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’ Latour, Ontology and World Politics
The 2010 GSA conference seeks to probe the relationship between these two different approaches to understanding 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?
1: INTRODUCTION.................................................................................................................................................2 1.1: BASICS .................................................................................................................................................................................................. 2 1.2: LOCAL/GLOBAL ................................................................................................................................................................................. 4 1.3: GLOBALISATION ................................................................................................................................................................................ 4 1.3.1: A note on grand narratives............................................................................................................................................................ 4 1.3.2: Entanglement/non-modernity ........................................................................................................................................................ 5 1.4: LACK OF SOVEREIGNTY ................................................................................................................................................................... 6 1.5: TRANSLATION/PURIFICATION ........................................................................................................................................................ 7 2: TRANSLATION ....................................................................................................................................................9 2.1: TRANSLATION/PURIFICATION AS SOVEREIGNTY ........................................................................................................................ 9 2.2: THE RISK OF GLOBALISATION ....................................................................................................................................................... 10 2.3: EXAMPLE: THE ORIGIN OF EMBASSIES......................................................................................................................................... 11 3: CONCLUSION .................................................................................................................................................... 13 3.1: “MAN, THE STATE AND [LATOUR]” ............................................................................................................................................. 13 3.2: PARASITISM: THE SEVENTH MODALITY ....................................................................................................................................... 14 3.3: IMPORTANT CAVEATS ..................................................................................................................................................................... 17 3.4: FINAL REMARKS .............................................................................................................................................................................. 17 4: BIBLIOGRAPHY................................................................................................................................................. 19
Philip Conway [www.circlingsquares.blogspot.com]
‘Where’s the Action?’
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’s terminology. Part (a) has already been attempted by Nick Srnicek in his recent article Conflict Networks2 (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, with only 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 – that is, 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).
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 ‘Great Divide,’ no concrete or necessary bifurcation of reality, no categorical difference between beings. All beings (actors/actants)7 coexist in a common, ‘flat’8 ontology. This move enables as many analytical associations as possible; it is primarily philosophical.
It is conventional to use ‘International Relations’ (capitalised) to refer to the academic discipline that studies ‘international relations.’ 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 that ontology and modology are not opposed as in the manner of idea/matter or form/substance (nothing is less Latourian than these 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, the discourse (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 be anything 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 ) but is appropriated here positively to mean an 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 means that 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 this applies equally to both natural and social science) involves nothing more (and nothing less) than the careful, considered accretion and organisation of parts of the world in a cumulative fashion. There is thus no special cognitive ability enjoyed by
Philip Conway 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 preestablished hierarchies determining their existence, differences, equivalences, asymmetries and hierarchies nevertheless exist. This move explains how order is established and maintained – how truth gets made; it is primarily empirical.9 Latour’s ontology, since the late 1980s at least, has been fairly consistent and can be summarised 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 nonhuman agents, or between any other kinds of agents. o Therefore, the divisions between nature and society, humans and non-humans, micro and macro scale, 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 studied politics, 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 truth production”;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 the first part of his essay, several of which are relevant here: (1) ANT is a way of studying associations/translations between heterogeneous14 actors. (2) A society (L. socius: companion or follower) is not an ontologically distinct realm, an abstract object or 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 nothing more than longer chains of local actors.
scientists over non-scientists or moderns over non-moderns (or whites over non-whites, etc.). Instead, Euro-American techno-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 in seventeenth 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 nevertheless distinguishable. 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,’ but it 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 histories too). 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 sociolinguistic 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
‘Where’s the Action?’ (8) ‘Macro-ness’ is an effect of size, extension and connectivity not realm, level or category.15 For now we should concentrate on point 7: the elongated locality of the global.
In conducting “a re-thinking of the ‘global’”,16 Srnicek takes a broadly Latourian reading of globality in which “[w]hat we typically call the ‘global’ is … not a matter of incommensurable levels of reality, but is rather comprised entirely of the largest actors in the world.”17 He thus rejects globality as: (1) a container of localities, (2) the highest position in a hierarchy and (3) a level of detail.18 Instead ‘the global’ is simply a collection of ‘macro-actors’19 – those networks able to act ‘at a distance’ across the world; that is, networks which are geo-politically and socio-technically elongated to the point where they can act almost anywhere (or integrate themselves into networks such that their effects can be felt almost anywhere (§3.2)) but, nevertheless, never cease to be “local at all points”20 – globality is a longer chain of localities.21 So Srnicek gives us a clear idea of what ‘the global’ means for Latour. What, then, about ‘globalisation’? To answer this question we must understand a little bit about Latour’s grand vision of modernity.
1.3.1: A note on grand narratives What is not always understood about Latour’s work, particularly in We Have Never Been Modern (WHNBM) but also elsewhere, is that it is, quite self-consciously, a grand narrative – a counter-narrative to that of modernism. Latour is quite explicit about this; he offers, “an alternative to the grand narrative of Progress” – an “Entanglement grand narrative”.22 “I have no special sympathy for the notion of master narratives”, he writes, but neither have I any reason to reject them since in the social theory I work with, there is no other way to build a society than thrashing out, through a sort of lassolike movement, constantly new interpretations of what gathers us together.23 His is a “cosmopolitical”24 project; an attempt to facilitate philosophically and sociologically what he calls “the progressive composition of the common world”.25 Latour writes (with Shirley Strum): “Every time a story of the origins of society is told, a genealogy of the society is built.”26 Latour’s ‘non-
The two remaining points that are less relevant for us here: 9) We have to go looking for actors empirically, not assume them theoretically. 10) Complexity must be chosen over parsimony when the two are mutually exclusive. 16 (Srnicek 2010, p.32) 17 (Srnicek 2010, p.36) 18 (Srnicek 2010, p.31) 19 (Latour & Callon 1981) 20 “Is a railroad local or global? Neither. It is local at all points, since you always find sleepers and railroad workers, and you have stations and automatic ticket machines scattered along the way. Yet it is global, since it takes you from Madrid to Berlin or from Brest to Vladivostok. However, it is not universal enough to be able to take you just anywhere. It is impossible to reach the little Auvergnat village of Malpy by train, or the little Staffordshire village of Market Drayton. There are continuous paths that lead from the local to the global, from the circumstantial to the universal, from the contingent to the necessary, only so long as the branch lines are paid for.” (Latour 1993, p.117) 21 In Latour’s own words: “The macro is nothing but a slight extension of the micro” (Latour 2002, p.122) 22 (Latour 2000) 23 (Latour 2003a, p.41) 24 “[C]osmopolitics, meaning, literally, the politics of the cosmos” (Latour 2007a, p.813) 25 Latour has used this phrase in many essays in the past decade. See, for example: (Latour 2004a, p.18) 26 (Latour and Strum 1986, p.172)
Philip Conway modernism’ is an alternative story of where ‘we’ came from as ‘moderns.’ His is, therefore, nothing less than an attempt to re-write the genealogy of the contemporary world.27 1.3.2: Entanglement/non-modernity According to Latour, the grand narrative of modernism is one of ‘emancipation’ from nature – the progressive distancing of humans from non-humans, developing relations of mastery. This inherently dualist ontology has always, in one form or another, relied upon a division between, on the one hand, a real, hard, cold, material, objective realm – the realm of disinterested, unmediated, inhuman nature – which is overlaid, on the other, by an ephemeral, soft, warm, ideal, subjective realm – the realm of passionate, fallible, subjectivity. The modernist narrative claims that modernity is the progressive purification of these two realms – the gradual elimination of bias, uncertainty and untruth from human knowledge – the attainment of unmediated Truth.28 This, Latour claims, has everything completely backwards. First of all, there are not two realms, there has only ever been one. This split was initiated for the convenience of seventeenth-century science29 and was institutionalised by Kant and his modernist epigones (§1.5).30 It was a convenient abstraction that was erroneously taken to be concrete ontological division.31 (This is Latour’s ontological movement.) What has happened over the last few hundred years is, instead, a progressive entanglement of humans and non-humans in ever greater relations of inter-dependency. (This is Latour’s modological movement.) “Underneath the opposition between objects and subjects,” he writes, “there is the whirlwind of the mediators.”32 This “excluded middle,”33 this vortex “is the unthinkable, the unconscious of the moderns.”34 What is more, it makes ‘modernity’ possible. All the time that moderns thought that they were making the two sides of their Constitution ever more pure, they were, in fact, creating ever more melded, imbricated, enmeshed hybrids of nature, society and everything else
His work is thus definable by the need to make a choice between “[e]mancipation [from nature] and attachment [to nonhumans], two great narratives for the same history.” (Latour 2008, p.5) 28 ‘Unmediated Truth’ is, of course, an oxymoron (and this is precisely the point). For something to be ‘unmediated’ it must be absolutely immanent (L. immanere: to reside or dwell in) – there can be nothing between the knower and the known. But ‘Truth’ itself must be absolutely transcendent (L. transcendere: climb over or beyond, surmount) – it must be the pure, untouched product of what lies beyond, be it God, Nature or whatever equivalent. An ‘unmediated Truth’ therefore requires a knowing subject that can simultaneously reside within both the immanent, manufactured, constructed human realm and leap over to the transcendent, ready-made, ‘discovered,’ inhuman realm. The locus classicus for this heroic figure is Plato’s Cave allegory, in which the philosopher raises himself (and it could only be himself) up out of the dark delusions of the Cave to the light of the Ideas outside. The Platonic philosopher has today morphed into the modern scientist but the contradiction remains the same: the subject cannot be in both places at once, yet this is precisely the contradiction that gives the whole Settlement its supreme power – its ability to settle political disputes with absolute authority, while proliferating hybrids at every greater rates. (On Plato see: (Latour 2004a, first chapter)) So, when Srnicek (2010) insists that ANT is committed “to immanence and the rejection of any transcendence, either in the form of a social whole or a world of ideal laws” (p.9) this is true insofar as Latour rejects transcendence in the Platonic sense; however, he does not do away with transcendence in favour of immanence as such. He asks: “Who told us that transcendence had to have a contrary? We have never abandoned transcendence …”. (Latour 1993, p.128) Latour’s “infraphysics” retains transcendence rather than immanence but it does away with the salto mortale (James 1976) of modernist transcendence in favour of many small, tentative but connected steps (this, in contradistinction to the ‘perilous leap,’ James calls deambulatory movement – not immanence but an alternative form of transcendence). It is, therefore, many small transcendences that we trace in what Srnicek calls “the Principle of Traceability” (p.9) – if everything was purely immanent this would be impossible. Indeed, what is traced could very well be said to be the production of transcendence (given that it, like everything else, must be constructed). 29 (Whitehead 1967) 30 (Latour 1991) 31 This is broadly the same point Alfred North Whitehead was making when he coined the phrases “fallacy of misplaced concreteness” and “bifurcation of nature” – in many ways Latour’s work picks up where Whitehead’s left off (Whitehead 1967). 32 (Latour 1993, p.46) 33 (Latour 1999, p.235) 34 (Latour 1993, p.37)
‘Where’s the Action?’ besides. This cumulative proliferation allowed moderns to build ever longer networks until they (the Moderns) were global (§1.2) and dominated the rest of the world.35 Now, Latour claims, we (Moderns) have reached a point where hybrids are so omnipresent, the ‘whirlwind’ so fierce, that we have what Ulrich Beck refers to as a global Risk Society36 – that is, a society in which the complex interdependencies between human and non-human actors has grown so vast that the contingencies inhering in this entanglement can no longer be controlled. Certain affinities between this ‘entanglement narrative’ and globalisation discourse present themselves: Firstly, entanglement facilitates globalisation – indeed it makes it possible: “every time we mobilize more nonhumans”, Latour says, “we also … associate together larger crowds of humans. The two movements go together.”37 Moreover, entanglement brings attention to interdependence and the need for greater global political coordination and de-regionalised democratic participation.38 The genre of this yarn is decidedly epic: we have taken, Latour avers, “the whole of Creation on our shoulders”.39 Latour is insistent, however, that he is “not saying that we are entering a new era”.40 The changes, rather, are incremental and reversible. There has been no epistemological break; no before and after; no great revolution; no rift.41 Therefore, while Latour’s vision coheres with many globalisation narratives in its belief in escalating complexity, acceleration and interdependency, he (a) does not believe that this represents a schism or division in time (b) does not believe that ‘the global’ has become a separate realm superordinate to the local42 and (c) does not believe one bit of the grandiose pronouncements about irreversible deterritorialisation.43 Nevertheless, Latour does provide answers to many of the same questions that globalisation theorists ask and to this extent he could be considered a theorist of contemporary globality.
1.4: The state: a neglected horizon
As should be clear, Latour gives us a powerful and complex account of globality and global change. What, then, of the state? Is this bypassed and sidelined in Latour’s narrative, as with so many of its globalist kin? Perhaps; it is quite difficult to say because Latour says so little about states (and it is far from clear whether this elision should entail disdain or simply disinterest). Only one co-authored essay from 1981 and an unpublished lecture from 2007 deal with states explicitly and at length. In the former, an essay titled Unscrewing the Big Leviathan, Latour and Michel Callon outline a breathtakingly original schematic for conceiving of state power in terms that transcend the conventional idealist/materialist dichotomies and erase any transcendental pretensions the state might have vis-à-vis other forms of organisation, yet they do not say anything about what makes a state a state (i.e. accepting that the state is not absolutely unlike other forms of political organisation: what is it that,
I have reservations about this way of carving up the world but do not have time to consider this important point now (§3.3). 36 Latour claims that Beck’s notion of ‘risk’ is equivalent to his notion of ‘network’. (Latour 2003a, p.36) 37 (Latour 2000) 38 (Latour 2000) 39 (Latour 2008, p.12) 40 (Latour 1993, p.47) 41 This is important as the modernist narrative, according to Latour, maintained its contradictions by perpetually consigning ‘falsehood’ and suchlike to the past – that is, believing in perpetual scientific revolution (out of sight, out of mind: the modernist mantra). This philosophy of history is a necessary condition for the broader ‘modernist settlement.’ Latour’s philosophy of history is one of co-existence where the past can only be consigned to oblivion by action in the present – that is, archaism does not create itself; it must, like everything, be constructed. This will be important when we come to consider the allegations concerning the decline of the state (§3.4). 42 c.f. Ulrich Beck: “At the beginning of the 21st century the conditio humana cannot be understood nationally or locally but only globally. ‘Globalization’ is a non-linear, dialectic process in which the global and the local do not exist as cultural polarities but as combined and mutually implicating principles.” (Beck 2002b, p.17) 43 On the contrary, order is what must be explained; any appeals to nebulous ‘forces,’ ‘logics’ or ‘Multitudes’ are to be discarded. All that matters are concrete, actual actors and the modalities of their relations. This means that all changes are reversible.
Philip Conway nevertheless, gives them their distinctive history?). Indeed, their aim is very much to show how statelike other forms of organisation can be (in particular, techno-scientific corporations). For our purposes, their modological movement comes up short. In the 2007 lecture, delivered at the Dutch ‘Scientific Council for Government Policy,’ Latour argues for the need to “rediscover the Liberal State.” “It is amazing,” he says, that attempting to find an alternative to the state “could have passed for so long as a serious intellectual endeavour, so obvious it is for us now, that there is no alternative to the State”.44 Very well, Bruno; perhaps the state is an ‘unsurpassable horizon.’45 But if that is the case then shouldn’t we know a bit more about it? Science and Technology Studies can, he claims, help to ‘re-tool’ the state by showing how its ‘cognitive capacities’ can be enhanced while making the whole lumbering edifice more accountable. A valuable endeavour, certainly, but one that leaves what the state is and how it relates unquestioned. Once again, he talks at length about the co-dependence of science and state, the importance of technologies and the need to tie all this up in a nice liberal democratic bundle, but he says nothing at all about what makes a state a state – i.e. about its specific modality of translation. Perhaps it has none? Perhaps; but I think that it does.
Before I can translate IR into Latourian terms I need to elaborate two terms in particular: translation and purification. Figure 3.3 from WHNBM (herein Figure 1, below) illustrates the terms and their relationship well.
Figure 1 – The Modern Socio-Scientific Settlement (from We Have Never Been Modern, p.58)
(Latour 2007b, p.3) ‘L'horizon indépassable,’ as Jean-Paul Sartre famously said of Marxism.
‘Where’s the Action?’ As discussed before, the modernist grand narrative supposes that all things can be divided between two poles: the subject/society pole and the object/nature pole. Translation has always occurred in the middle of the two poles – this is ‘where the action is’ – this is where the modern world is made (not only out of social relations, cultural differences, language games and economic subordination but also granite, asphalt, antibiotics and caesium oscillators). It is always in the confused combination of what is known (on the right) and what is (on the left) that new beings come to be.46 Translation is accompanied, however, by purification – the moderns’ own ‘second movement’ –, which relocates or ‘stabilises’ all fabricated entities and forces them to occupy either one pole or the other: a hybrid must either be a real, natural, discovered thing (on the left) or an imaginary, social, invented thing (on the right); only before its stabilisation (amidst the strum und drang of “trials of strength”47) is it allowed to be both.48 So, the two tasks are contradictory “not only mutually but internally”49 and absolute purification is impossible but that does not mean that the moderns are shrouded by a veil of false consciousness that must be lifted. The moderns claim to have been only purifying while all the time they were translating, but, Latour stresses, “the relation between the work of purification and that of mediation is not that of … illusion and reality. … There is no false consciousness involved”.50 Without [translation], the practices of purification would be fruitless or pointless. Without [purification], the work of translation would be slowed down, limited or even ruled out.51 The contradiction is thus efficacious – a paradox that allows the two sides to function freely. Indeed, the efficacy of their entire enterprise depends upon their ability maintain this contradiction. This ‘Constitution,’52 as Latour terms it, has allowed the moderns to proliferate their hybrids wildly and freely without any regard for the consequences, because as soon as any non-human object is fully realised through mediation between human and non-human agents it is fixed to the nature pole and is claimed to have ‘always been there.’ Equally, any disregarded hypothesis is immediately fused to the social/subjective pole and was always ‘human, all too human.’ This continual logical impossibility allows them to continue to bring ever more objects ever closer to human lives but to ignore this fact and, no less, to claim the opposite! If you turn round suddenly, as in the children's game ‘Mother, may I?’, they will freeze, looking innocent, as if they hadn't budged[!]53 But, as previously noted (§1.3.2), this proliferation-without-consequence has created an environmental, economic and ultimately cosmopolitical quandary with hybrids now spread so far and so wide that they and their consequences can no longer be controlled. With so many non-humans folded into it, the global collective (for Latour there is such a thing) has reached breaking point.54 So, we can finally define our terms:
This claim stands in stark contrast to the likes of Roy Bhaskar and his epigones, for whom the ‘epistemic fallacy’ – the confusion of what is with what we know of things, of ontology with epistemology – is the cardinal sin of the philosophy of science. Far from it, for Latour, it is only by compounding and only later resolving this confusion that science can be so efficacious. 47 (Harman 2009, p.25-26) 48 Notice also that each stage of social philosophy raises the incommensurability of the two poles to a greater degree, each one trying to carve out an ever larger, ever purer space of humanity, away from the dirt and steel of ‘inhuman’ science – postmoderns continue this trend rather than breaking with it as they raise the division to an absolute. Latour’s project is not, then, a via media, a bridging exercise, between two flawed positions, but rather a via tertia – another direction entirely. 49 (Latour 1993, p.31) 50 (Latour 1993, p.40) emphasis added. 51 (Latour 1993, p.10-11) 52 (Latour 2004a) 53 (Latour 1993, p.37) 54 Carbon molecules, CFCs, prions and nuclear weapons are just a few of the more obvious ‘risky’ non-humans that have interested IR, GS and Latour alike.
Philip Conway o Translation is the process by which human and non-human actants are mixed together in ever more creative, complicated and powerful ways to create new objects – that is, hybrids or quasiobjects.55 o Purification refers to the work undertaken to hide and deny the hybridity of hybrids and ‘stabilise’ all actants; that is, to fuse them to either the Nature/Object pole or the Society/Subject pole, regardless of their genealogy. The important point for us is these two terms: translation and purification. I believe that these terms can also be used to describe the modern sovereign state.
Now to translate IR into Latour’s terms and Latour into IR’s terms…
2.1: Translation/purification as sovereignty
As Latour puts it: If we want to move ahead quickly while remaining precise, nothing is as concise as a myth.56 Time is short, so let us adopt, for argument’s sake, the founding myth of IR:57 Medieval Europe was an age of heinous political polygamy; it was a riotous, blood-drenched, scrambled morass of overlapping jurisdictions and incomplete, non- and trans-territorial claims to authority. In 1648, in Westphalia, some particularly enlightened despots got together and instigated clear territorial lines, undisputed divisions of sovereign rights and responsibilities and the balance of power system that would, more or less, keep the peace in Europe up until the twentieth century. The hazy nebula became a well defined constellation… We can disagree with the vulgar simplifications and shameful elisions of this fable so long as we recognise the grain of truth in it: pre-modern European political organisation differed from that of modernity in that it was complex, overlapping and, to borrow a phrase, hybrid. This geo-political hybridity of pre-modern Europe is contrasted to the (apparent) geo-political purity of modern Europe. And this leads me to my first proposition: 1. The establishment of modern sovereignty instigated a purification operation whereby what crossed borders (of all kinds) had to be settled into being within or without the state’s jurisdiction (the inside/outside question58). If sovereignty was to be anything more than so much hot, Westphalian air, lines of inclusion and exclusion had to be drawn and then redrawn (again and again). Statehood had to be continually stabilised in dotage to a pre-determined binary. Even at the heights of mercantilism, the very existence of the state depended upon its economic, political, imperial, and, let us not forget, socio-scientific relations with the rest of the world. The geo-political hybrids – religious loyalties, trade, rivers, etc. – had not vanished: they had been fixed to either pole (inside or outside) as if they were ‘always there;’ or, failing that, they had simply been ignored (or obscured).59
Quasi-object is Michel Serres’ term – Latour uses it as a synonym for hybrids: objects that have not yet been stabilised onto either the subjective or objective poles of the Modernist Settlement. 56 (Latour 2004a, p.10) 57 And it is, of course, a myth: (Teschke 2003) 58 (Walker 1993) 59 If the ‘excluded middle’ of the subject/object dichotomy is a ‘whirlwind’ then the middle of the inside/outside dichotomy must be a tempest. Many a ship has sunk in those seas never to be seen again, much to the delight of modern political philosophy, which has been premised upon the non-existence of such travellers.
‘Where’s the Action?’ So, we are presented with two ‘Settlements’ or ‘Constitutions,’ one socio-scientific and one geopolitical, that emerged, so their respective myths go, in that ‘century of genius,’60 the seventeenthcentury of Europe. This is the first confluence of the pair, but, I am sure it has occurred to you already, that a second confluence is apparent in our contemporary ‘era of globalisation.’
2.2: The risk of globalisation
Globalisation has, on occasion, been likened to ‘pre-modern’ Europe – the phrase neo-medievalism has been banded about on occasion.61 If pre-modern Europe was a time when geo-political hybrids roamed free and if modern states enchained them, does that mean that we have of late witnessed a return to a hybrid-centred political ontology? Isn’t this what we usually call globalisation? In the past few years, when confronted with the irruption of religious fundamentalism or economic auto-obliteration, the predominant reaction has been to treat this as archaism, the “return of the repressed”62 – the failure, perversion or ignorance of Enlightened, properly segmented and aligned, rational organisation. Terrorism, financial rapacity, global warming: we can see all these as the breakdown of “the unconscious of the moderns”63 – constitutional collapses attributable to both geo-political and technoscientific hybrid proliferation. It would be easy to dissolve these events and processes into some big story about disappearing borders and the crumbling of the ‘hard-shelled state.’64 Easy, but wrong. Such an easy answer misses the most important point about Latour’s reading of modernity: hybridity is not a catch-all concept, a golden key, a panacea – it is more of a pharmakon.65 Modernity is not wrought by hybridisation and overlaid with a mere gloss of purification (§1.5). The immense hybridisation of modernity was only possible because of the ongoing purification and the extent to which, to use Michel Callon’s terminology, this allowed the moderns to externalise so much from the frame of their calculations.66 The same goes for the state. If the geo-politics of the modern era has been characterised by the expansion and stabilisation of sovereign statehood (and let us assume, for the sake of argument, that it has) then the proliferation of geo-political hybrids has been dependent on these so sovereign purification operations just as these sovereign purification operations have been dependent on the proliferation of geo-political hybrids. That is not to say that geo-political hybrids cannot exist without the state – clearly they can as they pre-existed it – but, and this is my second proposition: 2. Geo-political hybrids could not have proliferated on the scale they did without the presence of purification operations, which externalised so much from the frame of political calculability so as to make these happenings calculable – that is, to make social relationships delineable and enforceable. Calculation should perhaps not be taken too literally here, but nor should it be taken only metaphorically. In this reading, each state, through its claim to sovereignty, a claim which can never be fully realised,67 becomes a particular, bounded regime of purification. This is so because the sovereign
(Whitehead 1967, chapter 3) “If modern states were to come to share their authority over their citizens, and their ability to command their loyalties, on the one hand with regional and world authorities, and on the other hand with sub-state or sub-national authorities, to such an extent that the concept of sovereignty ceased to be applicable, then a neo-medieval form of universal political order might be said to have emerged.” (Bull 1977, p.254-55) 62 The phrase obviously comes from psychoanalysis and is used by Latour with reference to ‘the unconscious of the moderns.’ (§1.3.2) (Latour 1993, p.69) 63 (Latour 1993) 64 (Herz 1957) 65 Pharmakon: “any drug whose effect can mutate into its opposite, depending on the dose, the circumstances, or the context, any drug whose action provides no guarantee, defines no fixed point of reference that would allow us to recognise and understand its effects with some assurance.” (Stengers 2010, p.29) 66 (Callon 1998) 67 In Ulrich Beck’s terms, sovereignty is a form of risk and “as soon as we speak in terms of ‘risk’, we are talking about calculating the incalculable, colonizing the future”. (Beck 2002a, p.40) Or, as Michel Foucault put it: “The state is at once that which exists, but which does not yet exist enough.” (Foucault et al. 2008) The state is real but it is never fully realised – it
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Philip Conway state is at once both particular (there are many of them – there is political multiplicity) and universal (each state makes absolute claims as to what the terms of its interaction must be and what is to be internal and external to its sovereign jurisdiction). Many examples that demonstrate these phenomena avail themselves; for example: o The Salman Rushdie affair: The fictional writings of a private citizen led to a (universal) religious declaration (an archaism in itself by the modernist reckoning) being made against him and diplomatic relations between the UK and Iran, two sovereign states (or ‘regimes of purification’ in our terms), being severed. These affairs were outside the UK’s definition of what was the concern of the state twice over: first of all, it concerned religious views (and thus was a private rather than public issue (see the right side of Figure 2) and, secondly, it concerned a religious-political apparatus halfway around the world (it was most definitely ‘outside’ in terms of geography and sovereignty) yet it still impacted British foreign policy. The frame separating what is to be taken into account ‘overflowed’68 and the frame itself had to be refitted so as to allow for the continuation of political calculation. o The 1990-91 Gulf War: Saddam Hussein and his government thought that Kuwait should belong to their regime of purification (their definition of what belonged inside and what outside differed from Kuwait and most of the rest of the world!). Moreover, they thought that they would get away with it. In attempting to adjust the limits of their sovereignty on the basis of the former calculation, they severely miscalculated the latter and had to thoroughly reframe their situation (to say the least). One example in particular springs to my mind, however, and it shall be developed at slightly more length.
2.3: Example: the origin of embassies
We now understand the development of modern sovereignty as a process of purification that can never be complete because it is facilitated by and allows for the proliferation of geo-political hybrids. It is, therefore, a paradox, a logical fissure; but one that remains, for the most part, clamped shut in public discourse. What keeps this fissure fused, albeit partially? To answer this I will take a well known example: the origins of the norm by which foreign embassies enjoy the territorial sovereignty of their home state. In medieval Europe, ambassadors were private citizens solicited to represent leaders on a largely ad hoc basis and with little regard for ‘nationality.’ For crimes and misdemeanours all representatives were charged and tried by the laws of their present location, regardless of who or what they represented. As the norm of sovereignty developed, however, this became untenable as “the right of embassy became a sign of sovereign recognition and ambassadors were in place permanently.”69 A demand for absolute geo-political purification – sovereignty – required representatives to be more than relatively unattached mediators – they had to be intermediaries,70 agents so closely attached to their sovereign that an attack
cannot be because it rests upon formative contradictions: power without weakness; security without contingency; translation without transformation – ‘full, unmediated presence’ is another way of putting it. c.f. Latour’s version of science: “science is obtained by the constant purification of the social, cultural and even scientific arguments from its own past; … Science is never pure enough”. (Bowker and Latour 1987, p.724) 68 (Callon 1998) 69 (Ruggie 1993, p.164-65) 70 In Latour’s ontology, mediators and intermediaries are two types of actors that facilitate the relationship of any two other actors – they are ‘go-betweens.’ A mediator is a relatively disobedient go-between – it alters the ‘message’ (taking this word metaphorically, the relation can be non-linguistic or non-human) it carries and imposes its own interpretations on it. Contrariwise, an intermediary is a relatively well disciplined go-between – it maintains the information with little deformation. However, it should be pointed out that these are not two, separate ideal types of actors – instead, all actors partly mediators and partly intermediaries. An actor carries a message when it is acted upon by another and bears the consequences of that relation in its own actions. All beings are acted upon at all times (remember, to be is to relate and to be related (§1.1)) and, therefore, all beings are one or the other of these things. However, neither being can exist in a pure form: a pure intermediary, a go-between that had not deformed or altered the message whatsoever, could, by definition, not be different
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‘Where’s the Action?’ on one was an attack on the other. Moreover, they could not come and go as they pleased – full sovereignty meant permanent relations and full-time ambassadors. Traditional diplomatic practice became impossible. These difficulties were exemplified by the so-called ‘embassy chapel question,’ which John Gerard Ruggie has nicely explained: As the term implies, this had to do with the services celebrated in an ambassador’s chapel … when the religions of the home and host sovereigns differed. For example, Edward VI insisted that the new English prayer book be used in all his embassies; Charles V would tolerate no such heresy at his court. Ambassadors were unpurifiable hybrids unable to comply simultaneously with the task of representing their sovereign and complying with the will of their host. They could not be tolerated within this newfangled Constitution. A doctrinal solution was found … . Rather than contemplate the heresy of a Protestant service at a Catholic court and vice versa, it proved easier to pretend that the service was not taking place in the host country at all but on the soil of the homeland of the ambassador. And so it gradually became with other dimensions of the activities and precincts of embassy. A fictitious space, designated “extraterritoriality,” was invented. Ruggie then quotes the ever eloquent diplomatic historian Garrett Mattingly: By arrogating to themselves supreme power over men’s consciences, the new states had achieved absolute sovereignty. Having done so, they found they could only communicate with one another by tolerating within themselves little islands of alien sovereignty.71 In other words, once the demand for absolute geo-political purification (sovereignty) was put in place, contact could only be established between these now incommensurable substances by “an ‘unbundling’ of territoriality”.72 In order to sustain the absolute division between inside and outside, domestic and foreign and allow for geo-political hybrids to move across this dividing line, a supplement had to be established, an exception or a ‘release valve,’ whereby the contradictions inherent in the settlement could be relieved.73 This indicates, I believe, that there is something distinctive about the mode of political translation in the sovereign state. It does not differ in kind from any other form of political organisation or indeed any other being but it does act in a peculiar fashion: like all beings, it can only exist by interaction with things around it but it cannot accept or admit its dependency and its insecurity fully as its very being is
from the being from which the message originated (there would be no difference); a pure mediator would deform the message beyond all recognition and could not be said to carry the originator’s message at all (there would be no repetition). Therefore, all beings are hybrids of both mediators and intermediaries – but the mixture differs in all cases (c.f. Michel Serres’s notion of ‘static’ in n.83 below). The importance of all of this for the current section is that these terms are related to the concept of black boxes discussed in §3.2 in that a more powerful, more ‘macro,’ more global actor will boast more intermediaries than smaller actors, whose relations will be mostly characterised by mediators. 71 Mattingly, quoted in: (Ruggie 1993, p.165) 72 (Ruggie 1993, p.165) 73 In contradiction to devotees of Carl Schmitt and Giorgio Agamben, therefore, ‘the exception’ is not necessarily so anthropocentric as homo sacer, or even the normalisation of emergency. Certainly sovereignty involves the sacrifice of certain unfortunate bodies so as to maintain the unachievable promise of absolute security but sovereignty is realised by many more means than this. Latour accuses of Schmitt of believing in “political transubstantiation” (Latour 2003b, n.10 p.163) because of his belief that ‘the political’ emerges as if by magic at some transcendental point of violent exclusion in the wider organisational apparatus. Taking a Latourian line allows us to keep the insight of this thought – that the decision over exceptions is the key to sovereign power – but exclude the narrowness of vision that limits this insight only to the relative rarities of extreme violence. Instead we can examine all exclusions and inclusions, violent and otherwise, letting us escape from Giorgio Agamben’s rather hobbled transcendental political philosophy, which very nearly occludes empirical investigation from the start.
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Philip Conway premised upon a contradiction – particular universality.74 In other words, having alienated its others absolutely it can only thenceforth survive by interacting with these absolute others by ever more complicated and convoluted tiered contradictions – supplements that ameliorate and obscure the hybridity inherent in their construction and thus facilitate the situations whereby massively accelerated geo-political hybridity can proliferate (through the guarantee of private property, biopolitical caretaking, the restrictions placed upon certain kinds of travellers, the institutionalised domination of certain persons on the basis of class, race, gender, etc.). This contradiction allows the world we live in.
For all that legwork, now is the time for some resolution.
3.1: “Man, the State and [Latour]”
We can only understand the relationship between IR and GS if we make this a tripolar arrangement. My diagram is unfortunately a little rudimentary, however it summarises my argument nicely.75
Figure 2 – The Modern Geo-Political Settlement
This conclusion is tentative and has some important caveats (§3.3), however, I am now able to offer a firm answer to the question that I am sure is gripping all of us here today: what is the relationship between GS and IR? Simply: (1) Global Studies examines geo-political hybrids and modes of geo-political hybridisation – those beings that traverse, transcend and generally disrespect fixed territorial boundaries of all kinds.
(Walker 2010) “Man, the State and [Latour]” is, of course, a reference to Kenneth Waltz’s classic IR text Man, the State and War (1959), which is often credited (Singer 1960; Singer 1961) with establishing the three ‘levels of analysis’ which are now, and have been for decades, the discipline’s founding doxa. It is precisely this notion of discrete ‘levels of analysis’ that Srnicek (2010) criticises at the start of his essay (p.31-32) and my present paper can be read as an attempt to reformulate the problem in less ontologically exclusionary terms (as different areas of a single, flat space rather than a set of discrete, tiered, albeit ‘interactive,’ ‘interdependent’ or ‘structurating,’ plateaux).
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‘Where’s the Action?’ (2) International Relations examines the relations between regimes of geo-political purification – the ways in which polities making sovereign claims are recognised (or not) and compete and/or collaborate so as to cohabit, coalesce or destroy one another. However, to this ménage à deux we must add a troisième: (3) Political Science examines regimes of purification themselves, how they are comprised and sustained in the face of opposition both symmetrical (IR) and asymmetrical (GS) – the ways in and means by which polities are sustained and constitute their others. These three areas must always be traversed to some degree, whatever discipline one comes from; disciplinary differentiation comes from one’s concentrations alone. Each direction is a continuum, not a territory, no zone exists apart from the others and none are either ontologically or logically prior to the others. Indeed, this is only one way of carving up reality. It is not, therefore, carved ‘at its joints,’ as it were, only at the most convenient points for the occasion. Overall, then, we need to recognise three interdependent subject areas that traverse the same territory, overlapping, sharing and for the most part co-existing: o The intra-political (Political Science) o The inter-political (IR) o The trans-political (GS)76 For all the peculiarities that remain in this schematic, it does provide us with a clear idea of how our work fits together and, importantly, how a common ontology can bring to an end paradigmatic competition and recognise the inherent symbiosis between IR and GS (and not only this pair). Looking at the situation in this fashion shows us that, to misuse Latour’s famous phrase, ‘we have never been different!’ We are interested in broadly the same things and in all of our analyses we must traverse the same areas – the differences largely reside in emphasis. Even the most vulgarly cloistered IR theorist must at some point wander outside her holding pattern in the bottom left of the triangle – even the most state-phobic globalisation scholar must at some point deal with the interactions of states that demand absolute authority over what ultimately escapes them. We are kin! It has never been otherwise – though it should be more so. The relationship is, as I promised to argue, ‘vital, intensive and symbiotic.’ So, the disciplines are symbiotes just as are states and non-state actors. How, then, do we go about studying these relationships? Precisely how does one symbiote relate to the other? To answer this I need to go back to my discussion of Srnicek’s paper and add a seventh modality to his six.
3.2: Parasitism: the seventh modality
In an extremely useful final section, Conflict Networks includes six modalities which provide a vocabulary for conceiving and researching global political relations in ANT terms:: o Infection/Contagion: the ways and extents to which macro-actors can infiltrate and ingress into the areas (geographical or otherwise) in which they are (supposedly, in theory, or in principle) or desire to be strong (or sovereign) and the ways and extents to which they can tie themselves into the fabric of other networks in a relationship of subordination or at least authorisation. o Alliance: the ways and extents to which macro-actors can manipulate other actors within their domains, positively or negatively, rewardingly or punitively, so that these actors acquiesce and can be relied on as allies. o Leverage/Cascade: ways in and means by which micro-actors can enact small events at strategic points in larger networks that result in large consequences. o Aggregation: the accumulation of many dispersed, minor and perhaps non-violent actions to disrupt the efficient operations of more conventionally powerful actors.77
Here ‘political’ should imply ‘polities’ as the concrete referents of politics (I am fully aware that this is only one meaning of the word). 77 (Srnicek 2010, §3)
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Philip Conway Broadly speaking, ‘Infection/Contagion’ and ‘Alliance’ refer to strengths of macro-actors (i.e. states) while ‘Leverage/Cascade’ and ‘Aggregation’ refer to strengths of micro-actors (ranging from terrorist networks to local organisations or even individuals). We can use these modalities, therefore, to understand states in comparison with non-state actors; however, how do we understand the relationship specifically? To achieve this we need a seventh modality: parasitism. I find this point in germ form later on in Srnicek’s essay. “Contra Callon and Latour” in their essay Unscrewing the Big Leviathan,78 Srnicek argues, there is “a significant distinction to be made between [two] types of global actors”: [Firstly], there are the established (institutionalized, organized, materialized) actornetworks for creating a global action – the realm of black boxes that Callon and Latour examine. [Secondly], there are the global actions which operate without the need for a series of black boxes.79 Black boxes are, as Srnicek puts it in the same section, “relatively stable conduits of force that can be relied upon under normal circumstances.”80 Or, as Latour and Callon put it: An actor grows with the number of relations he or she can put, as we say, in black boxes. A black box contains that which no longer needs to be reconsidered, those things whose contents have become a matter of indifference. The more elements one can place in black boxes – modes of thought, habits, forces and objects – the broader the construction one can raise. Of course, black boxes never remain fully closed or properly fastened … but macro-actors can do as if they were closed and dark.81 An actor becomes bigger, more ‘macro,’ more global, not by existing in some ‘realm’ beyond the local but simply by being able to put many of its relations in black boxes and, therefore, being able to chain more and more of them together (§1.2).82 Al-Qaeda is an example of the second sort of actor and the United States of America is an example of the first. The terrorist actor-network makes use of the same networks that the state actornetwork does much work to maintain – powerful communications technology, financial privacy, public transportation, etc. – and then, by striking at key weaknesses in its opponents longer, more precarious networks, causes exponentially magnified effects. This, Srnicek argues, is “the minimal condition of globality: the capacity to affect large numbers of actors that are widely dispersed.”83 Global actors needn’t be massive, scaly Leviathans – already existing global networks can be appropriated and affected temporarily or even momentarily so as to instigate global actions without ever fully enveloping those networks into one’s own control. This is an insightful and apposite point, however I feel that Srnicek both overstates and underestimates his insight. The asymmetric quality exemplified in the Al-Qaeda/U.S.A. example, I would argue, does not give us two kinds of actors – there are not two kinds of actors in the world, one playing parasite and the other host. In this sense Srnicek overstates his point. However, in a second and, I think, more interesting way, he underestimates his point and the reason for that is this: parasitism is
(Latour & Callon 1981) (Srnicek 2010, p.37) 80 (Srnicek 2010, p.37) 81 (Latour & Callon 1981, p.184-85) 82 The process of black boxing is, in Latour’s terms, a process of social complication (to be distinguished from social complexity): “[C]omplexity [is] the simultaneous taking into account of many variables at once … complication [is] the piling of many simple steps one after the other.” (Latour 2000) “Something is ‘complicated’ when it is made of a succession of simple operations. … [T]he skills in an industrial society are those of simplification making social tasks less complex rather than making them more complex by comparison with other human and animal societies. By holding a variety of factors constant and sequentially negotiating one variable at a time, a stable complicated structure is created. Through extra-somatic resources employed in the process of social complication, units like multinational corporations, states and nations can be constituted”. (Strum and Latour 1987) emphasis added. 83 (Srnicek 2010, p.37)
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‘Where’s the Action?’ an aspect of all actor-networks – all make use of networks that they do not ‘pay’ to maintain or give anything back to; all use and manipulate aspects of the world that they have no obligation to secure or guarantee. Parasitism is, therefore, (and I use this term tentatively) ‘universal.’84 All relationships are to some degree parasitical, it is just a question of degree. Well known in economics and IR alike is the ‘free rider’ problem, where an actor (in IR, a hegemon within a system of states) provides a public good (security and stability for the system), which leads to other actors (smaller states) taking that protection for granted and reducing their expenditure at the first actor’s expense. Take post World War Europe: with U.S. protection, IR Realists would argue that Europeans were able to greatly reduce their armed forces, thus ‘free riding’ on the U.S.’s expenditure. There are, of course, many problems with this point of view85 but the pertinent point is that even states can be ‘parasitic.’ The Earth’s atmosphere is another obvious example: since time immemorial it has been an ‘externality,’ something useful that was seemingly undiminishable or self-sustaining – something that never had to be taken into account within one’s frame of calculation.86 With the industrial revolutions of the past few centuries, however, this is no longer the case – no part of the Earth can be taken for granted anymore, at least not completely. We should recall a remark by Latour quoted above (§1.3.2): we have, Latour says, taken “the whole of Creation on our shoulders and”, he continues, “have now become literally (and not metaphorically … ) coextensive to the Earth”.87 States, capitalism, human existence: all have, correctly or not, been argued to be, in the sense expressed here, ‘parasitic’ with regard to other networks.88 The point for our discussion is therefore this: if all actor-networks are parasitic then we have a theoretical context for analysing their interdependency. If we are interested in the relationship of states relative to hybrids (and thus the relationship between IR and GS) then we need to understand how hybrids parasitise states and vice versa. Quite simply: could there be ‘globality’ without a more or less systematic collection of sovereign states,
Interestingly, Michel Serres (2007), a good friend and great inspiration of Latour’s, uses the term ‘parasite’; indeed, it is central to his philosophy. In French, ‘parasite’ has the meanings it has in English: a biological parasite that lives directly on or in its host or any sort of being that takes without giving anything back – however, the French has another meaning: static (i.e. interference such as on a bad telephone line). In Serres’s philosophy, static (or interference) constitutes difference, which constitutes everything. The difference between message Y at points A and B is ‘parasite’ (static, distortion) X. Without X, A could not be different from B, therefore it could not exist. Signal ‘degradation’ constitutes existence by differentiation. For this reason, parasitism is ‘universal’ – as universal as difference. Serres’s meaning is a little different to mine, however it is not altogether different. For Serres, a parasitic relation is one “without a reversal of direction” – a unidirectional relation. Such relations are found far and wide, especially in political life: “[H]istory has never lacked for political parasites. History is full of them, or maybe is made solely of them.” (p.5) We parasite each other and live amidst parasites. Which is more or less a way of saying that they constitute our environment. We live in that black box called the collective; we live by it, on it, and in it. It so happens that this collective was given the form of an animal: Leviathan. We are certainly within something bestial; in more distinguished terms, we are speaking of an organic model for the members of a society. Our host? I don't know. But I do know that we are within. And that it is dark in there. (p.10) All is parasitic – this is a necessarily so. The specificities of parasitism: these are cases for research. 85 To say the least! This point of view completely obviates imperialism and the benefits the hegemonic actor receives, but this is an analogy, not a supporting argument. 86 (Callon 1998) 87 (Latour 2008, p.12) 88 More than a few analysts have remarked on how the logic of capitalism is to internalise everything into the same system – to take more and more into account, to internalise externalities by means of capitalisation. With regard to geo-political globalisation (or rather late colonialism, in fact), the geographer Halford Mackinder famously anticipated such a situation and the consequences that it would bring in 1904: Every explosion of social forces, instead of being dissipated in a surrounding circuit of unknown space and barbaric chaos, will be sharply re-echoed from the far side of the globe, and weak elements in the political and economic organism of the world will be shattered in consequence (Mackinder 1904, p.422). When everything has been ‘brought inside,’ no externalities can bear the brunt of misplaced frames and flawed calculations. Instead everything rattles around like a stone in an old tin rolling down a hill; the din becomes deafening.
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Philip Conway more or less spanning the globe, more or less providing security and underwritten guarantees for various trans-state actors? (Could there be ‘globality’ without regimes of geo-political purification?) But, equally: could there be ‘globality’ without more or less organised, more or less independent hybrids teeming all over the globe, using resources they have no intention of re-stocking?89 (Could there be ‘globality’ without massed geo-political hybrids?) I would suggest that both are necessary in order to understand the condition of globality we find ourselves in. Rumours of the state’s demise, on this analysis, have therefore been greatly exaggerated. Only more empirical research can tell us more than this.
3.3: Important caveats
I have taken a range of presuppositions for granted – in particular the idea that the modern state emerged in early modern Europe and spread elsewhere. This neither admits the wider influences on European political organisation, nor the complex and individual histories by which each state was established (nor, indeed, the many kinds of state around the world and the non-existence of it in many places). In my analysis, particularly in the last section, I have largely taken ‘state’ to mean ‘Western, liberal, democratic state,’ which speaks only to my preparedness and the limitations of this paper, not my beliefs with regard to states in general. Equally, Latour’s homogenisation of Euro-Americans into ‘Moderns’ and the rest of the world into ‘Others’ has been left regrettably unchallenged. I hope that I will be forgiven these omissions given the constraints I have been working with. Furthermore, I have appropriated Latour’s analysis of science and society and applied it to the question of sovereignty – I believe that this translation broadly holds but in truth it requires its own terminology; this is something I hope to work on in future and for now it will have to do. It is an imperfect analysis but it is a first step.
3.4: Final Remarks
If we are truly brethren then what has kept us apart for so long? Surely, the idea that the sovereign state was somehow declining, moribund – due its death. The very existence of this conference indicates to me that this tired old thesis is itself on the way out. Pertinent questions are no longer phrased in an ‘either/or’ fashion but instead recognise the intensive entanglement of different forms of political life. Indeed, from the vantage point now attained, the ‘declining state’ thesis stands out as a peculiarly modern ailment; one that can no longer hold. No, if the state was a “obligatory passage point”90 for geo-political proliferation, then we cannot assume that it will “go gentle into that good night”. Why? Because this assumes a particular philosophy of history: one in which the past is oblivion. It may be overstating the case to put it, as Latour does, that “[e]verything has become contemporary”91 but certainly the past doesn’t pass like it used to; the past is no longer “the confusion of things and men” and the future is no longer “what will no longer confuse them”.92 In modernist socio-scientific and geo-political settlements alike, the past was a heretical, irrational knot of bloody crossed-wires – set against that past, the future would consist of the rightful, rational enspherement of ‘mutually exclusive’ domains: to science, objective nature; to the individual, subjective religion and property; to the economy, laissez faire; to bodies, good health and productivity; to minds, passions and desires; to ‘domestic politics,’ history, security and fraternity; to the ‘outside,’ the static terror of the state of nature. We no longer need to think this way. The past is no longer the refuse heap of all things archaic. The ‘declining state’ thesis was modern because it believed that to change was to die, to die was to pass into the past and the past was oblivion. No such luck. The dream of absolute purification
Of course, this must not imply that states ‘stock’ and ‘protect’ and non-state actors ‘take’ and ‘destroy’ – the point is more to question the distribution of roles and the properties of the assemblage altogether. 90 (Latour 1987) 91 (Latour 2004b) 92 For modernist science, as Latour puts it, “[t]he past was the confusion of things and men; the future is what will no longer confuse them.” With some minor modification we can see the parallel for our case: ‘the past was the confusion of [religious, economic, internal and external political bonds]; the future is what will no longer confuse them.’ (Latour 1993, p.71) (Italics removed in body text.)
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‘Where’s the Action?’ may or may not be disappearing but that does not mean that we have been dissolved into one continuous ocean of hybrids; not if those hybrids always relied on purification to begin with. Therefore, we are not postmodern either. Might we be non-modern? What this could mean is, as of yet, only a question. For Latour, the state is an ‘unsurpassable horizon’ of contemporary political life, yet his work generally bypasses questions of the state altogether. If there is, as he says, “no alternative to the State”,93 then it is most peculiar that his own political philosophy says nothing of them (§1.4).94 For Latour, only ‘political ecology’ can deal with our condition of mass socio-techno-scientific hybridity; yet, as I have suggested, we can no more eliminate purification from our geo-political settlement than we can from our socio-scientific one. This being so, the state cannot legitimately be placed to one side in a Latourian ‘cosmopolitics.’ Given the common ontology that Latour’s work affords us, our new tripartite alliance can amend this defect. The result would, I believe, be a superior, (perchance ‘nonmodern’?) settlement for all.
(Latour 2007b, p.3) Probably the most developed example of Latour’s political philosophy to date is his Politics of Nature (2004a).
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