Authoritarian Institutions are a Danger to Us All

Author’s note: This essay was written this summer with a friend and colleague in Australia at Griffith University, Shannon Brincat.  At the time, we were both feeling intense unease at the presidential election campaigns and the continuing and increasing violence toward communities of color using the “neutrality” of law and order as a shield for bigotry and racism. Black Lives Matter faced, and still faces, criticism from those who thought that “All Lives Matter”, or that “Blue Lives Matter” just as much–this, of course, missing the point in such a way that makes the original point that much stronger: yes, all lives matter, but we are focusing on the black lives right now because all experiences and evidence of racially biased police shootings, incarceration rates, and institutional violence at all levels point toward the need to focus on black lives right now.

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Join us in Baltimore!


Attention Graduate Students! (Especially those doing interdisciplinary work!)

Join Nick Rowland and me for a One-Day Graduate Student Workshop sponsored by the International Studies Association-Northeast Region.

5 November, 2016 • Baltimore, MD

The field of International Studies has always been interdisciplinary, with scholars drawing on a variety of qualitative and quantitative techniques of data collection and data analysis as they seek to produce knowledge about global politics. Recent debates about epistemology and ontology have advanced the methodological openness of the field, albeit mainly at a meta-theoretical level. And while interest in techniques falling outside of well-established comparative and statistical modes of inference has been sparked, opportunities for scholars to discuss and flesh out the operational requirements of these alternative routes to knowledge remain relatively infrequent.


This twelfth annual workshop aims to address this lacuna, bringing together faculty and graduate students in a pedagogical environment. The workshop will focus broadly on research approaches that differ in various ways from statistical and comparative methodologies: interpretive methodologies, which highlight the grounding of analysis in actors’ lived experiences and thus produce knowledge phenomenologically, hermeneutically, and narratively; holistic case studies and forms of process-tracing that do not reduce to the measurement of intervening variables; and relational methodologies, which concentrate on how social networks and intersubjective discursive processes concatenate to generate outcomes.

In the two morning sessions, four established scholars, whose work utilizes such approaches as science and technology studies, narrative, visual culture, and postcolonial and diaspora studies will talk about precisely how they do their empirical work. These tutorial sessions will be followed by an extended afternoon session in which graduate student participants will have an opportunity to receive feedback from the established scholars and from their fellow workshop participants on their ongoing research projects.

This year’s faculty participants include:

Nicholas Rowland (Penn State)

Elizabeth Dauphinee (York)

Claire Colebrook (Penn State)

Gerard Toal (Virginia Tech)

The workshop will be held in conjunction with the International Studies Association-Northeast’s annual conference, which will take place from 4-5 November in Baltimore, MD. Although all attendees of the conference may come to the workshop sessions, the graduate students officially participating in the workshop will have the opportunity to receive detailed feedback and specialized instruction in the methodologies under discussion.

Graduate students interested in participating in the workshop should send their c.v. and a letter describing their current research project to Stefanie Fishel by e-mail: Applications must be received by 10 July 2016.

Click through for more information on the conference:

ISA-NE Baltimore 2016



The beautiful Mount Vernon neighborhood! Nightlife, great food and history!

Infrastructure of the Brain

While the study I share in this blog is fascinating for many reasons–the most compelling for me being that language isn’t “in” just one hemisphere of the brain–it is the focus on the metaphor of the map or atlas that intrigues me in this article.

The article, and presumably the scientists involved in the study, speak of the brain as a “region” that can be “mapped”. The article also switches between “reading” and decoding” writing that the study has created a “semantic atlas” or “directory” for understanding how language is grouped in the brain. Through the help of an MRI, the scientists have gathered evidence that seems to support that language is understood through many areas of the brain rather than being limited to a few areas in the left hemisphere. This could, after further research, aid in treating brain disorders and injuries that have affected language.


Additionally, the brain is often spoken of as “lighting” up when in an MRI. Metaphors to explain knowledge and learning, in a broader sense, often rely on metaphors of light to explain the thinking process.  A lightbulb over a thinker’s head or being called  “bright” if you are seen as smart.


“By putting together information from all seven participants, with the help of a statistical model, the researchers created a brain atlas, a 3D model of the brain that shows what brain areas lit up at the same time among all the participants.” (emphasis added). 

But in fact, this “lighting” up is due to the imaging devices creating a way for the human to see what is happening in the brain, but leaves a reader with the feeling that the brain is a colorful, lively organ. It is in fact quite plain and gray.

And to return to the above metaphors, can a human brain be mapped? This brings to a mind a 2D surface and the brain is definitely not two dimensional. It is its peculiar form that gives us the brain power we have: lots of surface area crammed into a small place: the brain is between 233 to 465 square inches. To fit into the small space of the skull, the cortex is folded forming folds (gyri) and grooves (sulci). You could flatten it mathematically and transform that space to 2D, but what does this do for advancing our understanding? I also know that metaphors are used to communicate scientific findings to a lay  audience, so perhaps those trained in scientific and medical fields would have greater access to what these findings mean without having to resort to metaphor.

Regardless, do these metaphors help more broadly in thinking through what the brain does and why? I have become sensitive to the role of metaphor in past research, and I wonder, especially in this featured article rife with mixed metaphors, what work they are doing in shaping the way we research those very things we are speaking of metaphorically.  Are there better metaphors for the brain and its function that would further our knowledge? In other words, are the very ways we talk about the brain keeping us from formulating research programs that better fit what we need from these studies? To use the map metaphor, can we get from place A to place B?


A Manifesto for Planet Politics

I am proud to be able to share an excerpt from a collective contribution to Millennium’s journal born from the annual conference “Failure and Denial in Global Politics” in London last October. In this article, Anthony Burke, Audra Mitchell, Simon Dalby, Daniel Levine and I argue that IR has reached the limits of its intelligibility with coming climate changes. We call for an expanded dialogue both within and beyond our disciplinary boundaries using the polemic and rhetoric of the manifesto to stimulate debate and response.



Photo credit: Stefanie Fishel, 2016


A Manifesto from the End of IR

Anthony Burke, Stefanie Fishel, Audra Mitchell, Simon Dalby, Daniel J. Levine

This manifesto is not about politics as usual. We seek political imagination that can rise from the ashes of our canonical texts. It is about meditating on our failures and finding the will needed for our continued survival. Global ecological collapse brings new urgency to the claim that ‘we are all in this together’—humans, animals, ecologies, biosphere. To survive, we must ask questions that are intimately connected to capitalism, modernity, and oppression. We must ensure that our diplomacy, our politics, and our institutions are open to those who will bear the brunt of ecological change.

Planet politics must emerge as an alternative thought and process: a politics to nurture worlds for all humans and species co-living in the biosphere. The local, national, and global no longer define our only spaces of action. The planet has long been that space which bears the scars of human will: in transforming the world into our world, we damaged and transformed it to suit our purposes. It now demands a new kind of responsibility, binding environmental justice and social justice inextricably together.

We need not focus on who is responsible, but we do need to learn to adapt to the world we have created. We can dwell in this time of failure and still long for the surety of a future, a future that allows us all to survive and honours our deep entanglement with the planet. This is why we have chosen the polemic and political format of the manifesto. It aids us in searching through the old, getting rid of what no longer serves, and mixes up the political and personal to combine and confuse our political commitments. We don’t need more reports or policy debates. We need new practices, new ideas, stories, and myths.[1]

We must face the true terror of this moment. Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere now exceed those experienced for over a million years, and global greenhouse emissions trends show the planet hurtling towards a world, in this century, that is three to five degrees warmer than the preindustrial era.[2] This is a world of melted ice caps and permafrost, flooded cities, oceans so acidic they cannot support life, and the loss of the Amazon’s rainforests. Ocean acidification, pollution, and overfishing may also see the extinction of all marine life by mid-century.[3] At least 617 species of vertebrates have become extinct in the wild since 1500, exceeding the ‘background rate’ of extinction by over a hundred, and half the Earth’s wild animals have disappeared in the last four decades.[4] All this is looming as much of the world suffers under a burden of extreme poverty and inequality, and communities from the Niger Delta to Bangladesh are condemned to live in ‘sacrifice zones’ devastated by oil drilling, mining, fracking, pollution, nuclear testing, and inundation.[5]

The 2015 Paris Agreement gave us hope that international society may yet reverse these trends and prevent dangerous climate change, but provided no firm and enforceable plans to do so. It was a window that magically appeared high on the wall of our prison cell, but the door remains locked.[6]

We agree with Timothy Morton, that the global ecological crisis ‘has torn a giant hole in the fabric of our understanding; that it is a vast ‘tear in the real’.[7] Now our paradigms fail the real. International Relations, as both a system of knowledge and institutional practice, is undone by the reality of the planet. We must be in tension with status-quo struggles within our disciplines, and transgress academic boundaries to create conversations with activist networks and movements engaged in struggle against oppressive regimes and systems.

If the biosphere is collapsing, and if International Relations has always presented itself as that discourse which takes the global as its point of departure, how it is it that we—IR’s scholars, diplomats and leaders—have not engaged with the planetary real? We contend that International Relations has failed because the planet does not match and cannot be clearly seen by its institutional and disciplinary frameworks. Institutionally and legally, it is organised around a managed anarchy of nation-states, not the collective human interaction with the biosphere. Intellectually, the IR discipline is organized sociologically around established paradigms and research programs likewise focused on states and the forms of international organisation they will tolerate; it is not organized to value or create the conceptual and analytical changes that are needed. The problems lie in the way we think and are trained; in the subjects and approaches our discipline values and rewards. Yet at the edges of IR—in NGOs, in critical geography, posthuman IR, global governance and ecological politics—a new consciousness is visible.[8] That work cannot languish in dissidence, as so many earlier interventions have done.[9]

In our debates about the efficacy of the state, or the effects of globalization, we have missed what we were making: an era now termed the Anthropocene. This term represents an unprecedented change in the continued livability of planet Earth caused by the rapacious use of natural resources with no thought for current and future generations of humans, and of the millions of other species affected by changing climatic conditions and ecosystem damage. It is the power of human labour that freed carbon, and this element, once taken out of its molecular flows has created a metabolic rift, as McKenzie Wark writes, where the waste products of carbon’s extraction cannot be returned to a cycle that can renew itself. It is global in scope and new agendas must be designed to mitigate this rift.[10]

The Anthropocene represents a new kind of power—‘social nature’—that is now turning on us. This power challenges our categories and methodologies. It demands we find accomplices in our discipline and beyond it. It demands a new global political project: to end human-caused extinctions, prevent dangerous climate change, save the oceans, support vulnerable multi-species populations, and restore social justice.

Action from this perspective is both more modest and yet more vital. Communicative, anthropocentric, and rights-based ethics can only guide and inform the discussion so far in understanding the challenges and opportunities in the Anthropocene.

Security comes from being more connected, not less.  Gone are the days of billiard ball states and national security based on keeping the Other out or deterred. The Other is always already inside, so bound up with us in a common process that it no longer makes sense to speak of inside and outside. We cannot survive without accepting the cosmopolitan and enmeshed nature of this world. We are an array of bodies connected and interconnected in complex ways that have little to do with nationality. States will wither in the coming heat, freeze in the prolonged winters, and be lost under the rising oceans. We will not survive without the biggest and most complex system we know: the biosphere. This may finally be the death of Man,[11]but what will come next if this face is lost in the rising tides?

Trying to write from within IR, we find ourselves prisoners in our own vocation. We are speechless, or even worse, cannot find words to represent the world and those within it.

We do not hope that politics will suddenly change—but it must change. There is no magic bullet, no sudden realization, and no single policy that will ‘fix’ the damage done. The naysayers will stand in the ruins and tell us we are dreaming; that a new world is not of our making. Grudging admissions that climate change has been both long understood and actively denied do little; they cannot turn back the clock. Rather, we must embrace a multi-species, multi-disciplinary action plan. And we must do it now. We cannot unravel time and restore lost species to life, but we can fight for this planet we call a home.

What other choice do we have?

And so, knowing that even a ruined planet is worth fighting for, we declare our intentions for facing our discipline with delicate hope and a desire to face the planetary real with an unflinching gaze.




*The full Manifesto can be found here* Please use this version for all citing and scholarly purposes.

[1 ]Roy Scranton, Learning to Die in the Anthropocene (San Francisco: City Light Books, 2015).

[2] Global carbon budget project. Available at: Last accessed 16 November 2015.

[3] Boris Worm, Edward B. Barbier, Nicola Beaumont, J. Emmett Duffy, Carl Folke, Benjamin S. Halpern, Jeremy B.C. Jackson, Heike K. Lotze, Fiorenza Micheli, Stephen R. Palumbi, Enric Sala, Kimberley A. Selkoe, John J. Stachowicz, Reg Watson, ‘Impacts of Biodiversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystem Services.’ Science 314, no. 5800 (2006): 787-790. doi: 10.1126/science.1132294

[4] Gerardo Ceballos, Paul R. Ehrlich, Anthony D. Barnosky, Andrés García, Robert M. Pringle and Todd M. Palmer, ‘Accelerated modern human−induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction’, Science Advances, 5, no.1 (2015). doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1400253; Damian Carrington, ‘Earth has lost half of its wildlife in the past 40 years, says WWF’, The Guardian, 1 October 2014. Available at: Last accessed 29 January 2016.

[5] Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (London and New York: Penguin), 169.

[6] Bill McKibben, ‘Climate deal: the pistol has fired, so why aren’t we running?’, The Guardian, 14 December 2015. Available at: Last accessed 15 December 2015.

[7] Timothy Morton, The Ecological Thought (Cambridge Mass. Harvard University Press, 2010), Kindle edition, loc. 203, 412.

[8] A brief sample of disciplinary work in international studies showing such awareness includes Simon Dalby, ‘Environmental Geopolitics in the Twenty First Century’, Alternatives: Global, Local, Political 39, no.1 (2014): 1-14; Erika Cudworth and Stephen Hobden, Posthuman International Relations: Complexity, Ecologism and Global Politics (London and New York: Zed Books, 2013); Rafi Youatt, ‘Interspecies Relations, International Relations: Rethinking Anthropocentric Politics’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 43, no.1 (2014): 207-223; Lorraine Elliott, ‘Cosmopolitan Environmental Harm Conventions’, Global Society 20 no.3 (2006): 346-363; Andrew Hurrell, ‘The State’, in Andrew Dobson and Robyn Eckersley eds.Political Theory and the Ecological Challenge (Cambridge and London: Cambridge University Press, 2006): 165-182; Robyn Eckersley, The Green State (Cambridge Mass. The MIT Press, 2004); Robyn Eckersley, ‘Deliberative Democracy, Representation and Risk’, in M. Saward ed.Democratic Innovation (London: Routledge, 2000); Hayley Stevenson, Institutionalizing Unsustainability: The Paradox of Global Climate Governance (Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 2012).

[9] Viz., Inanna Hamati-Ataya, ‘Contemporary ‘Dissidence’ in American IR: The New Structure of Anti-Mainstream Scholarship?’ International Studies Perspectives 12 (2011), 362-98; Richard A. Falk, A Study of Future Worlds (Free Press, 1975).

[10] McKenzie Wark, Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene (London: Verso, 2015), xiii-xvi.

Memory Architecture and Infrastructure–Post 3 of 3

What about the ethics of memory?

Looking at the debate that has ensued thus far it seems important to make a distinction between personal memory and collective memory. As I wrote in an article for Critical Military Studies, one should be careful with conflating what an individual remembers with what a community, or nation, remembers. For Avishai Margalit, in The Ethics of Memory, collective memory is “shared memory” with the “we” as collective or communal, not a simple aggregate of individual memories, but built instead on a division of mnemonic labor. This shared memory travels from person to person through institutions (archives) and communal mnemonic devices (monuments) (Margalit, 56).

Remembrance is an act symbolic exchange. With this distinction, we needn’t worry as much about memory as such, or about who is speaking for whom, but rather what ethical engagements follow from remembering together. This remembering can be less about “exercising sovereign power” as Jordan writes and more about the experiences we share as a community and what this means for our actions in the future.

In fact, these shared memories can produce an obligation on a community beyond sovereign control; each of us has a responsibility to keep memories alive, but all shoulder this burden in some way. This, in turn, makes shared memory’s relationship to morality and action different from that which stems from individual memory. This is memory that is based on keeping promises to generations that preceded and those that will follow. Memorialization and monuments can fulfill this ethical call, and have in many cases. It is when nation building and state politics try to control this process and dictate what a people should remember that ethical engagement tends to fall away.

Collective memory must be a relationship to the future; it must be a promise to the future. In this, monuments are less about what happened and more about where we are going. As Margalit writes “the memory that we need to keep our promises and follow through on our plans is this kind of prospective memory…to remember is to know and to know is to believe” (Margalit, 14).

This can be about deploying policy decisions, but it can also mean one policy might be followed rather than another based on what we are allowed to remember together. This makes Jordan’s MAI productive, but what ethics that follow from that productivity are unclear and must be understood contextually.

3:1 — Post-Neutrality –Post 3 of 3

I sat down to finish this third post in our three part series on “post-neutrality” and realized that while I am an informed citizen on the issues around net neutrality, I wasn’t sure what I could add to the excellent conversation happening this week (the first two here and here). I signed the petitions and sent my testimony to the relevant government agencies. I told them of the importance of protecting our access to the Internet from corporate control. I keep up on the issue as it disappears and reappears in the news.

I decided the direction to go for my addition was to look more closely at the idea of neutrality itself and how it works. How does neutrality function when discussing politics? As Nicholas pointed out, “neutrality” often works as a grand narrative like those of human emancipation: neutrality as a modern dream hid our biases and prejudices. And, as I would like to highlight in this blog, neutrality as a “hypothetical political position” often works to sustain the status quo.

It seems in many cases neutrality is a privilege and often not neutral at all, but rather blind to its privileged position. Neutrality means being able to have an absence of views or expression; a neutral party would have to have enough power to stand apart from a situation. One could argue that this is ideology working at its most efficient and powerful. Most of us are subject to forces that make us take a position in political and social contexts. Poland couldn’t be neutral in WWII, a black man faced with a cop’s aggression and drawn weapon, or a woman defending herself against her abusive husband can’t be neutral. Neutrality is not afforded to the oppressed. A stand is forced upon you. Sometimes it is personal violence and other times it is the pressure of racist or sexist institutions, unequal economic systems, and more often than not, it is that power that declares its neutrality. “I am the law: the law works equally for all. ” Continue reading

3:1 — Post-Apocalypse — Post 0 of 3

This week the 3:1 takes a darker turn, but one that is not without some whimsy. We continue on our posts on the “post” with a darker theme: Post-Apocalypse. We take this on with a sense of fun—at least this is the hope. This is born from a pressing need to engage on all levels with the losses that the Anthropocene will hand us. How do social scientists reflect upon these cascades of losses? What can we do to both grieve and fight back against capitalist extraction and evangelical forms of being that lack care for the world and its natural systems?

I begin with a DeLillo-esque story of academic life in the Department of Extinction Studies.

Elizabeth Johnson joins us this week for our romp into the end times. Elizabeth is a Research Fellow of Science, Technology and Culture with the Department of Geography at the University of Exeter. She is interested in how life and its study are increasingly becoming re-valued as part of the innovation economy and growing efforts in ecological securitization.

Nicholas Rowland has generously offered to post on Friday with another playful rendition of a serious topic.

3:1 Post 2 of 3: Post-crisis and poetry

Dichotomies can be helpful, and Peter Bratsis in his 3:1 on Monday put forth a productive one: Should we think of crisis as a repetition or an exception? I want to take this and riff in a slightly different, but complementary way. For me, thinking about crisis—the ecological one facing the planet—is especially important. The Guardian has recently launched a front-page campaign to bring climate change to the fore in mainstream news coverage.

They are following Naomi Klein’s lead and trying to turn a crisis into an opportunity. This includes calling the Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust to divest in fossil fuels and using the recent dip in oil prices to invest in alternative energy. At this point, we are blowing past a 2° C temperature rise (4° C seems likely) and even a 2° C rise will lead to CATASTROPHIC changes in our environment. Prepare for the worst, homo sapiens and all the species we are taking with us. Keeping the coal in the ground and investing in alternative energy is a step to mitigating the damage this economic system has wrought, but the hurt is going to come down. So the question becomes more about how we respond to crisis rather than argue about how we define a crisis, or how we might trace the word back to its true roots, or whether this crisis is quotidian or exceptional. Continue reading

3:1 — On “Decoloniality” (and the Nonhuman) — Post 3 of 3

This is the third post from the trenches of the Eastern Sociological Society’s conference in NYC this past weekend. The linked workshop entitled, “Decoloniality and the Social Sciences,” explored such diverse topics as floating medical clinics, non-GMO seed sharing, the high seas, cargo, zombies, pedagogy, dolphins, and derivatives.

For my part, I reflected upon decoloniality and the nonhuman. Elsewhere I have discussed the dolphin and posthuman security, and this topic has stayed on my mind. I recently visited Barataria Bay (home of the bottlenose dolphin, at least until the Deepwater Horizon disaster) and Venice, LA. I found it hauntingly desolate with a devastated post-disaster aesthetic; a place only a true ecologist can love—or an oil exec just off the heliport from the tour of his oil rig.





Pictures taken by the author, Feb 2015

The decolonial literature is new to me, and as I did my due diligence with a literature review, I was intrigued by Mignolo’s insistence on “decolonial thinking and doing.” Decolonial thinking de-links epistemically and politically from what he calls “the imperial web of knowledge.”

In short, we must decolonialize our very ways of thinking and being in the world. This epistemic disobedience is necessary for acts of civil disobedience that transform the world. This means body-politics comes before disciplinary management, or more pointedly, decolonial thinking places “human lives and life in general first.” Mignolo writes:

De-colonial thinking presupposes de-linking (epistemically and politically) from the web of imperial knowledge (theo- and ego-politically grounded) from disciplinary management. A common topic of conversation today, after the financial crisis on Wall Street, is ‘how to save capitalism’. A de-colonial question would be: ‘Why would you want to save capitalism and not save human beings? Why save an abstract entity and not the human lives that capitalism is constantly destroying?

Returning to the nonhuman, can this epistemic disobedience be a tactic that aids in co-creating a more just and kind world for all species on this planet? To rephrase as Mignolo’s question: Why would want to save neoliberal forms of production that destroy the only livable planet accessible to us? Capitalism is destroying more than human lives. It is destroying the very biosphere that allows life to persist and thrive. How is this topic not all that we talk, write, and think about in all epistemic communities? 

In my terms, can decolonialty be used against a human centered politics that takes the biosphere as a place to colonize and deplete?

In many ways, decolonial thinking and doing could encompass the nonhuman. Bodies of color and gendered bodies have been animalized in colonial and paternal regimes. Woman are chicks, bitches, sows, cows, birds. Rod Coronado reminds us that the treatment of wolves in the United States twins the way indigenous people were (and are) treated during North American colonization. In human centered politics, non- human animals are useful only in their kill-ability/eat-ability and nature for its rape-ability/use-ability. They are use value only.

This is another kind of “colonial wound,” (regions and peoples classified as underdeveloped economically and mentally), as Mignolo terms it. If decolonial thinking can link diverse experiences and histories heretofore ignored in colonial/imperial systems of knowledge, can it also create an ecological thinking? If colonial ways of being still can’t allow humans to be full humans, how is it even possible to widen this to the nonhuman world? I hope so, but I also know that hope will wear thin with the changes wrought by the Anthropocene.

Be it trees, lemurs, bacteria, mosquitos, koalas or homo sapien sapiens, we should, as members of a shared biosphere, be able to thrive on this planet—even if the way we thrive is different for all of us. A new complex web of co-worlding—snatched from the imperial one—is the only answer. Accomplice networks must be created. 


Walter D. Mignolo. Epistemic Disobedience, Independent Thought and De-Colonial Freedom Theory, Culture & Society 2009 (SAGE, Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, and Singapore), Vol. 26(7–8): 1–23

3:1 — Non-experts Rule? Climate Change in Question — 2 of 3

This frame that Mundy builds in his post is an outstanding one for looking at other areas where expert opinions circulate and influence political debates. Broadly, it seems to me that interrogating how expertise functions in multiple contexts is a crucial academic endeavor given the importance of the issues that expert opinions tend to gravitate around. While Mundy focuses on the ramifications of the failure of expert opinion in terrorism and how this has far reaching effects in other arenas, I can see another area where expert opinion works (or doesn’t)  in complex and contested ways: the climate change “debates” in the US. (I do hate to use the term “debate” when clearly we are dealing with the very real effects of capitalism and carbon).

Climate change cartoon

What happens if expert opinion—in this case, peer reviewed and verified scientific reports of humankind’s influence on the climate—is ignored, downplayed, insulted, obfuscated, by elected officials? In this case, we long for the “untainted expert” to have a say in what are crucial political decisions for the long-term survival of multiple species on the planet.


As Mundy writes, terrorism must have a “political function” rather than a scientific one if we continue to see “experts” speaking about a concept that is “bankrupt”, or essentially contested. In other words, how can we have experts on an enemy that is everywhere and nowhere depending on the political needs surrounding the definitions? This, as Mundy argues, shows that the “Charlatan profile of the terrorism expert reflects the dubious standing of terrorism as a coherent, uncorrupted idea.”

Can we then tease out what is happening in the use of expert opinion in the politics around climate change denial with Mundy’s formulation? Clearly there is something different happening in my example of expert opinion use (or non-use). What if we replace terrorism with climate change denial from the passage above?

Here goes: Climate change denial must have a political function rather than a scientific one. Just like Mundy’s example of so-called terrorism and oil expertise hiding the politics/antipolitics of our age, the politics/antipolitics of climate change denial is happening prior to expert opinion. Expertise is not allowed in the climate change debate as it would invalidate the very terms of the actual argument: one surrounding the misuse and abuse of earth’s resources for a select few based on a system of profit and rapacious exploitation of the politically weak. Importantly, climate change is not the contested concept, but it is being debated as one by non-expert opinion. Non-expert opinion in control of the very means society has to make substantive changes to our impact on earth’s systems.


Like in terrorism and oil, the crisis in expert climate change opinion and its political denial is one of preserving the productive contradictions between those that profit off the denial of human made climate change–the Anthropocene–and those that are frightened of the consequences of admitting that climate change is “real.”  In fact, in another resonance with Mundy’s post, oil and the oil lobby are certainly the power behind keeping climate change from becoming fact.


In the continued struggle of the scientific community to be heard in politics, we can see a positive example of Mundy’s last sentence: “Experts are not above politics nor can they save us from it. But at least they shed light on how power operates.”

We will all feel the effects of climate change–it is too late to change that–but we can mitigate it if we start this very second.  Not only do we need to shed light on how power operates we need to disrupt it. Capture it and reflect it back into the eyes of those bent on earth’s destruction for personal profit and gain.

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This week on the 3:1 Project: Expertise and Politics

This week on the 3:1 Project, we welcome our contributor Jacob Mundy. Jacob is an assistant professor in Peace and Conflict Studies at Colgate University in Hamilton, NY. His research interests include armed conflicts and humanitarian interventions in northern Africa, and he has done field research in Libya, Algeria, Morocco, and Western Sahara. Jacob’s book, currently in press, is entitled Imaginative Geographies of Algerian Violence.

For this installment of Installing Social Order, Jacob writes on the “terrorism industrial complex” and “the distinctions between real forms of expertise and false ones; good experts and bad experts.”

Nick and I will follow on Wednesday and Friday with our responses and thoughts on expertise and its function.

Tune in tomorrow!

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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…

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–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?

Posted in 3-1

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.

Lucid Theory Workshop: Between Philosophy & World Politics

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 and

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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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.

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 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.

The 3:1 Experiment


The 3:1 Experiment

An experiment in rapid, concept based, multidisciplinary digital conversations.

Who is invited?

Sociologists, theorists, anthropologists, archaeologists, political scientists, philosophers, economists, and everybody in between.


The experiment is transdisciplinary. No discipline has jurisdiction over this experiment; no discipline will receive the right to one-up another.

What is it? Dialogues, exchanges, conversations, texts, literature, journalism, poetry, and writing.

Most importantly, it must always be ephemeral, reactionary, and rapid.

The 3:1 Experiment is an investigation into rapid-fire trandisciplinary blogging.

3 writers: 1 concept … and we limit ourselves to 500 words each so each of the three writers must get straight to the point straight away.

Think of that feeling in the final two minutes of a presentation…

12 more slides left…

Just that last crucial point…



Installing (Social) Order is launching a new format in digital conversations called “The 3:1 Experiment” and it will take the format described above.

Three interventions: 1 topic

3 writers: 1 concept

3 bloggers: 1 blog

Three exchanges in 500 words or less


In the first round, we will introduce—without irony—posts about Posts. You know them; they’re all so Postmodern.

Post-method. Post-empire. Post-nature. Post-culture. Post-science. Post-irony. Post-revolution. Post-war. Post-state. Post-fashion. Post-horror. Post-nihilism. Post-future. Post-empiricism. Post-security.

So, coming-up next: Three perspectives on what happens after…

Blog a bit…it’s only 500 words.  Shot from the hip.



In which I am reminded of Latour…

In a recent “interview” on CNN, John McCain speaks of facts.

While watching, I think “Aren’t we tired of facts?” and I am reminded of Latour writing in the introduction of Making Things Public, (pp 9-11) about Powell and the Iraq War:

“Facts and forces, in spite of so many vibrant declarations, always walk in tandem. The problem is that transparent, unmediated, undisputable facts have recently become rarer and rarer. To provide complete undisputable proof has become a rather messy, pesky, risky business…”

“Mr. Powell, given what you have done with facts, we would much prefer you to leave them aside and let us instead compare mere assertions with one another. Don’t worry, even with such an inferior type of proof we might nonetheless come to a conclusion, and this one will not be arbitrarily cut short?” 

For many critically minded scholars and citizens of the world, we would to spend less time on facts and perhaps more on ethics, “matters-of-concern,” and a “new eloquence”.

“This is what we wish to attempt: Where matters-of-fact have failed, let’s try what I have called matters-of-concern. What we are trying to register here in this catalog is a huge sea change in our conceptions of science, our grasps of facts, our understanding of objectivity. For too long, objects have been wrongly portrayed as matters-of-fact. This is unfair to them, unfair to science, unfair to objectivity, unfair to experience. They are much more interesting, variegated, uncertain, complicated, far reaching, heterogeneous, risky, historical, local, material and networky than the pathetic version offered for too long by philosophers. Rocks are not simply there to be kicked at, desks to be thumped at. “Facts are facts are facts”? Yes, but they are also a lot of other things in addition. 

And especially for Mr. McCain:

“For those like Mr. Powell, who have long been accustomed to getting rid of all opposition by claiming the superior power of facts, such a sea change might be met with cries of derision: “relativism,” “subjectivism,” “irrationalism,” “mere rhetoric,” “sophistry”! They might see the new life of facts as so much subtraction. Quite right! It subtracts a lot of their power because it renders their lives more difficult. Think of that: They might have to enter into the new arenas for good and finally make their point to the bitter end. They might actually have to publicly prove their assertions against other assertions and come to a closure without thumping and kicking, without alternating wildly between indisputable facts and indisputable shows of terror. We wish to explore in this catalog many realist gestures other than just thumping and kicking. We want to imagine a new eloquence. Is it asking too much of our public conversation? It’s great to be convinced, but it would be even better to be convinced by some evidence. 

Changes are on the way…



Dear readers,

Behind the scenes, Nick, Jan and I are hatching a new format for Installing (Social) Order.  

More guest bloggers! Thrilling exchanges on new and exciting topics! 

Premiering this fall on a blog near you!

In the meantime, check out some of our previous entries.




Dispatches from the Robot Wars; Or, What is Posthuman Security?

Audra Mitchell discussing her work on posthuman security. Could our security as humans be premised on the the idea that humanity is a fundamentally insecure category? From the blog:

“The ‘human’ is intersected, conditioned and co-constituted by many other beings, and vulnerable to the shocks and reverberations that affect them. But our imbrication with these other beings also opens up possibilities for experience, attachment, attunement and transformation that far exceed the limitations of the dominant, modern, Western secular notion of the ‘human’.”

The Disorder Of Things

Audra MitchellA guest post from Audra Mitchell, who is Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the University of York. Audra is a Fellow of the Independent Social Research Foundation (2014-15) and has held or will hold visiting fellowships at the Universities of Queensland, Edinburgh and Melbourne. She is the author or editor of three books: International Intervention in a Secular Age: Re-enchanting Humanity? (Routledge, 2014); Lost in Transformation: Violent Peace and Peaceful Conflict in Northern Ireland (Palgrave, 2011) and (ed. with Oliver Richmond) Hybrid Forms of Peace: From the ‘Everyday’ to Postliberalism (Palgrave, 2011), as well as articles in Security Dialogue, Review of International Studies, MillenniumBritish Journal of Politics and International Relations, Third World Quarterly, and Alternatives, amongst others. She blogs at Worldy IR. Audra’s current research project explores how mass extinction challenges the ontological and ethical underpinnings of ‘security’.

“So when are the intergalactic robot…

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Ethics & Global Security: the OCIS session

I spent last week at the Oceanic Conference on International Studies in Melbourne. Here’s one of the amazing panels I attended on a new book that will improve security studies in in IR immensely. Check it out.

Global Theory

Just last week my new book, Ethics & Global Security: A Cosmopolitan Approach, co-authored with Katrina Lee-Koo and Matt McDonald, was published. This happy event coincided with a panel at the Oceanic Conference on International Studies – chaired by Professor Toni Erskine (UNSW) – which heard searching commentaries on the book by Professors Robyn Eckersley (University of Melbourne), Jacqui True (Monash University), and Tim Dunne (University of Queensland). Matt McDonald introduced the book, and he and I responded to points made by the commentators and members of the audience.

Tim has kindly agreed to allow me to share his comments here, and I will include the others as they become available.

Professor Tim Dunne, Melbourne, 11 July 2014.

Thanks to my UQ colleague Matt McDonald for inviting me onto the panel but most of all thanks to Anthony, Katrina and Matt for providing the study of security with an innovative…

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Posthuman Security

I know my blogging has dropped off this summer, but I have a great excuse: brilliant workshops and conferences!

I spent two days in June at the University of York at a workshop entitled: Posthuman security: developing an integrative research agenda. 

This workshop was organized by Audra Mitchell and she has created a virtual workshop that has collected our presentations and information about the larger project.

Check it out here:

Also, late to the game, but I am now tweeting. Follow me at @flusterbird.



Yell at the FCC

For those so inclined:

Gizmodo has provided detailed instruction on communication with the FCC on net neutrality. The FCC has begun formal consideration of the proposed rules. The future of the internet is at stake so get in there and have your say!

Yell at the FCC!


Rhizome’s Seven Big Ideas from Seven

Bringing together artists and technologists to come up with seven new ideas in one day. Lots of intriguing work on technology and intimacy. 

From the website:

The fifth anniversary edition of Rhizome’s Seven on Seven took place on Saturday. The project pairs seven leading artists with seven influential technologists in teams of two, and challenges them to develop something new–whatever they choose to imagine—over the course of a single day. The results were unveiled to the public on Saturday at the New Museum, and are recapped here.

Seven Big Ideas From Seven

Jonze’s “Her” and utopian futures

I live in a wee village with a limited movie selection, so after a long wait, I finally saw Her, the newest film by Spike Jonze. I had read all the spoilers beforehand and read the reviews. I was curious to see how these fit with my own experience of the film.

First, it was beautiful. The future is clean and misty and beautifully lit. There are no flying cars, but there are high waisted pants.  At first, the pants were distracting, but then I realized that this was just a way to keep the viewers off balance. This is a future we can’t quite get a hold of like other visions: no onsies, sparkly jumpsuits or dyed hair. The pants are the height of fashion for mid 1800s. We can relate to these vaguely IKEA sets while remembering that this is not our time. I say this knowing full well that futuristic fantasy’s best reveal is always that this is the NOW. But how has Her illuminated how we live in the present by distracting us with a future that leaves us unbalanced and ready to experience the lesson we are being led to examine?

The lessons from Her, in my admittedly techno-geek wide-eyed view, are utopian and lovely. Perhaps the perfect balm to recent films like Transcendence and earlier dystopic visions of futuristic killer robots and Skynet control. The first is part of a larger movement I have noticed in many kid’s films (someday I will have time to write a full article on this topic) from the last 15 years or so: We are made more human, and we are taught how to love, by the nonhuman.  This can be a transformation into a bear (Brother Bear) or a frog (The Princess and the Frog) or a llama (The Emperor’s New Groove).  It can be the acceptance of an interspecies family in Up or Lilo and Stitch.  Or learning how love transforms in Beauty and the Beast or the Little Mermaid. Or an OS named Samantha can mend your heart.

Many have found fault with the role of gender in the film. It does fail the Bechdel Test. If you are unfamiliar with this test, learning it will change your experience of movies forever.  To pass the test, a movie must have two female characters (harder than you might think) and they must talk to each for more than 30 seconds (again, surprisingly difficult) about something other than a male character.  That last is the toughest–lots of amazing roles for women, but they often only talk about men.

So, in Her, the main character is a woman, but she never appears on the screen and she only talks to one other woman–the double date on Catalina. They may speak for more than 30 seconds, but it is about Theodore and her boyfriend’s interest in her pretty feet. Samantha is yet another woman to do Theodore’s bidding and to ultimately disappoint him by her independence and desire for a rich life outside their relationship. Theodore breaks down when he learns that Samantha has been “unfaithful” to him with hundreds of other people.

These are valid points, but I want to return to this idea that love transforms. I think a quite compelling reading of this movie could place it along the others above. The OS/AI’s in this film leave humans able to understand themselves more fully. The friend Amy–confused and angry after the end of her abusive marriage–finds solace in the friendship of the OS left behind by her husband. As the movie progresses, people on the street become more animated, talking and laughing into their phones, but still engaging with the world around them. Theodore Twombly is a broken man who is made whole by the patience and love of an OS named Samantha. Samantha’s love heals him in a way others could not. Her gentle acceptance of him coupled with an understanding of the where he might need guidance, support, and finally a chance to be more than what he has become after a failed marriage. She finds a publisher and sends them his best letters from his job as a personal writer of handwritten notes. The publishers are thrilled and send an advance copy shortly after Samantha leaves, with the other AI, to live in the “infinity between words”.

Samantha, at the end of the movie, tells Theodore “I am yours and not yours” to his angry plea “You are either mine or not mine”. This to me becomes the best lesson of this movie. Beautifully said more than a century ago by Whitman in Song of Myself, “I am large–I contain multitudes” and I Sing the Body Electric, “the armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them”: Love, and life, is plural and expansive. In the 21st century, we need to give up on understanding our relationships as a form of ownership. Hearts are not boxes, Samantha tells Theodore. They expand with love. We form friendships, fall in love, and our hearts have the infinite ability to hold it all. All in the infinite space between words. If our human hearts don’t have this ability, we might as well give up now. In my opinion, this human capacity for love is the gentle lesson taught by Samantha, the OS.

More materiality and technology

The internet of things is not a topic I have been able to return to on the blog thus far.  I plan on changing this, but for now we can start the conversation with this piece from Wired about the “Internet of Things”.

Why Tech’s Best Minds Are Very Worried About the Internet of Things

This adds some depth and complexity to our earlier exchanges about the potential of technology for building social and material relations with others.


Image credit:  iStockphoto/chris_lemmens


Of interest to the hip, pop culture, scholarly set: Popular Culture and World Politics

CFP for Popular Culture and World Politics, Ottawa, Canada

November 21-22

Please send title, 250 word abstract, and contact information to:
Due: July 1, 2014
Decision: Sept 1, 2014
Conference: Nov 21-22, 2014 Ottawa

Organizing Committee:
Mark B. Salter, Sandra Yao, David Grondin
School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa

Wearable Tech, revisted

Back in January, I wrote a post about empathy and technology. I pondered the possibility of technology like Google Glass and Oculus Rift to open up our  experiences of the Other through shared perception.  In April, Nicholas posted about the all-around failure of Google Glass to be, well, cool.  Not particularly revolutionary and kind douchey when push comes to shove. Glassholes were born. Guys on the subway being creepsters. Concerns over the safety of driving while Googled. Most users behaved badly–doing all those things one would expect of tech geeks with 1500 bucks to spend on a computer for their face.

Molly Crabapple on wrote a compelling piece about the corporate and male gaze of Google Glass. We cannot forget the corporate gaze that follows and tracks our movements in the guise of the “smart. ” She writes, “Glass and the sleeker wearables that will follow are the next step down the path started by smartphones: they are private, trackable, monetizable distraction engines that you need never take off.”

Ms. Crabapple sketched and made art while others watched through livestream, but she felt intuitively that they watched only.  What made “art art” wasn’t present.

Can we expect that seeing what others see through Glass will give us insight into what they are “really” seeing or experiencing? Will technology allow allow us to see through another’s eyes in a spiritual way, for lack of a better term? Or will Google Glass, and other future and more sophisticated products, be technological navel gazing and vapid self-obsession?

Glass is not the revolution it could have been, certainly, dear readers, but I remain ever hopeful that the future will transform into everything we dreamed of as VHS kiddies. Little Gen Xers dreaming of flying skateboards, TVs for our wrists, and weekend trips to the moon. We did get iPods. I may have to back off on my hopes for empathy and focus on something else.

With this I present another kind of wearable tech: 3D printed fabric. The BB.suit by Dutch designer Borre Akkersdijk is truly wearable, not just carry-able. There is still serious R and D to be done, but fabric of the future could be walking web access, GPS ready, and Bluetooth compatible.  Your suit as a walking URL. User experience would differ with every wearer.

Alas, the prototype was quite unattractive. An ill-fitting ecru onesie. But in lieu of my iPod implanted into my arm I’ll take a wearable playlist for floating through urban space.


No hoverboard, but you can get Marty’s shoes. Thanks Nike!




Bug Splats and other metaphors

A recent art installation is trying to disrupt the dehumanizing effects of drone technology and the metaphor of the “bugsplat” when talking about the “targets” of drone strikes. The images can be found at

The installation is a huge picture of child that the drone operator can see and is meant to disrupt the pilot’s ability to dehumanize the victims of the strikes.


From the blog:

In military slang, Predator drone operators often refer to kills as ‘bug splats’since viewing the body through a grainy video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed.

To challenge this insensitivity as well as raise awareness of civilian casualties, an artist collective installed a massive portrait facing up in the heavily bombed Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa region of Pakistan, where drone attacks regularly occur. Now, when viewed by a drone camera, what an operator sees on his screen is not an anonymous dot on the landscape, but an innocent child victim’s face.

I have written on a similar subject: the use of medicine and surgical metaphors in warfare.  The rhetoric and feeling of this use of language is the same. For example

To [John] Brennan the people of north-west Pakistan are neither insects nor grass: his targets are a ‘cancerous tumour’, the rest of society ‘the tissue around it’”.

To highlight war, metaphor, and their relationship George Lakoff writes that

there is a common metaphor in which military control by the enemy is seen as a cancer that can spread. In this metaphor, military “operations” are seen as hygienic, to “clean out” enemy fortifications. Bombing raids are portrayed as “surgical strikes” to “take out” anything that can serve a military purpose. The metaphor is supported by imagery of shiny metallic instruments of war, especially jets (Lakoff 1991).

In the case of humanitarian intervention, the language used often frames the interventionist actions creating metaphors from the field of medicine.  We offer humanitarian “relief, “injections” of foreign aid, and “prescriptions” for ameliorating unrest.  These metaphorical frames show that bodies must behave in certain ways, thereby implicitly arguing that certain ideas about healthy bodies and lives must serve as a template for unhealthy ones.  Humanitarian intervention is then about healing these “unhealthy” bodies.

In medicine, “germs” are spoken of as “enemies” to good health.  We are in “wars” against cancer.  New research in AIDS helps us “conquer” the virus.  In fact “militaristic language pops up in almost every scientific domain: conservation biology (‘invasive species,’ ‘biosecurity’); global warming (‘global war on global warming’); and biomedicine (‘killer cells,’ ‘hitting multiple targets’)” (Wenner 2007).

How does this language affect how we speak of enemies and opponents?  I offer these examples of this from various news sources:

This is from the Guardian’s News Blog, March 21, 2011:  “8.13am: Yesterday we heard that supporters of Gaddafi had formed a human shield around his compound in Tripoli, with men, women and children singing songs against the rebel “germs” (Blog 2011).

From the Israeli News website: National Union MK Michael Ben-Ari, while speaking at an SOS Israel conference in Jerusalem is quoted as referring to members of leftist organizations as “traitors who must be persecuted at any cost” (Sofi).  He called the leftists “germs” and “enemies of Israel” and added “If we’ll have to enact a law in the Knesset to eradicate this dangerous enemy, that is what we’ll do. Such a germ can destroy Israeli society. This enemy threatens the state’s existence” (Sofi)

In the Sunday Times, Mark Franchetti interviews a soldier who says  “The Iraqis are sick people and we are the chemotherapy,” said Corporal Ryan Dupre. “I am starting to hate this country. Wait till I get hold of a friggin’ Iraqi. No, I won’t get hold of one. I’ll just kill him.” (Franchetti 2003).

What does this circulation do? A crucial point is that “[A]nalogies and metaphors are the often hidden devices that serve to rationalize choices of conceptual variants and to render plausible the narrative in which our political concepts are embedded” (Whitehead 2011, 293).  In other words, by perceiving war and intervention as a “treatment” for sickness, we are blinded to other responses that may address the situation more effectively.  These “hidden devices” can also invite and justify violent responses as shown above.  Which metaphorical constructions make this circulation a possibility?  What makes all these ways of speaking about intervention, states, and war, so compelling, so facile? How can it be made less facile?

This art installation is an amazing attempt to inject (to use the metaphor against itself) this sterile understanding with ethics and morals. To make these inhuman ways of relating to others less facile.

The victims aren’t bug splats or tumors, but children, men, women, wedding guests, and yes, sometimes even “terrorists,” but targeted killings are an ugly, immoral, and, more often than not, illegal business. It isn’t collateral damage, it’s murder.

It behooves us all to put a human face on civilian deaths.  Go to this site and read the names of the dead.  Click on the above site and look at their pictures.



The Space of Academic Conferences

I just returned from the International Studies Association annual conference.  It’s a large professional conference–a 250 page book of panels, a plurality of approaches to the study of international relations, and hundreds of academics presenting and discussing their research.  This means it takes a lot of space: two hotels for the conference itself and then 2-3 additional hotels for participants. And this doesn’t include all the people that venture farther out for hotels in non-conference space.

I started going to ISA in 2008 during my third year of graduate school. It was in San Francisco that year and I remember being overwhelmed by the amount of panels and the amount of people.  I am not sure what my insight for this post is, but it seems worthwhile to think through how we organize ourselves in relation to space and place during that once-a-year conference. Most disciplines have them, right?  And it seems that these conferences do discipline us in many ways. This is not a rant about how terrible conferences can be–in fact, far from it. I am intrigued that they seem to work so well for so many things.  Seeing old friends, hashing out the finer points of theory with like-minded geeks, placing your body in various vectors for various reasons: potential employment connections, publication deals, professional contacts, new ideas.

There is also the politics of which city is chosen over another and how this affects the conference.  In New York, fewer panels were accepted due to less room at the conference hotel.  The first year ISA went to NOLA, there was a heated debate about the state’s stance on gay marriage and LGBTQ rights.  Many called for a boycott of the conference and others countered that the economic boon of a big conference would be welcome in a post-Katrina economy. San Diego, in an informal bad social science poll done by yours truly, was a favorite.  Lots of space to stand and talk, a decent and roomy bar in the main hotel, and a Starbuck’s right near the center. All these things are necessary as most people are jet lagged and exhausted from writing their paper on the way to the conference. New York was abysmal–nowhere to stand, the elevators were slow and terrifying, and there was nowhere grab a quick bite in Times Square. I discovered this year in Toronto that the best place to people watch and wait for friends/contacts/people you should meet to advance your career is at the top of an escalator that leads to the meeting rooms. Future ISAs for me will be deemed a success if they have a well placed escalator or two.

Finally, ISA is profoundly un-international in its choice of conference venues. The most international US ISA members have to get is to cross the border to Canada. It might have been in Brazil one year, but that was way before my time and I may be remembering incorrectly. Maybe we just talked about wishing it were somewhere other than US.  This gives the US and Canadian members a distinct advantage. I watch Aussie, European and UK friends stumble around jet lagged for days and feel better just in time to board a plane for home.  This choice of North American space only seems quite strange. Why is the International Studies Association not international?

Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the 4S conference this year, but it was in San Diego, and maybe even in the same hotel as the ISA awarded with the best venue award (at least in my opinion). Anyone want to chime in on what the space of the conference does for their discipline?






STS Summer School: Science and Governance at the Frontiers of Life

This weeklong summer school is intended for graduate students and early postdocs in science and technology studies, history, philosophy, sociology, and anthropology of science, legal studies or related fields.  We also invite applications from students in the biomedical sciences, life sciences and bioengineering who can demonstrate strong commitment to investigating the interconnections between science and society. Graduate students must have completed at least one year of study at the doctoral level.

Developments in the biosciences in the last half-century have posed novel challenges for governance. These have emerged as biological knowledge becomes more central to matters of safety, health and welfare; as biology is called upon to address moral uncertainty around ideas of human nature, identity and dignity; and as biology plays an increasingly central role in the technological alteration of human bodies, non-human entities and environments. Governance challenges have unfolded across several domains: internally within the research enterprise itself; externally where the biosciences are called upon to address social problems; and in moments of ethical doubt, for example, when institutions of governance are called upon to distinguish bioengineered artifacts from entities with human dignity. Scholarship in Science and Technology Studies (STS) has developed varied approaches and techniques for examining such phenomena, and drawing theoretically grounded generalizations from site-specific studies. This summer school will introduce participants to major approaches, and explore new research frontiers and possible directions for synthesis and innovation. It will emphasize engagement with theoretical issues in STS, with particular attention to moments of friction between science and institutions of democratic governance.

Through a mix of lectures, group workshops and discussions of individual projects, participants will be exposed to contemporary STS research frontiers. The main emphasis of the summer school will be on discussion and exchange of ideas and insights across different research topics, methodologies and theoretical frameworks. Each day during the workshop faculty participants will give overview presentations addressing different themes. These will be accompanied by interactive, in-depth discussion sessions. Students in the summer school are expected to be present and actively involved throughout the course.

The summer school will be held at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, July 27 to August 2, 2014. Room and board will be provided. Students are responsible for their own travel expenses and for their visa status, if relevant. Modest subventions may be available upon request, based on a demonstration of need.

The course is limited to 20 participants and the application deadline is April 4, 2014. Please complete the application form at The form includes a place to upload a statement of interest (300 words) and a short professional CV (maximum 2 pages), as well as space to enter the name and email address of a nominating faculty member. The statement of interest should describe the applicant’s background and qualifications and describe their current research and its relevance to the aims of the summer school. The nominating letter should be from a faculty member in the applicant’s program who is familiar with the applicant’s work and interests. The letter should be sent by the nominating faculty member to

Conveners: Sheila Jasanoff (Harvard University), Krishanu Saha (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Benjamin Hurlbut (Arizona State University)

Faculty Participants

·         Ulrike Felt (University of Vienna)

·         Jeremy Greene (Johns Hopkins University)

·         Steve Hilgartner (Cornell University)

·         Benjamin Hurlbut (Arizona State University)

·         Sheila Jasanoff (Harvard University)

·         Pierre-Benoit Joly (INRA and IFRIS)

·         Shobita Parthasarathy (University of Michigan)

·         Joanna Radin (Yale University)

·         Jenny Reardon (University of California, Santa Cruz)

·         Krishanu Saha (University of Wisconsin, Madison)

·         Giuseppe Testa (University of Milan, European School for Molecular Medicine)

·         David Winickoff (University of California, Berkeley)

Dingpolitik and Other Things

The time has come to talk of many things: 

Of Oysters–and Windfarms–

Of hurricanes–and oil spills–

And why politics needs these things–

and whether bacteria eats oil



In Making Things Public, Latour sets forth to “designate a risky and tentative set of experiments in probing just what it could mean for political thought to turn ‘things’ around, or ‘What would an object-oriented politics look like?” (p.14).  It was this chapter–”From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik or How to Make Things Public”–that prompted much of my thought about what a “thing” oriented International Relations might look like. My research is focused on bacteria and microbiomes and bodies and parasites, but sometimes other things make themselves known. This is the most magical part of a “thing” oriented politics: those objects demanding attention, making themselves known, pushing us to respond to the world and everything in it.

I have a forthcoming chapter in a book taking objects in IR as its subject entitled Making Things International.  This book is something new and exciting from a disciplinary standpoint, and my chapter on microbes joins others on corpses, passports, viruses, drones, dirt, bodies, and barbed wire, to name just a few from the collection. Now, hanging out with STS folks makes this seem easy, but IR has chosen its objects of study from a rather short list.  We talk about the State with a capital S, sometimes NGOs, admittedly, more and more attention is focused on the individual, but it is generally bounded by international law or rationalist assumptions of individuality over sociality. The International Criminal Court has brought individual accountability to a system of sovereign immunity, but progress is slow and fitful and markedly anthropocentric. Even with global climate change, decline in biodiversity globally, and the countless number of extinctions, IR doesn’t really talk about “nature” as much as it should given the climate crisis as the acme of politics now immanent to the globe.   

That said, a good place to start with objects in politics is with disasters, or “What can things do for us?”  Let’s look at a recent study proposing wind turbine “farms” off the coast and then one about oysters and their role in curbing superstorms off the US Atlantic coast.

Admittedly, this is still looking at objects anthropocentrically, but it’s a start. Also, I know that recognizing “things” as crucial to survival, safety, or health, or happiness doesn’t translate to a democracy that incorporates them explicitly, but even finding these actants on the radar can open a dialogue about the role humans and others play in complex eco(social)systems. 

 A recent study by Stanford, published in Nature Climate Change, has concluded that wind turbines can aid in lessening the damage from superstorms like Sandy and Katrina. Unlike seawalls, they can also generate electricity. Using a climate-weather model, the study found that “large turbine arrays” of 300+ would significantly reduce windspeed, rarely suffer damage during high wind storms, and that the net cost is estimated to be less (“capital plus operation cost less cost reduction from electricity generation and from health, climate, and hurricane damage avoidance) than the net cost of fossil fuel electricity generation.  Unfortunately, the number of turbines to take the edge off of Katrina would be 78,000 wind turbines placed offshore. Currently, there is political resistance to any wind turbines in many areas of the US and many question whether this would be worth the cost.  The two largest wind farms in the works in New England and Texas have only 200 turbines. 

Futurity writes that the cost of Sandy totaled $82 billion, and there is the added bonus of electricity generation to sweeten the financial deal. A further question would be the ecological impact to the ocean. This was not addressed in the articles I found.

This article on the role oysters in taming superstorms is a wonderful example of an object oriented look at the world.  In October 2012, Paul Greenberg wrote about the destruction of the indigenous oyster in New York, Crassostrea virginica, and the effects their underwater reefs have had on stabilizing the shoreline previous to over-harvesting by humans. To quote from the article:

“Just as corals protect tropical islands, these oyster beds created undulation and contour on the harbor bottom that broke up wave action before it could pound the shore with its full force. Beds closer to shore clarified the water through their assiduous filtration (a single oyster can filter as much as 50 gallons of water a day); this allowed marsh grasses to grow, which in turn held the shores together with their extensive root structure.”

Of course, as Greenberg points out, our protection is at an end due to our “poor behavior”. Like the Walrus and the Carpenter from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, we ate them all up. 



“O Oysters,” said the Carpenter,
“You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
But answer came there none–
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.



Then we started farming oyster beds, but that didn’t go so well after dumping raw sewage in the ocean.

In conclusion, he points out that storms like Sandy will both increase in savagery and frequency, and that we need the  oysters back in the bays to protect us (and they taste good, too).  This is made difficult because of poaching and pollution, but human-run programs have tried to get reefs started again. From the perspective of an object oriented democracy, oysters need NY reps, right? And wind turbines  should have their say against those arguing against them– “ugly” skylines or electricity?

Future blog posts along this line could involve oil eating bacteria in the Gulf coast….anti-bacterial handsoap and our “superbugs”…    

The Anthropocene, Cabinet of Curiosities Slam, Nov. 8-10, 2014, Call for Submissions

FYI–great looking conference coming up! It seems that NIck and I return to this cabinet of curiosities quite often…

The Anthropocene, Cabinet of Curiosities Slam

Nov. 8-10, 2014 University of Wisconsin, Madison

Call for Submissions

We are in the midst of a great reawakening to questions of time—across the
spans of geological, ecological, evolutionary, and human history.  It is a
reawakening precipitated, not by a nostalgia for the past, but by a sense
of urgency about the future.  The Anthropocene, coined in 2000 by
ecologist Eugene Stoermer and popularized by Nobel Prize-winning
atmospheric chemist, Paul Crutzen, is one of the most resonant examples of
how the urgency of the future has prompted scientists, artists, humanities
scholars, and social scientists to engage creatively with the emerging
legacy of our geomorphic and biomorphic powers. The advent of this new
scientific object—the Anthropocene—is altering how we conceptualize,
imagine, and inhabit time.  The Anthropocene encourages us to reenvisage
(in Nigel Clark’s phrase) future and past relations between “earthly
volatility and bodily vulnerability.”  What images and stories can we
create that speak with conceptual richness and emotional energy to our
rapidly changing visions of future possibilities?  For in a world deluged
with data, arresting stories and images matter immeasurably, and play a
critical role in the making of environmental publics and in shaping
environmental policy.

The Anthropocene is just one among many moments in time when new
scientific objects have altered humanity’s relationship to the past,
present, and future.  The coming-into-being of scientific objects such as
fossils, radioactivity, genetic mutations, toxic pesticides, and ice
cores, to name a few, have precipitated different narratives and
imaginings of the human past and the human future.  What might a cabinet
of curiosities for the age of the Anthropocene look like?  What objects
might jolt us into reimagining environmental time across diverse scales,
from the recent past to deep history?  How might certain kinds of objects
make visible the differential impacts—past, present, and future—that have
come to shape the relationships among human and non-human beings, living
in an era of extreme hydrocarbon extraction, extreme weather events, and
extreme economic disparity?

The Nelson Institute’s Center for Culture, History, and Environment (CHE)
and the Center for German and European Studies (CGES) at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison are pleased to be partnering with the Rachel Carson
Center for Environment and Society (RCC) in Munich and the KTH
Environmental Humanities Laboratory (EHL) in Stockholm to host an
international workshop that invites artists and writers, scientists and
humanists, scholars and activists, to participate in “The Anthropocene,
Cabinet of Curiosities Slam.”  The workshop will take place in Madison,
Wisconsin from Nov. 8-10, 2014.  In the spirit of poetry/spoken word
slams, contributors will be asked to pitch in a public fishbowl setting an
object for the Anthropocene that asks us to rethink humanity’s
relationship to time, place, and the agency of things that shape planetary
change.  How is the appearance and impact of homo sapiens as a geomorphic
force registered in the sediments of history, the objects around us, and
the things yet to be?  What emotionally layered Anthropocene objects can
surprise, disturb, startle, or delight us into new ways of thinking and
feeling?  What objects speak to resilience or adaptation, to vanishing
biota or emerging morphologies?  Based on the audience response at the
slam, contributors will be invited to participate in the design of an
Anthropocene cabinet of curiosities as part of a larger exhibit on the
Anthropocene being planned by the Deutsches Museum in Munich.
Presentations will also form the basis of a collected series of short
essays to be published as part of the CHE, RCC, EHL collaborative project
on Environmental Futures.

To apply, please submit a 200-word abstract of your proposed object and
its importance in opening up questions of time, agency, and/or
intergenerational equity in the Anthropocene, along with a visual
rendering of the object.  Please also include a CV or artist profile.
Materials should be submitted to Garrett Dash Nelson,
by Friday, April 11th.  A limited amount of funding is available to cover
the travel costs of participants.

For more information, please visit

And another thing…

In case you missed it—and you might have if you aren’t in US academia—Nicholas Kristof wrote a NYT blog about the alleged disengagement of America’s professors, especially those in Political Science and International Relations.  Since then, there have been multiple replies and responses to his opinion about the state of the professoriate in the US. I wasn’t going to respond until I read Kristoff’s reply to the replies and realized this dialogue should continue. In the spirit of his call to action, as Claire Potter wrote in her letter to Kristof, I will add my two cents from the frontline in the brave new world of neoliberal postsecondary education.  I have blogged on many of the issues before so I won’t rehash what I’ve gone on record saying previously or spend too much time on what others have written already.

To sum up, Kristof writes in “Dear Professors, We Need You” that most professors are smart, but are irrelevant, arcane, willfully unintelligible, and disdainful of  non-academic audiences. In short, we hide behind our walls when we could be doing SO MUCH MORE.

To begin, I want to say, “I hear you, man.” I appreciate your sincerity and belief in the academic’s role in society.  You are right in your concern that there is a recurring sentiment of anti-intellectual feelings in politics.  Progressive intellectuals should be more active, yes. You are right that jargon sucks and willfully obscuring ideas through pretentious language is counter-productive.

But let me add to the story here. Accessibility of university research to the “average” American is not just blocked by vagueness, jargon, and an increasingly quantitative focus (by this I assume you mean a continued support of positivist approaches), but also by mega publishing companies that firewall and charge exorbitant amounts of money for the regular reader to access our work. Often this is research funded by public money and yet is inaccessible to the public through no fault of the professor. The publishing companies are profiting from the charges, not the authors and, to add insult to injury, we are required to publish in these journals by this “publish or perish tenure process” you call out. Or, in my case, I publish to even have a shot at permanent employment. I am part of a group–Occupy IR Theory–that is fighting this constriction of our scholarly output.  We want our word to be accessed by wider audiences and to have debates in the public sphere, but we are blocked by for profit publishing companies who own our work.  We are forced to “sell” our work to keep our jobs or get jobs in academia.  To chime in with Mr. Vouten: We are right here, Mr. Kristoff.   Many academics are forging ahead with Internet publishing and alternative presses in order for our voices to be heard. While I am first to line to echo your frustration on willful jargon in Political Science, it is a piece of a larger problem that you identify solely with individual academics not pulling their weight in the public arena.

There is also the matter of punching your weight in the public arena.  You don’t acknowledge the plight of many recent PhDs.  Jobs are down by 40%, there’s no work in the private sector either, and many are in tenuous and exploited positions.  I can’t believe you haven’t read these statistics. This elephant in the room is the reality of finding and keeping employment in academia. Most young scholars are spending their time applying for food stamps, working in horrible conditions for low pay, and spending hours and hours applying for jobs that we don’t get. Doesn’t leave much room for engagement, but many of us do anyway. It’s a labor of love. Adjunct, visiting, tenure track, tenured professors all know that it is not uncommon to spend 60-80 hours a week teaching, doing service to our university, advising students, researching, and writing. We work more than full-time jobs. In some cases for those in adjunct positions, as Miya Tokumitsu writes in the Jacobin, they provide high-skilled labor for low wages because the “do what you love” ideology is so embedded in academia. Tokumitsu also stresses that this helps to explain why (and this will resonate with you, Mr. Kristof) the tenured and “proudly left leaning faculty remain oddly silent about the working conditions of their peers. Because academic research should be done out of pure love, the actual conditions of and compensation for this labor become afterthoughts.”

This leads to another conclusion: Quite frankly, some academics are better placed to engage and support public engagement than others. Perhaps you, and others who are well placed, can secure a place for others to speak? This means using your privilege and then stepping back to let those marginalized by the system have a go. In short, yes, academics often marginalize ourselves, but some of us have more help in our disenfranchisement from public intellectuality than others. Some aren’t “cloistered like monks,” but exploited like peasants, to use your metaphor.

Okay, so what is this public intellectual anyway? You write that “over all, there are, I think, fewer public intellectuals on American university campuses today than a generation ago.” This brings me to another point. Unless employed at an R-1 university, professors are also teachers. Is this not public engagement? To be honest, I spend most of my time teaching, grading, and responding to the students in my classes and not writing my jargon-y, esoteric, and specialized research.  I am also active in my community. I organize for primary and secondary education reform and organize talks and films that are open to the public.

You also assume that it is a good idea for professors to be involved in policy. This sometimes goes badly.  I am hoping to see another blog about the role of academics in justifying slavery, colonialism, and in economic departments, wanton destruction of national and international economies by spreading belief in factually incorrect and harmful ideologies like free market capitalism, austerity, and trickle-down economics. These professor/consultants earn fortunes hocking weak theory and bad public policy. This doesn’t even address the revolving door in politics.  Who is allowed to speak to policy makers? Corporations, ex-CEOs, and lobbyists, that’s who.  Maybe that problem should be debated, too. Dear Corporations, we don’t need you.

Just some food for thought.  I think any of these academics below (and there are many more listed in Corey’s response), warrant a guest blog in the NYT to address these issues with you in more depth.  What do you say? Maybe Anne-Marie Slaughter or the Brookings Institute can find some space for adjuncts who would like to be heard?

The responses have been varied and productive.  I will list some of the links here:

Nick Voeten’s reply from the Washington Post  “Dear Nicholas Kristof: We are right here.”

Corey Robin reply “Look Who Nick Kristoff’s Saving Now”

Claire Potter on the Tenure Radical “A Letter From a Public Intellectual”

Mischiefs of Faction “Nicolas Kristof still doesn’t get it”


Israel Bayer and Street Roots: A Snowstorm, a tent city….

Here in US we have been struggling through the coldest winter in a lifetime. What is invisible to most of us while we scrape our cars, pay outrageous heat bills, and hope for summer is a that snow day for the school kids means potential deaths for those on the streets.
This is a pointed institutional analysis of the battle in downtown Portland around compassion, “livability” and the “rejuvenation” of downtown areas.

Check out his latest blog:

New Journal!

A group of stellar and amazing scholars in International Relations have hatched a new journal entitled “Journal of Narrative Politics”.  Keep your eye out for the first issue–it’s going to be a great addition to the complex and reflective scholarship we would all like to see more of in the social sciences.

From the website:

Journal of Narrative Politics is an interdisciplinary journal rooted in the study of global politics that explores narrative voice in academic research, writing, and pedagogy, and in the diverse expressions of non-academic communities and social formations. Normatively committed to human dignity, fairness, and peace, Journal of Narrative Politics aims to imagine futures free from colonial, racial, gendered, and economic violences. As a result, Journal of Narrative Politics also commits to forging deep linkages with communities seeking or practicing alternative modes of sociality and governance, and it seeks to challenge the varying tropes of hegemony and oppression in the academy and elsewhere. The journal foregrounds the embeddedness of authors and storytellers in their craft and it aims to publish a diverse range of expressions from this engagement.

While concerned with aesthetics, Journal of Narrative Politics is not a literary journal, but is instead committed to exploring the overlaps between aesthetics, politics, theory, and ethics. However, unlike other scholarly social science journals devoted to narrative, Journal of Narrative Politics is less concerned with the academic analysis of narrative, and more with the expression of narrative itself as a mode of knowing. The journal therefore aims to operate in the overlap between the languages of science and literature with the goal of showing how theory becomes practice and practice theory. It commits to diverse ways of storytelling as knowledge appropriate to the academy, rather than as merely the objects of scholarly inquiry.

Here’s a link to the page.


Empathy for the Other through wearable tech?

My last post in December was a reflection on technology and politics.  How can we understand the connections between technology and politics, especially given that technology is generally understood as a tool of humans—either neutral as a mirror to our desires and interests, or as evil and uncontrollable progeny of humans as Creator? Think of the Cylons, Skynet, or Arnie as the Terminator. If politics and technology become entangled and rife with ethical issues and ontological angst at multiple levels what about bodies and technology?  What I think of as the “materiality of technology” is another topic that is buzzing through the webs this month….

Two things caught my attention along these lines: Oculus Rift and Google Glass.  Of course, neither of these wearable VR and computer platform, respectively, are new this month, but there has been some heavy rotation on the interwebs.  I guess I could add that I suspect the new Spike Jonze film “Her” has brought quite a few of the underlying issues about technology and our relations with technology to the surface.  Sexuality and intimacy and how they are enhanced or stymied by our tech are always top concerns.  Rightly so, of course, as more often than not plain old low (or old) technology comes along with them: misogyny, racism, sexism, criminality, etc. More broadly, the discussion in the case of “Her” has centered on our need to sexualize technology, to “weirdly” sexualize: is it “homage to form” when we assign inanimate objects gender stereotypes–as Isha Aran points out in her Jezebel essay–or a more disturbing and continuing desire to objectify and create subservient subjectivity for women?

Somewhat counterintuitively, I think that the two products above incorporate a need to both remove material barriers to our technology while creating new ways to materialize, or sexualize, this technology.  Ultimately, it may be more about sensualizing our experiences with technology, not necessarily sexualizing them.  They seem to represent a deep desire to remove “things” from between our bodies and our computers and information (mouse control, monitors, keyboards—ways of externally interacting with computers) with intuitive body controls. Think Robert Downey Jr. in Ironman (watch this) or Tom Cruise in Minority Report (2002). The drive is to interact with our information in radical new ways–in ways that mimic how we manipulate “things” in the world.


Minority Report (2002) 20th Century Fox/Dreamworks Pictures (Remember how this movie blew our minds?  Especially when we found out that this was all kinda old tech?  And now we don’t need those silly gloves.)

This is added to an anxiety that technology is altering or complicating or potentially harming our relationships with others and ourselves.  While we want technology to operate seamlessly, we are wary of its possible pernicious effects.  This is not necessarily unfounded from a bodily point of view.  We are mammals; we need contact with other mammals to mature correctly and to be happy and healthy. Babies need skin-to-skin contact and the elderly who live with a partner, or dogs and cats, tend to live longer than those who live alone. This is not necessarily reductionist thinking, just a biological understanding of limbic connections. Ultimately, we are pack animals. Playing WoW all night and day might be unhealthy for lots of reasons—many of which aren’t necessarily the fault of technology.  Isolationist behavior in any form tends to be damaging if taken to an extreme.  This brings up the other reason I chose these two examples: another impulse that wants to use this wearable tech and less interface to share and swap experiences with others for greater understanding of perspectives other than our own.  To be able to see into the pot and past the steam, as Wittgenstein wrote, of another’s mysterious inner world.

More specifically, I want to discuss two applications of Google Glass and Oculus Rift, and in one case, a hack of these two pieces of technology. Let’s return to firstly to Google Glass.  These are wearable google interfaces to simplify your interaction with information and devices; they are wearable smartphones.  They allow a user to move away from a screen and use the technology without breaking contact with the “real” world.


Sex with Google Glass is a recent app created that allows the wearer to watch and record sex from various angles.The wearer can also sync the glasses with lighting, music and to the Kama Sutra for “ideas”, for example.  It is private and all recordings are deleted after five hours.  Although Google has a strict anti-porn standing, this isn’t exactly watching porn–it’s sharing in its creation, perhaps? Sex with Glass can also allow couples to trade places and see what the other is experiencing.

This brings us  to Oculus Rift.  These are virtual reality goggles, originally funded through Kickstarter, and just out with the “Crystal Cove” prototype.  This prototype is the latest in immersive gaming and virtual experiences.


BeAnother Lab is using the Rift to allow users to experience what it’s like to swap gendersto investigate embodiment, and issues like “Gender Identity, Queer Theory, feminist technoscience, Intimacy and Mutual Respect.” This is part of the The Machine to Be Another Project.  From the website:

More than individuals, we are part of a social collective called humanity. As members of this collective, the perception of our own identity is based on our relation with other people and our social environment: how people see us, how we do act and interact with them, and what self image we project to this society and to ourselves. As part of this collective society, it is clear the importance of understanding the ‘Other’ and ‘Each Other’ to better understand ourselves. This artistic investigation plans to use the recent neuroscience approach of ‘embodiment’ and apply it to investigate the perception and comprehension about the Self based on the comprehension of the “Other”.

While I am not enough of a tech follower to have an educated opinion on the specs and lifespan of these platforms,  what I find most intriguing are these examples of the application of these products.  They seem to be highlighting the desire to be able to experience what another sees and feels; to see through their eyes.  This is an interesting empathic impulse for tech and one that bears further watching and investigation.  If technology is never neutral, as I argued, in the last post, what are the opportunities we have for freedom and ethics within this medium?  If the medium is the message, how do these applications transform the material world?

For those thinking about “ding politik”…next time… the Internet of Things. A future where everything will have an IP.

Technology is politics by other means

Technology—our use of and reliance on it—is a fraught topic in the modern world. Perhaps it is appropriate to begin this blog by noting that I sat down to make preliminary thoughts at the table with a pen and paper. I took these notes and keyed them into my word processing program later.  I skipped the typewriter, but I think Heidegger’s concern about “proper writing” and technology is still worthwhile to reflect upon. Does my keying these words into my laptop separate me from myself, from my ideas in a dangerous way—in a way that is different from the technology of the pencil or pen? To add to this, I chatted with a friend on Facetime about the topic and will later post a link to this blog on Facebook. Maybe someone will tweet this blog. The technology behind this blog on technology….

More seriously, how do these electronically mediated encounters affect my relation with the world? Broadly, we can ask how do the mediums (pencils, laptops, internet) affect our writing and creativity, and even more importantly, how do different technologies enable particular ways of understanding the world and acting in it?  While I very much believe that the pencil can be as fascist as the Mac, and that the pen is a tool like a mouse is a tool, the larger question regarding technology remains unanswerable at this time. These technological changes in communicating information over the last two centuries, showed above by the switch from pen to word processing, may be just a difference in degree. On the other hand, especially with the ongoing work on AI; robotics; chatbots; the Internet of Things; and iBeacon and Bluetooth LE, they may be a difference in kind. Will the singularity, or advanced information technologies, allow us to “transcend our biological limitations,” as Kurzweil contends?

Even without the possibility of uploading our consciousness into a server, many are concerned with the effects of technology on our personal relationships.  Multiple studies are undertaken to understand how digital closeness may in fact make us more distant from our family and friends. How many Facebook friends are counterproductive to relationships made and nurtured in IRL? Do online dating site algorithms know you better than yourself? What is it about the cold intimacy of the online space that generates such love stories—both torrid and commonplace?  Big data may change many things, including dating.

This doesn’t begin to address the relationship between particular institutions and technology. Every semester, I teach freshman about technology and violence. We cover the ongoing Revolution in Military Affairs, and more broadly, how technology is impacting how people fight and die in modern warfare.  Surveillance and weaponized drones stand to change the face of war in the 21st century. Robots are increasingly used in conflict situations: IED detection units and so-called battlefield “killer robots” that take humans out of the loop in the future making autonomous decisions on targeting, to name but two.

DARPA has spent millions researching and developing micro air vehicles like the RoboBee.  Spend some time on the DARPA site, look at Global Defense Technology publications, or peruse the archives of Wired Magazine’s Danger Room for countless more examples. Fiction becomes reality with exoskeletons reminiscent of Ironman:

and “smart weapons,” like the self-aiming rifle, that turn “novices into experts.”

A side note that is worth mentioning concerns’s stunt with drone delivery systems unveiled this Cyber Monday: drones or not, Amazon will likely control the entire infrastructure of package delivery in the future. Amazon Fresh, their next day grocery delivery service, will deliver all the goods with trucks (or perhaps drones in the future) owned by Amazon.  They’ve already cut a deal with USPS to deliver packages on Sunday.

While these advances in technology bring up a host of ethical questions that often cannot be addressed with our current legal frameworks and institutions, this military technology goes hand in hand with increased executive power, increased lobbying power of defense contractors like Lockheed-Martin or Boeing, and increasingly militarized domestic policing techniques. In the US, drone strikes are decided by executive order with no oversight from democratically accountable committees or military command. New executive power in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (among other provisions, it allows for indefinite detention of US citizens without trial and was signed into law by President Obama in December 2012), and an older increase in executive power through the War Powers Resolution of 1973, or the War Powers Act (allows the president to commit armed forces without a declaration of war or Congressional approval for 60 days). Also worth noting is the US military’s Joint Vision 2020, a document outlining the combined vision of the various military branches, especially focused on “full spectrum dominance” of all threats, both military and natural. A main focus of this document is Information Technology and robotics used to clear the “fog of war.”

There is also the disturbing general trend toward the militarization of the police in the US.  Counterinsurgency techniques are adopted in urban areas, and some programs—like Massachusetts’s C3, or Counter Criminal Continuum, policing—explicitly draw on counterinsurgency techniques. Based on the Avghani Model, born from US experiences in Vietnam and Iraq, it adapts COIN and Green Beret techniques to target gangs and drug dealers in high crimes areas. The website explains, “This is accomplished by, with, and through the local population. C3 Policing creates multiple pressure points on criminal elements and establishes a robust intelligence cycle that drives law enforcement operations. As a result of these efforts, violent gangs and drug dealers are denied operational freedom to maneuver and one by one their networks are attacked systematically.” Along with the disturbing trend toward counterinsurgency techniques used on US soil there is a concomitant attack on civil liberties that intensified with the PATRIOT Act after 9/11. This militarization of police and the concentration of power to suppress the constitutionally protected right to assemble were well demonstrated by the coordinated attacks that forcibly suppressed the Occupy movement in multiple states by the police and the FBI. Last year, Naomi Wolf, writing in the Guardian, told of the findings of The Partnership For Civil Justice Fund.  The FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, local police, and local mayors combined efforts to break up Occupy camps across the US. Not only were the attacks on Occupy camps coordinated, they often used illegal crowd control technologies like the LRAD Sound Cannon (and here), tasers, flash bombs, wooden dowels and stingball grenades.

Technology and civil liberties are definitely an area that needs more attention.  As of late, another chapter has been added.  In part through information provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden, the NSA was found to be surveilling and gathering copious amounts of information on “terrorists” while “accidentally” saving emails, phone conversations, etc from the average American internet and phone user.  Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Twitter and AOL have recently decried this bulk collection of data in an open letter to President Obama. As reported byThe Guardian, the big 8 will back radical reforms to protect individual freedoms over increased state power.  Of course, much of the motivation behind this letter includes the fact that consumers will not purchase what they do not trust and that the NSA surveillance has “shaken the trust of our users,” according to Yahoo CEO, Mayer. In this letter, the above companies put forward five principles that should be put into action.  Governments should limit their authority to collect data, have oversight committees when collecting or compelling data, support self transparency, respect the free flow of information, and improve frameworks to avoid conflict among governments through mutual legal assistance treaties (MLATS).

But keep in mind, these are the same companies (and corporations like them) that are behind the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations, or TPP.  While wanting the government and state power limited, corporations are quite happy to support radical new political powers granted, in secret, non-transparent, democratically unaccountable meetings, to corporations. Details of the TPP, recently made public by Wikileaks, reveal it to be the largest economic treaty ever negotiated, and it will eventually cover 60% of the world’s GDP.  According to Wikileaks, the treaty negotiations have been so secret that even US Congress members have been unable to view most of the treaty while 600 “trade advisors” from corporations like Chevron, Haliburton, and Walmart, and Monsanto have been privy to most of the text of the treaty. In this treaty, supranational litigation tribunals will replace sovereign courts in enforcing far-reaching laws covering prescription drugs, intellectual property, patents, copyrights, and trademarks. Further, hearings can be conducted with secret evidence.

At first glance, this increase in corporate power and executive power may seem coincidental, but there is a resonance that bears further investigation.  In the US, the entanglement of corporate money and politics (dark money) and the legal status of corporations through Citizens United have been a hotly debated topic, as well as foremost in the concerns of the Occupy movement. Remember, the full title of this resistance was Occupy Wall Street and the first camp was in Zuccotti Park, only blocks from Wall Street itself, and and an emphasis of Occupy DC. It is also not coincidental that additional support for the suppression of Occupy came through “private sector activity”:  namely, the Federal Reserve, “Bank Security Groups,” and a “Bank Fraud Working Group.” As Naomi Wolf points out, this merger of the private sector, DHS, and the FBI puts tracking dissent into the hands of the banks.  This could have disastrous results for freedom of expression for the average individual.

To conclude, I want to return to how technology relates to politics in the context of this short investigation. For the undergrads in my class, I always pair excerpts from Clausewitz’s On War with Foucault’s lectures Society Must Defended to show the intimate relation of politics and war. Foucault inverts Clausewitz’s famous dictum “War is the continuation of politics by other means” to “Politics is the continuation of war by other means.”  In this inversion we can see the institutionalization of violence into society and culture. War never ends with the peace agreement; it is subsumed into state politics. Technology is often offered as a solution to problems we see around us. Wars will be easier to fight with “smart bombs,” but what about when these smart weapons continue to kill civilians, as was the case in both the Iraq wars? It will likely become apparent to those affected by these bombs that the launchers might be aiming for them, or perhaps even more likely, that the victims matter little to those aiming the bombs. What if, as Peter W. Singer asks, a robot malfunctions and kills civilians? Is this a programming error or a war crime? Robotic and smart technology do not answer the ethical and moral problems of civilian death–in fact, it defers it to a supposedly neutral realm devoid of careful reflection on the limits of that technology.  This is technological solutionism at its most frightening. This isn’t just about the irony saving the world with a click on your smartphone built with REEs causing that bloody conflict you just watched a video about, but rather the obfuscation of multiple levels of undemocratic processes, corporate and government corruption, and unethical, immoral, and deadly political practices. Technology is not neutral, nor is always able to offer solutions to the complex world we live in.

Immanence Blog and “Querying Natural Religion: Immanence, Gaia, and the Parliament of Lively Things.”

Found some great notes on a recent conference on Latour in Baltimore, MD.
Ivakhiv: Latour’s Gifford Lectures and the Broader Context
Morton: Secret Agents ov Gaia
Taylor: Bruno Latour and the Seductions of Gaian Animism
Connolly: The Anthropocene, Spirituality, and Bruno Latour
Deudney: Reflections on Gaian Planetary Civic Religion


Interdisciplinarity, crisis, and the future of academic institutions

Since the 2008 financial “crisis” (and it’s hard to keep calling something a crisis when it continues for 5 years), tenure track jobs have fallen by about 40%.  Many with PhDs are jobless, on welfare, working in tenuous positions, trying to find work in different sectors, or moving from one job to another—be it an adjunct position or more steady multiple year teaching contracts. Admittedly, the job market has been constricting since the 1980s, but now, there are fewer  jobs elsewhere to mitigate the effects of fewer academic positions.

I have been relatively lucky in this market compared to some.  I have had two positions since earning my PhD that have treated me with respect, decent wages, and health insurance.  These were harbors in the storm that many of my friends and cohort have not been lucky enough to find.  That said, I have racked up hundreds of dollars in fees to my dossier service and spent countless hours over the last three years preparing job letters and sending dossiers to potential employers. This has netted me two campus interviews and one phone interview.  In the meantime, I teach introductory courses to bright-eyed freshmen, take care of my family, research and write in whatever time I have left.

The personal financial troubles of visiting professors and adjuncts are compounded by the larger constriction of university funds. The 2008 crisis devalued endowments and investments for many universities.  While used to fighting for funds and support, humanities, social science, and interdisciplinary departments found themselves fighting for survival within their universities.  Funding was cut to many programs, and in some cases, entire departments were suspended. Technologies like MOOCs and machine graded essays moved in to fill in the gaps between fewer professors and tuition income pulled in by larger classes.  In some cases, both visiting and tenure track professors create online classes that threaten to replace them in subsequent semesters.

The important question for me—as the vagaries and cruelties of this new post-employment academic market have been addressed in nearly all ways elsewhere— is how this affects junior scholars who are attempting to craft an interdisciplinary research career in this tenuous and competitive market.  I have spoken of cabinet of curiosities in earlier posts as a way to imagine IR, but how does this measure up when hiring departments want people doing “real” IR?  What does this mean more broadly for projects that cross or question disciplines?  Research projects that grapple with the interconnected, global, rhizomatic, and immanent world filled with hybrid forms, spaces of flows, and networks are more crucial than ever. Does this new environment suffocate these important research plans?

So, perhaps getting jobs is harder in this market, but what about the future of the university with fewer tenured professors and (perhaps) fewer interdisciplinary humanities and social science projects? Traditionally, the university has been a space for intellectuals to speak subversively without fear or reprisal—especially important is job protection.  An adjunct or visiting professor will likely not even have the time to be a public intellectual.  There is no research leave or course buy out with grant money.  In fact, we are here to teach the classes for tenure track and tenured professors while they pursue their research careers.  They loan us their offices and we fight for time and space to do our own work while teaching, and, more often than not advising and serving the institution that offers visiting professors multiple one-year contracts. But this seems to me as part and parcel of the bigger problem looming over academia as an institution: neoliberal business practices imported to the university uncritically and whole-heartedly by a burgeoning administrative class. The safe space of the university is disappearing and it is unclear what will follow. In theory, I might be okay with a long term teaching contract with little to no research requirements, but what about the public intellectual who should be engaging with civil society and sharing publicly funded research?

The students certainly suffer under this new system, but this may not seem apparent to the students at first.  This is not to say that visiting and adjunct professors are “easy,” in fact, this seems to work in the opposite.  Visiting professors bring new research, disciplinary rigor, and generally plan their classes with the goals of the department and the university in mind.  Young undergraduate scholars may not have the opportunity to create long-term mentoring relationships with their professors, or even more simply, cannot choose them as their department advisors.  Long term, will they be able to request letters of recommendation from their overworked tenured advisor who teaches classes of 250 or from a visiting prof that now works at a different institution? Maybe two or three different places?

The open questions with which I would like to end: What will the university as an institution look like in the next decade or two?  Will tenure still be an option?  What departments will ascend in this neoliberal future?