It is in contemplating the impossible that one distinguishes advancing from declining societies.


China Daily has reported that China is planning to build a high-speed rail from China to the United States.

A tunnel from the Bering Straits to Alaska under the Pacific Ocean is the proposal.

If the Channel Tunnel is a “Chunnel” (the 50.5-kilometre rail tunnel linking the United Kingdom, with Coquelles, Pas-de-Calais, near Calais in northern France, beneath the English Channel), then is this is this Ocean Tunnel … an “Oceannel” of maybe Oceaunnel”?

Brazilian infrastructure: Boom to nothing


A disheartening reality-check for the infrastructure boom in Brazil, now reduced to rubble and rust. While we have often discussed infrastructure as a basic economic good, inferior or incomplete infrastructural development may very well have the reverse effect.

These pieces from NYT’s Nadia Sussman, an eery video, and this companion piece from NYT’s Simon Romero (Photographs by Daniel Berehulak), a combination written and visual story, paint a vivid image of a nation striving to build the massive infrastructures similar to those of other nations, but at a time of stagnant and non-existent government budgets, all of which comes on the heels of planning for the World Cup in June, just a couple months away from the time this post goes up. We wrote about the economic impact of similar Olympic stadiums and even a bit on how we might think about their copious infrastructural leftovers.

The article reads:

The growing list of troubled development projects includes a $3.4 billion network of concrete canals in the drought-plagued hinterland of northeast Brazil — which was supposed to be finished in 2010 — as well as dozens of new wind farms idled by a lack of transmission lines and unfinished luxury hotels blighting Rio de Janeiro’s skyline.

Economists surveyed by the nation’s central bank see Brazil’s economy growing just 1.63 percent this year, down from 7.5 percent in 2010, making 2014 the fourth straight year of slow growth. While an economic crisis here still seems like a remote possibility, investors have grown increasingly pessimistic. Standard & Poor’s cut Brazil’s credit rating last month, saying it expected slow growth to persist for several years.

Chinese Constitutional Politics


The video recording of the conference, China-Constitution-Politics, is now available for accessing via mediasite. I was involved in the PM discussion; I reviewed Dr. Larry Backer and graduate student Karen Wang‘s paper “THE EMERGING STRUCTURES OF SOCIALIST CONSTITUTIONALISM WITH CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS: EXTRA-JUDICIAL DETENTION (LAOJIAO AND SHUANGGUI) AND THE CHINESE CONSTITUTIONAL ORDER” which is soon coming out in Pacific Rim Law & Policy Journal; the AM session considered Zhiwei Tong (童之伟) and his new work “Two Issues.”

RECORDINGS: Entire Conference HERE: AM Session HERE: PM Session HERE.

The original schedule is here:


Retrospective on “The Carceral”


A chapter of Michel Foucault’s famous 1977 Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1975, Surveiller et Punir: Naissance de la Prison) is titled “The Carceral.” In a few brief notes, I reconsider the chapter in light of contemporary discussions and literature.

As with so much of Foucault’s work, the chapter starts with a rich, seemingly (but not really) unorthodox example, in this case, the official opening of Mettray, a location where “disciplinary form at its most extreme” was born. Utilizing nearly every form of traditional organizational forms — the family, the army, the workshop, the classroom, and juridical ordering techniques —  such that those “young delinquents condemned by the courts” (as well as, I will note, boys charged, but acquitted, and yet were imprisoned as an alternative to “parental correction”) were to be overseen by “technicians of behavior; engineers of conduct, orthopaedists of individuality.”

As you can see from the quotes, Foucault’s language holds nicely to this day, even if post-foucauldians in governmentality studies have “cleaned-up” the ideas so much so that now we rattle-off “voluntary self-regulation through myriad disciplinary techniques,” it is worth remembering that, earlier on, we used to have to learn what Foucault meant from writing that did not give way to bullet-point-like writing or textbook-like bold terms sitting like warts in our prose. That said, some of the prose does not really hold over time as well as his language choices. When I first read Foucault, I recall his work being mind-blowing and yet, at some level, impenetrable. My colleagues would say something like “this is not sociology as usual,” and while I agreed with them back then (perhaps out of fear — Foucault readers often loved him dearly and not “getting it” was something you would not normally want to reveal in public, which I think now Foucault would have laughed about), now that I have some distance from my initial readings, it is easy to see why Foucault was not sociology as usual: it is not sociology. I do not mean it does not belong among the sociology canons; I mean that it was never “just” sociology; his work always struck me as historical, political, social, etc. but that it was simply not possible to reduce it to any of them. At any rate, I return to the retrospective.

Of course, the penal systems were famous for meticulous notes; “a body of knowledge was being constantly built up from the everyday behaviour of the inmates,” such that in the toughest of prisons, at the hardest of times, surveillance always implied: “I shall note the slightest irregularity in your conduct.” These two quotes, juxtaposed in the above sentence, give you also a sense of Foucault that I only notice now. I used to think that he was a dynamic writer, for a historian (I used to think of him this way); however, now, having done some professional writing, I see that Foucault is a master of shifting registers. He switches effortlessly between gigantic abstractions that seem to swallow-up the entire carceral world, for example with a quote like, “a body of knowledge was being constantly built up from the everyday behaviour of the inmates”; however, moments later, he reduces his voice to a nearly personal tone, as if whispering to the reader (without breaking eye contact, I imagine in my mind’s eye) shifts registers to tell you, the reader, what an person might have heard, as a prisoner, and in these moments, you are both, for example, “I shall note the slightest irregularity in your conduct.” You get the feeling Foucault might have, upon uttering this line, paused for effect. As a matter of style, I will take this form of writing over the bullet-points and bolded-terms, but the executive summarizing of texts into carefully constructed abstracts and sound blurbs (like those that post-foucauldian governmentality studies scholars have reduced Foucault to) seem to win the day in our times.

While all the discussion of discipline, training, and then self-discipline is positively lovely to read, I was stopped dead in my book at this line: in a discussion of supervision and being supervised, “[a] subtle, graduated carceral net,” Foucault writes, “with compact institutions, but also separate and diffused methods, assumed responsibility for the arbitrary, widespread, badly integrated confinement of the classical age.” I have no recollection of reading that line before; however, reading it now, its like a curio box of how the work has been up-taken into contemporary sociology: the emphasis on “[a] subtle, graduated carceral net” feels like the precursor for discussions of networked stateness; having the net replete “with compact institutions, but also separate and diffused methods” serves to underscore that Foucault was not an anti-institutionalist, but that institutions were “separate” (or distanced both practically and analytically) from the “diffused methods” upon which much (if not most) discipline is rendered; from there, we get a feel for jurisdiction as a key mechanism for control and knowledge production (which, for example, Andy Abbott’s work is a cool off-shoot as well as Tom Gieryn’s) when we read the net of institutions carefully divorced from the methods of everyday discipline, “assumed responsibility for the arbitrary, widespread, badly integrated confinement of the classical age.” The sentence, as it were, and for me only in retrospect, twinkles like a curio box of Foucault’s lasting legacy.

Another matter warranting some re-consideration is how sloppy Foucault is and how this general sloppiness is neatly pasted-over by his vivid word choices. For example, in an incredibly sloppy historical gloss of the origins of the prison, we get a paint-by-numbers tour of yesteryear, seeing “colonies of poor, abandoned vagrant children,” those boarded-up “almshouses for young female offenders” whose mothers exposed them one too many perversities, backbreaking “penal colonies” for young men often acquitted but condemned to reform through labor, “the institutions for abandoned or indigent children” as well as “orphanages,” what was left of the institution of “apprentices,” or those “factory-convents” where young girls would tally-away under circumstances of voluntary confinement, and if all of those beautiful and tragic pictures of yesteryear were not yet enough to bully the reader into agreeing not to disagree with the fine points raised by Foucault, we now get bombarded by “charitable societies, moral improvement associations, organizations that handed out assistance and also practised surveillance,” and now I am too exhausted to continue this German machine-gun of corollaric  examples. Still, a point is to be made here, because we have all seen this technique before (some of us, in our own writing), this “exhaust the reader with colorful examples” technique (I am, myself, routinely guilty of this); however, until reviewing Foucault again for my students in social theory today, I had no idea that I was doing this, as if a scholarly mimeograph machine, in the tradition laid-out by Foucault (although, and it would be fitting, perhaps Foucault was copying somebody else that either I don’t know about or whom has been lost in time).

Those are just a few thoughts, having returned to Foucault’s D&P after a number of years.

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The Trouble with Gas Pipes


It seems that every time you turn around, especially with me living in Pennsylvania, I heard about our grand future with natural gas. USA TODAY heralds “U.S. forecasts natural gas boom through 2040” or the Economist asking about natural gas “Difference Engine: Fuel for the future?” to which the obvious answer is: “Two things are clear, though: there is a lot of natural gas out there; and it is extremely cheap. In both electricity generation and road transport, it will be a hard act to beat.” I could document more and more examples, but it is hardly necessary because my main point is not about natural gas. It is about natural gas pipes.

The New York Times has put out, in the last month or so, a number of pieces about failing gas pipe infrastructure in our nation’s major cities. The piece readers are probably the most familiar with is the March 23rd piece “Beneath Cities, a Decaying Tangle of Gas Pipes,” a terrific piece by .


Underneath the bustling streets of New York, “6,302 miles of pipes transporting natural gas” and they are crumbling; chief concern, of course, have to do with leaks, and “Leaks, like the one that is believed to have led to the explosion that killed eight people in East Harlem this month, are startlingly common, numbering in the thousands every year, federal records show.”

Thus, as we grow more dependent on our plentiful natural gas reserves, danger will follow: “The chief culprit, according to experts, is the perilous state of New York City’s underground network, one of the oldest in the country and a glaring example of America’s crumbling infrastructure.” There is a super-cool graphic available here:


New York, though, is replacing their pipes as quickly as any city in America, but other cities are not; “Baltimore is on track to replace its pipes in 140 years, while Philadelphia will not be done for 80 years.”

What’s interesting and alarming about these sorts of issues has to do with the wide distribution and sheer scope of the problem; leaks are bound to happen, so they are predictable; however, the location of a leak is simply unanticipatable. The solution: these companies rely on users! “Utility companies now largely rely on the noses of their customers to alert them to danger. The gas that flows through the network of pipes under the streets is naturally odorless, so a compound known as mercaptan that smells somewhat like rotten eggs is added.”

Another piece comes from the editorial page and falls under “opinion”; “Warning: Gas Leaks and Aging Pipes.


The first comments come from ARMOND COHEN, Exec. Director, Clean Air Task Force, and mainly frames the issue as one of national security: “This is a matter of national public safety, a priority for protecting the climate and an opportunity to create jobs, and must be immediately addressed at all levels — by state utility regulators, by the Environmental Protection Agency and by other federal agencies.” The second comments are even more interesting, COURTNEY CARROLL, a resident of New York, tells the average resident what to expect if there is a leak. “One way to increase vigilance in spotting gas leaks is to look for damaged vegetation like dead trees, dead grass and dead shrubs.” I like this idea of enrolling the missing masses to monitor infrastructure; maybe we need an app for that! Seems like an obvious university project for students or something that communities, if they want access to upgraded piping, could commit to … of course, the ironies hurt: as soon as residents get new infrastructure, that is precisely when we start to “forget about it”.

The final piece “Under the Streets, a Lurking Danger” adds some balance and redirects the discussion toward government. Aging pipes have NOT yet been identified as the cause of the East Harlem gas explosions, they remind us. Also, the real battle is on the hill: “Congress can give momentum to two Senate bills sponsored by Senator Edward Markey, a Democrat of Massachusetts, which seek to hasten the replacement of old, leaking natural-gas pipelines nationwide.” Let’s see if the combination of government action and local citizen action get us through to the future with natural gas…

Critical Infrastructure and Climate Change


Sometimes things juxtapose themselves. Dmfant wrote a reply about a terrific piece now available on-line, free, as an mp3. Backdoor Broadcasting Company’s academic broadcasts currently host access to the file, which is from:

The Political Life of Things: A One Day Workshop at The Imperial War Museum, London, UK; Nick Vaughan-Williams (Warwick) & Tom Lundborg (Swedish Institute of International Affairs): There’s More to Life than Biopolitics: Critical Infrastructure, Resilience Planning, and Molecular Security

The piece is about critical, self-healing infrastructure, and, of course, require this discussion requires significant use of the “human/non-human” distinction, if only to dash them to bits. Well, while this piece is years old, Dmfant just posted it in response to a previous post about an upcoming event.

There is a piece in the New York Times today about the third time that world scientists united in order to provide a broad response to the public about the realities of climate change. How these two pieces appear to be linked together so nicely is a claim made Tom LUndborg about how the linguistic turn in political philosophy has distracted us, on the whole, from the “social” concern over materiality and a full-fledged research base of studies on infrastructure. Tom goes further, though, claiming that the linguistic turn has made it much more difficult to be fully critical as theorists or, conceivably, as government agencies or even public citizens to take the next step … although, that is where the radio show ends.

PACITA’s 2nd European TA Conference


PACITA’s 2nd European TA Conference

The overall aim of the conference is to take stock of and support the exchange on TA capacities throughout Europe. Following the successful meeting of researchers, TA practitioners, policy makers and civil society organizations at the 1st European TA Conference in Prague in March 2013 we look forward to continuing the fruitful discussions and networking at the 2nd European TA Conference in Berlin. The Conference is organized within the framework of the four-year FP7 project PACITA (“Parliaments and Civil Society in Technology Assessment”). Generally, the PACITA project and the Conference define “Technology Assessment” in a broad sense. TA comprises methods, practices and institutions for knowledge based policy making on issues involving science, technology and innovation, including TA-related fields such as Foresight, Science and Technology Studies (STS) and research on Ethical, Legal and Societal Aspects (ELSA) of science and technology.

We submitted and we’ll let you know if we get a spot (along with some invitations).

Here is our submission:

Session Title: The State as a Concept In Practice

If it is necessary to reflect upon concepts that support democratic problem solving and decision making, then no concept is more important or central to this aim than “the state.” Over the last decade, scholars in science and technology studies (STS) have developed an innovative and useful model for understanding the state. In particular, they show how the state is an academic concept — a theory, to be specific — that is used routinely in the everyday practices of contemporary Continue reading

Presentation and Roundtable: Jan-Hendrik Passoth and Nicholas Rowland on “The Possibility & Contours of State Multiplicity: Preliminary Findings”


Jan and I recently gave a talk at the School for International Affairs in the Law School at The Pennsylvania State University, which is available HERE.

The presentation, “The Possibilities and Contours of State Multiplicity: Preliminary Findings”, featured Jan-Hendrik Passoth (Technische Universität Berlin), Nicholas Rowland (Penn State University) presenting their latest research work on state theory, and Larry Catá Backer (Penn State) as discussant.  The conference was recorded and all are welcome to watch and comment, engage.

Description of the talk:

For at least 100 years, scholars in law, political science, philosophy, international relations, and various branches of sociology have asked: What is the state? And, for at least as long, answers to that question have commonly taken the form of a petty and seemingly endless game of conceptual one-upsmanship. An alternative direction exists from the small world of science and technology studies. State multiplicity. The shift toward seeing “the state” as multiple implies that we understand the state to be, convincingly, both one thing and many things simultaneously. In this talk we draw on more than 100 years of research on the state to document the possibility state multiplicity and then we hazard a few tentative and counter-intuitive conclusions based on our preliminary findings.


The Passoth-Rowland Presentation and Roundtable may be viewed HERE (via mediasite) or on Penn State Law’s Multimedia Page.  It may also be accessed through the Coalition for Peace & Ethics Website: HERE.

Continue reading

Diagnosing Bridge Collapse


New York Times has a nice retrospective video on the “collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis in 2007 killed 13 people and focused attention on the state of bridges across the nation.” As a native Minnesotan, this event is one of the moments I look back and can easily pinpoint my growing interest in infrastructure, especially, infrastructural decay as a major present and future concern in the US and beyond.

The long shot heard round the world


Well, not exactly around the world. President Obama asks for a tax increase on gasoline to improve American infrastructure … only, it is not a gas tax, it is just another corporate tax, according to a NYT report. Obama appears to be using commonsense; if you like to use roads, then we need to pay to upkeep them … only that is what scares me because commonsense on the hill seems to have left the building a decade (or more) ago.

Infrastructure: The New New Deal


Following government discussion of whether or not investment in infrastructure will or will not improve the economy and boost job growth seems like a no-brainer for the STS crowd (i.e., as a rich topic for discussion); however, to the best of my knowledge, this is relatively rare to find in the pages of our journals (even if the insights we could glean may very well have helped such dire governmental circumstances).

Eduardo Porter, writer for the New York Times “Economic Scene” section, recently wrote a piece on infrastructure. The piece, “Confronting Old Problem May Require a New Deal,” provides readers with the predictable ‘public’ perspective on the relationship between employment and infrastructural development painting the all-too-familiar picture that more of the former requires more (investment) in the latter. This is hardly  new. During times of economic strife, low investment in (even crumbling infrastructure) further diminishes job growth on a grand scale (which we’ve discussed with regard to Germany, the US, and the austerity-infrastructure relationship).

Porter takes us on a tour of political and economic history, showing readers that this relationship may not be so clear-cut. For example, Keynes predicted — thanks to technological efficiencies, improvements in management, and so on — a persistent level of unemployment is inevitable. A solution is investment in infrastructure, and such discussion, Porter reports, go a ways back:

In “Freedom From Fear,” his history of the United States through the Great Depression and World War II, David Kennedy notes that fears that what Keynes called “technological unemployment” might become a permanent feature of the labor market, especially among the less skilled and the elderly, date back to the administration of President Herbert Hoover.

The inability or complete failure of the American government to produce enough consensus regarding new programming as aggressive as those of FDR’s era has lead to concerns and fear that we are on a path toward permanent employment stagnation.

However, at this moment in history, it may not be possible, even if the political will did exist, to invest in enough infrastructure to get us out of this mess. In the 1970s,  a failed job stimulus plan (similar to Obama’s failed plan) showed Americans that, and we’ll go to a Harvard specialist for this:

“It works best if you hire people that would not otherwise be hired, to do something productive that is not already being done by somebody else,” said Lawrence Katz of Harvard, formerly chief labor economist in the Clinton administration.

Katz goes on:

“Long overdue infrastructure investments would be a good place to start, coupled with funding for positions cleaning parks and the like, which could help disadvantaged workers like the long-term unemployed.”

And then Porter intercedes:

Not every unemployed worker may be qualified to build infrastructure. But many might. Today, there are 1.5 million fewer jobs in construction than there were before the financial crisis six years ago. Plenty of unemployed workers out there know how to build things.

Only, we don’t need house-builders, we need re-construction, de-construction, and renovation. Perhaps that is not so unlikely to be fulfilled; after all, the cost of borrowing money is low and the amounts of money needed for such massive projects is available, but it simply will not — no matter how many libertarians tell me so — be done if not by the government. My intuition is that large firms in the US that use such infrastructure with regularity would only step-in after it all far too late … we are getting closer by the day, after all. The last serious investment in nation-scale infrastructure might very will be during the Great Depression.


Song as a emotional and political attractor

In this interesting post, Andrzej talks about singing, and the political significance of breaking-out into song and the state infrastructures of em0tion.–Nicholas

Tunisia already signed a new, more democratic constitution. It is a small step toward rebuilding the state after the Arab Spring.

Using this example, I would like to discuss something different — the role of emotions in the making of politics. Such a statement is, today, quite obvious. We discuss the role of emotion in politics since at least Machiavelli. This subject takes Martha C. Nussbaum in her latest book Political Emotions Why Love Matters for Justice. But as an STS scholar, I think that we should be more specific and empirical.

What is interesting for me is looking for concrete emotional machines, emotional attractors, which are creating a political force. I am thinking about particular songs, which bring people together (remember Tarde’a law of imitation); I would like to threat such songs a attractors which starts, condense processes of self-organization.

Let me follow one of such songs, let begin form Tunisian version, by Emel Mathlouthi:

and other version of this song form Tunisia:

This song is a Arabic version of Catalan song “L’Estaca” written by Lluís Llach against dictatorship of Franco.

And it was very popular under title “Mury” as anticommunist song in Poland during Communist regime:

Maybe, if we care about “the State,” democratic politics and social emancipation, we should sing more? But remember that song is only a attractor — an empty container — which can be filled by different thing. This ambiguity is quite nice shown by Zizek analysis of Beethoven “Ode to Joy” in his last movie “Pervert guide to ideology”.

A new direction in political sociology?


These are the proofs for a new paper/article that I’m working on. The piece is based-off of a few new books in political sociology, which I review, tie-together, and then admittedly and self-servingly I use them to suggest that a little STS would help matters out in political sociology. It is a bit academic in places, somewhat nit-picky, but I tried to keep the tone at least a little playful.

Andrew Barry and the Function of Transparency


A lesson in the function of transparency: In Andrew Barry’s masterful new book Material Politics: Disputes Along the Pipeline he goes to great lengths to consider how “transparency” is employed, in this case, the voluntary pursuit of transparency as a means to rationally improve the experience of oil companies as they pursue transnational oil pipelines (for Barry, it is the BTC).

The basic rationale is simple. Instead of dealing with complaints, usually about environmental concerns (i.e., endangered species, etc.) or issue of public interest (i.e., land rights, etc.), the firm could offset those concerns, thus, front-loading as a means of obviating them completely from the process if only they could be transparent enough and maximize front-end accountability. As he writes, his expectation, which was consistent with the expectations of oil company elites at BP, was that:

transparency might … foster informed and rational debate while limiting the scope and intensity of controversy (182)

The manifest function of transparency appears to be an outward attempt to improve the public appearance of accountability and to intentionally limit or reduce the controversy downstream. This seems fully logical: transparency is a means to reduce controversy; to rationalize a process to the point that it appears that everyone is consenting after the fact. Such a logic is, for nearly anybody under the thumb of transparency, assessment, and accountability measures and measurements, something to concern yourself with; that transparency of assessment suffocates the hard discussions rather than engaging or enlivening them.

However, transparency has a latent function too; a function that is cause for hope. Barry warns us:

while limiting the scope and intensity of controversy [is anticipated], this does not occur as anticipated. For as the case of BTC demonstrates, the production of information — in the form of the evolving archive [the host for all matters transparent at BP regard the BTC] — had the effect of multiplying the surfaces on which disagreements can incubate and flourish (182).

Now, there are host of other arguments of vast utility in this wonderful book, but this one sticks out because of recent discussions about assessment, accountability, and transparency in higher education. What Barry makes nakedly plain is that transparency is really a process of deciding what to make present (i.e.,public and transparent) and what to make absent (i.e., not public or transparent, but not identified as meaningful un-present). Thus, transparency is not a thing; it is a (strategic) process of showing and telling as well as hiding and obscuring. However, the hope that shines through — and I am hopeful about this — is that the real solution is right there, in front of us, if know how to look for it. The key is to see assessment and transparency as processes and engage them so that you see them as a whole because only when taken-together will the absences be apparent, and it is with these absences that we might multiple the much needed discussion and discourse surrounding the transparency, accountability, and assessment that so often impose themselves on our contemporary work lives.

Dawn of (neo)Augustine world?


In this post, guest blogger Andrzej Nowak considers recent developments in the Ukraine and what they might be telling us about social order. –Nicholas

Events in Ukraine, especially streets fights between government forces and multitude of protesters, are still “fresh” — in statu nascendi, the time for  analysis is before us. I would like to risk a hypothesis that the Ukraine could be treated as a picture of near future. Nearly twenty years ago Wallerstein, in his apocalyptic vision, says that:

Much as I think that the next 25-50 years will be terrible ones in terms of human social relations the period of disintegration of our existing historical social system and of transition towards an uncertain alternative I also think that the next 25-50 years will be exceptionally exciting ones in the world of knowledge. The systemic crisis will force social reflection. I see the possibility of definitively ending the divorce between science and philosophy, and as I have told you I see social science as the inevitable ground of a reunited world of knowledge. We cannot know what that will produce. But I can only think, as did Wordsworth about the French Revolution in The Preludes: “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive. But to be young was very Heaven!”

When we look closer for is happening on (Euro)Maidan (in Kiev), we can risk, that this is a glimpse of the future.


This future will be apocalyptic (neo)Agustinine  world – time of cities in siege, empty spaces between them. It will be a time of neo-feudalism and return of medieval imagination. I hope Ukraine is not on path which leads to Syrian “Augustine world”, but I am quite pessimistic.

We are at the dawn of a new epoch that may well be as chaotic as that one and that may come upon us more quickly because of the way the electronic and communications revolutions, combined with a population boom, have compressed history.

Bu go back to Ukraine, I am Latourian, I suppose to show some evidence. Being an empirical metaphysist, I will give a voice to actors themselves.

First, take a look at this picture:

Or this catapult (trebuchet) used by protesters:

And at the end, look at this picture:

Politics of the naked body vs. the Body Politic


In this fascinating post, Andrzej Nowak, our friend and guest blogger for Installing Order, tackles a fascinating case of last resort for marginalized populations — the nakedness of their own bodies as a form of personal suffering and political protest. –Nicholas

Western feminism, especially connected liberal view is often quite paternalistic, when is speaking about women from Third World. Africa nations are our best example where colonial and post-colonial myths are still quite strong.

In particular, I would like to propose a short trip to West Africa. I am interest in very particular phenomenon – when naked body can be used as a tool of political action.

This phenomenon is sometimes called Anasyrma with reference to antic Greeks. But for me here more interesting is political use of so called “curse of nakedness”. Exposing of women naked body is, in West Africa, a strong political weapon, which can be used as a way to change course of politics.

It is interesting how body politic can literally be created out of naked bodies. Let’s look a little closer, what is this phenomenon:

We all come into the world through the vagina. By exposing the vagina, the women are saying: ‘We are hereby taking back the life we gave you,'” Turner says. “It’s about bringing forth life and denying life through social ostracism, which is a kind of social execution. Men who are exposed are viewed as dead. No one will cook for them, marry them, enter into any kind of contract with them or buy anything from them.

Very traditional cultural custom “Curse of nakedness” is often used as a  tool for political and economic  emancipation.

One of the best know example is a mobilization of women against Charles Taylor dictator of Nigeria. More details about this, You can find in this movie:

Other example is protest of Nigerian women against petrol companies in delta of Niger: 

And another example from Ivory Coast, when political women bodies meet body politic with deadly result:

“Abandoned Cruise Ship Full of Starving Rats Headed For Land”


The Lyubov Orlova, a Soviet cruise ship, is packed-full of starving rats, who appear to be sailing for shore.

A ghost ship filled with cannibal rats is floating somewhere off the coast of Scotland, ready to crash ashore and unleash its disease-ridden cargo of starving rodents. And it’s all because Canadian authorities let the Soviet-era nightmare liner loose in the North Atlantic, satisfied that it was no longer a threat to Canada.

The “hundreds” of rats aboard the abandoned cruise ship have surely begun eating each other by now, officials say. It has been nearly a year since the vessel was intentionally lost at sea by Canadian authorities who were happy to let the “biohazard” become another country’s problem.

This gruesome gift from Canada is now expected to crash ashore in Ireland or the United Kingdom, dumping the plague ship’s living cargo of cannibal rats onto the land.

More on this story here and here and here.

Infrastructure is politics by other means


Spent the morning reading Petrostate by Marshall Goldman, and look what I find in my news feed: “Ukraine receives half price gas and $15 billion to stick with Russia.” Reminds us all that infrastructure (and control over infrastructure) is politics by other means. As Goldman mentions in the book (I’m paraphrasing): Who wants/needs nuclear weapons, when there is no mutually-assured destruction to curb the use of petroleum and natural gas!?

Stef wrote something about this recently too, but not about pipelines. Along these lines, I’m in the middle of reviewing Andrew Barry’s new book (about pipeline infrastructure and politics from a geography angle) for Science Technology ans Society (the EASST journal).

Technology is politics by other means

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acting in IR?


Recently, Jan and I completed a new paper about how the material infrastructure on states (and our actor-network state idea) might figure into contemporary theorizing about international relations. In particular, we are in the process of contributing to a book about the “human element” in IR, and the resulting paper now can be read, but it is only in draft form.

Check out the paper here or here; we do some of our earliest work on “state multiplicity,” play with decentering the human in IR, and we also dabble with non-scholarly state theorizing.

Reflections on Health Infrastructure


Screen capture from NYT:

The role of infrastructure in the current controversy about the Affordable Care Act.

As is well documented in national newspapers, America is finally trying to create a national health care insurance program. However, the bill is being hotly contested on the hill and some are even calling resistance to the program blackmail on a national level because every effort to fund the government for another year has been made contingent on defunding the national health care program that some call “Obama Care.”

The twin issues of policy battle and the introduction of national health insurance are further complicated by infrastructural concerns. They are two fold:

1. The race by tech companies and the government to use information technology infrastructure to support one of the bill’s primary objectives: offering citizens a platform for researching, selecting, and then purchasing health care insurance programs. The goal is to reduce cost and make program costs competitive, all of which will hypothetically benefit the citizen. However, support — in this case, the support of information technology infrastructure, not political support — has been slow to come into existence.

The Affordable Care Act has been contentious, confusing and abstract, but that might change on October 1 when states are required to launch websites where people can chose among different health plans.

In addition to the basic support of the program other technologies are being added to this melange of health technologies such as biometric bracelets to let your employer know how you’re doing at any given moment.

2. The prototype for the online support of the health exchange network mentioned in 1 is not friendly to non-English speakers. Apparently, the government is so worried about rolling-out the website on-time that they have not been able to offer the service in Spanish.

On Thursday, the Obama administration announced two new delays in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, saying small business and Spanish-language online enrollment services in federally run exchanges would not begin on Oct. 1 as planned, Reuters reports (Morgan, Reuters, 9/26).

This has happened even though, as is even posted on the White House website:

Today, an op-ed from President Obama is running in major Spanish-language newspapers across the country. The op-ed discusses the benefits of the Affordable Care Act for Latinos and announces the release of a new Spanish-language version of –

The op-ed is running in ImpreMedia’s print publications (including La Opinión in Los Angeles and El Diario La Prensa in New York) and online properties, all of which have a monthly reach of 9.3 million adults and monthly distribution of nearly 11 million.

Obama’s op-ed is, in contrast, available en español.

These two issues remind students of infrastructure that Law and Latour were correct all those years ago in saying that technology is “politics by other means,” although in a slightly different light. Routinely, the implementation of political aims is contingent on technological infrastructure, its development, and maintenance over time.