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.

2 of 3: Memory Architecture and Infrastructure (MAI)?


Ernst Thälmann Memorial, Prenzlauer Berg, East Berlin (a commonly defaced memorial of a communist leader tortured by Nazis).

First, I’d like to thank our guest blogger this week Jordan Andrew for his intriguing post “The Architecture and Infrastructure of Memory (MAI),” which was a new topic to me.

Second, the picture in his post was original, he revealed in comments later on, which makes Jordan one of our best guest bloggers we’ve ever had.

So, my post follows-up on the original. Close readers will notice that my title is identical, with one exception, the “?”. The question mark has to do with a discussion that ensued after the post appeared. Deliberation ensued regarding whether or not “MAI facilitates (and limits) possibilities and creates complex connections between these possibilities” or if “what connects them is actually” Jordan’s post? That discussion is here; however, the sticking-points include that “there are no actual/infrastructural networks” (per Jordan’s opening line of paragraph 1) and that “memory is a thing we do and not a thing in the world right” (per Jordan’s closing line of paragraph 1).

Continue reading

Post 1 of 3: The Architecture and Infrastructure of Memory (MAI)

Leviathan Monument

Hobbes’ Leviathan frontispiece revisited: Dingpolitik and object-oriented governance.


What is the connection between the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and the National Holocaust Monument currently being built in Ottawa, Canada? (Chalmers:105) Though this question seems rather peculiar at first, the answer is far less obscure when considered within the context of memory architecture and infrastructure (MAI). This is because MAI is intricately bound up in both remembrance and sovereignty.

The connection between memory and the authority or power to govern is nothing new: the correspondence between the two was established in early Greek mythology. According to Hesiod’s Theogony, the ability to rule over others was granted to certain favoured individuals by the Muses through their unique bond with their mother Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory and guardian over what should be remembered. As history would have it, memory would be stolen from Mnemosyne along with Hephaistos’ fire (thanks to our friend Prometheus) and humanity (led by the privileged few) became able to record their own past via material culture and technology. Mnemonic technologies (texts, film, photographs, commemorations, digital memory, the internet, etc.) have become increasingly complex, varied, and augmented as those responsible for filling the void left by Mnemosyne go about constructing our past(s).

However, though the figuration of memory has changed over time, the relationship has remained very similar: those who possess the ability to shape what is remembered and how it is re-collected are in an auspicious position to exercise sovereign rule, and inversely, those who wish to maintain such authority take a special interest in doing so. This is in part why memory studies scholars have written so extensively on both the more recent proliferation of commemorations (memorials, monuments, etc.) and their role as part of modern state attempts to reconstruct the past. The salience of state-sponsored memorials and monuments is particularly distinguishable in national capitals, where commemorative landscapes are often extremely composite and interconnected.

As a specific example of mnemonic technology, memorials and monuments are durable structures that have become delegates or heads of populations that are the punctualized result of previously formed assemblages composed of a multiplicity of actors (politicians, special interest groups, community organizations, artists, architects, city planners, academics, government organizations/departments, etc.). To say that these sites and their structures are delegates is to say that they ‘speak’ on behalf of the array of different actors who had gathered to establish them (and have since become ‘silent’ – an effect of punctualization), but it is also to say that they represent histories, specific events, ideologies and ideals, among other knowledges. Additionally, they participate in a discussion with a host of other such memorial delegates that exist within local, national, and international commemorative networks: with other delegates representing punctualized networks that then come together to form even larger commemorative networks.

It is these networks that form what is referred to here as memory infrastructure, or the organization of various punctualized assemblages that have been made durable (and to an extent more stable) through practices of art, design, and architecture.

Why is it important that we recognize MAI? Just like roads, sidewalks, trails, electricity, the internet, power plants, etc… MAI facilitates (and limits) possibilities and creates complex connections between these possibilities for both individuals and governments. This is how Canadian economic or foreign policy can be connected to a mass genocide in Europe during the 1940s (as well as a myriad of other seemingly unrelated issues). Memory infrastructure and architecture establish thoroughfares that align a variety of translated interests in order to guarantee (as much as possible) a certain range of agencies: in this case, the governments ability to successfully deploy policy decisions.

3:1 — Post-Neutrality — Post 2 of 3


Neutrality is under fire, or, at minimum, “not finalized” (whatever that means), possibly, even dead. I am surprised, in light of discussions of postmodernism over the intervening decades, that we humor the metanarrative of human emancipation embedded in “net neutrality” in the first place. Continue reading

3:1 — Post-Neutrality — Post 1 of 3


Thirty years ago, in 1985, the historian Mel Kranzberg proposed a “series of truisms” starting with Kranzberg’s first law: “Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.”

Eighteen years later, in 2003, the law professor Timothy Wu coined the term “network neutrality” to refer to a “a system of beliefs about innovation.” Wu characterized defenders of this system of beliefs as “Internet Darwinians.” He approved of their theory of innovation—namely, that the Internet should be “indifferent both to the physical communications medium ‘below’ it, and the applications running ‘above’ it.” As a result, Wu argued, network neutrality was an “attractive” and “suitable goal of Internet communications policy.”

The simple version of my argument here is: listen to Kranzberg, and be wary of Internet Darwinians. Technologies aren’t neutral, so we shouldn’t defend norms or make laws that pretend they are.

Continue reading

Our final 3:1 on “Post-Neutrality”


Is neutrality over? If you’re talking about “net neutrality,” at least in the US, that case is going to appeals court (so maybe Tim Wu’s concept will not last long). If you’re talking about “political neutrality” amidst news outlets, again in the US, that bird also appears to have flown the coop (that, or the bias is so deep we cannot even tell anymore). Maybe neutrality was always something of a modern dream. Maybe it was always just a hypothetical philosophical position. Maybe only “neutral countries” Switzerland have it figured out.

A case can be made for post-neutrality, and this week, joining us, is Andrew L. Russell (Stevens Institute of Technology, | @RussellProf |


Anti-Crisis and Post-Crisis


At fellow blog “Society and Space” a recent book is under review, namely, Janet Roitman’s Anti-Crisis (Duke University Press, 2014). This discussion dovetails nicely with some topics on Installing Order some weeks ago with guest blogger Peter Bratsis, wherein I was attempting to suggest that “crisis” is a concept that is sort of like a balloon with the air let out of it (or an “empty container” to mix some metaphors 😉 ), stating:

Living in a state of semi-permanent crisis can be construed as a license to do nothing. Fatigue sets-in. Apathy ensues. Inaction seems plausible.

In Luca Follis’s review of Janet Roitman’s Anti-Crisis we see something similar. This line sticks out:

But is this global state of affairs merely a reflection of a historical, empirical moment or is it an expression of the ease and haste with which we label events as critical (and by extension the way we approach the broader category of crisis)?

Continue reading

3:1 — Post-Apocalypse — Post 3 of 3


This week, we discussed the possibility of a post-apocalypse world. Post-apocalyptic fiction, and its relationship to ideology, is where I want to take my post, and, in particular, the notion that post-apocalypse seems more plausible — and far more entertaining — than any other route to post-capitalism. While I had obviously seen reams and reams of this sort of thinking everywhere from great old comics to graphic novels (and older books like “After London” and even older books like “The Last Man”) to loads of cinematic fiction these days like the Walking Dead, Z Nation, and so on, I was probably first struck squarely with the link to capitalism by good old Slavoj Žižek in “The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology” (at least, I think so, and I am thinking about the scene with Rowdy Roddy Piper and the film “They Live” wherein Piper is a nameless grifter and drifter named “Nada” who comes into possession of a pair of glasses that allow him to see through capitalistic advertisement straight down to the level of discourse … and what a painful act it is to engage this reality).

One of the themes that seems to be perpetually associated with post-apocalypse is collapsed, dilapidated, or overgrown, but always kind of recognizable, infrastructure, laying around like an inert and massive scrapheap, as though the surface of the earth were just one big dumping grounds for modernity. The human-infrastructure relationship hums in the background of so many post-apocalyptic thrillers, as if, as we watch such television or cinema on our big screen TVs while the air conditioning also hums away gently in the background, we see and are entertained by this strange relationship between humans and infrastructure that seems destined not to last using the technologies destined not to last (similar to one of Žižek’s concluding remarks in “The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology” see about 1:50:15 …).


If this is the case, and I think — like picking at a scab — that it is, then what is the function of post-apocalyptic thought? I am not particularly picky about what is expressed or in what format it is expressed, but the post-apocalypitc vision of derelict infastructure being displayed on larger and larger TVs with sharper and sharper images seems sort of like an invitation NOT to rock the boat or reflect and instead as encouragement to entertain ourselves — not to death, as Neil would have it, but — into the inevitable post-capitalist world where the human-infrastructure relationship is bound to change BUT not look away a moment sooner than we must.


I just imagine a small group preparing for a world like the Walking Dead, but watching the Walking Dead on Netflix right up until the final moment when they must join the same world.


As a closing sidebar, I was originally going to write about an odd conversation I got into about the possibility of a time after rapture — just one of many possible interpretations of a post-apocalyptic world — where all the faithful would ascend and, hypothetically, at this time the remainder of Earth would be inherited by whomever or whatever was left. This was obviously NOT at all a careful theological discussion. As the discussants were pretty hardcore environmentalists and not one of them religious, they actually pondered whether or not the current abuses of the planet would be more or less bad than whatever rapture brought. Those of you with your ear close to the grindstone in religious studies no doubt already know about some of these discussions as manifest in recent overlap in environmental religious studies. It was a rousing discussion, much of which reminded me — in tone — of Stef’s tale, which initiated the discussion this week.

3:1 — Post-Apocalypse: A Memoir — Post 2 of 3


By C. lectularius

It would have been unthinkable before, but I have a circle of companions. We even have a jokey motto: “life is change.” A feeding doesn’t pass without one of the group uttering it, eliciting knowing smiles, the occasional laugh. Our children and theirs share in our humor, but the joke lies in our generation’s history.

Our earliest memories of life are pregnant with change. From egg to adulthood, we pass through five stages of growth. Our first eight weeks consist only of feeding and molting. Back then, life was change. But for me and many of my kind, change consisted only of that, only of the molt and eventually that glorious passage into adulthood. After that, the days passed in a constant dance of mating and egg laying.

In those days, I experienced my day-to-day transformations alone. They were, after all, personal. There were plenty of opportunities for mating, of course. But these were always the product of random encounters—a sudden awareness of another, anticipation and that sharp pain I’d come to enjoy as males would probe and then pierce my abdomen. But these mating partners and all who shared my harborage were strangers. I took pleasure in the routine transformations that my body would undergo: the wound management, the egg laying. But no sense of togetherness was required to ensure that life’s “changes” could proceed unchanging. Life was change and we all experienced it alone.

I was particularly privileged. I had never left the nest I hatched into. I never had to. Back then, the conditions of my life were blissfully constant. My feedings so routine I took them for granted. My life played out in the sheltered confines of a third floor wing in what I would later come to know as 664 West 46th Street. 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-Crisis (and back again) — 3 of 3

The notion of “post-crisis” that I opened-up this week with was meant to be a hard press against the post-crisis that I have often heard in discussions about “post-crisis economic planning” — that is, “after a crisis and now things are better” (which likely makes the likes of Naomi Klein retch, as Stef notes in her post). The notion that we are in a semi-permanent state of crisis raised to me the obvious question: does “crisis” really capture anything out of the ordinary? (and so have we exhausted the utility of such a concept?) Continue reading

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 – Post-Crisis – 1 of 3: (Repetition or Exception?)

At first glance, it would indeed seem to be the case that the constant sequence of crises of the last decade or so points to some loss of meaning and value for the term. However, if we understand ‘crisis’ not as some exceptional moment or state of affairs but rather, closer to its original meaning, as a situation where some action or judgment is needed (‘critical’ as a condition where an active intervention is needed if the system in question, biological or social, is to continue) then things are much more complex. In opposition to some permanent ‘state of exception’, which is indeed a contradictory idea, we are in a continuing ‘crisis’ for some years now if by that we mean that the extended reproduction of western societies (or significant parts of them at least) can no longer be taken as a given.

Here I would say that capitalism as a whole is certainly not in crisis, just the opposite. It is indeed a bit of wishful thinking to declare the crisis of capitalism at a time when concentrations of wealth, corporate profits, and stock prices are all at history making levels (we should keep in mind that, as Marx himself had pointed out, crisis is often the solution, not the problem, for capitalism). Similarly, a great number of capitalist societies, especially many within Asia together with some in Latin America and the Africa, are the in midst of long economic booms with rapidly growing levels of consumption, employment, and economic security. Continue reading

3:1 — Post-Crisis — 0 of 3 (Introduction)


Are we, as a global community, living in a post-crisis world? We seem to be in a semi-permanent state of crisis, either in crisis or on the brink of it perpetually, and, in that context, does a concept like crisis really mean anything anymore? By invoking “post-crisis” we are not talking about post-crisis as in “after a crisis” (for example, in stories like this one about “post-crisis economic planning“); for comic-buffs, we are also not talking about the crazy-cool “post-crisis” events in DC Comics’ publishing history following the 1985-86 Crisis on Infinite Earths (discussed here); this is also not the revamped homo ecnonomicus discussion of the “post-crisis consumer.” The bottom-line: as the global community gets more and more intertwined, non-local crises have local implications and impacts, and if there is always a crisis or a looming crisis somewhere, does “crisis” really capture anything out of the ordinary? (given that crisis means an intensification of difficulty or trouble, and, hence, a perpetual state crisis ceases to be a moment of crisis)

It should be recognized that much of this “crisis talk” is sourced by media outlets that thrive on hyperbole, so, possibly, we are making too much of this; however, the roots of a post-crisis society are possibly deeper than just journalistic portrayals in the media (though they are surprisingly powerful in framing global events). These issues, among others, are what we will discuss this week on our 3:1 on Post-Crisis.


Our guest this week is Peter Bratsis. I know Peter’s work from his outstanding book Everyday Life and the State (for theory buffs, there is a section in this book where Peter claims that Kantorowicz is possibly the greatest state theorist [who wasn’t a state theorist] of all time — a thought which also figures into his new work on corruption). You might also know his other book, with Stanley Aronowitz, Paradigm Lost: State Theory Reconsidered. You can read much of his work here, and perhaps you’ve recently seen him speaking about the rise of the Syriza Party in Greece, for example, on Uprising or on European Ideas.

We welcome him to the blog! 

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 — On “Decoloniality” (and The Genomics of Race) — 2 of 3

The Genomics of Race: Implifications for Digital Cultural Health Capital

Following my involvement in the ‘Decoloniality and the Social Sciences’ Panel Series at the ESS meeting in New York City on March 1st, the editors of Installing(Social)Order have invited me to join the discussion of the theme of Decoloniality here on the blog. Many decolonial writers have made the argument that coloniality should not be reduced to the geographical division of Global North and Global South. Coloniality happens in many forms – which is why they should be resisted, according to Walter Mignolo, with ‘epistemic disobedience’ – in many places, including within and across the societies of the Global North. One major aspect of the relation between colonial power and knowledge within the Global North, especially within the United Sates, is facilitated through the concept of ‘race’, which has recently returned to the forefront of attention both politically (Trayvon Martin, Ferguson, etc.) and within science (genomics). In the following essay, I try to uncover some of the traces of the latter discourse and reflect on some of its political consequences for social scientific and STS research.

‘A spectre is haunting sociology, the spectre of race’. While I cannot be sure how many social science writers have deployed this little trope in the current discourses on genomics, race, and sociology, I find precisely the Derridaean allusion – that it is the trace of something that isn’t even there that becomes grafted and iterated – a powerful notion.
‘Race matters’ (in) biomedical terms. The emphasis in this sentence lies in the act of bracketing ‘in’. Within the social sciences, and the Science Studies may count as part of them, knowledge (practices) produced by the genomic regime, have ‘rebooted’ – is this silly Hollywood-ish word not ultimately fitting here? – the question of the materiality of the concept of ‘race’. Often enough, this ‘reboot’ is conducted with a blind eye to social history and a blind eye to the history of science. You do the math!

A slew of authors within the social sciences seem to blindly accept a scientistic approach (see Shiao et al. 2012), that proposes the following: ‘Genomics operates with a concept of race, sociologists may merely interpret the consequences of biomedical research after the fact.’ (Did one side really lose the science wars? My understanding was that both sides, that fought it, were still happy with the fact that it ended in a perpetual cease-fire agreement that no party actually showed up to sign). These authors then happily propose to discard any idea of the baggage that ‘race’ as a category bestows on people’s lived realities, while this baggage-by-any-other-name still weighs and matters heavily on the lives actually lived.

These realities are co-produced by genomic regimes because they do involve the increasing imbrication of biomedical research and health care practice regimes. President Obama’s recent announcement of a Precision Medicine initiative is just the tip of this ginormous iceberg: The (digital) collection, (digital) storing, and (digital) processing of all kinds of – ever BIGGER – data and biomedical materials, will not only be translated into more precise and personalized medical procedures, but it will also make possible intensified surveillance, control, exclusion, and silencing. Which will be the fault lines that these possibilities will move along as vectors? Should we really be surprised – as I argue in more detail elsewhere (2014, forthcoming) if these are the same old fault lines of social inequality and injustice that have been our concern in the 20th century: Ethnicity, race, age, dis/abelism, and sex/gender?

There is, on the one side, the fact that all these regimes of collecting, storing, and processing require access, competencies, motivations, and specific utilities to be able to participate in the digital informational infrastructures that govern them – and, in turn, their participants. On the other side, there are serious scientific, science sociological, and social scientific concerns: As Fujimura et al (2014) effectively demonstrate, many social scientists like Shiao et al (2012) operate with ‘misunderstandings of genetics’, that

‘ultimately pose an obstacle to studying how discrimination, racism, prejudice, and bias produce and reinforce socioeconomic inequalities and other disadvantages for racially marked individuals in society.’ (Fujimura et al: 220)

What’s at stake is, above all, the question of ‘meaning’ of these practices, how we make meaning, and what we make of it, for example politically (see also: Selg 2013).

At the same time, Janet Shim (2014), in extrapolating on the questions raised in the biomedicalization analytical framework (Clarke et al 2010), shows that when it comes to understanding the health outcomes, practicing(!) physicians’ understanding of ‘race’ differs effectively from the of the lived intersectional realities of patients, which leads Shim to introduce for analytical purposes an innovative notion of unequal construction and distribution of cultural health capital. In biomedical research, health care practice, and public health policy regimes (Roberts 2013), ‘race’ emerges therein as something that is equally ill-understood as a social fact as it is as a scientific fact, but it is understood by a great number of influential individuals as – some kind of scientific-sociological hybrid – ‘fact’. ‘Race’ becomes what I call (forthcoming) an implification – a neologism that combines to implicate and intensification. The deployment of ‘race’ in these biomedical and health discourse both implicates and intensifies, by establishing within the social science and from within the social science an inclusion-and-difference-paradigm (Epstein 2007) for contemporary and future health care. To be included, one has to submit biomaterials and other information for collection, storage, and processing, and one has to be able to do so in the terms of digital information architectures. By inclusion, one becomes reified in differences that are precisely not the lived realities one experiences in standing at the point of one’s intersection(alitie)s, but by the practices of a digital information expert regime. It is in this way that ‘race’ comes to matter anew (see also: Roberts 2012; Benjamin 2013). Expanding on Shim’s proposal, I have developed a concept of digital cultural health care capital (2014, forthcoming) to understand and study this development.

Finally, it is precisely because of this kind of haunting that ‘Black lives matter’: The necropolitical power (Mbembe 2003) in-play is worlded by the reification of race that implificates ‘Black lives’ as mattered in just such way that their lives ‘can be taken away’ – in the neocolonial terms of contemporary neoliberalistic regimes: the way Black lives are ‘matter’ is in terms of a negative interest rate on (the relevance of) life. In other words, the neoliberal regime and the way its practices ‘racialize’ translate Black lives to mean ‘a bad investment’, that is why for the neoliberal political economy Black lives appear mattered less relevant than others.

Benjamin, Ruha. People’s Science: Bodies and Rights on the Stem Cell Frontier. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2013.
Clarke, Adele E., Laura Mamo, Jennifer Ruth Fosket, Jennifer R. Fishman, and Janet K. Shim, eds. Biomedicalization: Technoscience, Health, and Illness in the U.S. 1 edition. Durham, NC: Duke University Press Books, 2010.
Epstein, Steven. Inclusion: The Politics of Difference in Medical Research. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2007.
Fujimura, Joan. H., D. A. Bolnick, R. Rajagopalan, J. S. Kaufman, R. C. Lewontin, T. Duster, P. Ossorio, and J. Marks. “Clines Without Classes: How to Make Sense of Human Variation.” Sociological Theory 32, no. 3 (September 1, 2014): 208–27. doi:10.1177/0735275114551611.
Mbembe, Achille. “Necropolitics” Public Culture 15, no.1 (Winter 2003): 11 – 40
Roberts, Dorothy. Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-Create Race in the Twenty-First Century. New York: New Press, The, 2012.
Roberts, Dorothy E. “Law, Race, and Biotechnology: Toward a Biopolitical and Transdisciplinary Paradigm.” Annual Review of Law and Social Science 9, no. 1 (2013): 149–66. doi:10.1146/annurev-lawsocsci-102612-134009.
Selg, Peeter. “The Politics of Theory and the Constitution of Meaning.” Sociological Theory 31, no. 1 (March 1, 2013): 1–23. doi:10.1177/0735275113479933.
Shiao, Jiannbin Lee, Thomas Bode, Amber Beyer, and Daniel Selvig. “The Genomic Challenge to the Social Construction of Race.” Sociological Theory 30, no. 2 (June 1, 2012): 67–88. doi:10.1177/0735275112448053.
Shim, Janet K. “Cultural Health Capital A Theoretical Approach to Understanding Health Care Interactions and the Dynamics of Unequal Treatment.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 51, no. 1 (March 1, 2010): 1–15. doi:10.1177/0022146509361185.
———. Heart-Sick: The Politics of Risk, Inequality, and Heart Disease. Biopolitics : Medicine, Technoscience, and Health in the 21st Century. New York: New York University Press, 2014.
Stingl, Alexander. “The ADHD Regime and Neuro-Chemical Selves in Whole Systems. A Science Studies Perspective.” In Health and Environment: Social Science Perspectives, edited by Helena Kopnina and Hans Keune, 157–86. New York, NY: Nova Science Publishers, 2010.
Stingl, Alexander I. “Braining Your Life and Living Your Brain: The Cyborg Gaze and Brain-Images.” In Neuroscience and Media: New Understandings and Representations: New Understandings and Representations, edited by Michael Grabowski. Routledge, 2014.
———. “Digital Fairground ? The Virtualization of Health, Illness, and the Experience of ?Becoming a Patient? As a Problem of Political Ontology and Social Justice.” In Mediations of Social Life in the 21st Century, 32:53–92. Current Perspectives in Social Theory 32. Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2014.
———. The Digital Coloniality of Power. Lanham, MD: Lexington, forthcoming.
Stingl, Alexander I. “Digital Divide.” In Encyclopedia of Global Bioethics, edited by Henk ten Have. New York: Springer, forthcoming.
Stingl, Alexander I., and Sabrina M. Weiss. “Mindfulness As/is Care.” In Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Mindfulness, edited by Ellen Langer, Amanda Ie, and Christelle T. Ngnoumen. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014.

3:1 — On “Decoloniality” — 1 of 3


“Decoloniality” is our topic for the week. It is immediately important to note that decoloniality is not the political process of decolonizing previously colonized nations (i.e., decoloniality cannot be reduced process of decolonization); decoloniality is not the academic study of living, thinking, and acting in a decolonized land or producing theoretical models of it (i.e., decoloniality cannot be reduced to academic research in post-colonial studies); decoloniality is also not the equivalent critique of modernity that post-modernity offers either (i.e., decoloniality cannot be reduced to post-modernism because post-modernism was/is a critique of Western modernity from the inside).*

In contrast, coloniality is what Walter Mignolo refers to as the “darker side of modernity;” the idea that modern science, modern capitalism, belief in progress, gargantuan architectural and infrastructural advancements (the brighter side of modernity, one might say) all brought with them a few genuine liabilities such as major justifications for colonialism largely based on selective understandings of Europe’s “advanced place in history” and the advent of scientifically based racial hierarchies. Obviously, this dates as far back as the Renaissance.

Coloniality is a logic. We think and act through it; the logic is undergird. It lasts longer than the colonized peoples of a colonized nation are no longer colonized. It is a logic of many things, many things good and bad, for example, a logic of selective intervention, selective classification, de-personalized knowledge, and so on (this is quite complex, so, to those interested, this list will expand as you read more). The impact is long lasting, as well. When a panel of men determine women’s access to reproductive rights, we can see the logic — not in the outcome, but in the very existence of of such a panel being legitimate in the first place; we might say this is the colonization of reproduction (which is not to say that discussing women’s access to reproductive rights is wrongheaded, it is only to say that the idea of intervening into such matters for women or on behalf of women is perhaps not so legitimate as it may at first glance appear). Likewise, when poor individuals living in cramped urban environs, and the “right answer” is to start a war on poverty and intervene into the lives of people, build a massive public housing infrastructure and then step away from such matters, we might say that this is the colonization of poverty. This sort of coloniality is perhaps the most obvious when indigenous knowledge about the environment and nonhuman inhabitants comes into contact with outside forces like the state, for example, in this herring fishery controversy featuring fish, bears, aboriginal peoples, police at fishing docks, and more (one of the more difficult parts of this case is that the fishing industry is not pressing for fishing rights in these waters off of British Columbia and scientists seem to have heard and support local indigenous knowledge on the need to leave herring alone in these fragile waters). So, this is something of the lasting logic of coloniality as might be apparent even now in our postmodern times, and the pillars of science, the state, modern medicine, and the like help to produce the long-lived “colonial matrix of power” (along with all the distinctions Latour is happy to point out regarding the split between human and nonhuman, man and beast, culture and nature, and so on).

The goal of the decoloniality project (writ large) is to “de-link” from the colonial matrix of power by as many means as are possible, and so far, this has mainly implied decolonial thinking and doing (i.e., epistemology and political praxis, respectively). The goal is to identify “options confronting and delinking from […] the colonial matrix of power” (Mignolo 2011: xxvii).

This week, I (Nicholas Rowland), Stef Fishel, and Mary Mitchell, contributed to a panel session about decoloniality at the Eastern Sociological Society’s annual meeting (in good old New Amsterdam … er. New York). This week, we will be talking about the cases we shared at the conference to give readers a sense of what STS might be able to offer this line of research and research activism which largely comes from the non-Westernized world, the Global South, and academically speaking from the humanities. Also, we are deeply indebted to those who presented in the panel and specifically to Sabrina Weiss and Alexander Stingl for overseeing and organizing the panels!

*As you might note the wikipedia page for decoloniality is marked at the top by a message claiming that it is not balanced and fair by wikipedia’s standards. Given what has been discussed about the colonial matrix of power, this is both a cautionary thought and possibly evidence for the difficulties of de-linking from the colonial matrix of power (especially the critique that the piece is not neutral, with the implied message “it should be neutral,” given that neutral can be used precisely to neutralize political or radical ideas).

3:1 — Experts Everywhere? Experts Nowhere? — 3 of 3


Water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink … 

Earlier this week, Jacob raised the provocative notion that “terrorism expert” was something of an oxymoron drawing attention to how supposed terrorism expert Steve Emerson made some irresponsible public remarks about the concentration of Muslim persons in a number of cities.

But Jacob also shed some light on how the very notion of terrorism does not lend itself to a clean/clear subject to be an expert in because terrorism, on the one hand, has a political dimension that can never really be excised to form a “pure” science (cough) and, on the other hand, terrorism is often in the eye of the beholder (or as Jacob said somewhere, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter). It all reminded me of some readings in my Social Problems class about terrorism – during class discussion a student (perhaps unknowingly) raised a really important question: “Hey, Dr. Rowland, does it matter that the author of this piece is not at a University and instead works for the government military complex?” (not a perfect question, obviously, but it lead to a great discussion, and, at times, a heated one). Returning to the crisis of expertise in terrorism: my hunch was that some serious traction might be gained by thinking about how persons in this line of work get said expertise during training – given that, as Jacob noted, certificates in this line of work are a dime a dozen – or what sorts of activities a person can be involved in – journalistic work with terrorists inside prisons, for example – that justify their expert status. On Monday, we were questioning the very possibility of an expert of terror(ism); the supposed experts, whom get a good deal of public and political attention, seem not to be experts in the scientific context that the term typically is used (thus, science is used in name only).

On Wednesday, while Jacob’s terrorism experts are rarely questioned and get tons of public attention, Stef’s climate experts are seemingly always questioned and get little public attention (at least, positive public attention, or they are pigeon-holed as participating in some grand debate about “warming”).


So what makes Jacob’s experts – who reach ecstasy on a daily news show – legitimate experts and Stef’s experts – who cringe at the thought of a daily news show – illegitimate experts?

If Lyotard was right about one thing in “The Postmodern Condition” it was his commentary about scientific expertise, especially about how “old fashioned” scientific expertise was being gradually replaced a parallel somewhat pseudo-scientific enterprise that serviced capital interests (think business scholarship and that ilk) and the state (Jacob’s terrorism experts will do). The net result was a plurality of experts, but what Lyotard did not tease out (he was too busy indicating that this was undermining the grand narrative that Science worked so hard to erect over passing centuries) was that this gradual shift toward a plurality of expertises allowed for a whole new game to be played in public arenas: You could have your cake and eat it too, so to say, you could have your (essentially unquestioned) experts while simultaneously challenging the expert-status of some other expert on the grounds that they claim to be an expert. There is a split; a fissure. This crisis of science, as Jacob pointed out in a comment to Stef’s post anticipates my response: Mertonian norms have failed us under precisely the postmodern conditions we live in!

What do I mean by “water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink” as it applies to experts? My meaning is simple: The split in expertise means that experts are somehow all around us all the time, but none is to be trusted outright, unless of course there are other non-scientific reasons for doing so.

Consider the anti-vaccination controversy (or movement, though I shudder to call it a movement). Now, it is worth noting that this is nothing new – anti-vaxers have been around for nearly a century (as long as we’ve had vaccinations to be against, folks have been against them). While there is a lot of attention directed at the US these days – because of the thought link between vaccinations and autism (where “evidence doesn’t dispel doubts”) and the recent outbreak of measles at Disneyland – there have been similar international examples in recent history in Sweden, the Netherlands, England, Ireland, and so on. What is it that makes Jenny McCarthy expert enough for a documentary film about “The Vaccine War”?

My sense is that it is precisely the fissure between expertise in the name of science and other expertises in the employ of capital or politics that opens-up seemingly legitimate space to reroute a general sense of skepticism and then target it so that, on the one hand, we can make the calm, sober, and public claim that a climate scientist is biased on account of being an expert (i.e., those scientists can cook-up any data they want, or that they are in a staunch debate that will never be resolved showing that, in fact, they don’t “know” anything definitively anymore), and, on the other hand, we also make the calm, sober, and public claim that a terrorism expert is unbiased because all s/he wants it to protect the nation and “our way of life” (i.e., the terrorism expert is unbiased on principle account of being obviously biased toward his/her home country, a bias “I can get behind”). This compartmentalization of expetises in relation to how bias operates in public appears to be at play; a bold corruption of Mertonian norms.

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.

3:1 — Experts Rule? Terrorism & oil in question — 1 of 3

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, Fox News issued an apology and retraction that gained some attention the following week. Terrorism experts had made several outlandish claims about the prevalence of Islam in Europe, including the idea that there are “no go zones” ruled by radical Islamists and Sharia law. Le Petit Journal had an amusing send up:

The Daily Show had a reliably funny take as well.

Bearing the brunt of most of the criticism was terrorism expert Steve Emerson, who made the claim that the city of Birmingham is now almost entirely Muslim. The claim was then repeated several times by the network before being fact checked. Here’s Emerson on Fox:

Emerson gained notoriety for his 1994 PBS documentary “Jihad in America.” Critics of Emerson like to point out that he was one of the first terrorism experts to allege a Middle Eastern connection to the Oklahoma City bombing. His proof? Only Islamic terrorism was capable of such wanton destruction and reckless disregard for life.

In its retractions, Fox News essentially threw Emerson under the bus. But this did not stop others from calling into question the very notion of terrorism expertise.

For example, Glen Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, and Lisa Stampnitzky discussed the controversy and the broader problem of terrorism expertise on Democracy Now! Here, the main allegation against terrorism expertise is its lack of academic rigor, proper institutional accreditation, and political manipulation. Significant attention is also given to the subjective concept of terrorism. The charlatan profile of the terrorism expert reflects the dubious standing of terrorism as a coherent, uncorrputed idea.

Scahill took things further in a subsequent CNN appearance. There he excoriated all of the major TV news networks — his CNN hosts included — for using terrorism, security, and military experts with questionable credentials and financial incentives.

Implicit in such criticisms of the “terrorism industrial complex” are distinctions between real forms of expertise and false ones; good experts and bad experts; real forms of political violence and ideologically fabricated ones.

Indeed, the alleged crisis of terrorism expertise is not simply the corrupt motives of some experts but also the bankrupt nature of the concept of terrorism. How can one have a reliable field of expertise when the object at the heart of the field is so intensely contested? If one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter, perhaps the concept should be abandoned. But the fact that we don’t abandon it must be suggestive of the fact that terrorism — and so terrorism expertise — serves a political function, not a scientific one. Hence the theory that terrorism is simply a discourse that legitimates US management of the Middle East.

Amid this crisis in terrorism expertise, a much more profound failure of expert knowledge is taking place, one that will likely have massive and far-reaching effects. This is the failure of oil expertise, and it calls into question some of the assumptions driving criticism of terrorism expertise.

The recent decline in oil prices has been largely seen as a boon to US consumers and the bane of Putin’s ambitions. The current glut of oil on the market is often interpreted as a Saudi led effort to undermine the new energy confidence of the United States, green alternatives, Iran, or all of the above. The effects of price crash have yet to be fully understood; the geopolitical ramifications could be enormous. One effect of the 1985-85 oil price collapse — to which the current crisis is drawing comparisons — was the economic undermining of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War soon thereafter.

What is surprising about this new reality of $2 a gallon gas is that we are surprised. The main allegation against terrorism expertise was the subjective idea of terrorism. Oil, on the other hand, is objective.

But for all the purported objectivity of oil — its finiteness, its quantifiability — no one seems to have any idea how much is out there. We will never see $100 oil again or we will soon see $200 oil. Just as the shale oil boom in North America seems to have taken the global oil industry and US politics by surprise, so too has the recent collapse in oil prices — and with it the temporary mothballing of the US gas industry in some areas.

How can these surprises keep happening when the resource is supposedly fixed and — unlike terrorism expertise — the experts are incredibly well trained, objectively credentialed, and housed in the world’s most prestigious universities, corporations, and government bureaucracies?

Next to defense, communications, and space research, it is difficult to think of a modern industrial sector that has more techno-scientific expertise and state power behind it than the oil industry. By oil expertise, one should not think of the handful of neomalthusian or cornucopian writers and academics who extol the virtues and vices of our modern global civilization being premised upon oil. When we think about oil expertise we should be thinking about a class of expertise that includes thousands of geologists, engineers, cartographers, highly skilled laborers, and government officials. Collectively these represent the highest capacities of modern science, technology, and management. And they consistently fail us.

In the case of terrorism and oil expertise, it might be suggested that the common variable that corrupts both fields is state power and geopolitics. That is, whatever objectivity terrorism expertise seems to have and whatever objectivity oil expertise seems to lack is a reflection of the corrupting influence of politics.

The film Syriana is perhaps the ultimate synthesis of these two corruptions.

Robert Baer (played by George Clooney) is a top Middle East terrorism expert with the CIA who is driven to an insignificant desk job because he sees things as they are, not as politics would want him to. Bryan Woodman (played by Matt Damon) is a private sector expert, an energy markets analyst who watches his dreams of helping a Gulf prince liberalize his country go up in smoke — literally. A CIA drone shoots a hellfire missile into the prince’s motorcade just as Baer is attempting to warn the prince. Baer’s bosses in Langley are out to assassinate the prince for being a free market pragmatist who will sell our precious oil to the Chinese.

The corruption of terrorism and oil expertise by state — and corporate — power is a seductive thesis but ultimately unsatisfactory. Both are premised on the notion that uncorrupted expertise is not only possible but desirable. That is, there seems to be a collective expectation that scientific, technical, and managerial expertise — terrorism, oil, and otherwise — should work, and can work under the right circumstances. That expertise doesn’t work is chalked up to distorting outside influences.

To invent nostalgia for the untainted expert reveals the antipolitics of our age. Often the heroes of our culture transcend politics through their expertise in science, technology, and management. Through and with them, we are tempted to imagine and create a world in which government is left behind. Power naturally devolves to the empowered and emancipated individual as we all become global citizen-experts thanks to Google. Lurking behind most criticisms of expertise is an implicit vision of the world that was perhaps first and best articulated by Ayn Rand.

But imagining and making such a world would mean there is nothing to fight over, a world in which there are no secrets and, more importantly, a world in which nature is infinite. As Timothy Mitchell argues, it was oil that allowed us to first create a world in which nature was counted on not to count. Modern economic science then emerged to exclusively render and manage this strange new world. This impoverished, anatural, and yet highly productive understanding of political economy that we call Neoclassical Economics would soon insinuate itself into the very heart of modern governance as Neoliberalism.

The true crisis of contemporary terrorism and oil expertise is the untenable world hiding behind our criticisms of them. It is also the experts’ inability to account for their mutual imbrication. That is, these failures of expertise are the result of oil and terrorism experts’ embeddedness within the imperfect politics of necessity that emerged at the end of WWII when the previous system — direct European control of territory justified and maintained by overt racism — could no longer underwrite the emerging international energy system. To preserve the productive contradictions at the heart of the oil age (its unimpeded flow and the illusion of its scarcity), US power has had to be asserted in the Middle East on an increasing and increasingly haphazard basis. These US assertions of power, to maintain the particular set of relations dictated by oil’s nature, has of course involved violence, of which terrorism is part of the story.

Experts are not above politics nor can they save us from it. But at least they shed light on how power operates.

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!

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

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

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

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

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

Fields of Illusion

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

* Image from:

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

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

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

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

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

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

3:1–Posthuman–Post 2 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

3:1–Posthuman–Post 1 of 3


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3:1 — Post-Method — 3 of 3


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

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

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

What’s wrong with all that? 

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

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

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

*Image from:

3:1 — Post-Method — 2 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

3:1 — Post-Method — 1 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

3:1 — Post-STS — 3 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome Ranjit Singh (Cornell University)


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

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

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

Welcome aboard from the community, Ranjit Singh!

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

3:1 — Post-STS — 2 of 3

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

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

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

3:1 — Post-STS — 1 of 3


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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

3:1 — Postmodernity — 2 of 3


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

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

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

*image from: (CC)

3:1 — Postmodernity — 1 of 3


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

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

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

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

*Image from:

The 3:1 Experiment’s First Experiment


This is “The 3:1 Project.”

The concept is simple: three scholars respond to one idea, hence, 3:1 (or 3 to 1). But there is another meaning and that reading is more like “3, 2, 1, go!” because we are to write short pieces that are written, in effect, without reflection or editing (around 500 words). Sort of like when you’re delivering a presentation at a conference venue and the organizer shows you the “you have 2 minutes left” card even though you’ve got 10 more slides in your presentation. What do you do in that situation? You skip to the end and rapid-fire deliver only the essentials. That is what we are hoping to do. Only the essentials rapid-fire.

The format is simple too: we will provide three posts, the first on Monday, the second on Wednesday, and the third on Friday. Together the three will constitute a 3:1 bundling and can be read apart or separately, or however you like.