If genuine political activity can only be undertaken by citizens in the public sphere in a nation-state, what of stateless people today – asylum seekers and refugees cut adrift on the high seas? This is what is at stake in Hannah Arendt’s political theory of necessity. This article reconsiders Arendt’s notion of the Greek oikos (household) as the sphere of necessity with the aim of challenging the idea that there is a condition of necessity or mere subsistence, where life is reduced to satisfying basic biological needs. For Arendt, the Greek oikos is the model that provides the inspiration for her theory because necessity activities were kept quite separate from action in the polis. The ordinary and the undistinguished happen in the oikos and its equivalent, with the polis being reserved for extraordinary acts done for glory without any regard for life. The exclusionary nature of this theory of the polis as action has, at best, been treated with kid gloves by Arendt’s commentators. With reference to Heidegger on the polis and Agamben’s notion of oikonomia, I endeavour to show that the so-called ordinary is embedded in a way of life that is extraordinary and the key to grasping humanness.
This paper explores the Shanghai 2010 World Expo to show how spectacle serves a governing function of the Chinese developmental state. I introduce soil exegesis as a method to excavate sedimented power relations of spectacle, undergirding the expo’s presentation. This approach investigates how spectacle is a state-territorializing project and pedagogical venture that relies on and denies the state socialist-era’s waste, to produce a ‘new nature’ and perform socio-technical management of crisis and crowds. Dynamic rearrangement of soil quality and composition facilitated the urban redevelopment zone of sustainable futures, while interactive-technocratic environments inserted visitor bodies into expo surveillance systems and infrastructure without reference to the embedded political ecology of the mass event within Shanghai and beyond. The article concludes by considering ethical legacies of the event and the ways ‘sustainable spectacle’ operates through waste administration and environmental performance that ‘greenwash’ the socialist past and obstruct other governing arrangements.
In this article, I explore a possible ‘conversation’ between a leading African political sociologist, Peter P. Ekeh, in his theory of ‘two publics’, and the late French philosopher, historian and social theorist, Michel Foucault, in his theory of governmentality. I examine the ‘lingering effects of colonialism’ and point to how Ekeh’s insight and its usefulness for examining the politico-cultural consequences of colonialism in terms of the conduct of conduct in the public realm can be further enriched by relating it to the deeply penetrating insight on the nature of power and domination articulated through the concept of governmentality and sovereign power. The paper concludes that Ekeh’s thesis is particularly suitable for interrogating governmentality and its useful insights for understanding public life in Africa because, like Foucault’s theory of governmentality, it is grounded on a historical account of contemporary processes of socio-political and economic configuration.
This article offers a reading of internet-based activism or ‘hacktivism’ as a phenomenon that cannot be confined to the instrumental use of information technologies. It focuses on a subset of hacktivism – the distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attack for political ends – that aims at making an internet host unavailable to its intended users. Since the early 2000s these attacks have been increasingly conducted by means of botnets – networks of infected computers that send bogus requests to a target website without the consent of their users. The capacity of botnets to engender a more-than-human politics is analyzed from two distinct theoretical angles. First, drawing from Deleuze and Guattari, the hacktivist DDoS is discussed as an assemblage of signifying and a-signifying components, voluntary and involuntary actions. Second, Gilbert Simondon’s notions of transindividuation and transduction allow for a conceptualization of hacktivism as a sociotechnical assemblage with a high degree of indetermination.
Biennials – periodic, independent and international exhibitions surveying trends in visual art – have with startling speed become key nodes in linking production, distribution and consumption of contemporary art. Cultural production and consumption have been typically separated in research, neglecting phenomena, like biennials, sitting in between. Biennials have become, however, key sites of both the production of art’s discourse and where that discourse translates into practices of display and contexts of appreciation. They are, this article argues, key sites of art’s symbolic production. Symbolic production is what makes a work, an artist, or even a genre visible and relevant, providing its sense in a system of classifications and, in an exhibition like a biennial, literally giving it a place in the scene. This article proposes a cultural analysis of biennials, focusing on the Venice Biennale, founded in 1895 and the first of the genre, through which we can trace biennials’ rise and transformations.
Although the cognitive neurosciences are currently conducting research to determine the brain networks that are implicated in the production of ‘earworms’, my project seeks to address the technical nature of these abstract parasites that hears their spontaneous irruption in thought as both a product and source of contemporary capitalism’s aim to draw value from involuntary nervous activities. In this respect, I approach the earworm from a deliberately speculative perspective in order to conceptualize its appearance as a technical matter expressive of the way historically ‘useless thinking’ (daydreaming, mind-wandering) is being imaginatively recuperated as a passive technology of the self. However, the earworm is a peculiar case of useless thinking, for its redundancy not only implicates it in the broader process of recuperation, but seems to realize a fatal tendency in sonic technics in ways that at once rely on, advance and disturb contemporary capitalism’s encroachment on human cognitive capacities.
The paper starts by identifying dynamic stabilization as a defining feature of modern societies. This term refers to the fact that such a society requires (material) growth, (technological) augmentation and high rates of (cultural) innovation in order to reproduce its structure and to preserve the socioeconomic and political status quo. The subsequent sections explore the mechanisms and consequences of this mode of social reproduction, proceeding in three steps. First, three key aspects or ‘motors’ of dynamization are identified, namely the mechanisms of (socio-economic) appropriation, (socio-cultural) acceleration and (socio-political) activation. In the second step, we argue that this ‘Triple-A-Mode’ of dynamic stabilization necessarily entails a logic of incessant escalation which eventually threatens to undermine itself, leading to a multifaceted process of destabilization. Unmistakable signs of this can be seen in the current financial, democratic, ecological and psychosocial crises. The third and last part briefly and very preliminarily sketches out the possible contours of a ‘post-growth’ society which could move beyond the current mode of dynamic stabilization.
This article focuses on the interrelationship of law and life in human rights. It does this in order to theorize the normative status of contemporary biopower. To do this, the case law of Article 2 on the right to life of the European Convention on Human Rights is analysed. It argues that the juridical interpretation and application of the right to life produces a differentiated governmental management of life. It is established that: 1) Article 2 orients governmental techniques to lives in order to ensure that both deprivation and protection of lives is lawful; 2) A proper application of Article 2 grounds itself on a proper discrimination of lives which causes Article 2 to be applied universally but not uniformly to all juridical subjects; 3) The jurisprudence of Article 2 is theoretically appreciable only in a ‘politics of life’. Finally, the article ends with a plea to analyse other fundamental human rights in the context of ‘biopolitical governmentality’.
This article suggests that Facebook embodies a new logic of capitalist governance, what has been termed the ‘social logic of the derivative’. The logic of the derivative is rooted in the now dominant financial level of the capitalist economy, and is mediated by social media and the algorithmic processing of large digital data sets. This article makes three precise claims: First, that the modus operandi of Facebook mirrors the operations of derivative financial instruments. Second, that the algorithms that Facebook uses share a genealogy with those of derivative financial instruments – both are outcomes of the influence of the ‘cyber sciences’ on managerial practice in the post-war years. Third, that the future potential of Facebook lies in its ability to apply the logic of derivatives to the financial valuation of ordinary social relations, thus further extending the process of financialization of everyday life.
This article elaborates a theoretical framework for making sense of Tibetans in Tibet who live as ‘exiles in their own homeland’. Placing questions of mobility at the centre of anthropological approaches to diaspora, it subjects ‘the fact of movement’ to critical scrutiny. In so doing it calls into question three fundamental assumptions of recent work in both ‘new mobilities’ and the study of diaspora more broadly: first, that people move and territory does not; second, that ‘place(s)’ and ‘movement(s)’ are different sorts of things, and clearly distinguishable; and, third, that movement takes places only in Euclidean space. Beginning by placing recent Tibetan experiences of exile and diaspora in comparative context, it then works through recent deconstructions of the boundary between movement and place, a critique of Western ethno-epistemologies of movement, and Law and Mol’s work on social topology as theoretical orientations that might allow us to make sense of mobile homelands and diasporas in situ.
The global financial crisis beginning in 2008 has encouraged the revitalization of a wide spectrum of leftist theorizing, but arguably the most audacious is that of ‘accelerationism’. Left-accelerationism sees the intensification of certain tendencies in late capitalist society as a way to escape its gravitational orbit and ‘repurpose’ the very material infrastructure of capitalism itself, to universally emancipatory ends. The central task here is to engage accelerationism with a thinker of the post-Autonomist tradition, Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi. Contrary to Williams and Srnicek, co-authors of the #Accelerate manifesto, Bifo asserts that acceleration per se only augments the power and dynamism of capital, and posits instead a ‘post-politics’ of ironic detachment, aesthetic cultivation, and ‘therapy’. Contrasting Bifo and accelerationism clarifies each of their assumptions and core arguments, and points the way to a more nuanced perspective on these issues, in a contemporaneous moment marked in equal measure by inestimable threat and liberatory promise.
The paper is a contribution to current debates about conspiracy theories within philosophy and cultural studies. Wittgenstein’s understanding of language is invoked to analyse the epistemological effects of designating particular questions and explanations as a ‘conspiracy theory’. It is demonstrated how such a designation relegates these questions and explanations beyond the realm of meaningful discourse. In addition, Agamben’s concept of sovereignty is applied to explore the political effects of using the concept of conspiracy theory. The exceptional epistemological status assigned to alleged conspiracy theories within our prevalent paradigms of knowledge and truth is compared to the exceptional legal status assigned to individuals accused of terrorism under the War on Terror. The paper concludes by discussing the relation between conspiracy theory and ‘the paranoid style’ in contemporary politics.
Mask-wearing political protests have been global front page news for several years now; yet, almost no literature exists which attempts to engage the symbolic density and ritual role played by such mask-wearing acts. We argue that mask-wearing has political potentiality which relates to deeper-lying anthropological features of mask-wearing. The powers of the mask reside in the transformative ability of masks to unify and transcend key oppositional categories such as absence/presence and death/life, creating possibilities where conventional boundaries of the possible/impossible no longer restrict. By questioning the communicative rationality of the modern ‘public’ and the ‘sphere’ in which it operates, we approach mask-wearing as a ‘communicative opening’. Building on earlier critiques of liberal democratic normativity, we further argue that the ‘utopia of transparency’ is itself a regulatory power and that mask-wearing exposes the very notions that were supposed to form the background of modern, emancipatory politics: transparency, free speech and representative democracy.
Long before the emergence of the modern brand economy, Thorstein Veblen elaborated an economic theory centered on symbolic entities. Based on his thought, this article pursues a view of the brand which escapes both sociological and economic approaches to the phenomenon. Views of the brand as a meaningful object and of the trademark as a signal of product quality omit the simple possibility that the brand, to some extent, is a symbol turned into a commodity. The article develops this possibility using Veblen’s economic theory of display, which can be read as revolving around the notion of a ‘costly symbol’. Things which necessitate waste, and thus materially attest to wealth, enter Veblen’s economy of display insofar as they become valued for their own sake. His theory thus foretells the basic transformation that characterizes the emergence of modern brand economy, where symbols which ostensibly qualified commodities became by themselves economic objects.
In this article, the author argues that the works of Immanuel Kant and Henry David Thoreau can help reframe current political discussions about violence and nonviolence within revolutionary movements. For both of them, the means and ends of political change must coincide. Since they seek a nonviolent state of affairs, each argues against violent political change. However, they are also concerned to articulate a relationship between armed and unarmed struggle. After all, Kant and Thoreau worked to find what was positive in violent acts: the French Revolution and John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, respectively. They suggest that one of the ethical acts of revolutionary nonviolence is the sympathetic spectatorship of comrades in struggle who have chosen violent means. This opens up a theory of revolutionary nonviolence as a dual injunction to remain resolutely opposed to violence, but also to be capable of finding within violent acts a deeper desire for the end of violence.
The conceptual persona of the idiot recurs and evolves over the decades between Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition and his final book with Guattari, What is Philosophy?, shifting from a philosophical question to a nonphilosophical one that allies thought with literature and life. The great figure of this shock of literature is Antonin Artaud who, Deleuze argues, refinds thought’s creative capacity by putting it back in touch with its immanent outside – with a machinic and pre-personal ‘unthought’. This essay will argue that by turning to works from later in Artaud’s œuvre, especially the 1946 poem-cycle Artaud le Mômo, the problem of idiocy meets a correlative problem concerning life and death. Artaud establishes a four-fold of thought-unthought-life-unlife which is problematically resolved in what he calls a ‘body’, a figure which I will argue requires that we rethink the relationship Artaud experiences between idiocy and suffering.
This paper contributes to non-ocularcentric theory and theorizing by way of a methodological application and extension of Henri Lefebvre’s Rhythmanalysis. It explores the cultural dynamics of echoes and history, using as an instrumental case study Steve Reich’s 1966 tape-loop composition, Come Out, to elucidate the ambivalent and contradictory relations of time, temporality, and possibility. While the focus is primarily on the text of Come Out and its context of police brutality and civil rights, it moreover contributes to an enriched and historically grounded understanding of rhythmanalysis while engaging with rhythmanalysis as a methodology, based on the expanded conception of echoes proposed.
In this review of Persons and Things, recently translated into English and published by Polity Press, we discuss how this text investigates some of the most important themes of Roberto Esposito’s thought. Specifically, the book continues the process of constructing an idea of community intended as lack, gift and impropriety that the Italian philosopher has been developing since the publication of Communitas. In this case, it is the notion of body that demolishes the metaphysical apparatus that has conditioned the moulding of the philosophical-legal lexicon of the Western tradition. Doomed to constant submission to the rational sphere of the person, hence assimilated to the materiality of a mere thing, the body can win back its full dignity if it is considered as a ‘living body’. Only in this way, according to Esposito, is it possible to move past the ‘proprietary’ and subjectivistic notion that, in philosophy as well as in law, has determined a clear-cut separation between persons (intended as rational beings) and things (conceived as inert objects), as well as between ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ persons. Thus, in Persons and Things, the body becomes an actual vector for a trans-individualization of the individual, for an opening to the common, public, and communitarian dimension. According to Esposito, this process is favoured by the changes brought about by biotechnologies and science in general, not only in medical practices, but also in the legal formulations that follow from them.
This article offers an analysis of marketing as an ideological set of practices that makes cultural interventions designed to infuse social relations with biopolitical injunctions. We examine a contemporary site of heightened attention within marketing: the rise of online communities and the attendant profession of social media marketing managers. We argue that social media marketers disavow a core problem; namely, that the object at stake, the customer community, barely exists. The community therefore functions ideologically. We describe the ideological gymnastics necessary for maintaining momentum behind a practice that barely exists and we ponder why such ideologies are necessary, and what they allow the marketer to do. Working with such concepts as ‘the wild’, ‘communicative capitalism’, and ‘biopolitical marketing’, we explore a genre of popular business literature that proselytizes for online customer communities and we reflect on the broader implications.
This paper explores the deep historical contexts for imagining natural disasters. By focusing on a foundational event in the Western disaster imaginary – the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79 – and its remediation across centuries, the paper suggests that the real-time aesthetic of the mediation of extreme nature events that now abounds in contemporary culture is profoundly embedded in processes of historical intermediality. The term remediation is used to denote a genuinely historical mechanism by which past and present (process and event) are simultaneously made visible. Empirically, the paper investigates the superimposition of temporal dimensions in recreations of the ancient disaster from the late 18th century to the present. Using the insights gained from this spectacular case study, the paper ends by arguing that a re-temporalization of historical analysis itself is needed for history to contribute to contemporary concerns with the present as a conjuncture of multiple and conflicting time scales.
This article discusses the value of gift exchange in online social media. In the first part, the authors show how most of the commentators have considered online gifting as an alternative to the classical market economy. Yet the recent (re)territorialization of the web challenges this perspective. As a consequence, the internet can no longer be considered a reply to capitalism. In the second part, the authors argue that in anthropology and social philosophy the term ‘gift’ has often been used improperly, and that gift exchange has nothing to do with goods exchange, but with mutual recognition. In the third part, they use this definition to stress the importance of gift circulation through Facebook’s ‘Like’ button and the Twitter feature called ‘Mention’. In conclusion, the authors deal with the ‘Like economy’, i.e. the interference between gift exchange and market economy which is daily at work online.
Technology has developed to the point where a clear distinction between nature and culture seems to be dissolving. Against this background, a broad aspect of social research has emerged that considers an interdependence between the social and the material. So far, social-systems cybernetics as described by Luhmann has remained rather marginalized in these discussions. This article is intended to overcome this marginalization by developing the concept of meaning. Meaning can abstractly be defined as a ‘doing negativity’. Returning to systems theory, it becomes obvious that verbalized meaning (expressed through language) is only one possible medium of meaning. Adopting some concepts from Helmuth Plessner, I introduce another medium of meaning – corporealized meaning (expressed in physical terms), which also operates meaningfully along the distinction between actuality and potentiality, and thus does negativity. I discuss consequences of observing the relationship between sociality and materiality from this perspective.
A caring approach to knowledge production has been portrayed as epistemologically radical, ethically vital and as fostering continuous responsibility between researchers and research-subjects. This article examines these arguments through focusing on the ambivalent role of care within the first large-scale experimental beagle colony, a self-professed ‘beagle utopia’ at the University of California, Davis (1951–86). We argue that care was at the core of the beagle colony; the lived environment was re-shaped in response to animals ‘speaking back’ to researchers, and ‘love’ and ‘kindness’ were important considerations during staff recruitment. Ultimately, however, we show that care relations were used to manufacture compliancy, preventing the predetermined ends of the experiment from being troubled. Rather than suggesting Davis would have been less ethically troubling, or more epistemologically radical, with ‘better’ care, however, we suggest the case troubles existing care theory and argue that greater attention needs to be paid to histories, contexts, and exclusions.
Although Foucault’s 1979 lectures on The Birth of Biopolitics promised to treat the theme of biopolitics, the course deals at length with neoliberalism while mentioning biopolitics hardly at all. Some scholars account for this elision by claiming that Foucault sympathized with neoliberalism; I argue on the contrary that Foucault develops a penetrating critique of the neoliberal claim to preserve individual liberty. I show that the Chicago economist Gary Becker exemplifies what Foucault describes elsewhere as biopolitics: a form of power applied to the behaviour of a population through the normalizing use of statistics. Although Becker’s preference for indirect intervention might seem to preserve the independence of individuals, under biopolitics individual liberty is itself the means by which populations are governed indirectly. In my view, by describing the history and ambivalence of neoliberal biopolitics, Foucault fosters a critical vigilance that is the precondition for creative political resistance.
Recent studies in psychiatry reveal an acceptance of trauma through the media. Traditionally restricted to immediate experience, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is now expanding to include mediated experience. How did this development come about? How does mediated trauma manifest itself? What are its consequences? This essay addresses these questions through three cases: (1) ‘trauma film paradigm’, an early 1960s research program that employed films to simulate traumatic effects; (2) the psychiatric study into the clinical effects of watching catastrophic events on television, culminating with the September 11 attacks; (3) reports on drone operators who exhibit PTSD symptoms after flying combat missions away from the war zone. The recognition of mediated trauma marks a qualitative change in the understanding of media effects, rendering the impact literal and the consequences clinical. What informs recent speculations about the possibility of trauma through media is a conceptual link between visual media and contemporary conceptions of trauma.
Scientific and public discourses on the current mass extinction event tend to focus their attention on the decline of ‘species’ and ‘biodiversity’. Drawing on insights from the humanities, this article contends that the processes of extinction also produce a diverse range of subjects. Each of these subjects, it argues, raises specific ethical challenges and creates opportunities for cosmopolitical transformation. To explore this argument, the article engages with several subjects of extinction: ‘species’ and ‘biodiversity’; ‘humanity’; ‘unloved’ subjects; and absent or non-relational subjects. In each case, it examines how attention to these subjects can highlight the exclusions and inequalities embedded in dominant discourses, and to identify possibilities for plural ethico-political responses to mass extinction.
The parasite is widely conceived as a negative figure that takes without giving; perceived as an agent of corruption and destruction, it is subjected to programmes of eradication and expulsion across cultural, economic, political and ethical contexts. This paper offers an alternative approach to the status of parasitic relations in light of Michel Serres’s The Parasite, elaborated through ethnographic research into the after-hours culture and hidden economy of London’s Borough Market. We highlight the mutual dependence of agents in host-parasite networks according to what we term ‘general parasitism’, while inquiring into its ethical potential. Ultimately, we argue that while taking into account the near ubiquity of parasitic relations cannot form the basis for any concrete axiomatic ethical paradigm, it should at least encourage an ethics of hesitation before judgement when faced with any apparent instance of parasitism: to presume that parasitism is undesirable and unethical is itself undesirable and unethical.
The article seeks to develop a new conceptual framework suitable for analysing the ageing processes of objects in modern culture. The basic intuition is that object experience cannot be analysed separately from collective participation. The article focuses on the question of the ‘timeless’ nature of modernist design and seeks to understand why modernist objects age more slowly than other objects. First, inspired by the late Durkheim’s account of symbolism, I turn to the experiential effects of collective embeddedness. Second, I enter the field of architectural practices and architectural theory. Visiting early modernist ideologue Adolf Loos, I seek to understand the modernist attitude as a direct response to experiences of the acceleration of ageing processes characteristic of modern culture. I then try to show how Loos’s explicit awareness of the collective dimension is ignored by the subsequent modernist movement and by architectural theory. Finally, I try to assess the consequences of this neglect.
This article examines an experimental genre of philosophical writing known as the Denkbild (‘thought-image’) practiced by members of the Frankfurt School to show how it is resurrected in the Augmented Reality installation of the artist-scholar Caitlin Fisher. It argues that Circle (2012) renews the Frankfurt School’s project of reaching to art to find a way for critical theory to bring about ‘a transformation of consciousness that could become a transformation of reality’. However, as a material and virtual artifact that produces a unique circuit of exchange, the digital artwork is able to provide a sharper picture of that reality, positing community as the context and goal of philosophical thinking. Through a complex sculpting of its form, content, and image of its own thoughts, Fisher’s Denkbild strives to create a fluid, ‘disconnected and non-binding’ form capable of building what Adorno described as a ‘shared philosophy from the standpoint of subjective experience’.
This paper revisits Fanon’s relationship with psychoanalysis, specifically Lacanian psychoanalysis, via a close reading of his rhetorics of childhood – primarily as mobilized by the ‘Look, a Negro!’ scenario from Black Skin, White Masks, the traumatogenic scene which installs the black man’s sense of alienation from his own body and his inferiority. While this scene has been much discussed, the role accorded the child in this has attracted little attention. This paper focuses on the role and positioning of the child to reconsider Fanon’s ideas, in relation to his contribution to the social constitution of subjectivity, arguing that reading Fanon alongside both his citations of Lacan and some aspects of Lacanian theory opens up further interpretive possibilities in teasing out tensions in Fanon’s writing around models of subjectivity. Finally, it is argued that it is where Fanon retains an indeterminacy surrounding the child that he is most politically fruitful.
Academics across the sciences and humanities are increasingly being encouraged to use social media as a post-publication strategy to enhance and extend the impact of their articles and books. As well as various measures of social media impact, the turn towards publication outlets which are open access and free to use is contributing to anxieties over where, what and how to publish. This is all the more pernicious given the increasing measures of academic value that govern the academy, and the stresses, strains and hidden injuries that structure academic life. This article will debate these issues and their consequences for the humanities and social sciences by analysing the contours of a recent controversy in academic science publishing, which follows the after-lives of a highly cited journal article. This includes a discussion of the value and status of post-publication peer review, and the politics of open access publishing, of citation and the public communication of science within digital environments and archives.
The authors explore how the multi-media artist Farniyaz Zaker uses words to establish connections between different kinds of materials in her work, and how her work makes words material. Zaker’s conception of dress as ‘microcosmic dwelling places’ enables the authors to think about veiling practices, Islams and gender not only in relation to the familiar domains of state, piety, subjectivity, consumption, capitalism, public and private (for instance), but also with regard to some less self-evidently relevant contexts. Light, architecture and cinema, as well as walls, windows, curtains, coffins, tents and screens, are among them. It is by way of these multiple refractions that the authors are able to return to those debates that conceive of Islamic veiling in terms of embodied, material practices and to support and develop further reasons for an understanding of that most exceptionally charged piece of material, the veil, as more than a sign of ...
Although Jürgen Habermas and Richard Rorty both reject the traditional picture of cultural change in which intellectuals are supposed to have the ‘last word’ on cultural issues and envisage cultural changes as the result of ‘dialogue’ or ‘conversation’ between them and the lay public, they nevertheless end up espousing different pictures of cultural change because of their totally different conception of the role and function of language, truth and rationality in such dialogue. In the first two sections of this article, I will recount Habermas’s critique of Rorty’s neo-pragmatism and the latter’s responses to it so that they can reveal the core issues of the debate. In the third section, I will argue that, as a ‘sociologized version’ of Rorty’s philosophy, Jeffrey Alexander’s theory of social performance provides us with a sociological framework that makes possible a wide range of empirical studies of cultural change.
This short paper acts as a comment on Totaro and Ninno's ‘The Concept of Algorithm as an Interpretative Key of Modern Rationality’ and also introduces some new avenues for exploring the organization of algorithms. In recent discussion of algorithms, concerns have been expressed regarding the apparent power, agential capacity and control that algorithms command of our lives (
This introduction to Georg Simmel’s essay ‘On Art Exhibitions’ (1890) sketches the context and relevance of some striking points of commonality to Walter Benjamin’s much better-known ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ of 1936, as well as to Simmel’s own subsequent essay on ‘The Metropolis and Mental Life’ of 1903. The introduction is followed by a complete English translation.
This paper explores the possibility for a means of bringing about novelty which does not rely on kairological philosophies based on an event. In contrast to both common sense and contemporary philosophical understandings of the term where for novelty to arise there must be some break in the repetition of the structure, this paper argues that it is possible for novelty to come about through small-scale experimentation. This is done by relying on the philosophical notion of ‘economy’ in order to understand how we think about the world. In this regard, our thinking about the world depends upon acknowledging certain possibilities at the expense of others. History can then be seen as the distribution of emphasis which allows for these past possibilities and the future potentiality they may hold. Novelty, defined here as a rereading of history, is precisely the disruption of these possibilities and a challenge to the memory of the system. The conclusion to this paper argues that experimentation is an important means by which we can bring novelty into the world.
This article considers the use of flag telegraphy by the US Signal Corps during the Civil War as it functioned as a proto-technical medium that preceded wire telegraphy as a military communications technology. Not only was flag telegraphy a historical step towards contemporary technical media, it was also an early iteration of the digitization of communication. Our treatment ties together three main theoretical threads as a way of seeing ‘the digital’ in material communication practices: (1) Friedrich Kittler’s concept of technical media as a remediation between the 19th and 20th centuries, (2) Foucault’s docile bodies as means of reproducing culture, and (3) James Carey’s argument that the telegraph reconfigured communication. The Signal Corps is a rich historical moment in terms of media history and history of technology because it illustrates the convergence of historical exigencies at work in the war machine: mobility, secrecy, precision, and speed. Each contributes, we argue, to a digital telos that privileges digital ways of knowing and being.
This paper focuses on Levinas’s understanding of the social as distinguished from the political. In his neo-phenomenological work, Levinas never conceptualized the difference between the political and the social, because he was more interested in the difference between the ethical and everything else. In his Talmudic Readings, however, with the help of examples or paradigms, he offers a vision of a social domain distinct from the political one. This paper concentrates on the Talmudic Readings to delineate those situations in which Levinas distinguishes such a specifically social realm. It analyzes Levinas’s understanding of the city as paradigm of liberalism’s shortcomings and elaborates on the absence of the social in Levinas’s conception of a good life.
Drawing from the writings of Deleuze and Foucault, various forms of political vitalism have emerged as one of the most dominant approaches to radical politics today. However, there has been considerable disagreement over the terms on which a debate over vitalism’s perceived utility should be carried out. This has allowed for a great confusion over what is at stake in the vitalist controversy. This article argues that an analysis of the most recent works of Maurizio Lazzarato, one of the most prominent contemporary political vitalists, assists in clarifying the terms of the debate and provides a rebuttal of several of the most common criticisms of political vitalist thought. Through his engagement with the work of French sociologist Gabriel Tarde, Lazzarato has developed a distinct variety of neo-monadology that analyses the world in terms of micro-psychic forces. On the basis of this ontology, Lazzarato constructs a politics of multiplicity consisting of open strategies of experimentation and creation, which he argues offers the best form of resistance to neo-liberal capitalism. It is argued that Lazzarato is able to provide an answer to the three common charges that vitalism is a mysticism, suffers from a lack of normative foundations, and has an incoherent political programme. The article concludes with a reflection on the extent to which political vitalism is still haunted by a failure to give an account of and come to terms with the role of negativity in politics.
The article explores the perspectives of Foucault’s notion of government by linking it to the debate on the ‘new materialism’. Discussing Karen Barad’s critical reading of Foucault’s work on the body and power, it points to the idea of a ‘government of things’, which Foucault only briefly outlines in his lectures on governmentality. By stressing the ‘intrication of men and things’ (Foucault), this theoretical project makes it possible to arrive at a relational account of agency and ontology, going beyond the anthropocentric limitations of Foucault’s work. This perspective also suggests an altered understanding of biopolitics. While Foucault’s earlier concept of biopolitics was limited to physical and biological existence, the idea of a ‘government of things’ takes into account the interrelatedness and entanglements of men and things, the natural and the artificial, the physical and the moral. Finally, the conceptual proposal of a ‘government of things’ helps to clarify theoretical ambiguities and unresolved tensions in new materialist scholarship and allows for a more materialist account of politics.
In the context of the Dutch immigration debate, tributes to the Holocaust and the memory of Europe’s dead Jews increasingly serve to dismantle multiculturalism as a failed paradigm and to drive a wedge between a revitalized, redeemed, color-blind, post-racial Europe and disenfranchized immigrant, minority and Muslim populations. Embedded in these invocations of the Holocaust and its moral imperatives is a ‘spectropolitics’ of tolerance, in which tolerance, staged as an essential touchstone of Dutch identity, supplies a differential norm that measures the civilizational and racial disjuncture between Europeans, minorities, and Muslims, and validates the new dual paradigm of Dutch citizenship and immigration policy: securitization and disciplinary integration. The centrality of the Holocaust as paradigmatic of Dutch and European racial history meanwhile sidelines the colonial past as constitutive of European identity; displaces an alternative understanding of race as (bio- and necro-political) instruments of colonial rule; and disavows the continued application of these instruments of racial rule in Dutch and European post-colonial societies.
In this interview, Anne Fagot-Largeault discusses with Thierry Bardini her recollections of the life and work of French philosopher Gilbert Simondon (1924–1989). The discussion covers Simondon’s theory of individuation and considers its influences on contemporary thinkers such as Gilles Deleuze and François Laruelle. Fagot-Largeault situates Simondon’s thinking within the broader context of 20th-century biological research and the development of life sciences. Informed by her personal association and experiences working with Simondon, her reminiscences shed light on the unique character of Simondon as a person and as a thinker.
According to Ernst Cassirer, the transition from the concept of substance to that of mathematical function as a guide of knowledge coincided with the end of ancient and the beginning of modern theoretical thought. In the first part of this article we argue that a similar transition has also taken place in the practical sphere, where mathematical function occurs in one of its specific forms, which is that of the algorithm concept. In the second part we argue that with the rise of modernity the idea of substance and the related concepts of category and classification, which are deeply embedded in western culture, have not been totally supplanted by that of function. The intertwining of the concepts of substance and function has generated contradictory hybrids. These hybrids are used as a key for the understanding of the different repercussions of algorithmic logic on society in terms of social integration.
This essay deploys the joint lenses of branding and space to examine the hegemonic operation of the Apple brand in the global culture industry. It does so by analyzing China’s ‘fake Apple Store’ event in 2011, which began with an American expat blogger’s discovery and subsequently caught the attention of global news media. While copying the look of an official Apple Store, these retailers displayed and sold genuine products originally assembled in China. Probing the cultural logic that gave rise to the event, I argue that China’s ‘fake’ Apple Store emblematizes the power relations and subject positions that emanate from Apple’s global hegemony. The Apple Store, as a branded environment, is best seen as a heterotopia whose interpellating mechanism relies on the extensive-intensive character of the intellectual property rights (IPR) regime. While China’s copycat Apple Store can be seen as an attempt at a production of sameness, the ‘user-generated’ charge of its ‘fakery’ stems from the ‘distributed’ power of the Apple brand, which operates through a production of difference. Even though the varied responses to the event (on the part of Chinese authorities and Apple, the brand owner) reveal the contradiction within Apple’s extensive global reach, it more importantly points to a condition wherein consumer turned ‘prod-user’ subjects act as self-enlisted agents who work to perpetuate the brand’s design-intensive value regime. While the spectacle of ‘Chinese fakery’ manifests the ideological work of IPR in naturalizing the distinction between the copy and the fake, the extensive-intensive operation of the brand, embodied by the Apple Store, also undermines the ability of consumer subjects to meaningfully engage the ‘Chinese reality’ that is manufacturing labor.
Although critiques of humanism are not new, the currency of posthumanist discourse on the nonhuman – the animal, the environment, or the object – suggests rising concerns about humanity’s place in the ecological order. This article interrogates Cary Wolfe's posthumanist framework as he approaches the questions of activism and agency in the context of animal ethics and disability politics. By drawing attention to the contradictions in his own commitments to rethinking human exceptionalism, I examine how Wolfe's appeal for a more compassionate account of ethics vis-à-vis the notion of ‘trans-species empathy’ can be more gainfully addressed through the work of feminist and quantum physicist Karen Barad. This essay contends that by preserving the difference between the human and the nonhuman (or animal) as something that is given rather than interrogated, the assumption of ‘the human’ as a self-contained identity is left unchanged and unchallenged.
This article focuses on the ethical quandary of Zygmunt Bauman’s interpretation of modernity as a double logic that heralds both emancipation and domination. After outlining his liberation sociology and the liquid moral ontologies he discerns, it argues Bauman’s solution to the consumption of ethics by consumerism demands too much, too late. Firstly, Bauman misappropriates Joseph Schumpeter’s concept of creative destruction. The actual outcome is the dissipation of the Levinasian centrifugal self, whom Bauman wants to uphold as a cure for the Nietzschean centripetal self. Secondly, as Daniel Miller shows, totalizing critiques of consumerism – such as Bauman’s – blind us to forms of moral self-constitution within consumption. And, thirdly, Bauman’s concept of the autonomous agent overlooks the power relations that are inherent to the constitution of subjectivity. Notwithstanding, Bauman highlights the need to articulate an ethics of freedom, and the article concludes with Foucault’s aesthetics of existence to meet this challenge.
This essay examines various conceptions of autonomy in relation to recent artistic practices. Starting from the apparent opposition between modernist notions of the autonomy of art and theorizations of political autonomy, the text problematizes the notion of the autonomy of art by using Jacques Rancière’s notion of the aesthetic regime. Focusing on the importance of the act and performance in the art of the last decades, it is argued that while political and artistic autonomy may never quite converge, aesthetic acts can under certain circumstances function in both the political and the artistic register, simultaneously or successively. The aesthetic act thus stages a passage from the artistic to the political, and vice versa.
This article describes the historical emergence of vital systems security, analyzing it as a significant mutation in biopolitical modernity. The story begins in the early 20th century, when planners and policy-makers recognized the increasing dependence of collective life on interlinked systems such as transportation, electricity, and water. Over the following decades, new security mechanisms were invented to mitigate the vulnerability of these vital systems. While these techniques were initially developed as part of Cold War preparedness for nuclear war, they eventually migrated to domains beyond national security to address a range of anticipated emergencies, such as large-scale natural disasters, pandemic disease outbreaks, and disruptions of critical infrastructure. In these various contexts, vital systems security operates as a form of reflexive biopolitics, managing risks that have arisen as the result of modernization processes. This analysis sheds new light on current discussions of the government of emergency and ‘states of exception’. Vital systems security does not require recourse to extraordinary executive powers. Rather, as an anticipatory technology for mitigating vulnerabilities and closing gaps in preparedness, it provides a ready-to-hand toolkit for administering emergencies as a normal part of constitutional government.
This essay deals with technologies, techniques, business models and legal structures governing telecommunications infrastructures. Megacities are especially vulnerable to shifting agencies in telecoms provision. This paper addresses the relation of the economics of growth, built-in obsolescence and product life cycles with the complex determinations of telecommunications governance in relation to the physical environment of megacities. It argues that an ‘environmentalism of the poor’ must be integrated into considerations of both ecological critique and analyses of telecommunications infrastructure and business practice.
The political economy of the information machine is discussed within the Marxist tradition of Italian operaismo by posing the hypothesis of an informational turn already at work in the age of the industrial revolution. The idea of valorizing information introduced by Alquati (1963) in a pioneering Marxist approach to cybernetics is used to examine the paradigms of mass intellectuality, immaterial labour and cognitive capitalism developed by Lazzarato, Marazzi, Negri, Vercellone and Virno since the 1990s. The concept of machinic by Deleuze and Guattari (1972, 1980) is then adopted to extend Marx’s analysis of the industrial machine to the algorithms of digital machines. If the industrial machine can be described as a bifurcation of the domains of energy and information, this essay proposes to conceive the information machine itself as a further bifurcation between information and metadata. In conclusion, the hypothesis of the society of metadata is outlined as the current evolution of that society of control pictured by Deleuze (1990) in relation to the power embodied in databases.
Given their commitment to practices, science studies have bestowed considerable attention upon objects. We have the boundary object, the standardized package, the network object, the immutable mobile, the fluid object, even a fire object has entered the scene. However, these objects do not provide us with a way of understanding their historicity. They are timeless, motionless pictures rather than things that change over time, and while enacting ‘historical moments’ they do not make visible the histories they contain within them. What kind of object could embody history and make that history visible? Inspired by Michel Serres, I suggest the folded object is a way to attend to the temporality and spatiality of objects. In this article I explore this new object by unravelling the history of a DNA reference sequence. I show how, ever since it was produced in the early 1980s, attempts have been made to filter race out of the sequence. That effort has failed due to what one could call ‘political noise’. Making and remaking the sequence have left traces that cannot be erased.
This article addresses the rise of faith-based emergency relief by examining the US President’s Emergency Plan for HIV/AIDS (PEPFAR), a public health intervention focused on the AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. It argues that the theological turn in humanitarian aid serves to amplify ongoing dynamics in the domestic politics of sub-Saharan African states, where social services have assumed the form of chronic emergency relief and religious organizations have come to play an increasingly prominent role in the provision of such services. In the context of an ongoing public health crisis, PEPFAR has institutionalized the social authority of the Pentecostal and charismatic churches, leading to a semantic confluence between the postcolonial politics of emergency and the Pentecostal/Pauline theology of kairos or event. Far from being confined to the space of foreign aid, however, the faith-based turn in humanitarianism is in keeping with ongoing reforms in domestic social policy in the United States. While on the one hand the sustained welfare programmes of the New Deal and Great Society have been dismantled in favour of a system of emergency relief, on the other hand the federal government has intensified its moral, pedagogical and punitive interventions into the lives of the poor. The wilful transfer of welfare services to overtly religious service providers has played a decisive role in this process. The article concludes with a critical appraisal of the links between African and North American Pentecostal-evangelical churches and questions the revolutionary mission ascribed to Pauline political theology in recent political theory.
This paper offers a counterpoint to the prevailing account of waste in the human sciences. This account identifies waste, firstly, as the anomalous product of arbitrary social categorizations, or ‘matter out of place’, and, secondly, as a distinctly human way of leaving behind and interpreting traces, or a mirror of culture. Together, these positions reflect a more or less constructivist and anthropocentric approach. Most commonly, waste is placed within a framework that privileges considerations of meaning over materiality and the threat of death over the perpetuity of life processes. For an alternative I turn to bio-semiotics and cross-species scholarship around the question of the animal. Specifically, the paper asks what theories of waste would look like if instead of taking ‘dirt’ as their starting point, they began with trans-species encounters with animal scat. Following bio-semiotics and efforts to deconstruct the animal/human binary, it is suggested that the objectual forms commonly referred to as ‘waste’ are not arbitrarily classified but purposefully expended, and thus symptomatic of life’s spatio-temporal continuation. Waste matter, therefore, is best construed not as anthropocentric but as semi-biotic: a sign of the form of life to which it once belonged. This alternative perspective has implications for how approaches to industrial forms of mass waste can be reconceived.
This review article of The Making of Modern Liberalism and Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics centres on the different trajectories of liberal and neoliberal thought that are mapped out by these two works. It is argued that to achieve an understanding of the meeting points, continuities and discontinuities between liberalism and neoliberalism it is necessary to examine the economic and political bases of these forms of governmental reason. By doing so, it is suggested that it is possible to develop a fuller understanding of what was/is new about neoliberalism as both a political and an epistemological project.
This paper uses Michel Foucault’s lectures on biopolitics as a starting point for thinking historically about neoliberalism. Foucault’s lectures offer a rich and detailed account of the emergence of neoliberalism, but this account is far from complete. This paper addresses some of the blind-spots in Foucault’s lectures by focusing on the space between the decline of classical liberalism at the end of the 19th century and the subsequent attempt to develop a ‘positive’ or ‘ordo’ liberalism in post-war Germany. The primary concern of this paper is to chart the emergence of a new or neo- liberalism in the writings of Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek through the 1920s and 1930s. These writings, which are barely considered by Foucault, are important as they redefine the liberal project against the political economy of the late 19th century and, in particular, against the threat of socialism. In conclusion, it is argued that by returning to the work of Mises and Hayek it is possible to develop a critical sociology of neoliberalism, one that not only engages with the writings of these two thinkers but which also exposes the fracture lines that exist within the neoliberal project, and reconsiders the political positions that neoliberalism initially sought to reject.
This paper offers a brief introduction and interpretation of recent research on cultural techniques (or Kulturtechnikforschung) in German media studies. The analysis considers three sites of conceptual dislocations that have shaped the development and legacy of media research often associated with theorist Friedrich Kittler: first, the displacement of 1980s and 1990s Kittlerian media theory towards a more praxeological style of analysis in the early 2000s; second, the philological background that allowed the antiquated German appellation for agricultural engineering, Kulturtechniken, to migrate into media and cultural studies; and third, the role of these conceptual dislocations in enriching media-genealogical inquiries into topics such as life, biopolitics, and practice.
This text reflects cultural techniques in relation to other concepts in cultural and media studies by addressing their relation to selected Anglo-American and French discussions. It also investigates the relation of cultural techniques to more recent material and speculative turns. Suggesting that the cultural techniques approaches introduce their own important material dimension to media-specific analysis of culture, the article argues that cultural techniques should be read in relation to recent post-Fordist political theory and explorations of the post-human in order to develop conceptual hybrids that are able to inject politics into media theoretical accounts, as well as excavate histories of cultural techniques of cognitive capitalism.
This contribution examines the media history of swarm research and the significance of swarming techniques to current socio-technological processes. It explores how the procedures of swarm intelligence should be understood in relation to the concept of cultural techniques. This brings the concept into proximity with recent debates in posthuman (media) theory, animal studies and software studies. Swarms are conceptualized as zootechnologies that resist methods of analytical investigation. Synthetic swarms first emerged as operational collective structures by means of the reciprocal computerization of biology and biologization of computer science. In a recursive loop, swarms inspired agent-based modelling, which in turn provided biological researchers with enduring knowledge about dynamic collectives. This conglomerate led to the development of advanced, software-based ‘particle systems’. Swarm intelligence has become a fundamental cultural technique related to dynamic processes and an effective metaphor for the collaborative efforts of society.
This article discusses how the way in which post-Enlightenment humans tend to relate to material objects is a fundamental aspect of modern capitalism. The difficulties that conventional academic disciplines have in grasping the societal and political aspect of ‘technology’ stem from the predominant Cartesian paradigm that distinguishes the domain of material objects from that of social relations of exchange. This Cartesian paradigm has constrained the Marxian analysis of capital accumulation from extending the concept of fetishism to the domain of technology. Both Marxian and mainstream thought represent technological objects as empowered by their intrinsic properties, which derive from human ingenuity and tend to progress over time. To transcend this paradigm will be possible only through the kind of post-Cartesian perspective on material artefacts that has been championed by Bruno Latour. However, Latour’s own neglect of technological systems as social strategies of exploitation reflects his lack of concern with global inequalities.
In this article I set out to trace some of the implications of recharging the political potency of nature in more-than-human terms. This shifts attention from a biopolitical focus on the inventiveness of the life sciences and what this means in terms of the emergence of ‘cyborg’ political subjects to an onto-political focus on the inventiveness of knowledge controversies and what these mean for techno-political practices. Specifically, the article examines the onto-politics of ‘natural’ hazard events and their capacity to force thought in those affected by them, and so to place new demands on research practices in terms of rendering such events affective and amenable to political interrogation. I work these arguments through the demanding experimental ethos of the philosopher Isabelle Stengers, for whom scientific practices produce reliable knowledge claims only in so far as the questions they address are at risk of being redefined by the phenomena mobilized in them, and who extends this ethos to elaborate an understanding of, even a test for, an adequate political theory and practice. I do so with reference to a recent research experiment in which I collaborated with social and natural scientists and people affected by flooding in the UK.
This article reviews Cornelia Vismann’s 2008 book Files: Law and Media Technology. In addition to an overview of Vismann’s media materialist approach to the study of the law, it provides both a consideration of her relationship to Friedrich Kittler’s media theory and a more focused examination of certain functional writing entities that might extend Vismann’s genealogical approach. It is suggested that a closer analysis of one such entity, the list, can offer further insight into the epistemological and ontological questions the book provokes.
This interview was conducted on 8 October 2011 at the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven. It was held during a symposium that reflected on the work of Rancière and was a part of a broader engagement with the concept of autonomy and its relation to art organized by an umbrella group of universities and arts organizations under the name of ‘The Autonomy Project’. A number of the symposium’s participants – Peter Osborne, Gerald Raunig, Isabell Lorey, Ruth Sondregger, Kim Mereiene and Adrian Martin – contributed questions that formed the basis of this interview. The interview took place at a time when the longer-term possibilities of the Arab Spring and Occupy/Indignados movements were under general scrutiny. It was also a moment when the Van Abbemuseum itself was compelled to reflect on its own position of political autonomy in relation to neoliberal state directives, political populism at the local level and its own critique of aesthetic autonomy. Rancière’s work on aesthetics and politics has been as much appreciated as a clearance strategy against prevailing visual prejudices as it has served as a platform for rethinking the emancipatory potential of creative practice.
The transition from analogue to digital photography was not accomplished in a single step. It required a number of feeder technologies which enabled and structured the nature of digital photography. Among those traced in this article, the most important is the genesis of the raster grid, which is now hard-wired into the design of the most widely employed photographic chip, the charge-coupled device (CCD). In tracing this history from origins in half-tone printing, the authors argue that qualities available to analogue photographers are no longer available to digital, and that these changes correspond to historical developments in the wider political and economic world. They conclude, however, that these losses may yet be turned into gains.