist that "the power of the minorities is not measured by their capacity to enter and make themselves felt within the majority system... but to bring to bear the force of the non-denumerable sets" (471). This process occurs through "the pure becoming of minorities" (471), or what I am calling a process of singularization, in which the routines and procedures fail to capture and direct the political process. 

Works Cited

Clarke, Brennan. "Students Dig in to Secure Future of Communal Garden." The Globe and Mail. Apr. 1, 2010. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/british-columbia/students-dig-in-to-secure-future-of-communal-garden/article1519598/ (accessed Oct. 11, 2010).

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.

-----. 1986. Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature. Trans. Dana Polan. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

-----. 1983. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane. New York: Viking Press.

Food Not Lawns! 2010a. "Community Garden Destroyed Again." Food Not Lawns! http://vfnl.wordpress.com/ (accessed Oct. 10, 2010).

-----. 2010b. "Growing Problems at UVic," http://vfnl.wordpress.com/2010/04/02/growing-problems/ (accessed Oct. 10, 2010).

-----. 2010c. "Students Relate, Bureaucrats Intimidate!" Food Not Lawns! http://vfnl.wordpress.com/2010/04/09/students-relate-bureaucrats-intimidate/ (accessed Oct. 10, 2010).

Garden Campus Collective. "Sustainability Initiative for UVIC: UVIC as a Garden Campus." http://vfnl.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/gardencampus.pdf (accessed Oct 10, 2010).

Guattari, Félix, and Rolnik, Suely. 2008. Molecular Revolution in Brazil. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e).

Hatherly, Joanne. "Garden Protesters' Demands Costly." Times Colonist, Apr. 10, 2010. http://www2.canada.com/victoriatimescolonist/news/capital_van_isl/story.html?id=8764a4f7-c3b6-40fc-a5f4-fcea1057cd5b (accessed Jan. 16, 2011).

-----. "Protesting Gardeners Return to Dig up UVic Lawns." Times Colonist, Apr. 1, 2010. http://www.timescolonist.com/sports/Protesting+gardeners+return+uvic+lawns/2752168/story.html (accessed Oct. 10, 2010).

Magnusson, Warren. 1996. The Search for Political Space: Globalization, Social Movements, and the Urban Political Experience. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Massumi, Brian. 2002. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham: Duke University Press.

-----. 1992. A User's Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Resistance is Fertile. 2010. New Experiments in Foodways for our Colonial, State-Capitalist Context. Victoria: Food Not Lawns! http://vfnl.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/rifzinenew31.doc (accessed Oct. 10, 2010).

Slavin, Kyle. "Restorative Justice Recommended for UVic Students Caught Digging up Campus Lawns to Plant Garden." Oak Bay News. May 19, 2010. http://www.bclocalnews.com/vancouver_island_south/oakbaynews/news/94263979.html (accessed June 2, 2010).

-----. "Protesters Set to Strike Again at UVic 'Garden'." Victoria News. Apr. 6, 2010. http://www.bclocalnews.com/vancouver_island_south/victorianews/news/89517392.html (accessed Oct. 10, 2010).

-----. "UVic Says Pro-Food Activists' Garden Demands are 'Nuts'." BC Local News. Apr. 6, 2010. http://www.bclocalnews.com/news/90000907.html (accessed June 2, 2010).

University of Victoria. 2010a "Restoration of Library Quad." http://communications.uvic.ca/uvicinfo/announcement.php?id=401 (accessed Oct. 2, 2010).

-----. 2010b "uvicletter.jpg" http://vfnl.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/uvicletter.jpg (accessed Oct. 8, 2010).

-----. 2003. "Campus Plan 2003" http://web.uvic.ca/vpfin/campusplan/pdfs/campusplan2003.pdf (accessed Oct. 2, 2010). 


Nick Montgomery is an activist who works on issues of colonialism, gentrification, food and farming, and the creation of alternatives to statist-capitalist ways of life. Nick is currently the Project Coordinator for a Community-University Research Alliance focusing on co-operation and the local food social economy in Greater Victoria. In the future, he hopes to develop his MA work on radical social movements in Victoria and elsewhere in a PhD focusing on the politics of food, land, and farming in Victoria.