3:1— Post-Disciplinarity or “Committing Sociology” — Post 3 of 3

Historically sociology has been entwined with the state, sociology playing the part as both gadfly and confidant. Growing out of early nineteenth century moral statistics, the discipline was related to the regulation of the productivity and industrial morale of ‘labouring classes’. Of course, sociology played a critical role too, troubling the purported objectivity of state rule, exploitation, and the role of the state in codifying relations of class, gender and race. The interplay of these lines of inquiry ran deep into the modern state project. As such, sociology has confronted the ‘public’ as both a technique allied to state rule and, as C. Wright Mills wrote, as a project to transform “private issues into public issues of social structure”. As such, there may be something revealing about a state official slighting a practice that had been central to modern state formation, especially when the slight isn’t just rhetorical but manifest in policy.

The infrastructures that connected sociology to ‘the public’ in Canada have been retrenched. The long form census has been scrapped; and the archives and libraries closed or hamstrung by cuts. This may seem minor but sociology grew out of these public institutions; the advice of Harriet Martineau, an oft-neglected figure in the discipline’s formation, to any social observer was to begin by consulting public records. In this sense, the decline of these infrastructures threatens to put a number of issues and questions outside the grasp of the discipline. At the same-time, largely through tax-credits and other initiatives, this government has sought to relocate rule from the scale of the public to individualized ‘rational’ and risk averse subjects (see Phil’s post on resilience). If society assumes a form where rule shifts from the scale of the public to the individual, violence, poverty and even illness can be explained and ‘governed’ at the scale of personal conduct. Thus, there will be no public where the forces of social structure can become framed as public issues. There will be neither ‘a time’ nor ‘a place’ for sociology.

Under these conditions, what might a commitment to sociology entail? To avoid resorting to vagaries or excluding some projects through ignorance, I will lay out two projects that may be of tactical importance. The recent work by William Walters on the constitution and mobilization of publics through specific materials and technologies offers an important line of inquiry. Re-reading the public as practice offers the chance to recover it, which is necessary for state projects are increasingly making less of the public as a technique of rule. Moreover, if the state and sociology have historically met in service of ‘publics’, it seems appropriate that we should take an interest in the public as something more than a metaphysical concept or guarantee of the liberal state. It may be useful to take a similar stance and ask what infrastructures, institutions and scales of state informed sociology as a practice, and what are its conditions of operation today? Second, the strengthening of the individual as a scale of rule has been a gift to disciplines that seek to displace the social with the biological; here I am referring to the return of genetic explanations in crime and the neurological focus of cognitive psychology. Sociology is confronted by battle-lines similar to those that were in place when it became a discipline. Again, it seems we must demonstrate the social-historical character of the ‘individual’ so as to underscore that individuals conceived in projects of rule are not neutral or abstract but reflect the desires and anxieties of those who rule.

Latour Workshop


Latour saves the earth once again, this time, at a workshop. 

Bruno Latour and Environmental Governance

Call for Papers: submit abstracts by 16 March 2015
Workshop: 18-19 May 2015, Cumberland Lodge, Windsor, UK

Since the 1980s Bruno Latour has attempted to supplant the prevailing image of science by proposing a pragmatic and anthropological perspective. According to Latour, scientific practices forge ‘objective’ and ‘accurate’ knowledge that speaks on behalf of the world. Latour has written extensively on climate change and ecological politics, and on the challenges posed by the figure of Gaia for thought and for scientific and political practice. However, he has made limited reference to the specifics of the work carried out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and similar institutions involved in mobilising knowledge for environmental governance.

The IPCC is the leading international authority for the assessment of climate change. Formed in 1988 by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the IPCC produces reports that assess and summarise scientific literature on the physical science of climate change, adaptation and mitigation.

The two-day workshop takes as its starting point the idea the Latour’s work can be used to explain and understand the workings of environmental governance, using the IPCC as a prime example.

3:1— Post-Disciplinarity or “Committing Sociology” — Post 2 of 3

Fields of Illusion

It happened to me just a few months ago. I’d had the experience last year too; an engaged second year undergraduate had been the source of my discomfort some time ago. I am certain it happens in introductory classes on a recurrent basis at the start of each academic year. It probably happened to you at some point as well. “What do sociologists do?” A simple question. An honest question. The problem lies in the repertoire of possible responses to such an inquiry. On the spot and in the eager gaze of a hundred students, I relied on how I’d seen other profs approach this prickly question lately. The students let me speak of the supposed instrumental value of sociology, things like landing a job in government or at a not-for-profit. I highlighted transferable skills that they could put to use outside of academia like reading, writing and critical thinking. They leaned back and forth as I spoke of the importance of research, the link to policy, the virtue of knowledge, the importance of understanding root causes and historical ties between academia and activism. I may have overplayed my hand by the time I was interrupted. “But what do you do?” I had completely misunderstood the question. Collective pause. The emphasis was on doing. What sociologists do?

Lately there has been somewhat of a disjointed set of claims to be doing something: doing/undoing gender; doing/undoing race; doing/undoing ethics; doing/undoing culture; constructing/deconstructing; even one of STS’s ‘sacred cows’, Latour, has famously engaged in reassembling, a moniker for doing. What can all this doing do? Ventures of this kind, particularly when focused on categories of classification or taken-for-granted concepts, can be fruitful and (perhaps this is a page from the ‘social-sciences-as-reflexivity’ playbook) we ought to be engaged as reflexive researchers. But, as H.S. Becker reminds us: sometimes it’s a matter of context.

While departments are increasingly under measurement pressures imported from public administration and business models, the esteemed entrepreneur is said to be capable of harvesting external funding, albeit increasingly from non-traditional sources, to make-up for purloined research money. Alongside dwindling funding is a call to increase research outputs. Here, the traditional types of ‘products’- publications- are most praise worthy, while there exists a hardened reluctance from the administrative vantage point that alternative forms of dissemination, such as zines or social media, can have just as much, if not more, impact and readership. This atmosphere of doing more with less breeds a risk adverse culture towards inquiry where one is hesitant to spend the necessary amounts of time devoted to a single large project or undertake creative forms of research. So it isn’t all that surprising that there has been a rush to doing, a rush to claim importance through tangibles. However, more and more simply calling whatever it is doing isn’t enough. When some of us say we are doing, we are thinking, analyzing, debating, critiquing or challenging. Most often, rightly so. Harper’s comments on committing sociology point to this sensibility, I think.

What this culminates to, from where I sit, is that the university is being positioned as the de facto institution to train its members, its community and its students in how to be resilient. The aspired resilient subject accepts conditions of existence and internalizes strategies and tactics to navigate a given field. Rather than an impetus to change one’s environment, the resilient subject ideally copes and seeks-out contingency plans. The resilient subject is envisioned as capable of withstanding shocks and rebounding from catastrophe amidst uncertainty. The resilient subject is resourceful and instrumental in her perceived daily actions. It is this instrumentalist story that I was led to recite to a classroom of students. It is this focus on instrumentalism that Harper was recalling: don’t think too hard or ask intangible questions. Don’t be political. I remain unsure exactly what it means to commit sociology, but if I had to guess I’d say it’s something like a vocation, a commitment. That commitment is a political one. Maybe it needs to be recognized as such?

3:1— Post-Disciplinarity or “Committing Sociology” — Post 1 of 3


At a time when inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary research is becoming the norm, aligning one’s work with any one discipline seems outdated. However recent events in Canada have prompted me to re-consider identifying myself as a sociologist (in-training). On the one hand, the discipline has been put into question by veteran Canadian sociologists (see Curtis and Weir). Whatever side of the debate one takes, sociology’s public utility and institutional longevity have been cast into doubt. On the other hand, the Prime Minister of Canada is openly dismissive of sociology. In the wake of the Boston terror attacks, after one of his political opponents highlighted the need to consider the “root causes of terrorism,” the Prime Minister famously replied that now is not the time to “commit sociology”: terrorist attacks must always be dealt with immediately and only in the severest of terms by state authorities. More recently, Harper refused calls for a public inquiry into the thousands of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada, rejecting it is a “sociological phenomenon.” Given our leader’s indifference to sociology, the discipline’s uncertain future, and the general movement towards post-disciplinarity, this hardly seems like the time to dedicate oneself to entering the profession’s ranks.

But Harper’s off-the-cuff remark has, in a way, galvanized sociologists (and criminologists) who have come to the defense of the evidence-based policy-making approach that the Conservatives continue to ignore. And the resulting op-eds and blog posts have consistently made reference to the Conservative Government’s “War on Science.” Since Harper took office in 2006, federal funding for research departments (e.g., Environment Canada, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Library and Archives Canada, Parks Canada) has been slashed, federal labs have been shut down, and government libraries have closed their doors. The national census even became an object of controversy because of changes made by the ruling government.

As the decision-making processes of the executive branch have become increasingly autonomous, Canada’s knowledge production infrastructure has crumbled and federal scientists have been muzzled. This prompted federal scientists and researchers, in the summer of 2012, to march on Parliament to stage a funeral mourning the “Death of Evidence”. Perhaps this war was begun as soon as Harper was elected. In 2006, the office of the National Science Advisor, previously reporting directly to the Prime Minister, was first moved to Industry Canada; the Science Advisor was never consulted by Prime Minister Harper. Then, at the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, conservative parliamentarians tried to tar and feather Dr. Arthur Carty over his office and travel expenses. Finally, the national science advisor was dismissed by Harper in 2008, and Canada remains the only G8 nation without one.

Now, it is not my intention to turn this space into a soap box for Canada’s scientific public; nor do I want to constitute some sort of “Harper effect” wherein the scientific apparatus has been manipulated by the sovereign towards clandestine, ideological ends. Rather it is intended as a passive aggressive “thank you” letter. Whatever Harper’s actual views of sociology, he has unknowingly gifted sociologists with an interesting and engaging problematic: instead of approaching sociology from a disciplinary/institutional perspective, we should approach it mainly as a practice that necessarily engages others and oneself. Given the ongoing “war” in the human-park that is Canada, I think it is indeed time to commit sociology, and, like others, am committed, now more than ever, to that label— thanks, both directly and indirectly, to the Prime Minister.

3:1 — Post-Disciplinarity or “Committing Sociology” — Pre-Posting Post


We are continuing the 3:1 format into 2015. We are kicking off the New Year with a series of posts on Post-Disciplinarity or “Committing Sociology.” It might be a stretch to treat Post-Disciplinarity and Committing Sociology as synonyms, but we could not resist, and our panel of three scholars have some unique perspectives on the topic worth reviewing. This time, none of the blog administrators are going to contribute to this week’s 3:1 and instead we have a completely new group of scholars responding to, reflecting upon, and criticizing the notion of and instances of “committing sociology.”

This week contributors — who we are grateful to and eager to hear from — include:

Monday — 1 of 3 — Michael Lait: You might know him from his solid review of Lemke’s Biopolitics, Michael is a student at Carleton UniversitySociology and Anthropology working under rock n’ roll state theorist Bruce Curtis. Michael’s current work is about controversy: his “research maps the political situation of Gatineau Park, a 361km² semi-wilderness area located near the Canadian cities of Ottawa, Hull, and Gatineau. … [and, in particular,] how controversies have been mediated by the Park’s publics by way of formal and informal negotiations with the NCC as well as other institutional and government bodies.” He’ll fit right in around here.

Wednesday — 2 of 3 — Phillip Primeau: Phillip is also a graduate student in the same program as Michael at Carleton UniversitySociology and Anthropology. His research interests makes for a fine stable of topics: “Governmentality studies, historical sociology, moral regulation, state formation, municipal governance, community capacity building and resilience training.” He also, I have come to find, makes some killer Prezi presentations.

Friday — 3 of 3 — Aaron Henry: Like Michael and Phillip, Aaron is of the great program at Carleton UniversitySociology and Anthropology. Like me, Aaron is into states and state theory. He has a cool paper about how privacy figures into discussions/controversies regarding security and pacification that is worth reading. He works with Bruce too, but Justin Paulson appears to be his main advisor (I know Paulson only by reputation and a book he co-edit Capitalism and Confrontation).
Welcome aboard, gents!

* Image from: http://sd.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/i/keep-calm-and-commit-sociology-4.png

The first rule of math club is “You don’t talk about math club”


In a peculiar turn of events, Shinichi Mochizuki, a mathematician from Kyoto University, is really peeved — maybe even more than a little irksome — that nobody will read and review his solution to the ABC conjecture. To date, no errors have been uncovered, and yet the proof remains unverified. His work sits in a scientific nether region; his work is neither falsified nor supported as truth.

Part of the concern at work in this controversy, we learn, is that the ABC conjecture (also known as the Oesterlé–Masser conjecture) gets its name from a simple equation — a + b = c — but the implications run deep in the mathematical community, especially that it provides answer to deep questions in the theory of numbers (number theory).

“[F]ellow mathematicians,” he claims, “are failing to get to grips with his work.” On balance, however, his proof is 500 pages long of extremely dense material. Mochizuki’s current strategy: Put the proof on-line and wait. 

The solution from the mathematical community is for him go on a world tour and share his proof in person. According to a New Scientist essay, however, Mochizuki’s refuses to share his work through a series of talks and lectures — I Will Not Lecture, he is all but saying. Instead, he is proposing to train a few scholars in his technique so that at least someone is able to review his work and determine if there are any errors. My understanding of the math community is limited, but I am fairly confident that this is seen as abnormal behavior among insiders.

I’d welcome some insight from the social studies of science community on this matter. The notion that some discoveries are, in effect, peerless — meaning, even seemingly equal peers in the scholarly community are unable to verify or falsify a truth claim — is relatively rare. Moreover, that Mochizuki won’t go on a “public tour” (let’s say) is also interesting because research in SSS has routinely shown that the frontier of math research is often a dynamic activity undertaken in person with others, which makes Mochizuki’s refusal all the more interesting.

The New Scientist piece chalks it up to pride. I can understand that. It is unconfirmed, but a few stories on Mochizuki indicate that it took him four solid years of work to complete this proof. Possibly, he expected to be warmly embraced by the mathematics community, rewarded, lauded, and raised-up as a public figure of math for the world. Who knows? Mochizuki won’t talk, so we don’t know yet.

This would be great to teach with: because his work sits in a scientific nether region; his work is neither falsified nor supported as truth, which makes this a good case study for teaching students about the philosophy of science, especially about the role of consensus among scholars as well as some more general notions of falsificationism and the work of the early logical positivists.

Is STS a bordello or cabinet of wonders?


Nicholas gave us one of our most popular posts this year–a rumination from November 2013. Given its continuing popularity, perhaps the 3:1 Project should take on how we define our disciplines…

Originally posted on Installing (Social) Order:


This is based on some ruminations over the last year, which I’ve mentioned a while back casually and which our now full-time blogger Stef Fishel discussed more recently.

Here goes: Is STS a bordello or cabinet of wonders? (I write in the plural because Jan-H. and I were writing this together)


… we recognize the unorthodox and outlandish agency of “nonhumans” like scallops, microbes, Portuguese sea-going vessels, and British military aircrafts. In fact, the way we just listed those example case studies into the minutiae of STS scholarship is more telling than it might immediately appear. You see, STS is populated by intriguing micro case studies, and, from a far, STS appears to outsiders like a “cabinet of curiosities.” Because our research is punctualized into individual case studies, and these case studies were so routinely juxtaposed with one another during the era of great edited volumes…

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3:1-(We Have Always Been)Posthuman-Post 3 of 3

In his wonderful 1966 book The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, Michel Foucault concluded on a striking note that has haunted me ever since I first read it, over twenty years ago. He argued that ‘Man’ is ‘an invention of recent date’, but one so powerful that it has been able to reorganize the entire surface and structure of our politics, our sociality, and our thought. The Human became the fundamental source and site of knowledge, a puzzle to be investigated and solved, a thing to be classified and ordered, and more darkly, to be invented, emancipated, dominated, empowered, immunized and cleansed. For so long seen as the source and object of truth, the essence and ground of Being, the mystery of its own emancipation and power over nature, we were told the invention of Man was a rupture in thought that silently organized everything from the sciences of biology and economics to the animating ontologies of the state, democracy or communism. To add to the shock, Foucault also concluded that if Man was a recent invention, it was one ‘perhaps nearing its end’. We could wager—or perhaps hope—‘that man would be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea’. It was an urgent task, he thought, to awaken ourselves from this ‘anthropological sleep’, this ‘dogmatism folded over on itself’.

The appearance of that rhythmic surge of the sea in Foucault’s eloquent closing metaphor portends the posthuman—given the insistence of posthuman theory that we displace the human from the centre of our thought and bring other species, the agency of matter, and the complexities of systems and ecologies, to the forefront of our ethical and political horizon. No longer is the human a bounded body, but one existentially dispersed among biosphere and biome; no longer is the human a ‘mind’ in awe of the starry heavens above and the moral law within, but an existence ethically bound to the social, ecological and cosmic systems that make it possible; no longer is the human the sole possessor of rights under the law, but other species and ecosystems as well; and no longer can we assume that the individual or the person, along with their collective avatar, humanity, is a secure anchor for rights, dignity and survival. Rather, with the invention of the human came the ability to divide and classify the human—to allocate more or less life, more or less suffering, more or less health, to the point of the ultimate threshold, wherein we decide what kind of life can live. And thus the words biopolitics, thanatopolitics, and genocide, also came into our knowledge.

Yet now we have moved from the era of genocide into the era of extinction, both as a possibility and a preoccupation for philosophy. Nuclear holocaust, mass species extinctions, and non-linear climate change: the triple harbingers and horrors of the Anthropocene, when ‘Man’ is the ultimate agent of epochal system change, suddenly revealed as the victim of his own mastery. So we can date the posthuman to the awareness of the Anthropocene, or the beginnings of the philosophical challenge to humanism that was announced by Foucault. Yet I think we can date it much earlier, to the works of Newton, Galileo, Descartes and especially Bacon, which paired an advocacy of the scientific method and mathematics with a hubristic belief in the unalloyed good of invention, technological progress and the dramatic increase in human power and mastery it would grant. Incredibly, Bacon argued that Man would recover his ‘empire over creation’ that was lost at the fall of Adam and Eve.

It has been a long journey from their vision and what it made possible: the circumnavigation of the earth; long centuries of capital accumulation through slavery and imperialism, investments that made the industrial revolution (and its greenhouse emissions) possible; and since, the multiple and tightly-bound military and technological revolutions that have filled our atmosphere with carbon, unified humanity electronically and endangered every living thing on this planet. In short, the Human was always pregnant with the Posthuman; the Anthropos with the Anthropocene.

Extinction then comes with a profound ethical, and political, demand. We must return to Foucault, and imagine ourselves standing in despair, in 2048, at the edge of a poisoned sea utterly empty of fish, to ask: Can we think our way out of the human before the planet, with a mute and irreversible finality, forces the question on us for real?

3:1–Posthuman–Post 2 of 3

As a student I once visited a lecture on “artificial intelligence for social scientists” that confronted me with several provocative scenarios: What if we are approaching an age of intelligent machines? What if humans are about to transform themselves into cyborgs? What if we will be governed by technological systems beyond our control? I was fascinated by these thought experiments – and also suddenly shaken by an ontological insecurity. What if there once will be a society without humans?

The lecture strongly irritated my perspective on the social world. It took a good dose of social science to transform this irritation into productive curiosity: 10 years later I finished my PhD thesis about posthuman utopias. I turned the question concerning posthumanity into a question concerning the social construction of posthumanity. In other words: I regained ontological security in the comforting arms of constructivism. In a way.

Anthropocentric theories that claim that humans construct society (as well as technology and nature) never quite convinced me. My favorite brand of constructivism became Niklas Luhmann’s operative constructivism, a theory concerned with operations which generate social order. In Luhmann’s theory, society does not consist of humans but of social operations. Luhmann’s theory is severly posthuman, because it regards humans – as well as non-humans – as constructs of social operations. Forget ontology! This was Luhmann’s credo. There is no need for ontological insecurity anymore if ontology is “just” a product of operations constructing ontologies. Even if we don’t follow Luhmann’s total disregard for ontological questions, his operative constructivism is still a good antidote against an “ontologization” of the posthuman.

I share Stefanie’s fascination with “[c]yborgs, robots, enhancements, medical technology”, and with posthuman thinking in general. I love to speculate about different interpretations of quantum mechanics. But I am not so sure how it matters for social science “if we are slices, or smears on a universal map of sorts”. Can we escape the trappings of biological interpretations of the human by embracing cosmology? I don’t think that the real value of posthuman theorizing lies in ontological questions. Have we even been human? Are animals actors? Are interactions with machines “real” interactions or just imagined ones? These are fascinating questions, but as a sociologist I don’t believe I that it is my job to answer them.

I rather want to know: How are humans made posthuman? What is the role of technologies (including social technologies and technologies of the self) in this transformation? What kind of actors are included and excluded? How do these processes of inclusion and exclusion reconfigure social relations? Discourses on animals as citizens of “Zoopolis” and experiments with autonomous cars as new actors on the streets are good examples for contemporary renegotiations of the social. They are pressing political concerns as well as expressions of a new ontological insecurity. Posthumanism might help us analyzing these insecurities without falling back to ontological arguments.

However, the posthuman has two problems: the “post” and the “human”…

3:1–Posthuman–Post 1 of 3


This summer I presented at a conference at York University where we discussed what it could mean to be posthuman in the context of international relations, and specifically for security studies. How can we define the posthuman? How would we know if we are posthuman? How about if we were never human (Haraway) or never modern (Latour)?

In my work, I write about the more than human; how human bodies, with their many messmates and commensals, can be used to think about politics in a complex, interrelated world. The pure human doesn’t exist and never did. In my side projects and teaching, I like to think about the human and technology. Cyborgs, robots, enhancements, medical technology. I focus on the drawing of the line between who we see as human and who doesn’t make the cut: when do we become nonhuman/posthuman/superhuman in this context? If we have a pig valve in our hearts? Cheetah legs for running? Exosuits for battle? Laser eye surgery? Performance enhancing drugs?

So, for fun I thought I might ask this question: Rather than biologically or technologically, how could we define a quantum posthuman? Metaphorically speaking. There are many new ideas in physics explaining quantum mysteries, new formulations on the behavior of light, and explanations for quantum entanglement, or spooky action at distance. If they aren’t making your mind explode, you ain’t reading ‘em right. What does thinking about bodies at the quantum level do for us up here?

Last month, The New Scientist featured an a new approach to quantum mechanics that explores quantum weirdness as a “sign of many ordinary but invisible universes jostling to share the same space as ours” rather than the early many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics in which the universe splits into pairs of parallel universes when a wave function collapses. In early interpretations, this means Schrödinger’s cat is both dead and alive depending on the universe in which you find yourself. The worlds do not interact.

In this new theory, argued by Howard Wiseman, at Griffith University in Australia, parallel worlds have always existed, and these universes interact by bumping or colliding into each other. This means the number of worlds would be finite and, with careful experiments, scientists could figure out how many worlds there are in total. And, amazingly, this raises the possibility that we could communicate with other worlds—and our twins that live there. Schrödinger’s cats could meet or go to each other’s funerals, I suppose. If there are multiple humans, occupying the same space, experiencing different lives, this seems to take questions of human subjectivity and individuality away from the traditional monist v. dualist debate. Our division between self and other breaks down—we are multiple versions of ourselves, unique but sharing the same space-time. We are always already Othered. Future theories of the human, (the posthuman?) would have to leave behind much of the current thinking that rests on the human as an individual. Like the sculpture above, Quantum Man, what if we are slices, or smears on a universal map of sorts?

3:1 Experiment…this week…the Posthuman….

I am happy to introduce two new bloggers to the Experiment this week: Sascha Dickel and Anthony Burke.  They join Installing Order to write 500 words on the the idea of the posthuman.

Sascha Dickel is senior researcher at the Munich Center for Technology in Society (MCTS). His latest published work is a chapter in the book Post- and Transhumanism – An Introduction entitled “Eternal Debates on Immortality.” His field of interest includes technoscience, techno-social relations & futures, biopolitics, anthropocene, and citizen science.

Anthony Burke is an Australian political theorist and international relations scholar. His published work ranges across the fields of security studies, war and peace, international ethics, the international relations of the Asia-Pacific and the Middle-East, and Australian politics and history. He is Associate Professor of Politics and International Relations at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Canberra.

I will kick off the week with some musings on quantum mechanics and the posthuman.

Slavoj Žižek on Kafka and Love

Slavoj Žižek explains his concept of “The Event” on Big Think; the event, get this, “retroactively creates it’s own causes.”

He describes how literary predecessors do this (i.e., it is only once the new author is established that the predecessors are obvious or “produced”) and how falling in love is a good example of an event (i.e., the lighting bolt of first love immediately revising all which came before it as merely a precursor for the moment which had not — until that moment — happened yet).

“You are not in love, you just make one night stands maybe here and there. You meet every evening with friends. You drink. You go to blah, blah. Then all of a sudden in a totally contingent way let’s say you stumble on the street, somebody helps you to stand up. It’s a young girl or boy blah, blah. And, of course, it’s the love of your life. A totally contingent encounter but the result can be that your whole life changes. Nothing is the same as they say. You even spontaneously perceive your entire past life as leading towards this unique moment, you know, the illusion of love is oh my God, I was waiting all my life for you. This – something like this would have been the love event. And I think it’s getting more and more rare today. “

Zizek has previously appeared in other Big Think videos like “The Purpose of Philosophy is to Ask the Right Questions,” and “Why be Happy When You Could be Interesting?

Latour on how forests think


Check out an essay by Latour on How Forests Think — free, and oddly interesting.

The essay, which is featured in the Journal of Ethnographic Theory (an awesome, peer-reviewed, open-access on-line journal), is about far more than just reviewing Eduardo Kohn’s fascinating and fascinatingly odd book How Forests Think. Latour, using a conversational tone that at times annoying but still quite engaging because of its seriousness, positions Kohn’s book as a tiny little part of a broader movement to equip social scientists in the new shift toward ontology with methods for studying things like nature (i.e., these human-nonhuman carpets of existence).

Latour is an interesting choice to review the book because Kohn — armed with Pierce and semiosis — dishes on good old actor-network theory. Now, it was my thinking that Latour had sort of left behind that old theory-not-a-theory, but in this essay (posted only days ago) Latour defends ANT. Kohn dishes on ANT a bit, but Latour sees the two directions — his and Kohn’s — as more like allies than enemies. In the end, Latour specifies that Greimas’s semiotics allows for some analytical moves that Pierce’s semiotics (adopted by Kohn) does not and vice versa — sharp analysis here:

And that’s the problem I have with the powerful counterpoison Kohn had to rely on to avoid exoticism, namely the use of Peirce’s semiotics. Since ANT has made large use of another semiotics to escape the narrow “realism” that passes as a description of “societies,” I understand the move. But it’s not the same semiotic at all. Whereas Greimas’ semiotics allows multiple registers since every actant can be played out by many actors, Peirce’s semiotics (at least in Kohn’s treatment of it) claims to be an alternative description of what the world is. Each semiotics risks losing what the other gains. If it’s true that Greimas could have difficulties making ontological claims, he can entertain a vast diversity of registers well beyond relations among selves; while Peirce allows strong ontological claims but has to stabilize much too fast all connections into auto-morphisms. And yet, no matter how good Kohn’s book is, the Runa qua Peircian ontology have not become for everybody else the definition of their common world. Hence the danger of stabilizing too quickly what the furniture of the world is, and the necessity of having a semiotic toolkit able to restart the negotiation whenever it has stalled. Such is for me the advantage of Greimas over (Kohn’s) Peirce.

3:1 — Post-Method — 3 of 3


The problem with 99% of the more general discussion about post-method is that it is not about post-method. What’s wrong with 99% of post-method discussion, in general? His name is Jon Law and he titled a book After Method. Much of what we know about post-method is, naturally, influenced by that which is deemed “after method.” It is here that I stop because the subtitle of the book is especially significant. The subtitle “Mess in Social Science Research” is the real title of this book; this is because the book was about finding some way to engage — rather than paste-over and wipe-away — data anomalies or faint “traces” in our findings. There was probably some bogus publisher pressure to use a provocative title, so perhaps this is forgivable, but because the operative discussion about post-method is really about “dealing with mess” so is this post.

After reading that book, I was not post-method. I had a new attitude toward inquiry, but I was not post-method. I avoided seeing method as a privileged avenue with which truth sprang forth, but I was not post-method. I stopped conceptualizing methods as a way to “clear away the junk” and practice “good mental hygiene,” but I was not post-method. Still, we can refer to this general shift in attitude toward and conceptualization of method (perhaps, quite wrongly, as it implicates pre-method, now-method, and so on) as the operative post-method thing most scholars talk about.

What I learned was how to do research a little differently from that book of Law’s. I would not have conceived of writing a research paper about the development of a research paper as a means to tease-out how reflexivity is practically produced in actor-network accounts. Perhaps one of Law’s great contributions, and he is not the only one who gets at “the mess” this way, of course, was to take theoretical questions and make them practical and vice-versa. Just because something is compatible in theory does not mean that we should expect to see this compatibility in the field; in fact, viscous moments like these, Lynch once said, are often the most interesting. Likewise, problems that should not in theory be a problem are a problem in the field. I think of Law’s work on “foot and mouth” some years ago, “Context and Culling.” It did not occur to me that messy findings were findings at all, or that messy findings could help us understand when it was time to improve models of our subject matter based messy findings. In Law and Moser’s paper, they find that — this summary is glossy to a fault, by the way — a government program (designed to cull (i.e., the selective slaughter of, in this case,) herd animals) appeared to be a “success” on the government’s side of things, but upon closer examination, it was revealed that many herders did not kill a single animal in these areas where foot and mouth disease was now under control. The outcome, in Law and Moser’s accounting, was: now that we know this, we need to build better epidemiological models for how such diseases will be handled because a one-size fits all model, which appears to have worked, in fact, only was a success for reasons unrelated to the epidemiological modeling. 

What’s wrong with all that? 

1. Do we remake Borges’ map, but messier, if that is even possible? (good point, Michael; if we embrace the mess only to reproduce models of the mess that are life-sized equivalents, then nothing has been gained, beyond satisfying cartophilic tendencies)

2. Or, do we imply that messiness is a new one-way ticket — or detour — to scientific credibility now? (an argument Jan and I warned against strongly in our reflexivity paper) 

3. Or, do we probe and challenge the mess?  (and you can use, as Michael notes, new forms of visual or experimental methods, but, as Jan follows-up in the commentary on Michael’s post, you can also make attempts to wrangle the mess with traditional methods used with a “post-method” attitude)

*Image from: http://www.nccivitas.org/civitasreview/files/2013/09/junk-mess.jpg

3:1 — Post-Method — 2 of 3

Jan has given an excellent start to think about STS and methods. According to Jan, we are in a world of “messiness” “If we look at the conceptual apparatus”, but not so much “if we look at the standard set of methods (especially of qualitative research) still in use.” I wholeheartedly agree with this analysis, and I think it points to what is wrong with the idea of mess, and how mess relates to the world and methods in the first place.

The thinking assumes that in “classical social science” sociologists believed that it is the role of the social researcher to create methods and theories that show the hidden order of the world. First of all, I think that a lot of social science never believed in this logic (most vehemently, Harold Garfinkel, but also Georges Devereux), a long time before ANT and STS came along. Second, – here is my reflexivity boomerang – even a paper like John Law’s cleans up the mess, by following precisely the logic of ordered articles: introduction, thesis, discussion, conclusion. The “need” for order, is not only one of theories of order.  It comes from how writing as practice unfolds (one word after another, quite unlike the world) and how scientific writing is standardized. This at least in part has good reasons, as John Law’s lucid article shows. But even if the diagnosis were right, and we disregard the reflexivity boomerang, the treatment is too timid.

From “the world is a mess” does not follow that our methods and descriptions should be a mess. This would simply leave us with a descriptivist duplication of the world, akin to Borges’ famous map that is a copy of the territory. The underlying problem here is that the treatment is a post-structuralist reconceptualization of methods. This is fine with me, as far as this implies to stop using methods as hammers in search of nails, or as identity (as in: I am an ethnographer, I do biographical interviews etc.). But the treatment stops with theoretical thinking about methods, leaving the practice of methods intact. John Law, in sync with most of STS, still does some form of ethnography. Post methods then, is before methods. Or, as I put it in a forthcoming article: Post-method is still based on a very particular kind of doing methods, namely textual loose translations. These are methods, such as ethnography that do one large jump from the world to a text. I prefer widening our set of methods with more and other methods instead: non-textual tight and loose translations.

I would like to suggest to explore such new methods that re-order and probe and challenge the mess. These are methods that do not translate the world into a text, but rather create new worlds. It is very much like what natural scientists do: to translate the world into something different, which then becomes an actant in itself with unforeseen repercussions for the world and the social researcher themselves. This is something very different from both (post-methods and post-structural) descriptivism and doing critical research. It is different from descriptivism because it accepts that social science needs a strong take on methods. It needs to create methods, as forms of intervention and analysis that slice the world in ways that the scientists, and not the world, decide on. It accepts all the things that ethnographers and large parts of STS abhor: creating actual laboratories, doing experiments, tinker with machines, using automated recording procedures, standardizing protocols, using and even designing all kinds of media and materials and even using force to make research participants do things they would otherwise not do, make subjects object to these procedures.

But it is also different from “critical research” in the sense that such methods do not aim towards an outcome that the researchers pre-determine. Such a world is neither a world of mess, nor a world of “post-method”. Together with my colleagues of shared inc., we call it incubations. You can call it what you like, but I suggest that you at least try it.

3:1 — Post-Method — 1 of 3

For this week’s 3-1 we are dealing with the nuts and bolts of social analytics: methods! Are we living in a post-method world? What are its contours? How does it operate? We will try to find out!

In a more than 10 year old paper John Law characterized methods as tools for intellectual hygiene: “Do your methods properly. Eat your epistemological greens. Wash your hands after mixing with the real world.” But what if the problems we tackle are messy? What if trying to tidy them up leads us away from grasping the flavor of what we are studying? Can we deal with the vagueness, messiness, uncertainty and the diffuse character of multiple, not necessarily consistent realities? And can we, on the other hand, understand the performative effects of our standard methods, can we understand “seeing like a survey”? This double move towards social inquiry “after method” lets us migrate to a post-method regime of social research where the nuts and bolts of the infrastructure of our research practice allow us to embrace the heterogeneity, multiplicity and temporality of the social.

But this is more than 10 years ago. It seems to me that approaches like Law’s can be understood as the beginning of a shift in the epistemic order of the (in a very broad sense) social sciences. But like in most shifts that are still ongoing one cannot really tell where we is heading. Where are we now? Did the find our way towards vagueness and messiness? It seems to me that there is a double answer: it is yes if we look at the conceptual apparatus; it is no if we look at the standard set of methods (especially of qualitative research) still in use. But there is hope, I think. There is a quite recent movement in cultural anthropology and it is not so much framed as a methodological innovation, but as a way to cope with the hustles of interdisciplinarity, especially in cases where – as in the case of cultural anthropology and neurobiology – disciplinary answers to a similar problem are usually not very compatible. Co-laboration, not collaboration, para-site(d), not multisited: this attitude towards using not only, but also the standard set of methods in an interventionist, experimental and, sometimes, tongue-biting and ambiguous way. Why does that lead us into a post-method world? Because seen this way, methods stop being means of intellectual hygiene. They even stop being tools for knowledge production at all. They become attempt of intervening, of entanglement. They start to be methods in a literal sense: meta hodos, a transcending road.

Joining us for this week’s 3-1 on Post-Method: Michael Guggenheim (Goldsmiths)

For this week’s 3-1 we are trying to tackle the nuts and bolts of (social) science: method. How do we live in a world “after method” (Law)? Can we design new ones? Throw-away methods maybe? Interventionist approaches? Co-Laborative or para-site designs? Are we working in a post-method regime of social analytics? We try to find out! Joining us this week is Michael Guggenheim, sociologist of science, technology, expertise and art and Senior Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer at the Department of Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London. His approach to experimental design, art and ethnography, the visual and…cooking is unique and thought-provocing. We are very happy to welcome you to Installing (Social) Order!

e-mail Breaching Experiments


Good-old Ian Bogost writes about “FYI” and “See below” forwarded e-mails — the bane of corporate (and dare I say academic) e-mail culture!* Of course, his piece in the Atlantic is meant to be funny — and it is — but the real gem for me was in the penultimate paragraph where a kernel of extra-special fun — applicable fun — was available.

He proposes — as a form of micro-office-place-playfulness — a breaching experiment. He writes:

So, what to do with emails like FYI and See below? You can’t ignore them; sending an email always trumps letting one go unanswered (or even unseen). Unfortunately, the only move left is to respond, but play dumb, asking your interlocutor to clarify what, precisely, is the relevance of the enclosed “information” in the FYI, or which aspect of the material below in the See belowrequires action—and what type of action, as long as we’re at it. (Or maybe, if you’re really feeling punchy, you could respond with nothing more than a link to this article.)

*Thanks Object Oriented Philosophy for the original link.

**Image from: http://bereabaptist.org/wordpress2/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/cropped-FYI-logo-22.jpg

Computer Engineer Barbie, ugh


This is gonna hurt. The empowering “I can be an actress” and “I can be a computer engineer” are part of the “I can be” Barbie Seriesthe reviews on Amazon.com are interesting, some saying that this book if “Great for lighting fires during power outages” or less veiled “Why Do People Who Make Toys for Girls Seem to Hate Them?Books like these make great, great fodder for teaching issues related to gender and engineering. There has also been tons of flack that students might sift through and reflect upon — here, here, or here.

If you want a solid run-down of “I can be a computer engineer” — a story were Barbie gives Skipper’s computer a virus by accident and then the only way to fix it is to get some young guys to take care of it for Barbie — then check out this thorough blog post. The Barbie Facebook community responded to these and other concerns, indicating that “The Barbie I Can Be A Computer Engineer book was published in 2010. Since that time we have reworked our Barbie books” as if, perhaps, to say that things have really changed since 2010…

For a healthier example, we’ve most recently related to girl’s building-blocks called GoldiBlox.

Not since my childhood have I seen something this bad from Barbie related to math, science, and engineering (i.e., the Barbie doll that said “Math is hard”). 

20 Ethnographic Films to Teach With


Worth checking-out: visual psychological anthropology films that can be used for teaching from our friends over at Psychocultural Cinema:

Despite the rich history of innovative methods and techniques employed by documentary filmmakers across a range of genres, there seems to be little awareness or integration of the findings and approaches of psychological anthropology in ethnographic film

Infrastructure Makes Prime Time Slot

Infrastructure Makes Prime Time Slot

This Sunday, Nov. 23, CBS’ 60 Minutes will feature an interview with American Society of Civil Engineers Past President Andrew W. Herrmann, P.E. SECB, F.ASCE discussing our nation’s infrastructure deficit while flying via helicopter over Pittsburgh.

The interview is part of a larger piece on the Highway Trust Fund hurtling once again toward insolvency. Tune in or set your DVR to 60 Minutes, which airs at 7:30 p.m. ET7 p.m. PT, to see ASCE tell the story behind our nation’s bridges.

Below are additional details of the segment.

November 21, 2014
Federal Highway Trust Fund  – Which Funds Road and Bridge Repair – is Nearly Broke

Ray LaHood, the former U.S. transportation secretary, tells 60 MINUTES  many of the roads and bridges we drive on every day are “on life support.” What’s more, nearly 70,000 bridges in the U.S. are deemed structurally deficient.   “I don’t want to say they’re unsafe. But they’re dangerous,” says Ray LaHood, the secretary of transportation during President Obama’s first term.  “Our infrastructure’s on life supports right now. That’s what we’re on,” says LaHood, now co-chair of Building America Future, a bipartisan coalition of current and former elected officials seeking to increase spending on infrastructure. LaHood  speaks to Steve Kroft for a

60 MINUTES report on the state of America’s crumbling infrastructure.  It will be broadcast Sunday, Nov. 23 (7:30-8:30 PM, ET/7:00-8:00 PM, PT) on the CBS Television Network. Watch an excerpt.

60 MINUTES cameras capture the rust and the cracked concrete on bridges across the country, especially in Pennsylvania, where the problem is most acute according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.  LaHood says that the broken roads and bridges need to be fixed now, but the Federal Highway Trust Fund, the pot of money states rely on for new construction and maintenance of roads and bridges is just as broken.  The Highway Trust Fund is financed by the federal gas tax – about 18 cents per gallon – and it hasn’t been raised in 20 years.

“It’s falling apart because we haven’t made the investments. We haven’t got the money,” says LaHood.  “The last time we raised the gas tax, which is how we built the interstate system, was 1993.”  LaHood goes on to say “Politicians in Washington don’t have the political courage to say, ‘This is what we have to do.’ That’s what it takes…They don’t want to raise the taxes. They don’t really have a vision of America the way that other Congresses have had a vision of America,” he tells Kroft.

The failure is a bipartisan one says Rep. Earle Blumenauer (D.-Ore.),  a member the House Ways and Means Committee, just one of a handful of Committee’s responsible for funding long term transportation bills. Blumenauer says he’s been asking for a hearing on funding for the Highway Trust Fund for 44 months “It has, to this point, not raised to the level of priority for the Republican leadership. Although,  in fairness, when the Democrats were in charge, we had a few hearings, but not much action.”

3:1 — Post-STS — 3 of 3

First of all, I have to start with thanking Nicholas for such a warm welcome. I am still a little surprised, but (at the same time!) delighted by the invitation to join the @installingorder.org community.

With respect to this post, I have had the additional privilege of being the last person to respond to the question of “Post-STS!?”. I think the posts by Nicholas and Jan, have setup this conversation quite succinctly in terms of whether a world Post-STS would mean success or failure for STS as a interdisciplinary practice. I am going to shy away from this question. Mostly owing to my own biases (for the lack of a better word!), I have not been able to foresee this possibility.

I once asked Wiebe Bijker out of sheer curiosity, “What is NOT STS?” He smiled and said that every once in a while when he teaches a class, he asks his students to think of a problem that they think is outside the purview of STS and then, within the next few minutes, he turns the same problem into an STS problem. The trick, he said, is to understand that science, technology and society are thick concepts as well as “things” that are ubiquitous and the so-called STS toolkit is amorphous enough to be used productively to understand them.

So, within this context, I have tried to figure out what would a post-STS world look like? I have stared at the question for a couple of days now and then, I started to wonder when and how did the STS toolkit become concrete enough that we reached the stage of looking for a post-STS toolkit? How can I tell you what would be “Post-STS?”, when I don’t know the answer to the question: “What is STS”? To reach post-“Something”, we need a present-“Something” and my feeling is that the present-“Something” for STS is still in the making.

STS remains in a state of becoming because we engage with “wicked problems” that first need to be described or explained (whatever your choice of methodology!) before a possibility of intervention can be imagined. We celebrate multiplicity, plurality, and alternative imaginations of knowledge(s), technique(s) and expertise(s) but don’t necessarily resolve the problems that we try to elicit. Whether we simplify work within science studies as waves or enumerate traditions of recurring and partially overlapping preoccupations in STS scholarship, we are still figuring out new methods and strategies that have to keep pace with the development of new forms of technoscience. This entity/concept/”thing” called technoscience is NOT static enough for us to be able to situate ourselves concretely in a relationship with it.

Maybe post-STS lies within the hope of that resolving ways of engaging with technoscience or maybe it lies in our confidence to move beyond description or explanation to intervention, but, till then, it is the questions that we ask that makes STS unique: What is our place as humans in a world that is surrounded by “things” embedded in different and often conflating forms of technoscientific knowledge(s)?

Why the humanities: a call for papers

Call for Papers

International Conference

Why the Humanities:
Answers from the Cognitive and Neurosciences


Kent State University Hotel and Conference Center
Kent, Ohio, USA
July 9-12, 2015

The purpose of this conference is to highlight and enhance the contributions that humanities education makes to personal well being, responsible citizenship, and social justice.

Continue reading

Call for Papers

Originally posted on EcoMaterialisms: Organizing Life and Matter:

EcoMaterialisms: Organizing Life and Matter

University of California, Irvine

Friday 15th May 2015

“EcoMaterialisms: Organizing Life and Matter” will bring interdisciplinary graduate work to  bear on the ongoing critical discussions grouped under the umbrella of “new materialisms.” While what exactly these new materialisms might be or look like remains a vitally open question, this conference is an attempt to map a number of conceptual coordinates that give this emergent field of inquiry some consistency. As Diana Coole and Samantha Frost write in the introduction to their edited collection on new  materialism, “If we persist in our call for an observation of a new materialism, it is because we  are aware that unprecedented things are currently being done with and to matter, nature, life,  production, and reproduction. It is in this contemporary context that theorists are compelled to  rediscover older materialist traditions while pushing them in novel, and sometimes experimental,  directions…

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Welcome Ranjit Singh (Cornell University)


“Greetings from Ithaca,” our guest blogger Ranjit writes.

He is currently working on the history of the turn to technology studies within STS in the mid-1980s (which is, I think, related to this talk he gave a while back cleverly called “Back to the Future“) under the supervision of Prof. Trevor Pinch (who graciously loaned us all those 4S newsletters — they are on their back to you in the mail, Trevor, I promise).

He will be the final blogger for this week’s 3:1 on Post-STS.

Welcome aboard from the @installingorder.org community, Ranjit Singh!

*The image is of Rockefeller Hall on Cornell University’s campus where Trevor and Ranjit work.

3:1 — Post-STS — 2 of 3

Do academic disciplines die? They are born, they are propagated, they are institutionalized. But can they disappear? While thinking about possible paths into a (hypothetical) Post-STS world, I tried to think of blueprints of such a path. There are some examples, yes, but none of them can really serve as a banner case: classic rhetorics, alchemy, classical (national) economy — sure we are post them, but what happened? Rhetorics? Still valued, but even in ancient Greece it has been a craft and a science and it seems that it today just embraces craft-i-ness. Alchemy? Well, yes, but that was, if you will, the lab work of natural philosophy and both lab and theory live on in modern chemistry and pharmacology. Classical (national) economy? Oh come on — that is not dead, it just serves as the dismissed precursor of neo-classical economy. So…do disciplines die? Well, we have talked about leftovers quite a lot and it seems part of the “dark side” of institutions is that it is hard to finally get rid of them.

That set aside: in a way I agree that the dream of STS has always been one of a world in which it is no longer necessary, but there are two versions of that dream. The first is mainly about the background of those who turned to STS: Wouldn´t it be great if sociology, philosophy, history and so on were more about science and technology? Isn´t STS sociology, philosophy or history how it should be? And would a world in which STS is no longer necessary not just a world in which the old disciplines finally noticed the importance of S&T for our contemporary world? The second is this: Wouldn´t it be fantastic if we could help technoscience to be so reflexive and aware of how they shape our world that no STS is necessary any more? And isn´t a Post-STS world just a world of upgraded technoscience? Both Post-STS worlds are incompatible as the success of the latter makes the former impossible: if technoscience does not need STS anymore, if sure does not need an upgraded sociology, philosophy or history of science or technology. But if technoscience still needs STS it would be counterproductive to disband the joint forced of our inter-discipline and talk different S&T related sociological, philosophical and historical lingo again, right?

Given these options, a Post-STS world would be one of failure, not of success. But on the other hand: given that the death of a discipline is a rather rare event, we can be pretty sure that STS will be around for a while. After all: look at Horizon 2020 (the current EU funding scheme) or similar statements of national funding agencies. The more they ask projects in particle physics or urban engineering to integrate ELSA (ethical, legal, social aspects), the more they strengthen the demand for sociologists, philosophers and historians who can help. In living the Post-STS dreams, it seems, we are strengthening an STS world.

3:1 — Post-STS — 1 of 3


For this 3:1, we consider “Post-STS,” not because we know what that means exactly, but as an experiment to explore what a Post-STS world might mean, signify, or imply.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that a Post-STS world would be a mark of success. What I mean by that is that STS, from the start, to my mind, was always a little on the defensive and positioned themselves as self-proclaimed inhabitants of the margins. Merton, during the very first year of 4S, claimed that we were a rag-tag bunch, but that what we were doing – making legitimate space for social inquiry into science and technology – was possibly a little bit noble. The message to me what clear: we were doing what the social and political sciences weren’t; we were attending to science and technology.

When the interdisciplinary space of STS is framed like that, a few consequences emerge, in particular, when STS is not seen as marginal. I primarily think of a meeting a couple years back, a “Theory Talks” meeting organized by Peer Schouten and company, after a Millennium conference at the London School of Economics the previous few days. The point of the meeting was for a bunch of STS scholars to get together with a bunch of IR (international relations) scholars. The Millennium conference itself is an IR event, and this meant that we STSers were “invited guests.”

That it appeared that IR scholars were coming to STS scholars for new ideas, possible collaborations (we found Stef there, after all!), and fresh directions for inquiry in IR. This surprised me. Really. That STS would intentionally be injected into a major line of inquiry in Political Science was, in my naïve understanding at the time, truly surprising. “Wait,” I thought, “has STS made it?”

The inroads of STS into IR is not exactly a cake-walk, but the very idea of a field coming to us in STS for direction was thought-provoking if only to contemplate the following scenario: STS does not have many programs to train students, and, from my read of things, most of the scholars that have ever called themselves STSers hailed from “other” disciplinary homes such as sociology, history, political science, and so on (possibly an anthropologist or two in there). But IR folks, instead of jumping ship and joining the ranks of STS, apparently wanted to import some of the ideas, tends, and theories associated with the STS attitude toward inquiry into IR. Their scholars are not leaving IR to come to STS; they brought the STS to IR.

With that in mind, I provide my closing remarks: my read on STS is that from the start, scholars in STS have always dreamt of a world where STS isn’t necessary. I once read a book about heavy metal (music) that made much the same argument: a lot of heavy metal is about a world that does not need heavy metal anymore. I guess a Post-STS world, to me, would be a victory because we would no longer need to carve out “special space” to do STS in.

Lucid Theory Workshop: Between Philosophy & World Politics

Originally posted on Global Theory:


Lucid Theory

Writing Between Philosophy and World Politics

Monday 24 November 2014
The University of New South Wales, Australia
Morven Brown Building, Upper Campus, Room 310

Places are available: Please RSVP to a.burke@adfa.edu.au and a.bloomfield@unsw.edu.au

Download the full LucidTheory_Program+map.

This workshop aims to stage a dual dialogue: between the methods and concerns of philosophy and international relations, and between philosophers and international relations theorists themselves. It recognizes that while IR theorists have long been drawing upon and contributing to philosophy, and philosophers have been directly engaging problems and ontologies in world politics, there are few useful sites of contact, crossover and collaboration between these two scholarly communities. They have separate traditions and sites of intellectual training, tend to publish in different journals, and rarely attend the same conferences. Even as they are pursuing trans-disciplinary forms of scholarship, they do so separately. We use the term “lucid” purposefully to reflect…

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4S, reflections on Buenos Aires


In this thoughtful blog post on CASTAC,* Luis Felipe R. Murillo (pictured, who is or was a grad student in anthropology at UCLA) reflects on the 4S meeting in Buenos Aires (this August) with special attention on the relationship between (American) anthropology and (nationality not defined) STS.

Some relatively fresh ideas include the notion of “fault lines” as a way to characterize cross-disciplinary work:

This is where we operate as STS scholars: at intersecting research areas, bridging “fault lines” (as Traweek’s felicitous expression puts it), and doing anthropology with and not without anthropologists.

The blog post reviews two sessions, mainly just relaying what was discussed and who does that sort of research, but the common thread pulled through all this description is an earnest inquiry into how do we do the anthropology/STS relationship and how should we do the anthropology/STS relationship. The piece closes with a somewhat haunting quote:

As suggested by Michael Fortun, we are just collectively conjuring – with much more empiria than magic – a new beginning in the experimental tradition for world anthropologies of sciences and technologies.

The blog supporting that post also has some cool posts about pedagogy and other research issues worth peaking through.

*Committee on the Anthropology of Science, Technology, and Computing.

Relative realities, theoretical sensitivities


Annemarie Mol’s take on empirical philosophy; I saw this talk, or a nearly identical one, when she later gave it at Københavns Universitet this fall. There is a thread to be curious about, however, and that is a comment she made during the Q&A of the session I attend. I asked: “I have read much of your work and recall words like “ontology,” “multiplicity,” and so on, which are now missing in your new work — why?” Mol’s answer, roughly paraphrased: “I like to keep things fresh so now I use “onto-norms”…” I thought: that’s a little odd, but perhaps new concepts for every new project has some appeal, but the “I don’t like them anymore” or “I prefer fresh concepts” just strikes me as more of an aesthetic decision than anything else, not that I dislike aesthetic decisions, but it just struck me as odd in a talk about empirical philosophy.

Originally posted on synthetic_zero:

Annemarie Mol’s take on empirical philosophy.

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Reflexivity, The Post-Modern Predicament


Been reading a good book on reflexivity, Reflexivity: The Post-Modern Predicament by Hilary Lawson, after our 3:1 week on postmodernism and after thinking about some new directions for Jan and I’s old paper on reflexivity.

Here is a choice quote from the opening passage, in discussions about reflexivity being at the core of Western philosophical thinking:

This questioning, however, has led to views which are unstable. Such claims are ‘there are no facts’, ‘there are no lessons of history’, ‘there are no definitive answers or solutions’, are all reflexively paradoxical. For, is it not a fact that ‘there are no facts’, and a lesson of history that ‘there are not lessons of history’, and a definitive answer that ‘there are no definitive answers’? (page 1)

* Imagine from Roskilde University in Copenhagen, Denmark.

If Latour were a craft-beer-brewer, his name’d be …


… Steve Wright. Check out this innovative ANT account of craft beer tasting, now on-line, free of charge. Investigation into the flavor profiling of craft beers as well as auto-ethnographic blind beer tasting and tasting exams, this paper — and by paper, I am referring to a 277 page thesis — is replete with outstanding detail.

Also, upon even modest reflection, the teaching potential of this document is striking.

My favorite part is the explanation of language-sensory experience:

The historical construction of the contemporary language of sensory assessment supports the construction of the style guides. Once assembled into an information infrastructure the style guide is extended to act in multiple different ways: its propositions are translated into testable facts with multiple choices, it functions as a technology of material ordering and coordination, as a regulatory technology placing limits on how taste judgements can and cannot be expressed or recorded, and as a re-enactment and materialisation of individual cognitivist models of assessment.

Bite Size Theory: The Way We Argue Now

Originally posted on Pop Theory:

“If anyone else had published the second and third volumes of the History of Sexuality, they would have had little to no impact on the theoretical domains of literary and cultural theory in the U.S. academy.”

Amanda Anderson, 2006, The Way We Argue Now: A Study in the Cultures of Theory. Princeton, Princeton University Press, p. 121.

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Latour’s inconsistencies unveiled


In this terrific article in New Literary History, Graham Harman draws-out some of Latour’s inconsistencies in his shift from old ANT days (i.e., the early Latour) to the more recent emphasis on “modes” (i.e., the late Latour) related to his culture-nature rejection-reficiation (played with a few of these idea a decade ago reviewing his book PoN).

Teaching STS: Construction of Time and Daylight Savings


In the “Teaching STS” collection, we’ve discussed teaching lessons (with some resources) about the social construction of time a number of times related to whether or not time exists at all (with research from the Max Planck Institute), reflections on the notion of aberrant time such as “leap seconds” (students are bothered by this one), and, even though when we write about the olympics, it is usually about derelict stadiums, it occurs to me that when the atomic clock was adopted and the length of the second transformed, “timing” at the Olympic games might have been an interesting topic to think about for students who imagine that the length of the second back in 1936 should be identical to the length of the second that Michael Phelps was swimming in 2008 (in Beijing).

At any rate, a nice entry point for a classroom situation for discussing time might be to use humor before you get into the nitty-gritty of “existence” or whether or not the basic units of measurement are less stable than we previously thought. Enter a satirical trailer about daylight savings … it would work to kick off a class on the topic of time.

3:1–Postmodernity–3 of 3


I have to admit, I wanted to post a blank page. Would that be post-Dada poetry in a post-paper world? I decided to save my cheeky response about simulacra and how this blog didn’t really get written for another time, and briefly discuss what “postmodernism” might mean in International Relations (IR).  Or at least, how I imagine the huge and varied response to high modernism that emerged in the last century in architecture and art most notably, finds its way to IR.

International Relations Theory is organized around these semi-fictional “debates” that may or may not have happened.  Certainly they were not debated in the usual sense, but the common understanding of our discipline comes from organizing it into a first debate where “idealism” took on “realism” (and lost); debate two between the “behaviorists” and the “traditionalists” (no clear victor), the third debate between the neorealists and, um, the rest, I guess (new theories attack! Go Marx! Go Bull!), and finally the great fourth debate the positivists and the post-positivists duke it out over methodology and the role of science in International Relations (by some accounts this is the really the third debate and we are still in it.  Just ask anyone with a critical project trying to present work at a conference or get a job in US without a bunch of wonky quant in your work).

So, here we pause and see if this fourth (third) debate is where we can locate the postmodern as such in IR. Not as a facile periodization around the word “post,” but rather as interpretive strategies and analysis that engage with modernity and the changes it wrought. Generally framed as “poststructuralist” or “post-positivist,” this type of analysis finds many sites in IR, especially those engaged in emancipatory or critical projects. Think of it less than a theory and more of an attitude. A perking up of the ears to marginalized voices and perspectives. This is a profoundly ethical engagement with the world. A postmodernist critique would want you to feel unsettled and challenged. To look at those common sense assumptions about the world “out there” and question how power operates in seemingly simple common sense assumptions. Oh, and you’d want to understand that power isn’t monolithic and traded in blocks by sovereign states by the pound, but rather seductive and productive and pleasurable….and intertwined with knowledge….

This returns us to methodology. For IR, the “critical turn” would encompass seeing knowledge as fractured and epistemological claims as dependent on relations of power. These claims are not “countable” or empirical as a positivist would understand it, but rather they wrestle with the “real” and what it means to shape the real into reality.

Infrastructural Lives — new book out now


Add this one to your reading list. Steve Graham and Colin McFarlane have edited a book, which has just come out, Infrastructural Lives (http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415748537/).

Contributors include AbdouMaliq Simone, Maria Kaika, Vyjayanthi Rao, Mariana Cavalcanti, Stephanie Terrani-Brown, Omar Jabary Salamanca, Rob Shaw, Harriet Bulkeley, Vanesa Caston-Broto, Simon Marvin, Mike Hodson, Renu Desai, Steve Graham, and myself.  Arjun Appaduria kindly provided a thoughtful foreword for the book.

3:1 — Postmodernity — 2 of 3


Growing up with Baudrillard, Lyotard and Luhmann as well as with Bobby Brown, White Noise and Twin Peaks it always seemed to me that the tenets of postmodern thinking are so deeply engraved into my perception that I can hardly distance myself from that. This is still evident whenever I see someone raising a point that just has the smell of modernism: “trust in the independence of science!”, “We can manage our natural resources in a rational way!” or “This is why Ukraine wants to turn towards the West!” As a well trained postmodern I cannot help myself, I have to utter at least a statement of doubt, if not disbelieve. I also never felt the need hide this well habituated scruples when it comes to modernism, as for me, feeling well aligned to a tradition from Weber and Simmel to Adorno and Luhmann the task of sociology has never been simply to understand modernity but to work on the intellectual tools to deal with the both the pleasures and the discomfort it creates.

On the other hand: raised in sociology just before the turn of the chiliad I also never experienced the playfulness that made postmodern thought so appealing to some that were trained just a decade or two earlier. It must have been liberating for someone raised to be a modern, serious sociologist in a time when quite obviously the principles of modernism were crumbling. But I never really felt the pleasure of pastiche, bricolage and of following the interwoven threads of intertextuality – for me what was most evident about the postmodern condition was the inevitable horror and the unshrinkable terror that Jean Baudrillard´s hyperrealism and David Lynch´s Blue Velvet captured so well. There it was again, the discomfort that I assumed early sociologists tried to deal with at the turn to modernity. Modernity was gone, the terror remained. For me postmodern sociology, like its modernist sibling, was damn serious.

Only that of course it was not. Diving into Cultural Studies and Semiotics, into Intertextualities and interwoven layers of denotation and connotations when I turned towards media studies I could not help it: All that emphasis on empowered readers and on the politics of pleasure that consumption offered seemed to me seemed to just cover the entrance to the limbo of our contemporary condition. The doubt about ways of the moderns — isn´t it also justified in the case of the postmoderns? If we have never been modern, have we ever been postmodern? My best guess is that we have not. We do not need to be. We need to take the achievements of both the moderns and the postmoderns serious: science, technology, politics as well as hyperrealism, simulacra and irony — without trying to be either modern or postmodern. And we are still in need on the intellectual tools to deal with both the pleasures and the discomforts that both modernism and postmodernism provided us with.

*image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/julie_coulter/5070699614 (CC)

Doing ANT on ANT


In Gad and Jensen’s (2009) excellent paper “On the consequences of Post-ANT” — available here free — we read a number of slightly cheeky comments in the abstract, but the one I am curious about I put in bold below:

Since the 1980s the concept of ANT has remained unsettled. ANT has continuously been critiqued and hailed, ridiculed and praised. It is still an open question whether ANT should be considered a theory or a method or whether ANT is better understood as entailing the dissolution of such modern ‘‘genres’’. In this paper the authors engage with some important reflections by John Law and Bruno Latour in order to analyze what it means to ‘‘do ANT,’’ and (even worse), doing so after ‘‘doing ANT on ANT.’’ In particular the authors examine two post-ANT case studies by Annemarie Mol and Marilyn Strathern and outline the notions of complexity, multiplicity, and fractality. The purpose is to illustrate the analytical consequences of thinking with post-ANT. The analysis offers insights into how it is possible to ‘‘go beyond ANT,’’ without leaving it entirely behind.

Question: Does anyone know precisely what paper or presentation — or “other” sort of document — they are referring to when stating “doing so after “doing ANT on ANT”? 

*Also, please forgive in advance the image of mating ants used for this post on “ant on ant.”

3:1 — Postmodernity — 1 of 3


In the ‘90s, as a student, I was mesmerized by postmodernity’s rejection of all things holy to sociology. In place of depth, we emphasized surface. In place of a singular self, we emphasized multiple selves. In their vision of the academy, scholars were ironic in earnest rather than dry and serious. I was dumbstruck; this seeming reset of all things sociology was inspiring. That is not to say that I knew what to do with it, and after my interest being piqued I put all things postmodern on the shelf and focused on ‘serious sociology’ — the kind that ‘gets you a job.’ After a couple of years doing neo-institutional organizational analysis, I was drawn back into ‘things’ postmodern — literally — through actor-network theory, which took the form of Jan and I’s ‘actor-network state’ concept. I’ve hardly left it behind since, but a recent invitation to the Eastern Sociological Association’s next meeting to oversee presentations on ‘decoloniality’ has helped me to rethink postmodernity a bit.

How has decoloniality made me rethink/reconsider postmodernity? Decoloniality has primarily been developed in the Latin American context as a critical theory approach to ethnic studies, and constitutes practical and academic ‘options [for] confronting … the colonial matrix of power,” which is constituted by the imposition of colonial measures like race, ethnicity, gender, and all other manner of imperial state categorization schemes (Mignolo 2011: xxvii) (in this way it dovetails nicely with the “social studies of politics” that Jan and I have been cultivating over the last half-decade). The decoloniality project problematizes ‘modernity’ not as an intellectual or industrial sea change, but through emphasis on all the ‘other’ things modernity brought with it like ecocide, genocide, and the foundational self-defining notion of modernity that situates Europe in the center of the world and others on the periphery.

That’s the hang-up. Postmodern theory — I’m thinking of Lyotard, for example — meaningfully questioned modern rationality and knowledge production. This was a boon for science and technology studies, no doubt. Recognition that scientific facts are not as stable as previously believed (if that itself was ever true) resulted in research emphasis on the creation of scientific facts, which, in turn, revealed so much about the exigencies of producing “truth” and how the scientific enterprise “worked.” Postmodern theory also — I’m thinking of Harvey or Jameson now — meaningfully questioned modern industrial production and the rise of service economy and rationality of ‘late capitalism.’ This too was insightful because in addition to rationality, modernity brought industrialization with it.

According to members of the decoloniality project, while attending to knowledge and industry, postmodernists tend to reify some of the most foundational elements of modernity, namely, genocide, ecocide, and the foundational self-defining notion of modernity that situates Europe in the center of the world and others on the periphery, which advanced sociological theory might just as well serve to perpetuate. With rare exception, postmodernity contains few practical solutions to these ‘other’ thoroughly modern problems.

*Image from: http://karaflaherty.com/infographic-new-york-school-postmodernism/

Latour on “Digital Methods”


In a fascinating, apparently not-peer-reviewed non-article available free online here, Tommaso Venturini and Bruno Latour discuss the potential of “digital methods” for the contemporary social sciences.

The paper summarizes, and quite nicely, the split of sociological methods to the statistical aggregate using quantitative methods (capturing supposedly macro-phenomenon) and irreducibly basic interactions using qualitative methods (capturing supposedly micro-phenomenon). The problem is that neither of which aided the sociologist in capture emergent phenomenon, that is, capturing controversies and events as they happen rather than estimate them after they have emerged (quantitative macro structures) or capture them divorced from non-local influences (qualitative micro phenomenon).

The solution, they claim, is to adopt digital methods in the social sciences. The paper is not exactly a methodological outline of how to accomplish these methods, but there is something of a justification available for it, and it sounds something like this:

Thanks to digital traceability, researchers no longer need to choose between precision and scope in their observations: it is now possible to follow a multitude of interactions and, simultaneously, to distinguish the specific contribution that each one makes to the construction of social phenomena. Born in an era of scarcity, the social sciences are entering an age of abundance. In the face of the richness of these new data, nothing justifies keeping old distinctions. Endowed with a quantity of data comparable to the natural sciences, the social sciences can finally correct their lazy eyes and simultaneously maintain the focus and scope of their observations.

The 3:1 Experiment’s First Experiment


We previously mentioned that in addition to our regular posts on matters of relevant interest we would start to blog in short snippets (500 words, no more). We will be, from time to time, inviting experts from the field to join us in these short pieces and we are calling the whole thing “The 3:1 Project.”

The concept is simple: three scholars respond to one idea, hence, 3:1 (or 3 to 1). But there is another meaning and that reading is more like “3, 2, 1, go!” because we are to write short pieces that are written, in effect, without reflection or editing. Sort of like when you’re delivering a presentation at a conference venue and the organizer shows you the “you have 2 minutes left” card even though you’ve got 10 more slides in your presentation. What do you do in that situation? You skip to the end and rapid-fire deliver only the essentials. That is what we are hoping to do. Only the essentials rapid-fire.

Starting next week — and this will be our structure into the foreseeable future — we will provide three posts, the first on Monday, the second on Wednesday, and the third on Friday. Together the three will constitute a 3:1 bundling and can be read apart or separately, or however you like.

See you Monday.

New review of Graham Harmans “Reassembling the Political” on Circling Squares

Philip over at Circling Squares just blogged about his first read of Graham Harman´s new book on Latour´s political philosophy. Both book and review are worth a look (and: remembering my impressions when reading the Prince of Networks I assume Philip´s thoughts on Harman´s new book resonate with me quite well…):

Much like his previous writings on Latour, Harmans new book should not be read as a neutral introduction. Just like Prince of Networks, Harman really ends up talking about himself and his own interests via the medium of Latours concepts. Harmans clear, accessible and sometimes entertaining prose style, and the excessively extended introductory quotations, should not distract from this point. The final two fifths of the book are far stronger than the earlier part with interesting and valuable discussions of Zizek and Strauss. However, as mentioned above, it appears to be a book written both in a hurry and in a style that fosters the appearance of being relatively neutral and introductory while in fact being anything but. Once again, Harman completely ignores the more interesting and complex, pluralistic aspects of Latours work and his unwavering groundedness in problems.


via Circling Squares: Harmans Reassembling the Political—Some first impressions.

Conference CFP: Agency of Things

Agency of Things:
New Perspectives on European Art of the Fourteenth–Sixteenth Centuries

Conference: 11–12 June 2015
Deadline for abstracts: 30 November 2014

Co-organized by Institute of History of Art, University of Warsaw
and National Museum in Warsaw

This two-day interdisciplinary conference seeks to investigate whether agency of things as a new research model more accurately than traditional theories and methods informs our understanding of religious, social, political and ideological systems or networks which shaped various communities (court, city, convent, pilgrim) during the period under investigation.

All speakers will be invited to visit the newly reopened Gallery of Medieval Art at the National Museum in Warsaw with its curator Professor Antoni Ziemba.

We invite proposals from a variety of disciplines and perspectives, provided that they present innovative insights into the realm of agency of artistic and non-artistic objects. Acceptable topics may include, but are by no means limited to, the following topics:
  • Scale and size of things as conditions of their agency
  • Physical and sensory agency of things
  • Animated things and things for manual handling
  • Objects actively defining and operating within a space
  • Things used in performances, rituals, recitations and sermons
  • Craftsmanship and its role in agency of things
  • Human subjects in a process of dissemination of objects
  • Emotional and psychological agency of things

Papers should be twenty minutes in length and will be followed by a ten-minute Q&A session.
Please e-mail an abstract of no more than 300 words to Ika Matyjaszkiewicz and Patrycja Misiuda-Ramlau to agencyofthings@uw.edu.pl by 30 November 2014. Along with your abstract please include your name, institution, paper title and a brief biography of no more than 150 words. Successful applicants will be notified by 30 January 2015. The conference proceedings will be published after the event, therefore please indicate whether you would be interested in further developing your paper for a publication.

FREE Review of Lemke’s “Biopolitics”


Great review of Thomas Lemke’s excellent book Biopolitics: An Advanced Introduction is available here free. The review is written by Michael Lait, who was, at the time, a PhD student at Carleton University (Ottawa) (I think he still is a PhD student there). We look forward to more good work from Michael, and, just recently, we have seen it! His new draft paper neatly titled “The rotting heart of Gatineau Park: Mapping issues, institutions and publics in a unique political situation” is now on-line and worth a read, available also free here.

* Picture shamelessly borrowed from: http://foucaultsociety.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/buffaloreport_foucault11.jpg