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'Where’s the Action’ Latour, Ontology and World Politics

'Where’s the Action’ Latour, Ontology and World Politics

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Published by circlingsquares
Paper presented at Global Studies Association conference: Globalization and International Relations, Merton College, Oxford, September 2010
Paper presented at Global Studies Association conference: Globalization and International Relations, Merton College, Oxford, September 2010

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Published by: circlingsquares on Aug 27, 2010
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‘Where’s the Action?’ Latour,Ontology and World Politics
Conference Abstract:
The 2010 GSA conference seeks to probe the relationship between these two different approaches tounderstanding world social relationships. Indeed, the conference’s central problematic asks whether the advent of Global Studies is an extension of International Relations, on a continuum with it, or does Global Studies represent what Foucault termed a new 
episteme
 , with the implication that International Relations and Global Studies cannot speak to each other for lack of a common language? Moreover, can Global Studies challenge the dominance of International Relations in both social science departments and policymaking fields? Or will global ‘outlooks’ still depend upon visible territorial borders, the outcome of historical and territorial conflicts between states? 
Contents:
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Philip Conway
[www.circlingsquares.blogspot.com]
 
‘Where’s the Action?’
2 |
Page
 
1: Introduction
 This paper aims to:(1)
 
 Ascertain and describe the relationship between International Relations (IR)
1
and Global Studies(GS) through the sociology and philosophy of Bruno Latour. To achieve this we will need to understand what (a) globality/globalisation
and 
(b) IR mean in Latour’sterminology. Part (a) has already been attempted by Nick Srnicek in his recent article
Conflict Networks 
2
 (published in the
 Journal of Critical Globalisation Studies 
earlier this year). Therefore, the second aim is to:(2)
 
Comment on Srnicek’s article, introducing Latour’s ontology, his version of Actor-Network Theory (ANT) and his conception of the global as elongated locality (§1.2).Unlike globality, however, Latour has little to say (directly at least) about states or IR. Indeed, he, withonly occasional exceptions,
3
avoids such questions.
4
Therefore, we will have to:(3)
 
 Translate IR into Latourian terms (and vice versa); this will require a definition of sovereignty – thatis, the modality of translation specific to the modern state (§2.1).Finally, based on the above analysis, I will:(4)
 
Sketch out a tri-polar schematic with which we can understand the relationship between IR and GS,suggesting that it is
vital, intensive and symbiotic 
(§3.1).
1.1: Basics 
 
For want of time I will introduce the basics only very briefly.
5
 In my view, Latour’s works always comprise two movements – one
ontological 
(Gk.
ontos: 
being,existence) and one, to coin a phrase,
modological 
(L.
modus: 
measure, rhythm, manner).
6
  The
ontological 
 
movement establishes that
all beings are equals 
. That is, there is no ‘GreatDivide,’ no concrete or necessary bifurcation of reality, no categorical difference between beings. Allbeings (actors/actants)
7
coexist in a common, ‘flat’
8
ontology. This move enables as many analyticalassociations as possible; it is primarily philosophical.
1
It is conventional to use ‘International Relations’ (capitalised) to refer to the academic discipline that studies ‘internationalrelations.’ In this essay I will largely use the terms interchangeably – I apologise in advance for any confusion caused.Global Studies does not have this problem as ‘globality’ or ‘the global’ may designate its object of study.
2
(Srnicek 2010, p.4)
3
(Latour and Callon 1981; Latour 2007b)
4
e.g.: “We keep talking about Lenin and Rousseau… let’s take other traditions which do not start with the importance of notions such as the state [i.e. American Pragmatism].” (Sánchez-Criado and Latour 2007, p.370) Latour would rather talk about ‘publics’ than states. His ‘collectives’ seemingly have no outside – they are not bounded communities in any recognisable sense, hence there can be no political multiplicity (and thus no IR). (§1.4)
5
See Graham Harman’s
Prince of Networks 
(2009) for a vastly more comprehensive and competent introduction.
6
I mean ‘movement’ to be an analytical, rhetorical or narrative device, not an ontological one. It should be stressed thatontology and modology are not opposed as in the manner of idea/matter or form/substance (nothing is less Latourian thanthese dualisms). Rather, modology is contained within ontology but modalisation is not just another kind of ontologisation:ontology, as the discourse (or science) of what is, establishes the fundamental equality of things and then modology, thediscourse (or science) of rhythms, patterns and cadences establishes how these otherwise non-descript actants form worlds.
7
“An ‘actor’ in ANT is a semiotic definition – an actant –, that is, something that acts or to which activity is granted by others. It implies
no
special motivation of 
human individual 
actors, nor of humans in general. An actant can literally beanything provided it is granted to be the source of an action.” (Latour 1996, p.373)
8
The phrase ‘flat ontology’ appears as a pejorative term in Bhaskar (2008 [1975]) but is appropriated here positively to meanan ontology where any being can, in principle, interact with any other and in which there are no stratified ‘layers’ of reality in which the higher (or, depending on the spatial imagery, the deeper) levels overdetermine those less privileged. This meansthat science cannot, as is popularly imagined, work by digging down (or climbing up) to ever deeper (or higher) levels of reality – i.e. explaining the causal mechanisms by dint of which epiphenomenal events occur. Instead, science (and thisapplies equally to both natural and social science) involves nothing more (and nothing less) than the careful, consideredaccretion and organisation of parts of the world in a
cumulative 
fashion. There is thus no special cognitive ability enjoyed by 
 
Philip Conway 3 |Page  The
modological 
 
movement establishes how it is that
some beings are more equal than others 
. That is, despite no essential differences or similarities existing between beings and no pre-established hierarchies determining their existence, differences, equivalences, asymmetries andhierarchies nevertheless exist. This move explains how order is established and maintained – how truthgets made; it is primarily empirical.
9
 Latour’s
ontology 
, since the late 1980s at least, has been fairly consistent and can besummarised thus:
o
 
 To
be 
is to
have 
– that is, to relate and be related.
10
 
o
 
 The word ‘translation’ is a neutral term for describing all relations (with the verb ‘to translate’applicable to all attempts to create new relations).
o
 
 There is no pre-established, categorical (absolute or necessary) difference between human and non-human agents, or between any other kinds of agents.
o
 
 Therefore, the divisions between nature and society, humans and non-humans, micro and macroscale, etc. are fabrications – constructions.
o
 
 All things are both constructed
and 
real but not all things are equally 
well 
constructed.
o
 
Realism and constructivism, usually opposed, are fused.
11
 Latour has worked primarily on the
modologies 
of science and technology but has also studiedpolitics, law, morality and more. Accumulating these modalities is the core of his “project of systematically comparing the felicity and infelicity conditions of the different regimes of truthproduction”;
12
his attempt “to account for the various ways in which truth is built”.
13
 Given that overview, the remaining remarks about ANT should be summarised
 post-haste; 
fortunately Srnicek has done a good job of that already; as I see it, he makes a number of points about ANT in thefirst part of his essay, several of which are relevant here:(1)
 
 ANT is a way of studying associations/translations between heterogeneous
14
actors.(2)
 
 A society (L.
socius: 
companion or follower) is not an ontologically distinct realm, an abstract objector a kind of ‘stuff,’ it is a collection of associations.(3)
 
Socio
-logy therefore studies associations (relations) between agents of all kinds.(4)
 
Both human and non-human beings are associative agents and
a priori 
equals.(5)
 
 There is no fundamental distinction between nature and society.(6)
 
 Action (any action) makes an actor (any form of resistance is an action).(7)
 
 All networks are local at all points (therefore the global is local) – global actors are nothingmore than longer chains of local actors
.
scientists over non-scientists or moderns over non-moderns (or whites over non-whites, etc.). Instead, Euro-Americantechno-scientific successes are to be explained in their historical particularities. The reasons for the scientific ‘revolution’from this perspective range from the development of the printing press to the development of single point perspective inseventeenth century Dutch art (Alpers 1983; Latour 1986; Latour 1987, chapter 6).
9
The two movements follow logically not chronologically and are, for the most part, concurrent but they are neverthelessdistinguishable.
10
His is therefore a relational ontology in the vein of A.N. Whitehead and Gilles Deleuze. On the priority of ‘having’ over‘being’ see: (Latour 2002)
11
Latour’s ontology is realist, because agency in all interactions is granted to non-humans as well as ‘cognising subjects,’ butit is also constructivist, because there is no ‘ready made’ reality ‘out there’ waiting to be discovered (by those same, pesky ‘cognising subjects’); instead, reality is made up of the interactions of all actants altogether (objects, therefore, have historiestoo). Latour notes the fusion of realism and constructivism in the work of Isabelle Stengers but it is equally true of his own(Latour 1997).
12
(Latour 2010b, p.x)
13
(Crawford and Latour 1993, p.250) It should be mentioned that ‘truth’ does apply to ‘regimes of enunciation’ in a socio-linguistic sense but, no less, truth also implies ‘order’ in general, which is not solely a linguistic category, not even,necessarily, a human one.
14
i.e. material/ideal, local/global, human/non-human

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