On Solidarity and Mutual Aid with Catherine Malabou  

23. 02 - 24. 02. 2018. Prague, Czech Republic  

Conference Theme:

Catherine Malabou is one of Europe’s leading philosophers today. She has earned her reputation not only from her novel interpretations of key philosophers like Hegel and Heidegger, but also for bringing philosophy into dialogue with psychoanalysis and neuroscience. Among other philosophical notions, she coined the concept of plasticity. This concept allowed her to reflect on both destructive plasticity, which appears in various forms of individual and political traumas, and creative plasticity, which matches up with unexpected events and irregularities of life.

In her most recent work, Catherine Malabou turns her attention to the phenomena of solidarity, cooperation and mutual aid that she analyses both in the field of evolutionary biology and in politics. In these domains, she challenges the idea of natural selfishness that dominates the evolutionary biology and political discourse typical of neoliberalism as well as neopopulism. Realizing the limitations and dangers of the ideology of selfishness, she examines the viability of anarchist conceptions of mutual aid.

The main aim of the conference is to explore the possibilities of understanding our coexistence with others in terms of solidarity and cooperation. In dialogue with Catherine Malabou, and on the basis of her work, we shall project mutual aid as a crucial factor in the maintenance of society and the facilitation of social changes. The conference will be opened by Catherine Malabou´s keynote address and closed by her recapitulation

Mutual Aid: Essentialist Delusion, or Political Promise? (Abstract):

“The biological theory of mutual aid affirms that natural selection, understood as a competition between living beings and species, is not the only evolutionary law. There exists also a natural trend toward solidarity and cooperation among them.

The idea that there might be a structural link between the social and the biological meanings of mutual aid is a central idea of anarchism, as made manifest in Russian anarchist geographer Pyotr Kropotkin's 1902 book, On Mutual Aid, A Factor of Evolution.

The idea of a natural origin for mutual aid, self-management and cooperation has since been totally dismissed by an opposing point of view, that of a natural selfishness, defended by biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1989 book The Selfish Gene.

Today, there seems to be a new emergence of the anarchist concept of mutual aid, as developed, for example, by the Israeli political thinker Uri Gordon in his book Anarchy Alive!: Anti-Authoritarian Politics from Practice to Theory, London, Pluto Press, 2007.

Is there a continuity between the old and new anarchist visions of mutual help? Where is current biology in this debate? These are the questions that my presentation wishes to raise.”

Catherine Malabou