Archive for the ‘Political Commentary and Intervention’ Category

[Draft Version of a section intended for publication in Care, Power, Information]

Universities and related institutions dedicated to higher education and/or research have been and continue to be for the (un)foreseeable future  subject to  a social and political regime bent on demoting, demolishing,  and de-intellectualizing them. This is conducted both from the so-called Rights, Lefts, and  Neoliberals. This regime has  explicit and implicit support both from within these institutions – let’s call these academia – and from populations without an apparent stake in academia (let’s call these, broadly, anti-intellectuals). It’s done both in and under various names, such as the names of progress, freedom, equality, profit, austerity, etc.  It’s both conducted in practice as well as given warrant in various ways, too, which, however, both go against many of the pillars of academic discourse itself as well as its particular sub-fields (largely those so-called [mistakenly] ‘soft’, ‘not-STEM nor business’ fields). Reactions by intellectual academics have varied, but more often than not, those already with a membership in academic institutions with a job or with a serious stake in one seem to resort to choose strategies that are of a collaborative  nature with the regime of destruction – regardless whether they chose the passive strategy to merely duck and hope not to be noticed if only they keep their mouths shut: a passive-aggressive strategy that means say a few snarky things but overall don’t resist actively (and make it clear you won’t) , or even contribute actively to the destruction (in some schizophrenic cases, academic actors have literally talked an intellectual talk while walking the anti-intellectual walk).   However, this destruction of higher education and research is undermining the future of our societies, specifically the future of and in the Global North; and, as a consequence, for some – though not all – dependent institutions, social groups, and countries in the Global South.

Before going deeper into the issue I am trying to elaborate, a few things should be said about the geopolitical aspect of my intervention. While I do understand that some critical voices from or concerned with the Global South, including the decolonial discourse of which I am a supporter,  will have good reason to say ‘Why should we care?’ and may even claim that such self-induced demise of the North (by means of causing its own ‘brain-death’, so to speak) might be well deserved, I would say that one could argue that this will not change the global situation and thus the situation for the Global South for the better but may make it worse; it will also not create any kind of justice, since there is a ‘global South’ within the Global North, i.e. people who will suffer from this, who are in many ways except geographically closer to the South than the North, and it is not just in terms of unfairly punishing future generations – without elaborating this point too much, since I already often talk about the different issues of guilt versus responsibility and how to deal with them differently. My own approach here is, precisely, about the need to ‘provincialize’ the Global North (as a geopolitical location) and the West (as an epistemic system), which means to strip away the Norths privilege, entitlement, and the (epistemic-)imperialist claim to universality. Tentatively and somewhat simplifying but for the present purpose adequate, let’s say that doesn’t mean, for example, that knowledge produced by the North in the Western form of knowledge practice cannot be used in a generalized fashion, but that it cannot consider itself as an unprerequisited  foundation. Also, and most importantly, I am not defending a mere return to any of the classic University ideas – from Humboldt to the Neoliberal University, or else. Although, I will certainly claim, that we can always learn something from these various ideas and the reasons that were deployed in their inception. But in understanding these reasons, in considering which of their goals and ideas were and still may be worthwhile as partial connections and occasional ideals to try out, I would still say that we must recognize and understand their failures and acts of violence, but recognition also means owning them and the responsibility for them not silencing them (it is here, where I do think many contemporary more aggressive debates on ‘safe spaces’ run into dangers – but this will have to be another discussion for another day). That said, I am, after all, a proponent of new ideas for re-creating the University as a multiversity, but current and recent destruction of these institutions, I am afraid, not only does not help facilitate  such a re-creation, it also is counter-productive to it. The destruction of these institutions will result in a remaining type of a University and higher education and research system, which is with regard to the general mind-set that both governs it and that it propagates and instills in its students a universal monoculture.

A dozen or so years ago, I first articulated a basic infrastructural tenet, that I have not abandoned since, namely that any larger territorial state and its society or  national or trans-/supranational organized collective has to continually and seriously invest into and own (in terms of guaranteeing freedom from external control) on all its members behalf its infra-structure, and by infrastructure I mean, roughly but in that order of importance (Knowledge enables the others), the following four (partially interlocked) areas:

  • Knowledge&Information, including the a)  child development, school, higher education, research, science broadly defined (including not only technology/engineering, but also all ‘natural sciences’, social/cultural sciences, arts, and humanities); b) knowledge and cultural(!) labor (structures), and c) information communication channels, which refer to guaranteeing c.1) that there is no political (including no economic) monopoly/hegemony over knowledge and information distribution and c.2) the  technological pathways of information communication (phone lines, ‘wave spaces’, etc.).
  • Health Care and Aging, to guarantee equal access to all its members to all sectors of the organization/society)
  • Traffic, meaning the guarantee that passengers and cargo can be transported quickly,  safely, and in ecologically sustainable ways from any point A to any point B.
  • Security, by which I mean police, clandestine services, penal and rehabilitation system, forensic psychiatry, and military.

Something like ‘the Economy’ is precisely not part of the infra-structure for a number of reasons. Including among those reasons, which I cannot, of course, go into detail here, are that the economy – precisely because some parts of it consider themselves(!) structurally global, some  local, some constantly transition between both – cannot be an infrastructure; that the subsidy structure for businesses established  is often hampering, negatively affecting or in some extreme cases close to destroying  other elements of the infrastructure (which precisely is conceptually and empirically prohibited for an element of a structure to be part of its infrastructure);  most importantly that infra-structure should be able (en-capable, empower) to enable and constrain actors to participate in the economy on fair and equal terms. Here, one could, for example, also use some philosophical proposals about distinctions between different orders/types of goods, and remind people that there are types of (social) goods that exist to enable the possibility and availability of other goods. Additionally, unlike some overzealous, pseudo-scientific Wikipedia-style definitions, we should understand that, ‘No!’, infrastructure is not what is needed for ‘economy to function’, but it is the term for the explicit structures and institutions that sustain an organized collective; an/the ‘Economy’ can be such a collective itself or considered a sub-system of a higher order collective/system, e.g. society, but it is precisely not (in either case) part of the infrastructure. Respectively, I do think investment in the military is important, but I also believe in the idea that a soldier is a ‘citizen in uniform’ (German: “Bürger in Uniform”), and I do believe in a very demanding concept of citizenship as a form of belonging here (although and yet precisely, citizenship is a very particular, Western form of belonging, and far from the only one, but both an interesting one and for the Global North, a constitutive one). These latter aspects (security and restricted citizenship), which I also will not unfold here further, do not sit well with some Left-oriented colleagues and interlocutors of mine. But they should not be mistaken for the naive views many self-styled (structural) conservatives hold. It is precisely through the provinicializing of a concept such as ‘citizenship’ that its (zones of) usefulness as well as areas of in-applicability, as well as its restrictions can be made to show. By restriction, I do mean, precisely, that being born into a territory or to a parents of a specific nationality should not make one automatically a citizen, because with citizen rights come citizen responsibility, which a citizen must be able to fully understand and willingly accept to fulfill. Again, this would need to be further explored, but it should be clear that I view it as  a state’s duty to enable all the people, either living on its territory or claiming another form of (justifiable) belonging to it, to become a citizen; and this is, clearly, an aspect covered in the ‘knowledge&information’ infrastructure. Furthermore, in the ‘hierarchy’ of infrastructural premises, it should be said, that different temporal priorities mean that some individual demands render the hierarchy ‘not fully transitive’: It should be clear that, while generally an investment in research should always be considered more important than an investment in the army,  in times of a genuine external threat on the horizon, an ‘informed decision’ would lead to a military investment;  but clearly, an ‘informed decision’ requires people who are educated and who have access to knowledge to make these kinds of judgements in the first place. And, of course, the elements are interlocked: Security knowledge occupies a place between or in both sectors. But this also already explains why, if we take infrastructure seriously, blindly investing in weapons and surveillance technologies cannot generate more security: The issues and threats security deals with are very complex and so must any solutions be that aim to  be more than a temporary, quick fix – here, such as in other areas, I argue that concepts such as ‘sustainability’ are interesting intra-system demands, for which the knowledge sector has the function to elaborate what the system-specific criteria would have to be that define what ‘sustainability’ would mean in each case. This makes, however, also clear that there is no universal idea of ‘Sustainability’, and ‘sustainability’ is dependent on infra-structure. In this respect, I also argue that concern for the ‘environment’, i.e. what environmentalism practically means (theoretically, also, because of what we have learned about the fact that there is no mere nature nor mere culture, but rather naturecultures),  is also dependent on the infrastructure. A final matter that should be mentioned, I think, is that the common idea of ‘the Economy’ is also deeply thwarted, for example since the theoretical  premises of its science, economics, in many of its contemporary schools ignore at their own peril many historical premises it it was built on (for example, it still upholds some of  Jean-Baptiste Say’s ideas but neglects the constraints these rested upon, for example on the very restrictive functions of money); at the same time, there are different players/actors in the Economy who are not comparable nor even commensurable, when the idea of a ‘free market’ is applied – in part, the problem lies in what is understood as ‘free’, because the often found assumption that ‘freedom’ (or ‘autonomy’) could be something that is unconditional is, as I think should be tragically obvious, both conceptually and empirically a  contradictio in adjecto.  For many so-called multi-national corporations, a genuine free-market would actually be in opposition to their goals and functions. This is also why infra-structures help make ‘free markets’ possible, whereas ‘the Economy’ is not co-extensive with ‘the (idea of) Free Market’; quite on the contrary, there are sectors of ‘the Economy’ which operate either despite of or antagonistically towards the Free Markets, including a disposition against the infrastructures it is pre-requisited by. Therefore, in a ‘weak’ account: If my argument has merit to at least be taken into consideration as a possibility, then we should be careful whenever considering whether any aspect of ‘the Economy’ should be put in charge of   infra-structure in any way, and look for justifications in each individual case. In a ‘strong’ account, it is clear that ‘the Economy’ (nor its ‘actors’) should have no place whatsoever in infra-structural considerations of any kind. Here, I would argue that any critical, reflective reader, even if politically disinclined towards me, should be able to at least be willing to allow for the weak account. Not to do so, would mean to take an extremely ideological (and fully destructvie, antagonistic) view. What I will have to say in the further discussion here, should be acceptable to consider from the position of the weak account, although I will freely admit that I, personally, lean more towards the strong account, although I do think that an intermittent position is, at least in select cases, pragmatically possible, were – within limits – convergence/contact zones can be established, between infra-structural and Economic sectors.

So, to situate and make one long story short, knowledge and cultural work and the institutions that enable and carry knowledge work are part of the infrastructure, which enables economic sectors (and not the other way round). Introducing epistemic monocultures, such as the Economic paradigm, into the infrastructure has, thus, a potentially negative (‘weak account’) or self-destructive (‘strong account’) consequence, which may/will subsequently have negative/destructive effects on the higher level of the organized collective.

 One of the many problematic consequences of mono-culturalization is an increasing lack of variability: We end up increasingly with the same types of knowledge, and even what could be considered ‘out-of-the-box’-thinking or alternative thinking is already predetermined in terms of how it must be expressed; in other words, it is already pre-established what is allowed to count as an alternative. Everything that is neither official knowledge or officially recognized as alternative knowledge, is not considered knowledge and effectively silenced. This state of affairs is, of course, nothing particularly new. However, even this type of critique has, in the meantime, become very formalized in the way it is allowed to be expressed. Establishing genuinely alternative discourses is extremely problematic. Our problem with constructs such as any so-called sub-altern is that these are often part of a hegemonic discourse themselves. In other words, this picture  that there are two connected processes at work – whether in society or in a knowledge economy -, namely inclusion and exclusion,  is insufficient. I have argued this point elsewhere in more detail. But the gist of this argument is that in order to be excluded but to have a claim towards inclusion or towards expressing one’s exclusion and the consequences of exclusion as one’s official  status hinge on a form of recognition that not all agents (in a collective) or all forms of knowledge (and cultural labor) enjoy. Besides being an included member or included presenting official knowledge, ‘membership or knowledge that is recognized as excluded’ is still formally a kind of knowledge, namely a knowledge that is excluded but may be allowed to make legitimate claims towards inclusion. My – unfortunately empirically quite pressing – example is the question of who has access to social and/or health services, when access is increasingly dependent on (digital/electronic) information and communication technologies (ICTs), with no more non-ICT access paths available? An important part here, as at least a few studies have shown, is that providing access to (and access to competencies to use) ICTs alone does not suffice to guarantee that all excluded people will be able to use these services. But here the problem really begins: We have people included in society, who do not need to use social services for the excluded, we have people who are considered excluded but who have a claim to these social services, and what about people who – for whatever reason – cannot express their claim, i.e. cannot express their state of exclusion, people who are effectively silenced? Secondly, how do we generate and express knowledge about these silent and silenced people, when knowledge is considered knowledge about inclusion, alternative knowledge is considered knowledge about exclusion? What about knowledge about those who do not exist in the exclusion-inclusion system, those who have been silenced by that system? Making these people heard, giving them a voice, helping them become ‘being known’ in the first place is difficult, precisely because they ‘do not exist’ in the permitted way of being excluded. For a researcher working on knowledges about these silenced people, it is very difficult to be heard by other researchers, by policy-makers, or by the public, precisely because it is very hard to proof the existence of a problem (or of people) the expression of cannot be made in system-permissible forms. In various types of conversations and communications, I have made the experience, that there a numerous experts, specifically among social scientists who work on health care, who flat out deny the existence of ‘people who are silent’, i.e. of people who are not counted by the system as excluded. For these social scientists (and many policy-makers), if people are not considered by the system as existing as excluded, they don’t exist and, thus, there cannot be any knowledge about them. Whereas some people, whose job it is to actually collect official data for care systems, admit that there are indeed people who exist in reality but whose data – even data about exclusion – could not be collected.  It becomes a further issue that without acknowledging these people as well as knowledge about them,  the problem will only proliferate and expand. But the fact is that the people still are materially present in the world and will require care services, some of which are still provided in (material) vital’ zones that serve as boundary/transitional/contact zones (for example emergency rooms), but the services are then sometimes denied, sometimes delivered but not accounted for. This lack of accountability will, eventually, be countered; but the question is, whether by more denial of service to any person without documentation or by effectively allowing for more comprehensive knowledge production, i.e. the permission to acknowledge other(ed) forms of knowledge and, subsequently, changing the system towards becoming more pragmatic (in the actual meaning  of pragmatism). Otherwise, exclusion and silencing become, thus, increasingly excessive.

In the system of knowledge and cultural work, we see a similar effect of exclusion and silencing mechanisms, for example through the proliferation of certain, very specific styles of academic habitus and academia specific forms of symbolic/social/cultural capital (see also for more details on some aspects of funding structures: https://alexstingl.wordpress.com/2016/02/26/matthew-showering-the-burning-of-academic-social-capital-and-economies-of-relevance-of-funding-institutions/).  While I do not disagree with the proposition that science (and I include the social/cultural sciences, liberal arts, and humanities here into the general concept of ‘science’) should be somewhat useful, I disagree with the complacent and lazy attitude that many people have when it comes to the meaning of ‘usefulness’, as well as the impoverished (and increasingly shallow and techno-reductionistic) understanding of – not only what science is, but more importantly – how science works. There are numerous infamous caricature version about scientists and even more so about philosophers (as the archetypical arts & humanities scholars), which are all versions of the archetypical story of the Thracian servant who was laughing about Thales of Miletus, when he fell into well because he was thinking without paying attention to where he was walking. This is seen as illustration of the impracticality and, thus, uselessness of all things (too) intellectual. Respectively, the ideal of useful science is the technological or engineering ideal. The problems with this set-up, however, are, first and foremost, that in the minds of most people, the engineering ideal of science and intellectual forms of scholarship are considered as antagonists in general, and, particularly, as rivals in a zero-sum game over scarce (and ever scarcer) resources – thus usefulness becomes equated with impact maximization of minimal resources. While this may fit with a ‘neo-darwinistic’ world-view, we do know that ‘evolution’ does not work in purely antagonistic ways, but that many (if not most) processes work agonistically and/or symbiogenetically. It is important that we understand that we need different types of knowledges that challenge each other, but not in  antagonistic destructive ways, but in constructive ways. While also a cartoonish caricature, but the simplified idea that science can tell you how to clone a tyrannosaurs rex and humanities can tell you why that might be a stupid idea is an interesting illustration – even if you’ve never seen the cartoon, of course you can guess, that the scientists get chased and eaten [and yes, of course, there are reasons why we cannot ever clone a dinosaur; although a lot of people think we can, and here, too, it is alternative types of scholarship that could teach us about how communication works between science and its publics]. Science and technology has never worked in straightforward ways. To begin with, there is this general idea of Progress, which is still ‘publically’ quite popular, which many ‘engineering’-types of scientists also still believe in, but which many critical scholars have long viewed as debunked. And yet, we could counter and say, there may be something like progress, but what counts as progress is always dependent on a variety of contexts, relations, criteria, and so on. The same is true for ideas of usefulness or sustainability. And these criteria and knowledge about relations and contexts cannot be developed from within the engineering-ideal itself, because these are the criteria by which the engineering ideal is measured. In a sense, you do not ask a group of professional basket-ball players what the ideal height for a kitchen table is; what you really want is – actually – a kitchen table with an adjustable height. While this is, of course, both simplifying as much as it is hyperbolic, it serves as a provocation worth thinking about.

But in terms of intellectual knowledge production, the problem that knowledge should be more than just useful but to be actually effective it is being required to take into account varying temporalities is something that intellectual scholarly disciplines are actually good for. And, to uncover these variabilities and express their many potential effects and options requires a lot of work by a lot of people over long periods of time, not to mention many conversations between different disciplines and different ways of thinking and doing. So, it’s not about the ‘engineering’-ideal being bad (or good). It’s about the ‘engineering-ideal’ having almost already become the mono-culture of how science is done: Knowledge, to be considered knowledge, must expressed within the terms and/or structures of this (linear teleology of) ideal of engineering, including  any criticism and alternative having to be expressed in permissible form – which means critique of any kind must be either construed in engineering-ideal or antagonistic terms and/or structures. But this denies many effective ideas (I have written elsewhere on the difference between mere efficiency, efficacy, and effectivity). Fewer types of knowledge exist as a consequence of the current way that science is done. Think about the data collection problem and whether it is a problem at all. When would the fact that people are not considered (as included or excluded) in the system become a problem for the system (and not only for a few individuals)? It’s a matter of the scale of the problem. But that’s the very point, we don’t know the scale of the problem, because we do not generate knowledge about it. But this is precisely the point: Science should tell us what it is that we don’t know and help us to turn what we don’t know into knowledge. But that’s not how science is done anymore. Science deals more and more with what is already known: This is precisely the gist of the ‘engineering ideal’ and how it has influenced the funding of research and scholarship. If more and more science requires to be funded by external and/or tax-payer funded institutions, and if this kind of funding seeks to allot its funds according to a blurry concept such as impact, then this way of ‘doing science’ cannot deal with the unknown, precisely because ‘science of the unknown’ cannot say in advance what it’s impact will be. That is why anything unknown is an intellectual problem to begin with – the kind of problem that doesn’t get funded in contemporary society. As a consequence, scholars from the humanities and social sciences either corrupt their scholarship to look like it fits with the engineering ideal or they opt to express criticism in the known forms of criticism and propose known alternatives – the recent resurgence of vulgar Marxisms (or should I rather say Marxist vulgarity?) being a good example.

I want to pin these last points down to an analytical point I have been making repeatedly, namely that one effective analytical tool to deploy is the notion of economies of relevance.  I posited, a while ago, that these vague concepts, notions of ‘impact’, ‘usefulness’, and so on, derive from what I call economies of relevance. Of course, ‘relevance’ is itself rather broad, but it seems to me, that that is the kind of umbrella concept that very neatly and comprehensively describes whats going on with these other vague concepts, which are often deployed in actual situations (for example, when explaining your ‘impact’ in a research grand proposal). So, the types of questions we need to ask are, for example ‘What does it take to seem relevant today?’  There are interesting examples, for example, why do politicians both talk so much about ‘the Economy’ and chum up with business-folks, and appear to look themselves more and more  like either MBA-trained managers or corporate lawyers, rather than people who tackle by means of policy-making the social problems of the communities and societies they have been given responsibility for? That is, of course, because one of the main metaphorical vectors has become the economic angle, or maybe a kind of ‘business accountant’-speak or ‘business imaginary’. Just think about how austerity politics is presented as ‘household discipline’ on the one hand, while one of the severest moves – but no way the first, nor the most historically meaningful one – towards austerity politics was made following a financial crises but was made hand-in-hand with a politicians saving financial institutes and, subsequently, watering down legal consequences (both punitive ones as well as future-oriented regulative ones). Politicians who do not seem ‘business-talk’-savvy are hardly taken seriously by both their constituents and by ‘business and Economy’ representatives. With voters, the problem is doubly complicated, since voters expect their preferred politicians to be able to both be business-savvy in order to ‘not waste tax-payer money’, i.e. by keeping household discipline like a good common person or ‘housewife’ would (there is an interesting intervention afforded here for critical feminist philosophy to make, of course, which I cannot go into for lack of space but which there are better feminist theorists better suited than I, who is a different kind of theorist), in a sense also ‘investing smartly’, and do as much ‘useful stuff’ with as little of their (tax-payer) money as possible, while at the same time being able to both sweet-talk and tough-talk to business leaders on an eye-to-eye level. So, in order to ‘appear relevant’, political workers (be they politicians or other kinds of  political workers) must seem to be able to ‘talk business’. But the more that politicians buy into this relevance economy, the more we find a mono-culture (of Economy-oriented minds) take control in terms of how problems, their origins, and their solutions can be imagined. And the household-metaphor is one prime example within this mono-culture:  Most people seem to think of ‘the state’ or a national government in terms of a household; this or similar metaphors are often dragged up, especially during campaign time: It is noteworthy that  in some political geographies, such as the US, there is almost always ‘campaign time’, there seems to be no more space for actually acting politically, and the US, and increasingly the UK (and interestingly, for example, also Switzerland is going in that direction)  as a consequence have effectively replaced almost all political action with  politics – and the equally silly but almost cute thing is that any one who doesn’t do politics or acknowledges that’s how things are actually done, is considered to be very naive. In short, the only realpolitik in town is politics (in the negative definition of that term): This is ‘cute’ – from a sarcastic stance, for, of course, it is ‘ugly’ because of its dire consequences for the lives of many actual people – in so far as this realpolitik only functions because so many believe in it, while any real problems remain unsolved and a status quo of the political structures, including insufficient infrastructure, are preserved – elsewhere, I have carved out a distinction between structural conservatives (to which both the Left and the conservative Right, regardless what name they give themselves Democrats, Social Democrat, Libertarians, Republicans, Labour, Tories, Tea Party, Christian Democrats, etc., belong) and genuinely value conservatives (one can find a small number of individuals who can be considered value conservatives: For example, I would count former German minister of consumer affairs Renate Künast, President  of the German Parliament Norbert Lammert, Erhard Eppler, or American politicians such as Elizabeth Warren or Bob Dole among them). Knowledge and cultural work are (and this is a point I will have to flesh out further in the future) important and necessarily receive recognition (and, thus, fair resources and adequate infrastructural power) in a value conservative political framework, but not in a (respectively, in today’s) structural conservative politics framework. This has many reasons, but one is that for politics (and the Economy) to sustain on a larger scale its hegemonic status, knowledge and cultural labor must be over-powered by politics and the Economy, for otherwise it would be revealed how they are only ‘efficient’ in view of their internal problem constructions, but ineffective in helping people overcome or deal with their actual (political, social, etc.) problems. Politics  and the Economy is about managing problems, the Political is about overcoming problems, while knowledge and cultural workers stand in a mutually constitutive and interdependent relation to the Political. By forcing politics (and its inherent rhetoric, poetics, and economies of relevance) onto knowledge and cultural labor, this work becomes ineffective and,subsequently, infra-structure suffers. There are various aspects of this development that inhere in very long-running structural and metaphorical mechanisms that derive from our thinking in terms of household-as-oikos to relate back to the Global North’s ancient Greek intellectual-political  origins, which kind of shaped the operating software that our (Western/Northern) societies run on  [Note regarding this as a blog-post: this forthcoming book of mine Care Power Information, is an attempt to discuss at least some of the origins, developments, and consequences of oikos (the ancient Greek concept for the concept ‘household’)].

If the economy of relevance had a currency, I think it would be ‘attention’. Not for nothing is one of the main areas of medicalization, including the medicalization of childhood, constructed around the idea of attention deficit (aka ADHD).  Attention medication are even deployed by the demand of parents, wanting to help their children be successful (and ‘not losers’) in life, in cases where there is no ADHD clinically indicated [‘Good intentions …., and so on, no?’]. Not for nothing do we say ‘Pay attention!’ While this ‘command’ may seem like a mere accident of language, I do not necessarily think so, because there are some social and science historical aspects to the rise of ‘attention’ as a concept of this social and clinical magnitude (which I explore[d] elsewhere), and there is this general treatment of attention in the education, cultural, and labor structures we build, that treat it like a scarce resource. Indeed, I think what we see, instead, is that ‘attention’ is constructed like a kind of scarce currency – it is, in  a way, the actual gold of the gold standard for and within the relevance economy. An attention economy seems to be the main type of mechanism of the economies of relevance (I will leave out here the certainly important discussion, in how far this, i.e. the notion of economy with regard to relevance and/or attention  should be conceptualized in term of political economy). But doing knowledge and cultural work, I think I have come to understand something crucial here: We should be – careful: irony! – ‘paying more attention’ to the ecologies of attention not the attention economy; who knows, perhaps the Economy is really only the Attention Economy (General). I am not the first, of course, to speak of ‘attention ecology’, but my point is actually about  different, diverse, and variable attention ecologies existing simultaneously, while there is only one ‘type’ being constantly co-produced and given hegemony by the attention economy. This is something of a shift of focus from attention economy to attention ecologies that  I have been advocating for a while now, most recently and prominently in a keynote lecture at the College of Leuphana University Lüneburg in October 2015. I will, however, have to trouble and complicate this distinction somewhat, because we really must understand that we inhabit always different attention ecologies simultaneously, and these ecologies and economies of attention shape each other mutually (largely through temporalizations and spatializations through practices; practices being the key issue in my theoretical and methodological works, which is why I am not going into to much deeper detail here, since this is not the place for a long theoretical exposition). Think of it this this way: The world around us, with all its lovely complexities, affords us a lot of opportunities that we could direct our attention to: a  lot of things to perceive, manipulate, interact with, and so on. There may be an interesting plant, or a plant that needs watering, there might be a trail of ants, there is a car driving, which you hear or see, a cell-phone is ringing, a screen shows an advertisement, etc. But most of us are not really universally receptive to everything that is afforded to us in these manners simultaneously (or even ever at different points in time). Some people may never be able to register the ants marching and always only attend to moving macro-objects that might be dangerous to them and also and primarily the ‘objects of technological civilization’, whereas other people might be constantly distracted by all the little creepy critters and greens around them. Of course, this description is a gross oversimplification, but you get  the idea that different people are geared towards existing in different attention ecologies which exist around them. Furthermore, in societies and collectives, we do assign particular values to certain aspects in our ecologies, which are co-related with certain functions and certain practices, etc. (again, let’s not do too much theory here). The point is that, as we continue to fill our world with screen-based technologies and interfaces, more and more people will attend more and more to screen-based affordances and practices and other attention ecological affordances will be part of what they would even be able to understand as a discernible part of their ecology affording perception or interactions with. So, the more certain actors in a society understand,  create, and manipulate social practices to function according to the idea of an attention economy, the more the attention ecologies people can live in are transformed by this economy. So, while companies struggle for your attention with advertisements for you to buy their products, considering, qua economic paradigm, that your attention is a scarce resource, they will not only compete over existing advertisement spaces but also also attempt to create or conquer new advertisement spaces. Think about a very simple example: 30 or 40 years ago, a restaurant customer would have looked at a menu and among the various drinks have looked for drink groups and ordered the drink group s/he liked, nowadays instead of drink group one regularly reads one brand name after the other, often presented by the brand logo which is also often replicated in various other places in the restaurant (napkins, shades, etc.). More recently, one can see this gone further at many airports, where restaurants have tablets on the tables which- besides menu information – run advertisements. Now ask yourself, have you ever observed insects that live in an airport? Or considered the – sometimes actually visible – fungi that live in the various cracks and nudges of the table, floor, and wall of that airport? And, be honest with yourself, if you were sitting in an airport restaurant, what would you really think of a person who would notice these things and point them out to you? Now, consider your responses to these questions and why you think these are your responses, and think further, what do you think would the responses of the next generation of people be and the generation after that, given the way the ‘world continually transforms our immediate environments’? The point I am trying to make lies, here, specifically in terms of doing critical thinking (and hasn’t critical thinking become a wonderful slogan for education reforms of late??? ‘We need to teach people critical thinking skills, yeah!’): We need to shift our view from attention economy – from thinking about attention as a scarce resource – to the attention ecologies in order to understand (before we can think about economies at all_ what is afforded to draw our attention and why and how these ecologies transform in the ways they do. Again, this matter could and should be further complicated on various theoretical and methodological levels (for example through French philosopher Gilbert Simondon’s ideas about individuation and milieu, to name only one). But for the purpose of illustrating the most critical issue with the specific way ‘attention’ works when it is constructed as the currency of relevance, this should suffice for now. What should also be clear is that, to a large degree, we cannot afford to be oblivious to what’s going on around us. The simplest example is how people have accidents because they ‘don’t pay attention’ to the street but to their smart phone. Think about how we attempt to solve these problems: We urge people to ‘pay attention’, yes, but in terms of technology, we look for the driverless car. However, while I think in the distant future, driverless car will be a fabulous thing, this is not the solution to the problem. Instead of ‘paying attention to’ we should  ‘be mindful of’ attention ecologies. An important aspect here is, too, that if we want to build a driverless car, we need to make these cars function in ways that don’t just pay attention to the street, but that are ‘mindful of’ far more than the elements we think that attention should be paid to. That’s what creating artificial intelligences  that can run complex aspects and, thus, are becoming part of the collective organizations we call societies means – don’t kid yourself: a driverless car is an entity exerting social force and causes social transformation, the same way that the introduction of trains did. Carving these complexities out and thinking them through, that’s a lot of knowledge and cultural work that has to be done. But instead of recognizing the many areas where (massive) knowledge and cultural work has, is, and will have to be conducted, the current mood is to diminish the relative contribution of these forms of labor, to diminish their recognition, and to diminish their remuneration (including, above all, the financial remuneration). While there is, actually, an increasing need for knowledge (and cultural) work, the official demand for knowledge work is strictly regulated and diminished in terms of the economy of relevance, leading to a continuous precarization of knowledge workers.

The ‘impact’ of the economy of relevance, remaking for example academia into one of the economies of relevance, on knowledge work can be grasped in many phenomena and illustrated in many examples and also analogies. But whether expressed in fashionable vague terms of ‘being useful’, ‘impact’, ‘efficient’, ‘sustainable’ and so on, knowledge work is generally both criticized (in the negative) and (suspiciously and skeptically) commented on, which always runs back to the same kind of struggle, the struggle for appearing relevant. Something appears more relevant if, for example, it has a ‘practical application’, or an ‘immediate effect’, or ‘creates a patent’, or helps ‘maximize outcome/profit’, or if it is ‘done by a member of a BIG NAME University’, etc. etc.  Most people will, I guess, nod knowingly at this list and be able to add to it. Although, it is also clear that while most readers will nod knowingly and agree that there can certainly merits to be had  by projects that don’t fulfill this list, many readers when hearing about a project idea will also immediately evaluate in their heads if they think the project is worth doing – yes, we all do that, myself included. And we always look for criteria to make that evaluation. So, what do we do other then ask: But is it relevant (and, if, then to whom)?  All knowledge and cultural work lives under that regime of having to justify their existence in terms of relevance. Think about cultural work: How do we determine funding for it? It has to be successful, and to be successful – measured in viewers/readers/profits – it has to be entertaining. Think about it: Reputedly, £31.6 million (45.2 in US dollars) in British tax payer money (in the form of tax reliefs) were  contributed to the making of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which cost £204 million to make and made about £1.4 billion (2 billion US dollars) in sales by March 2016. Did a mega-corporation like Disney, which stood to make a huge profit, need tax payer money? The argument is often made that these subsidies help the local economy and creative industries. But is that so? The problem is that it is indeed very hard to calculate these matters reliably. But it goes without saying that with £31 million, a number of smaller, local cultural projects (and subsequent jobs) could have been financed as well, which, too would have had net effects in the local economy – perhaps even more sustainable ones. So, why, overall, does a mega-corporation receive this funding and why are the reasons brought up in favor being heard and do trump the discussion while reasons for an opposing view are hardly ever being even discussed? Because of ‘relevance’. Again: The same money could be used to to finance, say, 31 smaller projects and these could benefit the local economy in no less positive ways than the mega-corp would, but it still would not be seen as equally relevant. To some degree, this has been discussed under the terms of the Matthew effect of accumulated advantage (those that already have, will be given more, i.e. the rich get richer and so on). The economies of relevance, however, have complicated and worsened the problem, because we find several additional developments that come with it. To begin with, well, there is the issue of lobbying. Relevance work on a grander scale often includes lobbying structures. They also include a buying up of channels and actors that could facilitate are more equal playing field: We see this, in analogy, in the US-American patent/litigation economy or in the ‘stacking the bench’ with talented players that ‘rich soccer’ clubs have been accused of conducting, i.e. in buying far more talented players than they can use, just to make sure no one other club can become a rival. But the most important issue, I think, is that we must consider that relevance often works in a requirement of occupying the attention ecology. We can see this mechanism in the question of ‘why advertise at all’. Advertisement of products used to be thought of in common terms as either informative or manipulative: Advertisement in this simple version was considered as alerting customers to a new or specially-priced product or a new company; alternatively, a (now lay-)psychological  view would argue that ads were a clever way of manipulating customers to buy a specific product or prefer one company’s product over the other. And while these accounts are not entirely wrong (especially in terms of pharmaceutical ads in the US), they have been insufficient explanations  in the early age of advertisement already and they are almost misleading today. Advertisement does many things, but most importantly, I claim advertising is about ‘being relevant’ at all. Customers have for the longest time been overflowed with ads, many of them constructed cleverly and focused on their target group, and so on. But they are almost all done too well. There is no reason why a customer should prefer car A over car B, or car C, or car (and I am not even entering the [in]transitivity problem of preferential orders here), based on advertisements alone – unless, say the ad for car D, was really shitty or created a shitstorm because of some political issue. But here is the rub: What about car 5. Now you will say, “5? What?” Exactly. There is an economy of what a car company as a product itself needs to be in order to be considered relevant at all; it needs to be in line with certain norms and it needs to be able to receive attention. If a potential buyer has not seen an ad for car 5, s/he will not be very likely to buy it, even if the salesman shows it to him/her. The customer may be looking for a family car, and A,B,C, D, and 5 are – as products – roughly equal, 5 may even be slightly better. The customer will not be too likely consider car 5. Obviously, it still happens sometimes that car 5 will be bought, but the car 5 company will still not rise to be a major player, because it’s not relevant. Car manufacturer A knows that advertisement is not usually making it more  likely that their car will be preferred over B,C, or D, but they have a sense for the fact that we have built ourselves an economy of relevance where they must advertise or, like car company 5, they will become non-relevant. Advertisement is more and more conducted to maintain relevance (to remain part of, or even dominate, a market) and less and less to sell more of a product. Many chains (supermarket, restaurants) have opened branches in so many places that some analysts have asked whether some of the branches can even be profitable. But here, too, the decision is made in terms of relevance (which relates, of course, to the whole construction of the stock-market/shareholder idea). A chain has to have a certain presence in order to be considered relevant; sometimes, the idea is to be present in a place to prevent a competitor from being able receive attention. This is not to say that this can’t, sometimes, also backfire. There is such a thing as over-saturation. Even if customers often do not have as much choice in a market as they think (many mega-corps own a lot of smaller companies selling similar products, or control various productions pathways, and so on), it is important that the illusion of choice is maintained. It is the most intriguing phenomenon that some customers are fully aware that the degree of choice in a market is an illusion, but they still act as though there were a high degree of choice. But to reiterate and summarize: It’s all about appearing relevant.

Now, I went through all this explanation, because in contemporary society, we have reconstructed (and devalued) knowledge work in terms of the same economy of relevance. In academia, the world of higher education and research, that’s become all it’s about. Ask in US or British academia (and to a large degree most continental European academia), why a person was hired for a job, and the answer you often get is ‘3P’, which stands for politics in the hiring department/school, pedigree (prestige of their degree’s institution), and publications (in prestigious [e.g. according to impact factor] journals). [I would, however, propose that there can still be, for a few courageous people, an alternative long-term “1P”-strategy, namely to become prolific, i.e. building a unique profile  over time by showing that one can make a difference for people – by being a good teacher, for example.] There are many career-building steps, which are built around relevance. The most relevant factor has become third-party funding. There are many relevance markers, career-pathways, and so on, that are built along this academic economy of relevance. For example, the whole issue of status maintenance of Ivy League universities is an interesting example. But to be frank, most Ivy League scholars don’t do better research (let alone good teaching), they only appear more relevant while they really are producing just as much average and mediocre  research as everybody else does – and one could actually argue that these Ivy League universities, precisely, must produce mediocrity itself, i.e. that the label of ‘excellence’ which is thrown about so much is merely another mechanism in terms of relevance, and that in truth ‘excellence = mediocrity’. Why? Because it’s nearly impossible to get funding for research that is truly inventive and new, because the results of this research are always uncertain by definition. Of course, an Ivy League University still is a place where some of that unique research still happens, because they do offer better equipment than less endowed colleges. But my concern is that these inventive results happen more despite of and not because of the ‘excellence’ status of these institutions. Furthermore, we look to so-called excellent universities to define what excellence is, and measure all universities by these standards of excellence, and the people we vote for (or hire) who have to decide on funding for research and education often come from universities who bought in these ideals of excellence: Tautology and reification, anyone? Who decides, for example, how and by what criteria research grants should evaluated? Research grants are written in a particular writing style and structure, which are non-surprisingly geared towards making the research seem relevant. But this style was developed and is taught by a certain class of people, and it is difficult to learn from people not privy to this type of implicit knowledge. As one person, who used to work for a major funding organization once explained it to me, unlike smaller or less prestigious colleges, at Ivy League Universities students are included in the learning about the style of grant writing by professors who are already part of this grant writing culture and its implicit knowledge stock – meaning they do have a lot of implicit knowledge about the economy of grant writing, an economy that works, largely, by writing a proposal that has as few points it could be negatively criticized for as possible, since peer reviewers are looking for reasons to reject a proposal (as quickly as possible) not to the actual contribution of a project. Even a category such as ‘merit’ itself works through an economy of relevance, i.e. it has to be written in a certain way, rather than actually describing a genuine merit. The problem isn’t that this is something that’s not known. Everyone in academia knows it and sometimes, in certain dark corners, it is even sometimes talked about. But to talk about this in the open and to actually propose how to change it, and say why it really needs to change, is something most people shy away from, because they are afraid nobody will pay attention to them afterward anymore (While I don’t this would count as whistle-blowing, there is the ‘whistleblower’s fate’  of becoming  paraih and outcast to consider in this case, too). Giving voice to an open secret one runs the risk of losing relevance, not because one can actually lose relevance, but because the question becomes why a person gives voice to this problem. If a person does that, the question becomes whether they are actually an irrelevant person to begin with. Who but car 5 would complain about how car company A, B, have fixed the market, and car company C and D play along? Only ‘a loser’ will complain about that and reveal how the game is rigged, yes? So, a main reason why in academia we don’t change the way grant writing, job applications, tenure promotion, publication review, peer review, and so on are working and work very badly and unfairly – why we don’t even really talk about the reasons why they work the way they do – is that while we can agree on a collective level (e.g. the Left, adjunct unions) that there are these issues, on the other side, as a collectivity of many individuals, most of these individuals fear that if a dissenting voice was attributed to them individually, they would have no longer a chance of being identified as someone with relevance. Dissent, in a non-permitted form, renders one ‘future silent’, i.e. irrelevant or ‘othered into silence’.

We find the need to ‘stay relevant’ in the world of advertisement and of branching corporations hand-in-hand with an inflation of sites of for advertising and branching, that, paradoxically, intensifies this process of a seemingly reducing of the number opportunities – something we find, similarly, in academia. While it is clear by now that a product is placed, often enough, not to sell more of it, but to maintain one’s position in the market, we also seem to observe markets are growing, that places for opening a business or placing a product seem to grow in number, and yet, these places more often than not seem to be taken up by big brands rather than small businesses or ‘craft/artisan’ products. In academia, we find similar processes happening. While the number of journals seems to constantly grow,  acceptance rates (in peer review) seem to be ridiculously small – similarly, whenever research grant funding agencies proclaim a rise in budget, their acceptance rates also seem to decrease. Not to mention that those entries or projects accepted also deserve to critiqued in terms of why certain institutional types or researcher profiles seem to have an edge, why peer review is conducted in a certain way even if it has been shown that it must be reformed, and even though proposals how to do so have been made. It is, clearly, tough to disentangle these processes and to conduct good and critical research on these matters about academia from within academia itself for a number of reasons (and, no, ‘privatizing’ it is not the solution, because the structure behind ‘privatizing’ is at the heart of the problem). But the complexities between publications, third party funding through grants, prestigious (well-funded) institutions, and other biases with regard to peer-review and hiring in academia has been discussed across many discussions forums. Again, what I am concerned with is that the conjunction of what seems like an inflation of opportunities on the one  side, and a decrease of non-precarious jobs in academia on the other, seem both to effect an overall decrease in real opportunities to participate in academia in both meaningful and livelihood sustaining ways, and that the mechanism through which all of this works in this way can be reconstructed in terms of what I call economy of relevance. In various ways, relevance is the opposite of or anti-thesis to knowledge and cultural work. I do not mean to say that knowledge/cultural work are not ever relevant, but the precise point is that we do not know when and if it will be relevant, because we can never really know what will become needed as relevant in the future. Some of future relevance we can try to pre-determine, but that is, in  a sense, only accomplished by rigging the game. And it never works as well as people think it will, because many parties try to rig the game to their advantage, once again causing additional uncertainty, contingency, and chaos. This is, however, also a basic argument, why we need redundancies in certain systems. Why do we need redundancy with health care (and other) insurance, with police, or many government offices? It is, of course, easy to see only the immediate costs, and, perhaps, also include the ‘probability’ of certain events happening. However, when these events happen and the service is required but not sufficiently available, because redundancies were eliminated, the consequences can be extreme. Let’s try a little thought-experiment: If the argument to reduce the number of full-time firefighters is that over the year there are only x-amount of fires is accepted in a county, what are possible consequences – besides more unemployed people. Let’s say that, indeed, a number of firefighters are let go, some older ones get an early retirement, some recent hires are laid off, and future hires are for part-timers with only short-term renewable contracts. For the firefighters of this county as an organization this will equal – first of all – a destruction of implicit knowledge (knowledge you only learn by working together with the others for a while) by elimination of some of the carriers of this knowledge, and constrain the further communication as well as creation of implicit knowledge, because short-term contract hires often do not have the opportunity to create, learn, and then teach others any implicit knowledge – this is what happens, by the way, in many organizations today, including higher education and research: Precarization is, among other things, the destruction of implicit/tacit knowledge. But for organizations to function not only efficiently but also effectively, implicit/tacit knowledge is crucial. Indeed, efficiency (for example cost-efficiency) can be increased to a point, while effectivity reaches zero levels. The pharmaceutical business is a good example: While it has become extremely efficient as a market and companies profit margins can be substantially exploited, the effectivity of medication, research, coverage, and so on, appears to have decreased dramatically (and only some of the reasons why are understood, while others are under-researched, such as, e.g., the increase in and diversification of placebo-effects). Now, our fighter-fighters are in a process of being reduced dramatically. How do you retain your job or get one the few new (part-time) ones, if these are at all attractive? We can be certain that some way, it’s gonna be about relevance in one way or the other. But, again what is relevant? What interests me more in the thought-experiment here, now, is that the elimination of redundancies erupts when the events why redundancies were built into the system in the first place actually occur. Yes, that’s the very point, redundancies are part of systems for a reason, and while it may be true that some redundancies may emerge for political reasons and some may exist even though they will not be required, most redundancies do not fall under that category – regardless what some austerity-fanatics who promise to lower taxes and bemoan the squandering of taxpayer money claim. While your now super-efficient fire department may be well-staffed to handle a house on fire, what happens if two or three are on fire at the same time? Who you gonna call? And has anyone thought about the fact that there might be an increasing number of bush and forest fires thanks to climate change? And so on and so on. The interplay between contingencies and redundancies is important to understand, but it cannot be understood in terms of relevance because if something is relevant it precisely not thought of as contingent. But deal with contingencies we must – in real life, that is. And one of the ways to enable us to deal with contingencies individually, as communities, as organizations, as societies, is knowledge and cultural labor. Why? Because the interplay between contingency and redundancy is an infrastructural problem.

Another knowledge work area where ‘relevance’ has taken over to dramatic effect is the teaching aspect in higher education. When I am teaching in Germany, one the most asked questions is ‘Ist das relevant für die Prüfung?’ i.e. ‘Is this relevant for the exam?’. There is a noun for this: Prüfungsrelevanz – ‘Exam-relevance’.  We have even come to the point that we must mark what is relevant in advance and cannot ask anything but what the students know to be relevant. Administrations even ask us to define more and more ‘relevancies’ in advance, such as in terms of ‘teaching goals’ in a syllabus. We have created a whole market for ‘accrediting’ universities around such practices.  Anyone who defies the ‘ways and rhetorics this is done’ is not fit to work in higher education today. It has been remarked by many authors, myself included, that these practices confuse training (for a predefined goal with a predefined temporality) with education (which enables people, among other things, to identify goals, create goals, set goals, or to acquire means to reach goals they cannot anticipate yet). Turning higher education  into a place where people train practices and routines for the present job-market is, yes, relevant – but this relevance itself is fleeting, the present job-market, the skills and routines it requires are temporary, and having a job, while certainly an important part of social life, is not the only and, perhaps, not even the most important part of social life or function in society. My argument is, however, that while the infrastructural aspects are more  important, being equipped by (education) to help along with these infrastructural aspects will also enable you to acquire skills a future job-market may require. Being trained for the present job-market will neither equip you to help along the infra-structure to function nor to be able to acquire future job skills. The Liberal Arts and Humanities, as well as the core social sciences (such as sociology) in particular are about that infrastructure. The attempts to make them more ‘marketable’, ‘relevant’, ‘quantifiable’, etc. only negate their true infrastructural power, which is, however, increasingly needed. This is, I think the alternative we must choose from: Exam-relevance or Liberal Arts. In choosing Liberal Arts and Humanities, students acquire meaningfulness, mindfulness (in the sense of not only working by rote and routine, i.e. not working ‘mindlessly’, which is not effective and leads to fatal errors), implicit knowledge, and skills for creating, maintaining, evaluating, and transferring implicit knowledge. We must create Liberal Arts without and against ‘economies of relevance’.

I will only hint at this here, it will be part the book Care Power Information and much of my future work. But precarity, precariousness, and the precariate is a major concern for me, precisely because we are witnessing what I consider the Precarization of Everything. I am concerned with the emergence of what I consider a Green Precarity/Precariate/Precariousness becoming the main status of all agents in the emerging Post-Risk Society. The monocultural programmatic that guides the idea of the Bioeconomy is main driver behind this development. The imbrications of biotechnologies and various dimensions and structures of societies need to be understood in meaningful ways, and that refers precisely to concepts such as sustainability and responsibility, which are often deployed as absolute but empty and impotent (meaningless) metaphors. The point is not to say: But who’d argue against sustainable production? The point is to ask: What is sustainable, for whom and why, in what time frame, and so on? The use of phrases like ‘sustainability’ is a way to make something seem ‘relevant’ but it doesn’t make it particularly meaningful. Instead, we must consider ideas such as generative justice and generative values, which are ideas developed and discussed ‘as we speak’, and these are conversations I encourage you to join in to and become active for. For scholars to intervene on this basis in public debates, means considering those contemporary news cycles that are mediated through so-called social media, there are two lines of ‘reporting’ in which I observe the following two generalized trends which I have coined ‘the precarization of everything’ and ‘your doing your brain all wrong’: Liberal Arts, therefore, means studying political cognitive  embodied cultures, it means to understand the political and the biological, since the infrastructure of organization (political) is not without its messy, living bodily organisms (biological).

This begs the question, of course, what is the political project of Liberal Arts and Humanities? Some Liberal Arts programs and even the university that host them and often host them for that particular reason (more and more in an act of ‘corporate social responsibility’), enthusiastically, optimistically, and even with a hint of utopianism – and all that is in and of itself not the result of a bad attitude or wrongful intentions – sketch their approach int the formation of citizenship ideas, a citizen’s discourse, and participation in or proliferation of civil society. But there is also a problem, because citizenship is historically a Western and in some ways deeply colonial political mode of belonging, which has undergone some transformation but at its root contains many of  presuppositions that are problematic in terms of enabling political participation, of allowing for alternative modes of political action and different ways of belonging. Being  a citizen is not the same as participating politically, but often one’s political agency are taken seriously only if one is a citizen or is considered at least eligible for citizenship. But that hinges on a paradox: On the one hand, the ideas that constitute what makes one a citizen are very narrow ideas, but on the other hand, there is also room for arbitrariness, which allows for mechanisms of exclusion that are more a form of – once national, once social psychological – protectionism: As some recent research has shown, for both the US as well as Europe, immigrants and foreigners are the main topic that concerns those social groups responsible for the rise of extremist parties and politicians and for the attacks on welfare state principles and institutions, as well as the rampant anti-intellectualism. It becomes quite dangerous, when even those people who qualify themselves as ‘tolerant’ people (and there’d be a lot to say about the problems with ‘toleration’) say things, such as ‘But one has to, at least, understand that these people have fears…’. The problem is not the fears, but, again the way that these ‘fears’ are about ‘relevance’, namely the relevance of eligibility for the type of belonging that is citizenship. Furthermore, that citizenship has become even narrower and more arbitrary at the same time in the past decades has to do with its re-casting itself as a mode of belonging which some have called neoliberal citizenship, characterized by such as nouns as ‘authenticity’, ‘self’, ‘structured competition’,  and so on. But specifically competition means here a competition for relevance and efficiency, on a person-level defined via wealth and/or job, i.e. the model of the rentier on the one hand or, on the other, the pro-/con-sumer-hybrid. But this kind of citizenship is a a mode of belonging without civics (civics is a process, not a defined set of traits for civility and/or citizenship) and solidarity (which I understand in terms of integrative practices of being together with Others). What Liberal Arts, as their political project, therefore must do and ask is ‘What other forms of belonging, for example in ‘the political’ (postfoundational) sense, i.e. in an infrastructural relation, are there,  could be there, and how can people become sensitive to them? Liberal arts and humanities as political project, means learning what to ‘think with’ for how to ‘think through’ civics as the never-ending process (becoming/individuation) of figuring out what the transition from political to civic can mean and would look like infra-structurally, and what it means locally (for the local organization of [political] agencies and their translocal ties) – perhaps, therein, it this political project is also a project to develop an empirical, concrete, and integrative ethics of care. In order to follow through with a genuinely political project in general, and in particular a project that is about different and perhaps even new modes of belonging. Liberal Arts and Humanities must cease their ties to what I have called (in various talks, forums, but also publications, including throughout Care, Power, Information) White Collar academia, which is certainly characterized by what others have called disciplinary decadence, urban normativity, and so. What I contrast it with is Blue sCollarship. Blue sCollars are political, empirical, and in the thick of things, as well as they are doing theory, but for them theory means ‘thinking together with Others’: Theory should not be a monologue or a monoculture of mind, and Others is a very open notion that means to take all kinds of Others, and their knowledges and agency seriously. And that is a lot of work. And a lot if happens in, with, and through infrastructure, and it always significantly maintains, transforms, and creates infrastructure. And infrastructure is the basis of everything else, such as the economy or the job market – and precisely not the other way round.

This brings me to the final and important point of this exercise: Why we need higher education and research, why we need scholarship and scholars to thrive, to be funded, to be respected, but also to be committed. Why we need academia, aka insitutions of higher education and research. But also why we need more multiversity than university, Blue sCollars instead of White Collar academicians, and more intellectuals than anti-intellectualism – wherein, however, being an intellectual does not mean that one is ignorant, privileged, or elevated with regard to non-academic knowledges or material concerns .  I could expand these lists, but you get the idea, and, yes, it should be an open list to begin with. And Liberal Arts should, perhaps, mean exactly that ‘arts’ (perhaps in the many meanings of the Latin ‘ars’ and it precurors) should be ‘liberal’  in the sense that they are ‘open’ and ‘opening’: they should be open and opening knowledges and techniques – aka Liberal Arts as the open and opening techniques and knowledges of infrastructure. Therein, they become important for the future.

There are now several practical and political consequences that follow from this…..

You can find these conclusions in the revised and published version  in ‘Care, Power, Information’ (Routledge, forthcoming)

 “To be political is to emerge, to appear, to exist” (Lewis Gordon 2014: 88)

Some literatures and sources consulted in the writing of this essay:
Benjamin Bratton’s  TED talk about TED talks ( http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/30/we-need-to-talk-about-ted), in: The Guardian, 20113
Berrett, Dan ‘Does Engineering Education Breed Terrorists?’ Chronicle of HIgher Education, March 23, 2016, ihttp://chronicle.com/article/Does-Engineering-Education/235800)
 Brown, Wendy, Forst, Rainer The Power of Tolerance: A Debate, Columbia University Press, 2014
Burke, Anthony, Simon Dalby, Stefanie Fishel, Daniel Levine,  and  Audra Mitchell ‘Planet Politics’, Millenium, 2016
Cech, Erin Culture of Disengagement in Engineering Education?,  Science Technology and Human Values, 2013
Chatterjee, Partha Politics of the Governed. Columbia UP, 2004
Dillon Jr., Robert T. Why I’m Sticking to My ‘Noncompliant’ Learning Outcomes. Chronicle of Higher Education, March 28, 2016 http://chronicle.com/article/Why-I-m-Sticking-to-My/235874
Dotson, Taylor ‘Technological Determinism and Permissionless Innovation as Technocratic Governing Mentalities: Psychocultural Barriers to the Democratization of Technology’ Engaging Science, Technology, and Society, 2015
Eglash, Ron, and others https://generativejustice.wikispaces.com/
Eppler, Erhard Return of the State, Forumpress, 2009 (German 2005)
Foster, Roger ‘Therapeutic culture, authenticity and neo-liberalism’History of the Human Sciences, 2016
Gordon, Lewis R. Disciplinary Decadence: Living Thought in Trying Times, Paradigm, 2006
Gordon, Lewis ‘For Reality’s Sake – new realism. Lewis Gordon ‘, 2012(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJsPuzwjZTQ)
Iannucci, Armando ‘Politics was once about beliefs and society. Now it’s a worship of money’, The Guardian, 2015
Kuchler, Barbara ‘Ineffizienz kann sehr effizient sein.’ FAZ, March 9, 2016 (http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/debatten/ueberkapazitaeten-im-staatswesen-koennen-wichtig-sein-14111181.html)
Lamla, Jörn: Consumer Autonomy and its Political Manifestations. Towards a Sociological Theory of the Consumer Citizen. Krisis. Journal for contemporary philosophy, 2012
Langer, Ellen Mindfulness. Da Capo, 2014 (orig. 1989)
Mann, Michael ‘The autonomous power of the state’, European Journal of Sociology, 1984  [On the distinction between despotic and infrastructural power, also, short interview with Mann: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OhJtE6sqSFM%5D
Marazzi, Christian ‘Money and Financial Capital’ Theory, Culture & Society, 2015
 Massumi, Brain/McKim, Joel ‘Of Microperception and Micropolitics (An Interview with Brian Massumi)’ INFLEeXions, 2008
 Mignolo, Walter ‘Citizenship, Knowledge and the Limits of Humanity’, 2013 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guRtl-tRydA)
Mouffe, Chantal. Agonistics. Verso. 2013
Puar, Jasbir  ‘”I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess” Intersectionality, Assemblage, and Affective Politics’, 2011 (http://eipcp.net/transversal/0811/puar/en)
Puar, Jasbir, et al  ‘Precarity Talk’, TDR, 2012
Puar, Jasbir, ‘Bodies with New Organs Becoming Trans, Becoming Disabled’, social text, 2015
Richardson, Ingrid ‘Faces, Interfaces, Screens: Relational Ontologies of Framing, Attention and Distraction ‘ Transformations, 2010
Rowland/Passoth ‘Actor-Network State’ Internatinoal Sociology, 2010
 Semuels, Alana ‘Why Do Some Poor Kids Thrive? (Coming of Age int the Other America). The Atlantic, 2016 http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/04/kids-poverty-baltimore/476808/
Stiegler, Bernard Taking Care of Youth and Generations. Stanford UP, 2010
Stingl/Weiss ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’ in Weiss/Restivo/Stingl 2014
Stingl The Digital Coloniality of Power. Lexington (Rowman), 2015
Stingl  ‘Zombies! Science, Economies of Attention, and the Political Imagination’ Keynote Lecture in the Leuphana College Methodology/Theory Module Lecture Series (https://nomadiccourseworks.wordpress.com/2015/10/26/keynote-lectures-in-the-leuphana-college-methodologytheory-lecture-series-zombies-science-economies-of-attention-and-the-political-imagination/)
Tsing, Anna’ Unruly Edges’ Environmental Humanities , 2012
Weiss/Restivo/Stingl Worlds of ScienceCraft. Ashgate, 2014

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“I am telling you, how it really is”: Epistemic paternalism is widely accepted.

The enterprise of the social sciences, particularly the sociologies of science, knowledge, and technology, and science studies aka STS, despite calls and provocations to the contrary – i.e. through feminist theories –, has utterly failed to react critically to epistemic paternalism in situations, wherein negotiations over epistemic differences run the danger of being pre-emptively and deterministically decide by epistemic authorities. This failure is partially (con)founded in the

uncritical and acquiescent acceptance of external circumstances, such as explicit knowledge regimes of neoliberalism and post-democracy stemming from the Western colonial matrix of power. More importantly, there is such a tendency of ‘mandarinate’ paternalism – pace Fritz Ringer – within the social sciences themselves, especially at their core, sociological theory: Epistemic paternalism is, above and below all, a political issue.

The international discussion about the state of theory in sociology that has emerged recently between Gabriel Abend, Peeter Selg, Jeroen van Bouwel, and others, suggests that the meshwork of theory, politics, and society (and not for nothing do numerous academic journals carry a combination of these words in their title) is still highly ‘problematic’ on these three axes: The political was – also in the age of post-foundationalism – always already theory-laden, and theory was always already political, politics, and politicizing.

And yet, the critical potential – without becoming oneself paternalistic – could be achieved, if it weren’t for an ‘armistice for perpetual peace’ between corporate, political, and scientific elites.

Among scientific elites, the ‘notary approach’ in STS (Jasanoff) and the ‘defeatism’ of (post-/pseudo-pragamtismic) social phenomenology can count as ideal-typical exemplaries. This perpetual peace lavishes in a regime that de-cosmopoliticizes and paternalizes epistemic hospitality, silences the (sub-altern) Other, and exsolutes and excretes it as a parasite.

The picture that emerges, for example through the lens of semantic agency theory (SAT),

reveals that governace within the sciences and scholarships as well as technoscientific governance in policy-making, i.e. it reveals that the cognitive policy and ideas, the mental maps of decision-makers who ‘inhabit institutions’ – such as, for example, in clinical ADHD discourses or in the discourse of differentiation-theories of legal fragmentation – are glued together and factorially charged on both ends through epistemic paternalisms that suffocate (genuinely) critical potentials. Against this logics from the Western colonial matrix of power, one can defend only through gestures of de-colonial option and epistemic dis-obedience.

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4S Guerilla Paper on Nomadic Statehood: Toward a theory of the question ‘When are States’?

EDITORIAL NOTE: This is the notes of the actual talk. The paper version is longer, and will be uploaded at academia.edu and also published properly.

  1. Introduction

What is now on the agenda is a ‘futurist’ or ‘constructivist’ opening-up of fields of possibility.

The unconscious remains bound to archaic fixations only as long as no assemblage exists

within which it can be oriented towards the future;

and in the future that faces us,

temporalities of both human and non-human nature

will demand just such an existential reorientation.


Our objective should be to nurture individual cultures,

while at the same time inventing new contracts of citizenship:

to create an order of the state in which singularity, exceptions, and rarity

coexist under the least oppressive possible conditions.

– Felix Guattari The Three Ecologies

Thank you for having me here today, outside of the official program of 4S 2012, to deliver my paper, which serves a second purpose as a protest against the disappointing lack of social justice, accountability, and transparency within our own organization.  In response to a series of inquiries and complaints regarding the tripling of conference fees from last year from myself and others, the organizers of this conference have been dismissive and parochial, refusing to engage our concerns or to even provide a reasonable explanation for the cause of the price hike. We must never forget, in our scholastic endeavors to critique the ways of the world, to remember to turn our gaze inward to ensure that we enact the virtues we wish to see in others.  This presentation, as a gesture, is therefore best called a guerrilla paper – it is fitting that its subject matter, as a matter of the political imagination, is the notion of nomadic statehood..

If I were not presenting here on short notice, if, indeed, I had had time for a prolonged preparation – and perhaps, it is for the better then, that I did not – I would have perhaps asked of you to tell me who of you could dance, have asked one of the responders down here to the podium and made you dance to the music. Indeed, when talking analytically about the State (and the same goes for body-mind, the two are connected in mutual intra-action through the political imagination1), the question we really have to ask is: How do you separate the dancer from the dance?2

Unlike the fine presenters who have preceded mine with their fantastic, insightful and inspiring papers, I will not be presenting you a final result of a research project or a finalized version of a theory, but I – no, we – shall partake in theoretical discourse in becoming: We do not yet and will not for quite some time have a theory of the State for our times.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t things we can’t say or use for analysis or intervention – indeed, there has always been a strange relationship (or should we rather say: strange attraction) between political theory and practice.

Our task is to appraise/assess theoretical contributions we have, let go of those that don’t hold up, and graft useful tools onto our current discourses: We need to (re-) how to ask the questions. Nothing brilliantly novel I am saying here, I know, but how about we did it for real this time around? So, let’s bring the State back in – as if it had ever left.

Recent scholarship in international law and systems theory3 focused on regime collisions, that are considered the result of functional differentiation on a global scale. Because of these differentiated regimes cannot call on an original foundation of practices of conflict resolution such as would eb found in the constitution of a nation-state, it is argued that the state of and practice of law is now a fragmented affair (the state of affairs): Global legal fragmentation is supposedly the mirror result of global social fragmentation, and as such fragments are only ‘weakly compatible’. Hence, no constitution, no State, good-bye. We have all heard that story, now, have we not; but, hey, let’s cut the crap, shall we? Passoth and Rowland begin their seminal paper on the actor-network state4with the very one question that really seems to matter in this discourse, or that, at least, should have matter: What are states?

  1. What are States?

I criticize the use of the concepts ‘The Market’ and ‘The State’.

Not because they are a duality, but because both are reified generalities that do not really exist.

Adding a third term, like “The People,” would not help.

What we need is to replace the reified generalities with concrete assemblages:

many bazaars, many regional trading areas, many national markets…

each with a date of birth and (potentially) a date of death.”

– Manuel Delanda (in Dolhijn/van der Tuin)

…. a hot mess.”

– Chromeo, Business Casual

In looking at what it means to view the State as an actor and/or as a network, Passoth and Rowland begin their argument by taking away the monotlithic character of statehood, instead discussing the performativity of statehood. I agree with them for the most part5.

My main concern, however, might be that their account, while progressive and inspiring and highly useful, might still be ‘too contained’, too limited, too constraining as a result of some specific limitations of ANT (actor-network theory) in the realm of political theory: ANT does inherit a certain obsession with spatiality from its discourse with the theories of Michel Foucualt and A. Greimas.

This notwithstanding, Passoth and Rowland do indeed manage the impressive feat of decolonizing the state-concept; meaning, it is not necessarily bound to the quality of actor-hood described in nation-stateness, but it can be captured in richer concepts such as Foucauldean gouvernmentality6, however, thereinthe governed, the techniques, the measurements, and histories are still geometrically and geographically bounded. This has to do with Foucault’s conceptualization of language in a dialectical relationship with spatiality7.

As they themselves say about key concepts in ANT (826f.), such as the concept of translation8, which has “a geometric meaning that refers to attempts to mobilize human and non-human resources”.

The socio-technical assemblages that ANT deals with refer to markets, bodies, states, these are not abstract entities but “concrete localities”, which, by way of their assembled relations in borders, taxes, pink forms, actual bodies, etc., constituted state actorhood.

States ‘have’ sizes as actor-networks – size is also another spatial concept. Let me emphasize: I am not against analyzing spatiality. What I am trying to say is that we cannot focus on spatiality alone, because we would be missing something. Harold Innis made this point, in reference to the use of the ‘fallacy of misplaced concreteness’ (Whitehead) in his “Plea for Time”9, arguing that a monopoly of time was followed by a monopoly of space. In political theory and practice since Innis ‘plea’, 1950, we have not seen much of a pendulum swing away from spatiality. Moreover, I argue, we do not need another monopoly, but we need to stop the reification of these generalities and to think space and time.

So, what are states? States are topological, a relationscape in space, local, in situ. They are relationscapes10: of course, this is just another technical term, but it is intelligible and useful for the future development of this issue:

Topological spacetime refutes this dichotomy between the abstract and the concrete. Topo-logical spacetime is not 1 + 1 but n + 1, always more-than.[…] Topology refers to a continuity of transformation that alters the figure, bringing to the fore not the coordinates of form but the experience of it. Topologies suggest that the space of the body extends beyond Euclidean coordinates to more abstract spacetime. In topological geo-metry, I am both here and there, actual and virtual, real and abstract. Topology potentially deforms linear progression, rendering the concrete abstract.” (2007: 142)

Being in space is, therefore, not all.

You can guess what I am getting at: I want to talk about something to do with time but more than (the monopoly of) time.

  1. When are States? (How are States?)

The idea that we know already how all past discourses have been generated,

that we have the secret of all past conceptual systems,

and that we can therefore engage in meta-theorizing based on that knowledge

is deeply mistaken.


I also reject the neo-Kantian thesis of the linguisticality of experience.

To assume that human

experience is structured conceptually is to dehistoricize the human species:

we spent hundreds of thousands of years as a social species, with a division

of labor (hunters, gatherers) and sophisticated stone tool technology.

Language is a relatively recent acquisition. Are we to assume that those

ancient hunter gatherers lived in an amorphous world waiting for language

to give it form? That’s Creationism again, you know: ”

– Delanda in Dolphijn/van der Tuin

States can be translocal or they can exist because of a translocality. This, translocality, is my first suggestion for the deterritorialization and transformation of the discourse on the State.

Translocality means broadly that stake-holders and stock-holders do not share the same space of cause and effect, however, they share the temporality of affect, only resolutions are usually localized in specific sites – in this fragmented constitution lie both the discontent and hope for a future grounding of an epistemic and communal concept of democracy and the State): States perform the negotiation between stake-holders and stock-holders, they are brought into play,

into existence through the performativity of this negotiation. Yet, the problem is not spatial but the fact that negotiation is necessary lies in the double separation of stake and stock, and cause and effect. And the events enacted are a narrative of sorts. I say that because stake-holders and stock-holders have separate narratives, conflicting narratives aka conflicting of practices that need to be negotiated.

Practices, even conceptual practices, are not exhausted by linguistic practices. Lingusitic practices are practices, too. But I use the notion to mean more than linguistics aka textual practices. I see practices as discursive and non-discursive, and among discursive practices there are textual and non-textual ones. The theory of semantic agency that I have outlined elsewhere11 refers to the comprehensive notion of practice not to the reduced one.

I like things simple, so I’d like to go here with the simplest concept of narrative possible and sufficient, which is Barabra Tversky’s concept12 which states that “narrative is the sequentialisation of (at least two) events in time.”

So this is my problem with the focus/monopoly on spatiality, that in the monopoly, the focused gaze through a singularized lens,13 there is no space, pardon the pun, for temporalities.

Temporalities14 are the sequentializations of events in time. Various temporalities coincide and need to be aligned:

Boiling water, cutting15 mushrooms, heating pan, adding cream, etc; well, aligned, we get a tasty Pasta with ‘shroom’n’cream-sauce when it’s all done. Wanna have omelet you gotta break some eggs16.

When are States? I don’t know but I sure want to find out.

When we bring the State back in, the question is was it away? Where was it in the meantime? Or was it ever? Did it, perhaps, never stop?

I find these questions wildly confusing, yet vitally important, and I feel like we have been missing out on something in not asking them.

So this, temporality, is my second suggestion for the deterritorialization and transformation of the discourse on the State.

  1. Quasi-States

[S]tates as we know them will not last forever,

and may soon lose their incredible hegemony.”

– Charles Tilly

In the recent discourses on neo-liberalism and post-democracy, Colin Crouch has created a vital argument by pointing out that a ideologically informed comments and analyses of late have been blind-sided by their focus on two actors, market and State, while there should be a minimum of three actors under consideration: States, markets, and corporations.

I do agree with Crouch that with regard to a plethora of political and social theoretical questions, ranging from power and influence to structuration and (social) agency, we need not only bring the State back in, or need to accept that it has never left, we also need to accept that the corporation is in, and may have been in for a long time17. Secondly, we need to address the concept of the corporation the same as we did the State, beginning with the question what18 are corporations and moving towards the questions of when.

Think about it19 : Are corporations their corporate headquarters (a location), or are they their corporate identity, are they management or the stockholder? Are they the performativity of the relations between management and the stockholders? What/who are stockholders and who/what are stakeholders? What are events that are sequenced/sequentialized in time?

Mono-causal and linear logic of production and location?

Cause: Production

Effect: Stock prize

Production: China

Stock-Exchange: London

Event Reactions:n Stock plummets in London, job loss in China

Temporalities, matter, you see. Nation-states, as we know them, do intervene in these logics, they create conditions, reactions, potentialities, agencies20. So yes, territorial states do matter, But there is more to reality than just this: corporations do need well-educated staff and workers that embody a particular form of the companies memory through tacit knowledge they both construct and acquire in performance, and corporations do need to hold on to them, bind them and their competencies for lenghty periods of time. Sure, they also have a Mitt Romney styled fun time in firing people, but they simultaneously have a hard time hiring also: Labor vs. skilled labor!

And yet, specialization has that kind of price-tag: skilled laborers need incentives to come and work for you, and more so to stay.

At the same time, corporations expand into more and more markets, not just through a monopolization mechanism21, that too, but also by sucking up more and more previously ‘public’ aka state functions (health care, education, research, infrastrucutre, etc.) by way of public-private partnerships and privatization22.

It is not unusual that corporations offer health care services or higher education and training to their employees directly, or education and care for their offspring.

They offer services to their (internationally migrating) employees that nation-sttaes used ot offer to their citizens, sometimes to help circumvent nation-state’s influence sometimes because the bureaucracies of health care, education, and pension systems of nation state’s just have found themselves unable to process internationally mobile professionals. At the same time, corporations help turn these services into products and structure them as markets. For example, Most Ivy League universities are now major corporations, and corporations buy into or fund universities, such as in Britain and the US – or try to influence the the way ‘universities think’ by introducing the ideology of ‘creative destruction’23. Corporations offer services that were once deemed functions24 of the State. Corporations offer services to their employees and recreate them as markets while they seem to ‘take them away’ from the state – the nation-state, that is – through privatization and lobbying. In doing, so, I argue, corporations are becoming (already have become) quasi-states. They are not states in the ‘conventional’, the territorial sense; but in assimilating more and more state functions, they become more and more ‘like states’. As a consequence, are they actually becoming states? Can this process be reversed or, at least, controlled? Are they maybe already states?

  1. Nomadic Statehood

This, then is my third and final suggestions – all good things come in threes – the concept of statehood itself must be reconceptualized, with the the territorial state being merely a special branch. Any future theory of the State must conceptualize statehood as nomadic statehood. The challenge that quasi-states and the question ‘when are states?’ pose in the issue of temporalities will lead us, perhaps via Deleuze and Guattari, to the insight that we must embrace nomadism, that we must learn to think in deterritorialized ways, and this is hard. Perhaps, we begin by dancing, and ask how to separate the dancer from the dance? Perhaps we can’t, and perhaps our question must be? How do we dance the State?

[The Guerilla Talk ended here]

1See: Hengehold, Laura The Body Problematic. Penn State UP, 2007

2On this question, see my STS Italia 2012 paper, “’My body is dancing with a yodeling dog’, the STS scholar said.”, available via academia.edu


Teubner, Guenther Verfassungsfragmente. Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2012; Teubner, Guenther. “Constitutionalising Polycontexturality.“ Social and Legal Studies 19, 2011: 17-3; Teubner, Guenther. “Fragmented Foundations: Societal Constitutionalism Beyond the Nation State:“. In: Petra Dobner und Martin Loughlin (Hrsg.), The Twilight of Constitutionalism? Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2010: 327-341. Fischer-Lescano, Teuber. Regime-Kollisionen. Frankfurt aM:Suhrkamp. See also my ASA 2012 paper ‘Seeing ourselves and the State through the Heteroscope’

4Passoth, Jan-Hendrik, Nicholas Rowland. ‘Actor-Network State’ International Sociology Vol. 25, 2010: 818-841

5The agency of States is not the agency of actors. With Karen Barad, I think, we need to begin by conceptualizing agency at a different level first before we can include ideas of choice and politics – which should, however, not go unnoticed:

Agency is “not something that someone or something has to varying degrees, since I am trying to displace the very notion of independently existing individuals. This is not, however, to deny agency in its importance, but on the contrary, to rework the notion of agency in ways that are appropriate to relational ontologies. Agency is not held, it is not a property of persons or things; rather, agency is an enactment, a matter of possibilities for reconfiguring entanglements. So agency is not about choice in any liberal humanist sense; rather, it is about the possibilities and accountability entailed in reconfiguring material-discursive apparatuses of bodily production, including the boundary articulations and exclusions that are marked by those practices.” (Barad in Dolphijn/van der Tuin)

Once this is clear, we can go on to conceptualize the matter ot of how humans affect and are affected by agencies and ecologies, including their own. This is what Sabrina M. Weiss and I have been doing in the concept of anthropocology

see: Stingl with Weiss “Before and Beyond the label” in: Dellwing, Michael, ed. Krankheitskonstruktion und Kranheitstreiberei. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag, 2012; Restivo/Stingl/Weiss Worlds of ScienceCraft. Surrey:Ashgate, 2013

6I do disagree with their passing note, taken from Thomas Lemke, that linking ‘govermentality’ to mentality is a misconception. Indeed, many interpreters who have done so have created this account as a misconception and misconstrual. However, to deny a certain anthropological/semiotic link in Foucault’s concept between governance (State), techniques of self (imagination), and mentality (psyche/mind) is problematic: Mentality can be translated into the German concept Gemueth which is prominent in Kant’s anthropology and political philosophy (Enlightenment), the life-long and recurring reference point in Foucault’s work. I feel as though Lemke et al forsake the anthropological dimension for the political one. However, I think, you cannot have one without the other.

7See my paper “How to map the body’s spaces” Myth-making, myth-breaking in history, Bucharest 2011, and (forthcoming) Anthropos’ Scaffoldings. Lampeter: Mellen.

8I do not have time here for the discussion of sociological concepts of translation in other schools of thought, such as in the fictional accounts of social phenomenology. I needn’t stress that I find social phenomenology a la that Austrian banker and systems theory a la Luhmann of very limited use, if any.

9Innis, Harold.The Bias of Communication. Toronto: University of Toronto Press,1951

10Manning, Erin. Relationscapes. Cambridge, Ma.: MIT Press,2009. Manning, Erin. ‘Relationscapes” Cultural Studies Review Vol. 13/2, 2007: 134 – 155

11Stingl, Alexander I. “Truth, Knowledge, Narratives of Selves” American Sociologist Vol. 42 (2/3), 2011; although upon the time of its writing, my concept of narrative was not yet radical enough as I discovered Tversky’s work only afterwards. Also, I identify with much of what new materialism has to offer. Here in particular with regard to extra-linguisitic practices as being discursive, I think Karen Barad has much to say on agential realism. See also:

Bennett, Jane, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, Durham, NC: Duke UP (2010); Ahmed, Sara, On Being Included. Durham, NC: Duke UP (2012); Connolly, William E., A World of Becoming. Durham, NC: Duke UP (2011); Coole, Diane, Samantha Frost, eds. New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency and Politics. Durham, NC: Duke UP (2010); Barad, Karen “Posthumanist Perfomativity” in: Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 28, (2003): 801 – 831 Barad, Karen. Meeting the Universe Halfway. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2008; Chen, Mel Y. Animacies. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2012; Dolphijn, Rik, Iris van der Tuin. eds. New Materialism. Open Humanities Press. 2012


Tversky, Barbara “Narratives of Space time and Life”Mind & Language, Vol. 19 No. 4 September 2004: 380–392.

Again, this isn’t about stories or fiction; that stuff is for (social) phenomenologists, who have no responsibilities other than to their own essentialisms (fans, disciples, pay-checks). But beyond just-so stories and nice-to-know studies, social phenomenology isn’t really a lot of help for anything – just think about the mutilations William James’s or Henri Bergson’s work suffered under the Austrian banker’s gaze. Shutter-click, bracket-bracket, the single-lens camera, a pseudo-intellectual’s guillotine, the illusion of objectivity. That still is true for any reificative gesture that essentializes translation when acting as if translation enables its own relations sui generis. While a ‘nice notion’, analytically or pragmatically, it provides…. nothing. A concept of ‘translation’ as presented by fictionalist phenomenologists [ANT is a different matter!!!!] is only a singularizing digital mode that reifies center-periphery spatialities, same old, same old. I hear those ‘contributions’ and I hear people admitting that while they wrote about Whitehead, they never understood him. That is the point, there is time and there is temporality: When they are treated like center and periphery, nothing is gained, but, at least, they seem fashionably ontic. Perhaps it is time we bury Heidegger and the (crypto-)phenomenologists. Indeed, in his “La phobie d’Etat” (Liberation Vol. 967, 1984) even Michel Foucault denied the road to the possibility of a political phenomenology and a phenomenology of the State in constructing the state as a ‘mobile effect of a regime of manifold gouvernmetality’ and arguing convincingly that the State has ‘no essence’. [My disagreement with Foucault lies in the possibility of theory, because I argue for nomadism in theory.]

You may think I am hard on these….people. But I am not. They, the social phenomenologists, are so concerned with matters of fact while at the same time black boxing ‘fact’ itself, that they do not or chose not to see matters of concern and matters of care, moreover, they work very hard to exclude and punish people who dare think differently, employing what, I think, Karen Barad (in Dolphijn/van der Tuin) has so vividly and adequately called “practice of negativity […] about subtraction, distancing and othering”.

13Like the single lens camera, the single lens of the spatialized (and actor) state suffers from problems: It ‘blacks-out’ the image during exposure. the reflex mirror‘s movement takes time even though it is not to sequentialize events but describes time-holes between events, that limit the reaction speed, while, at the same time, the mechanistic compoments result in noise and vibrations.

14My concept is similar to Schrader’s but not identical. I developed my approach oblivious to her work, but am very happy and grateful to having discovered her insightful studies. See: Schrader, Astrid “Responding to Pfisteria piscida (the Fish Killer): Phantomatic Ontology, Indeterminacy, and Responsibility in Toxic Microbiology” Social Studies of Science Vol. 40, 2010: 275 – 306; here :

“Pfiesteria are not only context-, but also history-dependent, in which case we are dealing with an entanglement of two indeterminacies – between ‘bodies’ and ‘environment’ and ‘past’ and ‘future’ – that cannot be resolved at the same time. As soon as a ‘time’ as an external parameter that auto-matically orders events chronologically can no longer be presupposed, the differentiation between ‘bodies’ and ‘environment’ depends on what I call temporalization– the establishment of a relation between ‘past’ and ‘future’.”(293)

15Remember how Deleuze conceptualized the event: There are two sides to it, such as in the event of cutting, there is the knife that actualizes a potentiality, that of cutting (instead of murdering) but the actualization is an event in the knife cutting and the mushroom being cut – cutting and being-cut are the event.

16Or break some unquestioned certainties. Certainties are eggs! Instead of certainties, perhaps we need confidences! I am hardly ever certain, but usually quite confident.

17See for example the popular but insightful historical analysis by David Rothkopf, Power, Inc.:
The Epic Rivalry Between Big Business and Government—and the Reckoning That Lies Ahead
, Farrar, Straus&Giroux, 2012

18For the moment, I presume that a question of where are corporations or where is a state are resolved in the question what they are.

19The debate between Michael Callon and Daniel Miller is a very insightful exchange that makes a good head-start in this discussion:

Miller, Daniel. “Turning Callon the Right Way Up.” Economy and Society XXXI, 2002: 218- 233;

Callon, Michael “Why virtualism paves the way to political impotence. Callon replies to Miller”, Economic Sociology (European Electronic Newsletter) vol. 6, 2005: 3 – 20

20It would be interesting to review these matters through the diffractive lens of speculative literature such as slipstream and new weird, that deals with how realities are made, such as China Mievielle’s Bas-Lag Series an the two opposing concept of crisis energy and possibility mining.

21Norbert Elias (Process of Civilizations) described such mechanisms for monopolies on taxing and on violence, as a king-making mechanism, we see a similar pattern with corporations on markets. Since Elias did also write On Time, it’d be interesting to completely re-theorize Elias’s works through actor-network theory (ANT) and semantic agency theory (SAT), see my “Truth, Knowledge, Narratives of Selves”

22On this point, see Crouch, Colin The Strange Non-Death of Newoliberalism, Cambridge, UK/Malden,MA: Polity, 2011

24On the issue of functions, I follow here a philosophical consideration of etiological accounts. That would in and of itself require an in-depth discussion, how political theory is affected by this way of conceptualizing function through selection, warrant and entitlement, originating the complex discussion of Tyler Burge’s original arguments by various scholars, including – for my purposes, Peter J. Graham “Epistemic Entitlement” in: Noûs Volume 46,  2012: 449–482

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Several years ago, I described a tendency in current societies, a tendency of  Virtualization that is comprised of two hyper-accelerating processes – hyper-universalization and hyper-specialization/-differentitation, fueled by two phantasms that took hold of the imaginary budgets of modern political imagination in the course of the 19th century, which I have sometimes called the phantasm of total control and the phantasm of continuous interioralization. The discourse of medicine and health care was and is one of the  fields where these phantasms, their respective (social) processes and tendencies play out. But, as I have also previously argued, they do affect the political imagination in general and are found at the core of higher education, political action and decision-making, etc., etc.

What I have never done, however, is to claim that this idea is particularly original or novel. What I have argued is, only, that my reflections on current and past developments have led me to a conceptualization of the phenomena in-play, while very likely resembling the expressions of other great scholars, are useful in the way I compose them in light of the semantic agency paradigm.

I have only recently discovered that in his book on Violence (2008: 13f.), Slavoj Žižek does portray a Hegelian distinction that he adopts from Etienne Balibar for the analysis of violence in “virtual capitalism”, which neatly affirms my position conceptually and allows  constructive bridging of our views (minus our different conceptions of what a positive adoption of ‘abstraction’ means, since I am ‘a biological Kantian with a flat ontology’):

“Hegel’s fundamental rule is that ‘objective’ excess – the direct reign of abstract universality which imposes its law mechanically and with utter disregard for the concerned subject caught in its web – is always supplemented by ‘subjective’ excess – the irregular, arbitrary exercise of whims. An exemplary case of this interdependence is provided by Etienne Balibar, who distinguishes to opposite but complementary modes of excessive violence: the ‘ultra-objective’ or systemic violence that is inherent in the social conditions, which involve the ‘automatic’ creation of excluded and dispensable individuals from the homeless to the unemployed, and the ‘ultra-subjective’ violence of newly emerging ethnic and/or religious, in short, ‘fundamentalisms’.”

It is noteworthy that inherently referenced processes of social marginalization have produced both hyper-universalization and hyper-spezialization in ways that make us reconceptualize the issues of globalism versus globalization (Beck) from the point of view of a discursive institutionalism. Within the fields of ideological/religious fundamentalism, we can tentatively diagnose a continuous process of internal fragmentation and specialization: Terrorist groups that are formed around ideological ideas diverge into ever more splinter groups which each create their own version of the ideology, at times proceeding to stages of infighting.

At the same time, we do find an emerging class of the global poor or global precarious, who each live in poverty or precarity as if it was a social structure or institution that is constituted as isomorphism. I distinguish between poverty and precarity. Poverty, in my view, is defined by a lack of access to resources, wherein it is recognized by other social actors that social actors that are poor (we.g.individuals, families, communities, or even [so-called failed/third -world] states) do not have access to resources to even guarantee a level of subsistence. On the other hand, precarity constitutes a lack of  security for loose collectives of individual social actors, regardless of their access to resources and symbolic forms capital (‘access to’ here being very different from ‘possession of’); this means that to belong to the precarious class does not mean you do not have means, such as for example education, quite on the contrary, this spectrum reaches from low- and no-skill workers to people with PhDs. Members of the precarious class do have access to a lot of resources, for example they can make use of a nation’s unemployment service or social welfare in the present, however, whether they can continue to develop their careers, whether they will have health care, etc. in the future, or if they will drop from precarity into poverty is uncertain. Moreover, they are losing their faith in the symbolic currencies, such as contained in the ideas that “better education means a better future” or that “doing a good job means to move ahead in your career”, etc. While a growing number of people is suffering from this kind of disillusionment, social structures of “developed(?)” Western societies, but also a growing number of industrialized (or industrializing) and digitalized (of digitalizing) non-Western societies, still function on the myths on motives of progress  and growth that guided the Western 19th and most of the 20th century and lead to the paradoxical effect that both playing along with these structures as well as abandoning them can doom an individual actor to fall down the ladder, depriving her/him of resources or access to resources. As a result, many actors have fallen to a general pessimistic outlook and a polemic or cynical stance towards their own future and the lives of others, “you’re doomed if you do and you’re doomed if you don’t”. At the same time, another class of actors (individual, corporate, shareholder collectivities [and these constitute different types of agencies and rationales]) who control access and resources directly, have contributed to this an (political-)economy which promotes both the isomorphic structures  and institutions of poverty and precarity while it maintains, at the same time, the believes in symbolic capital, currencies and interests (Bourdieu: ‘illusio‘), including the promotion of the Protestant work ethic.  These ‘elite class of actors’ are yet also hyper-universalized and hyper-specialized. The structures, methods and  the ‘legalities’ in-play are highly universal, while at the same time, these elite actors are, at the same time, very different each: It is is impossible to compare a high-ranking Chinese government official with a p0litician-capitalist like Mitt Romney or a tech-guru like Mark Zuckerberg or a media-mogul like Rupert Murdoch or a celebrity like the ‘Kardashian circus’ or a talking head or pundit like Krugman or Friedman.

Even inside academia, for example, it is unfathomable why one person (usually white, usually male) is showered in research grants and demands between 10,000 and 25,000 just for speaking, while another is teaching insane course loads for scraps and has to drive a cab on the side and still can’t afford to her/his own apartment or a healthy diet.

We are only now beginning to understand what the processes are that we are facing here, and we are not moving fast enough to steer our social systems, specifically our education systems, in directions where emerging generations of students will be able to navigate and master the massive social, ecological, medical problems that are on the horizon: We are currently only seeing the early onset of the troubles to come and many of today’s complaints about health care, financial, ecological crises are more resembling of tourists complaining that the sea water has retracted too far from the beach for them to go swimming, not realizing or wanting to realize the tsunami that follows: The complaint is virtual in the face of the real catastrophe that looms.

We must understand this process of virtualization and make it explicit. At present,  hyper-differentation and hyper-universalization just continue in structuring global and local policy-making, which the current politics and rhetorics in the American election cycle and European debt crises illustrates: In neither case are the visible and audible actors doing anything other than engage in virtual actions on virtual problems: Their handiwork does not take into account or does it interact with actually real people, while at the same time a large enough number of people buy into the virtual economies that they know to be dysfunctional in the hope that still they themselves might be the last one or the clever one to profit from it. But from a realistic point of  view on living as a member the precarity, holding on these myths has become like playing the lottery: Believe it or not, the house always wins.


Beck, Ulrich Power in the Global Age. Polity, 2006

Stingl, Alexander I. “The Virtualization of Health and Illness in the Age of Biological Citizenship” Telos: TeloScope, 2010 at: http://www.telospress.com/main/index.php?main_page=news_article&article_id=372

Stingl, Alexander I. “Truth, Knowledge, Narratives of Selves” in: The American Sociologist Vol. 42, 2/3, 2011

Žižek, Slavoj Violence, Picador, 2008

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Today, any social goal that is currently suggested or any solution to the problems we are facing in communities, individual societies, or as humanity at large is met with questions of the nature: „How is that financed? Who is going to pay for that? Where does the money come from?“

The „nature“ of this sort of inquiry is the larger problem, because it is generally assumed in the contemporary mindset, that this is naturally constitutive of any kind of social or political activity or decision – In other words, any argument, suggestion, alternative solution or policy measure is supposed to address these questions (usually first) in order to be authorized fit for contemporary discourse that count as “pragmatic”, “realistic”, or “true”.

Unfortunately, this is not a natural state of affairs: While the fact that this kind of authorization “rings true” does equip it with a feeling of “truthi-ness” to paraphrase American comedian Stephen Colbert, it doesn’t make it actually pragmatic nor realistic and in no way corresponding to any kind of truth. Given the current spectacles and sensations that play out on the globalized and globalizing stages of mass-mediated politics1, the need to regain action potentials and contingencies would seem to be the priority while, at present, the role of the prime movers is, suspiciously, left unoccupied and the only thing that seems to be moving is the universe around us.

I have yet to hear a suggestion, a debate, even a statement that is not met with and plagued by the paradox that while the world is on growth as if it was on speed, it is also on scarcity as if it was on adrenaline, respectively. On that ultimate high, is it any wonder that it seems as though around and about us we have entered into a state of time stand still? But from there, the step to diagnosing that the globalized society we build is effectively stillborn, despite the claims of our self-declared elites2 that it is also timeless (as in: “eternal”). Any kind of diagnosis of a pathological state or process renders it closer to its “being toward death”3, and in the face of the supposed naturalism the state of scarcity, I am reminded of a little thought-experiment:

Imagine, that somebody alerted us to the universe’s having thrown a big chunk of rock at our world, that is threatening to wipe us out, while we had yet enough time on our hands and, perhaps, even a plan to build a counter-measure, it would be a safe bet4 that we would die simply because we “wouldn’t have the money” for that kind of endeavour. Unfortunately and unlike our favorite Martian Paul “how about we fake an alien invasion” Krugman, I am that kind of a realist that I’d consider the event of the threat extinction not enough of an OCP (Outside Context Problem) that would shake our epistemic and ontological foundations to the point where we’d end up doing something that’s right for a change5. This thought experiment is not that far off reality – indeed, on cosmic scales, the Earth is actually statistically way overdue for such an event, whatever “statistically“ really means – but the current global situation seems dangerous enough to count as a genuine threat to our ways of life and the world as we know it.

1From the European crisis to American ineptitude to make forge any political decisions internally on its multitude of social and procedural deadlocks that have been stocking up for the past three decades and its impotence in recreating even a shadow of its former leadership position internationally, not mention other nations and organizations: the solipsistic elites of France and Britain are either implicitly or explicitly following their national agendas, Germany is constantly deluding itself between intellectually starving its publics and tactically dis-ordering its most important indicators and outward appearances, not to mention its bureaucratic obesity (or, to cannibalize Weber and Deleuze, its continuous creation of micro-fascisms and iron mini-cages, or in mine own words: its bureaucrasia [the emergence of akrasia from bureacracy]) , China has gambled to high and is now standing on feet of clay and brand-new but vacant office buildings and corrupt local officials, India still fails to resolve its internal religious and cultural divisions as well as its resulting precarious situation with neighboring states, most OPEC members still refuses to accept the reality that oil is more an asset of the past than our future, the UN has allowed itself to be stripped not only of its resources but mostly of its moral authority, etc., etc.

2 The rich, the powerful (or, as Parsons would say, they are merely the influential), the political juste milieu, the economists, in short, perhaps this means the 1%?

3And I don’t mean in the good old Heideggerian way.

4 And you can be sure, somebody would actually bet large sums of money on it, just like they bet for and against currencies, produce, people, etc., on our stock-exchanges.

5You can hear the shrill voices of the skeptics already: “The asteroid ain’t real, the science lies, the asteroid is a socialist, it’s the fault of the gay people and Obama to begin with, and can it serve in the military telling everyone that it’s a giant piece of rock, and do we now have to rename freedom fries into stoneless fries to make it go away?”

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Critical commentators of all times have answered totalitarian tendencies and nightmares with the famous question „Who watches the watchers?”

Of course, this is a cynical twist of a sentence that first century Roman satirist Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis had coined: „Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” or “Who guards the guardians?”

Headlines have it that at least one of the world-leading rating agencies is threatening to lower the the credit rating of the steaming engines of European economy, above all Germany. This raises a whole bunch of questions, that had been in the murmurs of the leaves of the grapevine but which never made it out to take center stage, until, perhaps, now: The most pressing aspect seems to be who or what do rating agencies serve to begin with?

It is not just insulted German egos that are now beginning to pose this and other questions, but this, in particular, is a question that suggests itself pressingly in the face of recent years of up- and down-grading that escape any logic or rationality that could be explained beyond any politics or as guided by objectivity.

For rating agencies fulfilling their (self-determined?) function, they would, however, have to act as objectively and as non-politically as possible. And yet, in the mean-time, every appearance of such a non-partisan rationality has evaporated. While some would suggest, and certainly not entirely without grounds, almost conspiracy-theory like interpretations that imply that agencies and their leading staff and executives have financial or political interests and imperatives of their own at heart; a more critically realistic interpretation would imply that it is a strong measure of insecurity and confusion that is ruling the actions and decisions within these agencies, driving them at the same time into an uncontrolled and impotent pendulum-swing between blind reaction-ism and even blinder action-ism:

This pattern seems fueled, on the one hand, by a mild hope for being able not only to correct the past phases that were characterized by a slouchy mix of inaction, structural inertia, and notorious overvaluation of systemically critical nations and economies, but also to regain the trust of market leaders and investors; on the other hand, there is a desire and a strategic intention to regain their already lost tactical and decisive action potentials.

In this effort, it seems, not only has all sense of measure been abandoned and, respectively, all the power of legitimation that ratings themselves have held been debased, turning them into categories both arbitrary and dependent on the politics of the day, instead of being the very indicators that create and maintain the necessary credit of trust that has been the fuel of investment and growth in post-modern capitalist and free market economies. Moreover, the actual function and constitutive reason for the existence and institutionalization of rating agencies in the first place has been placed beyond even the margins, rendering the need for the agencies themselves a questionable affair at best – agencies that were supposed to be independent of the politics and political rationalities of polities and political actors, such as states and economies, which these agencies were actually supposed to rate.

While it is obvious and reasonable, and only somebody very naïve would think otherwise, that no decision that concerns and/or affects (more or less dependent) political stakeholders (such as states or the people their societies consist of) can be entirely and purely non-political; this is, at the same time, no excuse to give way even to the mere appearance that the political is the main, if not even the sole context that an up- or down-grade is derived from. By now, the issue of the rating agencies has exceed the mere impression of such a distortion of motives by far (if not say by a number of [up]grades). The issue and the dimension of the perceived distortion has raised calls for limits of the influence of the agencies, for example via the creation of further rating agencies, based in Europe or Asia – such ideas have transcended the stage of being mere theoretical thought-experiments. On the other had, one may legitimately ask the question if this wasn’t just “more of the same” that would lead eventually to the continuation of the business-as-usual with just a little more internal differentiation. As an alternative in the search for a viable and workable alternative, the question “Who watches watchers?” should be taken more seriously, and in its original meaning, “Who protects the guardians (from themselves)?”

Perhaps another type of thought-experiment would be called for, driving the system step by step into the direction of actual reality and the necessity for a conjoined and transparent forum, founded by state governments and trans- and international organizations of governance, such as critical NGOs, the IMF, and the UN – a forum which – similar to a global exchange supervisory commission, anti-trust office, or council of ombuds(wo)men – is tasked to ensure and enforce the (extrinsic and intrinsic) political and financial independence of the rating agencies and their decision-making practices, thereby guarantying that these agencies cannot influence beyond their station the action potentials and degrees of (economic) freedom of governments and of the world system, which in turn constitute and guarantee the existence of global markets and their (relative) autonomy. In the creation of such safety and control mechanisms, we have so far failed in the way that Iuvenalis has described it in one version of his satires, as we can paraphrase: Who watches those who watch over the girls’ secrets, but as payment for this service take them, while all others, wise to it, hush it up.



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Over a century ago, the social and cultural sciences emerged in the promise and hope for the possibility of creating a better future for nations, societies, and humanity at large. A Great Depression, two World Wars and the Holocaust could do away with this attitude. It wasn’t until the spirit of ’68 became inextricably linked with the attitude and gesture of social and cultural theorists, and many of the ringleaders of the student revolution settled too comfortably in the seats of their predecessors in business and academia (gosh, finally they, too, had something to fear to lose in power, profit and privileges), and where those weren’t available, they just created themselves whole new layers of administration and governance to fit and rest in (snoring away the chance for true progress). The major domos and dominatrixes of what is often called  and summarily  executed as the Left are, therefore, little better than the 1% Right of Wall Street (which is supposedly ‘occupied’ while I am writing this). A true kunik would say that in fighting over the primacy of who holds the power, the devil’s left and right hand try to suffocate their other’s half of the brain, killing themselves and the rest of body in the process. A kunik would say something like what I just described.  But there are no more Diogeneses of Sinope around, and the cynics of today are usually busy relishing in infertile polemics and the inter-breeding of memes into incestuous meme-plexes that are riddled with inherited intellectual diseases that account for the smattering of knowledge that does suffice for participants to constitutes their ‘expertise’ in current political discourses, the public understanding of science and scholarship, the media, and contemporary financial markets, and this has already begun to infect the ranks among scholars, scientists, administrators politicians, and business managers themselves. Access to resources and to participation in these discourses is no longer made possible by enabled enunciation, but regulated exclusively through negative selections by constraints and polemics.

In holding on to the dogma and the mechanics that all of society is a zero-sum game, an economy of scarcity (and that its opposite could ‘only’ ever be an utopian and impossible notion of ‘superfluousness’,  ‘affluence’ or ‘unlimitedness’) and that the only criterion of progress is growth (mind you, who among the prophets of growth really understands or, if they do, would want their audience to understand the consequence of growth’s main mathematical quality being that it is exponential), the famous 1%, the Leftist Intellectuals, and the many people who are not rich and powerful but believe that one day they will be, have become impotent in the most crucial aspect of the word, namely with regard to the issue of agency: ‘Devoid of potentiality’.

Where is the social theory that would suggest a model of distribution that is based not on the zero-sum game of scarcity and growth but that suggests that the resources in this world are, while not unlimited, more than sufficient for the human race and that within a couple of generations and with a flexible, plastic, and pragmatic approach we could, indeed, achieve a sustainable distribution, without forsaking profit-making to retain a necessary level of asymmetry in the process? What we need is a model of a society and economy of abundance. Abundance, here, means that there is enough for everybody and just a little bit more for those who lust after it, it means we can do anything even if we cannot do everything, it means to make achievement and efficacy the measure of life and put performance and efficiency as the measure of things in their respective, lower place.

Why has scholarship and science not helped us with this, you may ask? And you would be right to do so. Yes, they haven’t done their jobs properly. Or is that just the problem? They have done their job. They have just not followed their vocation (Almost sorry for going all Weberian on you…not). A job is defined by its constraints, whereas vocation means to seek enablement:

Two social researchers of a public-private institute for social research in Germany, I once met with to discuss potential cooperation in research with, who had very little to offer intellectually and no grasp of the historic and pragmatic scope the concepts they were using to constrain and polemicalize me (funny, they were using the word ‘pragmatism’ in my face, claiming how they were following pragmatism and how I should be like them), these two described their (and supposedly my) job to me: Social science has to produce studies that help people who are in positions of influence, such as political parties or business, make their case, and we have to anticipate who will be influential next and make our research count to them by showing their message can be vindicated by research and numbers, that is how we survive and get money.

Another German social researcher put the role that social theorists should play this way, when I was talking to him about how we should try and create theories that could make a difference: Do you want to play politics, he asked  me, you cannot want that, the last time sociologists tried to accomplish something in society was in the 60s, and look what came out of that, no, it isn’t our job to accomplish something in society, or to have influence or make a difference, our job is make social studies of this or that phenomenon in society and not participate.

Another fun game that social scientists play among themselves is to shove responsibilities and questions to other disciplines. In a recent example, in one of the journals run by the American Sociological Association, one author finished an essay by stating about the problem of intersubjectivity that one of its main aspects sociologists shouldn’t even need to bother or talk about, but ‘happily’ leave it to anthropologists.

I do not exactly ‘blame’ Luhmann, but Luhmann’s systems theory and, more importantly, the way it is used by most of his (many) disciples is illustrative of the larger problem (and most social theorists, at least in Germany, seem to have accepted the constraints stipulated by Luhmann). They argue that there cannot be something like a grand-theory of society (as sociologists up to the 1960s seemed to believe), and Luhmann’s theory was the theory that could finally show that to be the case. Luhmann’s theory, in a way, by being the über-theory of theories, thereby itself a grand-theory, was the grand-theory that was none at the same time. It is the last and final grand- theory by doing away with all the others in showing that there can be no grand-theories at all. Great strategy, indeed. In the Luhmannian frame of reference, the best a society can achieve is a self-description. That point, as you will soon see, is crucial. When describing something, you have the opportunity to derive a theory of it, if you have an adequate theory you can use that theory to try and intervene into that something. If you have a comprehensive  or abundantly sufficent description and derived a comprehensive or abundantly sufficient theory, your interventions should achieve what you set out to do.  However, Luhmann’s frame would put a major constraint on this: You cannot have a comprehensive not even a sufficient view, because that would be very much like a view from everywhere (perhaps a view from nowhere, although, I do not think this says much about the view from anywhere, which is what I may be all about, but decide for yourself, how you want to view it). All that you, as a society, can describe is your own(ed) self,  in your own language from your own (singular) point of view.  This puts a limit on your theory and a limit on your interventions.  in other words, because a description of society (at large) is impossible in this current frame of social science, and all that is possible are descriptions of minute parts of our society (looking inwards and regionalizing our societies interior into fragmented interiors)  no theory of society is possible, only theories of the little parts, therefore, societies are too big to interfere in (whereas banks are too big to fail, the failure of societies could not even register on any scale because we are not allowed to have one), we can only micro-manage tiny little parts. If the addition of these parts does not match up with the whole of it, well, bad luck, but, again, what can be done about that, since that is something that cannot be talked about at all and, if remotely possible, we can say it is another mini-part that is the problem and we can ‘happily’ leave that to someone else.

Well, I am not sorry to say that this isn’t a state of affairs that I am content with. I take Pragmatism seriously, and I do not confuse it with a solipsistic-egocentric utilitarianism as some of my, mostly German,  peers do (waddling increasingly towards pear-shape). It is time we take ourselves seriously again and take up the provocations that I have offered here (kunik-ally not polemically). The mission of social and cultural science was never to change the world single-handedly, its original promise was to provide a bridge over the ‘bifurcation of nature’ that the humanities and natural sciences had created in order not to have to speak with one another anymore. But the social sciences are not the child victims of an ugly divorce, even if they have considered themselves to be that for the past few decades and thus gone from pout to tantrum and back again. We, as social and cultural scientists, are not just made to be stepped upon or walked over, matter of factly, we are forged in a matter of concern: Getting from there to here*. Since it seems that at the moment nobody seems to be getting anywhere, we are not doing our job quite right. I think it’s time for us, as social scientists, to have the kid-gloves come off, grow up, and get alive!

*With the concern for references not made clear, the fact of Sloterdijk’s fanship of Diogenes, means I, a mere pawn ripe for sacrifice, cannot spare you the gambit of an architectural joke of moving Underground with a French Tower: Latour goes to prison in England over the Channel, get it?

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In a recent contribution in DIE ZEIT, a high-ranking bureaucrat in Germany’s Research&Education administration demanded that Germany needs its own Oxford and, thus, must continue on its way of having Elite universities (http://www.zeit.de/2011/07/C-Bundesfoerderung). Considering that  Germany’s higher Education isnt’ even getting its basics right, I think it is preposterous to claim that they can have universities that can compete at an international level.

What is the German situation like? Well, it’s like a bunch of kindergarten teachers arguing whether they should cut the funds for a Play-Do or fingerpaint (which they buy second-hand to begin with), while crying that they desperately need their own Michelangelo, and, at the same time, declaring that anybody who even mentions that we should have classes in anatomic drawing is not realistic and must be silenced if possible.

My advise: Get university right before you talk about “elite university”.

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She is the victim…. again. And I wonder, why, for once, can somebody who held high political office and strives for even higher ones, not step up, take responsibility and own it.

Sarah “Blood Libel” Palin, always tries to turn affairs in a way that makes her look like the wronged party (or “the victim” as David Frum mentioned). And I am sure, if I were  a somewhat more important voice in the choir of commentators, critics and scholars who reflect and discourse about important (and sometimes not so important) events, I am sure she’d, or her media lackeys would, respond to me with some concentration camp reference and how she is a victim of that too, given that I am German.

And no, this is not a polemical and politically incorrect comment about Sarah Palin, nor is it about the events of Tuscon bing the fault of Rush “Straight Shooter” Limbaugh or other Republican Tea Party favorites. This is about a very crucial difference that people who are think in a one-dimensional linear cognitive style do not seem to get right: the difference between blame and responsibility.

This is a difference that I know well because (!) I am German, and it is a difference that, sometimes, I have  to hammer into the heads of the many historians who offer one-dimensional accounts of the Nazi years and the Holocaust.

Sometimes it is just not about “who is to blame”, sometimes it is about a lot of people sharing responsibility for something. And as for what happened in Tuscon, AZ, there is one man to blame and a whole lot of people who share responsibility for it.

The man who is to blame is the man who pulled the trigger. Period. Whether he is guilty or just insane, that is for the courts to decide. But in either case, the shooter is also a product of a culture and a society that made him and the events possible, and the factory of this event is “multi-factorial”.

Some Democrats chose to blame Republican vitriol, or some blame lax gun-laws, or some blame rich people, or some blame faulty (mental) health care. Some Republicans blame the Democrats, or blame Liberal vitriol, or  blame their health care reform, or blame heavy metal music or hip hop, or blame computer games, or blame too restrictive gun laws.

But the sad truth is, it is all of the above and more. It is a culture that has borne and was born by Republican hatred and vitriol same as Democratic bickering, same as Gangsta Rap, same as same as.

Sadly enough, most people in public office or influential positions in the mass media, all of whom are well-paid to assume and execute responsibilities, fail to take responsibility.

Many citizens of Tuscon and, as one of the few members of the political class, President Barak Obama, seemed willing and able to actually own up to the responsibility bestowed upon them by these tragic events.

And even though in the first few seconds after the memorial and Obama’s speech, most media commentators seemed able to shut up or, at least, praise their President, they quickly fell yet into old habits, criticizing the timing of the speech, the setting and visual presentation of the memorial,  even commenting on the effects of the speech for Obama’s reelection campaign, and so on and so.

There was a time, when responsible people in positions of responsibility knew when something larger than themselves was going on and they, with the rest of the crowd, got line behind their President and just…. shut up.

My dear friends overseas, I say to you, all of you, about the culture you created that led to the tragedy of  Tuscon, the same I say to my fellow Germans about our nation’s tragic past:  Take responsibility, learn from it and do better. In short: Own it.

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Dreams can die, and not always do they get to be reborn dressed in white wearing an emerald.

The European Dream, that Jeremy Rifkin was musing about a few years back, hopeful that such musings might indeed finally breathe some life into this stillborn project and return some clout to its American step-brother, well, that European Dream was effectively buried during the last two years, during which European leaders failed to execute their power in steering their ship: Leader-ship indeed, run aground, sinking and wrecked. More so, the same mixture of calculated opportunism, historico-political short-sightedness and clad incompetence of the rising number of careerists among national politicians, mass media representants and global finance and industry elites that prophesied and promised during the dawning age of institutionalizing the EU that  from the three (plus X)  necessary institutional columns and their intra-European harmonization, it was only to be the harmonization of the economic market – via the Euro – that was really necessary, not because the others wouldn’t matter but – by way of invisible handling – the rest would all install itself. As has been done before so many times (just think of how Germany botched its re-unification), cautious critics were effectively silenced, usually by way of calling them intellectuals, unrealistic, spoil sport, and so forth. Countries like Greece were rushed into the Euro-zone, despite their widely known and reality-defying accounting and budget practices. Invisible Hands indeed, well more like “the grabbing hands grab all they can”.

But before you call me a spoil sport, an intellectual, or, worse, continental, and, of course i am all that, right you are, let me get to my point which is, of course not so much about the EU but the US of A. What I am getting at is that Rifkin or rather some of his likes were trying to point out that Europe might actually want to be a little bit more unified, more like the US, that is. Of course, nobody in Europe wanted to be the US, not back then anyway, and probably not ever. A United States of Europe was, largely, out of the question, given that Europe was continually growing, and prospective countries like Belarus, Serbia, or Turkey just aren’t Texas. Also, in its own troubled history, the Franco-German-Austrian core and its continued awkward gestures amongst one another and with its Eastern European neighbors, the stiff resistance of the United Kingdom to put its trust into the whole thing, let alone abdicate the British Pound and submit to those defaulting rules that the European commission seems to come up with for anything from banana curves to the end of the light-bulb, well: No Way!

Respectively, Europe, other than the USA, is a disbanded lot who share in their Union, well, what actually? Three things actually, the Euro, a dumping ground for used up or unwanted national politicians – Brussels  , oh, and, of course, you cannot find any lightbulbs anymore – even though Germans are discussing returning to them, or maybe not, or maybe halfway. the Germans, you must know (see illustrated the recent ban of smoking in pubs), are the kings and queens of repeal, repeal the repeal, repeal the repeal of the repeal, and so on. Actually, such repealing actions are rather costly, as the American Republican party just found out, when the figure of repealing health care came out to be some $230 billion – although, I guess it’ll be at least double that. And with this, we come to the actual thing I wanted to say. When it was suggested that Europe and the United States should be more alike, I think, nobody had in mind what currently seems to be happening: The United States of America turn into an American Union. What, I sometimes ask myself, holds these people together as a nation? I feel very little. Of late, they seem just as dispersed, divided, and spiteful as the Europeans always have . And I am afraid, it won’t be long until we will have some actual calls for secession. As of now, this sounds preposterous,  hilarious and crazy, I know. But then again, the same was said of those who claimed that Greece wasn’t ready for the Euro.  

Well, dreams can die, and they are usually not reborn. About nightmares, well that is a bit of a different matter.

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