Lauren Berlant

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Lauren Berlant (born 1957) is the George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor of English at the University of Chicago, where she has been teaching since 1984. Berlant received her Ph.D. from Cornell University. She writes and teaches on issues of intimacy and belonging in popular culture, in relation to the history and fantasy of citizenship.

Among other things, Berlant's work has focused on the commons. Like scholars such as Peter Linebaugh and Ivan Illich, Berlant understands the commons as a relational and affective force rather than a property relation or resource. "[C]ommonality is an effect of a process of sensing a virtual collective convergence, and not a naturalised, spontaneous, objective, or prehistorical ground, scene or event." Berlant takes the problem of thinking the common to be, therefore, in part a problem of assessing the sensing of commonality, of figuring the sensus communis with respect to which the world of institutions, norms, and practices must be brought into being, and of thinking the commons as a material space. What are the affects of being in common, and what is their relation to the feeling of belonging? What is the relation of a sense of being in common and of belonging to politicized concepts? What are the different logics of solidarity or binding that represent the sense of being collective?

"The Commons: Affect and Infrastructure"

There’s a romantic story about the common, a pastoral story of nature and human creativity; and an anti-pastoral one of rage, exploitation, theft, loss, mourning, and radical resistance. At the same time there is ambivalence toward being in common, as properties of relationality and relations of property and intimacy encounter each other frictionally. This segment of a longer work focuses on Waldo Emerson, Juliana Spahr, and Liza Johnson's attempts to risk making and inhabiting the unbearable commons, addressing the sacrifices a non-universalist common might entail, including the priority of the human (the persistence of the inhuman, the aspiration to the impersonal, the recognition of activity in all things), on the other side of which is an optimism about aesthetics, and, in particular, an ethics and politics of analogy.