Foucault reduced to Leftovers


If Foucault were more a materialist, how might he have thought about this crash-site-turned-memorial? (featured above — full background story here)

In the past, we have written about an infrastructural model of the state as composed of leftovers, specifically, when we wrote about derelict Olympic stadiums in Athens and London, residual separation of city infrastructures found in Berlin, and whether or not the durability of state projects (and the resulting leftovers they proffer) is such a good thing (as so much STS on stabilization might very well imply). What’s the infrastructure link to the state? Its simple. Foucault and especially his followers suggested that there was no such thing as the state; instead there was another thing and this other thing was called “stateness,” which is thought roughly to be captured in this form of argument: the state is not a thing; the state is, at best, at effect. Sure, sure, some governmentality scholars have discussed “institutions” and “political regimes,” but, at the highest level of abstraction, Foucault was reacting to Hobbes-like actor-models of the state and responded by rejecting those models in favor of seeing the state not as the cause but as the effect of micro-physical, bio-political techniques for self-discipline and other forms of coercion. In effect, Foucault is saying the state is the residual after effect. Put another way, the state is leftover; it is to be found amongst the leftovers. Of course, we, as material-semiotic mongrels, would see the state as a residual material after effect, but that’s another argument entirely.

Residual material after effects take all manner of forms, and today I happened upon one, which was both, in and of itself, interesting, but also a compelling case of “leaving behind” that might be relevant to developing a “leftover” perspective regarding infrastructure. This is of double interest to our infrastructure gurus because the infrastructure of the memorial is also memorializing the infrastructure that is the plane (that crashed) so they make leftovers of the leftovers.

The full story is here and here, but a quick summary is: UTA Flight 772 routinely flew from Brazzaville (now in DRC) to Paris CDG airport, when, on Tuesday, 19 September 1989, a bomb exploded aboard the plane causing it to crash in Niger about an hour after take-off. 18 years later, family and friends of the victims aboard the plane returned to the crash site and because of its outstanding remoteness, many of the pieces of the plane were still there, only slightly covered in sand. Funded by a grant from Libya, the remains were transformed into a memorial, further extending the site into the future.

Surely, there is a good deal of literature on memorialization in anthropology and geography along with the practical literature in the arts and architecture on the topic. However, our interest is more into what these “remnants” and their extension into the future means for theories of the state sensitive to infrastructure. While this case is only tertiarily related, there is something elegant about extending ruins; making them more durable through memorialization.

Image from: <;

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About Nicholas

Associate Professor of Sociology, Environmental Studies, and Science and Technology Studies at Penn State, Nicholas mainly writes about understanding the scientific study of states and, thus, it is namely about state theory. Given his training in sociology and STS, he takes a decidedly STS-oriented approach to state theory and issues of governance.

10 thoughts on “Foucault reduced to Leftovers

    • oh, well, the point was less about personal taste or even aesthetics, really, so much as it was about the “tone” of STS work (since the late 1980s, and which soundly characterize the ’90s) on socio-technical systems, an effect that, to my mind, lingers on into our current work, that “glorifies” or “celebrates” the stabilitization of systems. For example, the entire SCOT model, a dominant model in the 80s and 90s that simply does not go away and is undergird so much thinking in STS, is devoted to determining how models, controversies, or technologies stabilize. Even ANT, during its wild abuses of the 1990s, had a strong emphasis on “durability” or “lashing-together” was, more or less, a form of “stabilization” too. While there is literature on disasters, … my reading of it is that it is often atheoretical or merely an odd celebration of “whoa, that was so terrible … I can’t keep my eyes off of it” culture (anybody that teaches disasters probably knows this). At any rate, models of decay, uneasy extensions, durability as a liability, and so on, would be welcome additions …


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