Latour Workshop


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

Bruno Latour and Environmental Governance

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4S, reflections on Buenos Aires


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

4S Newsletter Volume 02 Issue 03 (Summer, 1977)


Quote of the issue: “On 26 August 1975 … fifty scholars assembled … [to] declare themselves members incorporate in 4S” (August 26th is 4S’s birthday!) Aarnold Thackray and Daryl Chubin, 1977.

Issue in brief (PDF is here: 1977 Volume 2 Issue 3 Summer).

  1. Editorial on the origins of the professional society — interesting,
  2. Preliminary program for the 2nd annual meeting — at Harvard University. You’ll also note that in the elections for members, the status hierarchies of old are all represented,
  3. Fact Sheet for 2nd annual meeting — $15 pre-registration; $20 at the door … makes me wonder what a 1976-2014 registration fee chart might look like,
  4. Thought and opinion section about citation research with an odd opening remark that I think might be about Latour’s 1976 presentation at 4S (but I can’t be sure),
  5. David Edge offers a retort — an excellent one — to the (at best peripheral) acceptance of quantitative (co-)citation analysis in the sociology of science. Well done!
  6. Commentary on the Psychology of Science, which is a field no longer in strong standing (to my knowledge),
  7. A piece on teaching STS in Papa New Guinea — interesting,
  8. STS in the Netherlands,
  9. Excellent reviews of about Zuckerman’s Scientific Elite (a text that challenged the idea that scientists needed to have their great breakthrough by 30, but a book that also did not necessarily support Merton’s Matthew Effect among elites … where it was thought to be strongest), and
  10. The closing pages contain the freshly revised charter.

This newsletter contains information about the origins of the society. According to opening editorial, in connection with the Montreal Congress of the International Sociological Association (who knew?), the earliest foundations of the professional society were laid and an informal committee was established in 1974-75. On 26 August 1975, 50 members assembled in San Francisco to ratify a charter for 4S. Apparently, the 26th of August is 4S’s birthday!

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4S Newsletter Volume 02 Issue 02 (Spring, 1977)


Quote of the issue: “A new society resembles a new baby: all hope and weak sphincters,” (about the 4S professional society in 1977) Harold Orlans.

Issue in brief (PDF is here: 1977 Volume 2 Issue 2 Spring).

  1. The call for the second annual meeting (to be held in Cambridge, Mass.) is in here, but the real fun is in the “Thoughts and Opinion” section, which features:
  2. “Councillor’s Commentary: Nicholas Mullins”
  3. “On 4S: Harold Orlans”
  4. “The Internationality of 4S: Michael Moravcsik”
  5. “Retrospective TA: Ruth Schwartz Cowan, et al”
  6. “Letter to the Editor: David Bloor”

This newsletter (see the picture, as if it where signed by Trevor Pinch for us later on) is a nice historical piece. According to the council minutes, by January of 1977, 4S boasted 539 members (note to self: chart these). Council minutes also indicate that the professional society was still working hard to determine if a professional society journal partnership could be developed — candidates at the time were none other than the Social Studies of Science, Minerva, and Newsletter on Science, Technology & Human Values. I know that it is just part of training in STS, but we all develop early-on an appreciation for the question (roughly paraphrased here) “how did now-stable things get that way?” and (thank you chapter 7 of David Noble’s Forces of Production) “What roads were not taken?” … might be interesting, as a thought-experiment, to consider what STS might look like if the professional journal were Minerva rather than STHV …

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Law on fish ponds and multiplicity


“A salmon is … ?” that is the ontological question. 

In this free paper, Jon Law addresses practice and theory, and he does it nice and slow with great care to unpack the context of this paper and the broader fields he contributes to, chiefly, of course, Science and Technology Studies. 

Of all people, of course, Law can direct readers through the maze of ANT, but does an even nicer job than usual. For example, regarding theory as coterminous with practice (rather than an appreciable divide):

… And that is the problem when we start to talk about ‘actor-network theory’, or indeed ‘theory’ tout court. Theory including ANT sounds – and often it is – formulaic. It is as if it were there, sitting in a box fully formed, waiting to be applied whole and ready.

Then he shifts gears and moves to “animals,” … “But let me come to the question of actor-network theory in a different way by thinking about how it relates to animals.” He reminds readers that the differences between people and things like animals is not “natural” so much as the difference is an effect of their relationality (and an important step away from “human exceptionality”). Instead of studying scallops (like Callon in 1986), Law studies farmed Atlantic salmon in Hordaland in West Norway. Still, scallops are not irrelevant: “Starting with a focus on multiplicity, I consider how ANT started to put entities such as ‘animals’ back together again after the 1986 relational storm. This, then, is an exploration of strategies for reassembling objects within the ANT tradition.”

I won’t ruin the concluding remarks for readers, but suffice to say, he concludes trying to answer the basic ontological question: “A salmon is … ?”

4S Volume 1 Issue 4 (Fall, 1976)


Issue in brief (PDF is here: 1976 Volume 1 Issue 4 Fall).

  1. Specific but preliminary schedule for the first annual meeting — John Law, Karen Knorr, Nicholas Mullins, Sal Restivo, Robert Merton, Steve Woolgar, Bruno Latour (at the Salk Labs at the time!), H.M. Collins, and a 6:00pm cocktail hour.
  2. Plans for the second meeting chaired by Nicholas Mullins.
  3. List of current publications includes a few from Kuhn, Merton, and Nelkin.
  4. In the dissertations section, H.M. Collins’s dissertation from University of Bath is mentioned along with Donald McKenzie’s dissertation from University of Edinbugh and Steve Woolgar’s dissertation from University of Cambridge. A good year…
  5. Extremely odd: there must have been a misprint this issue because, as Trever Pinch’s bold arrow drawing verifies, we go from page 8 to page 21.

Given that a few pages are missing, this review is a bit limited. I wish I had a full copy — if anybody does, please write (

Arnold Thackray writes a short innocuous piece about the future of the burgeoning — purportedly, the society boasts 400+ members since its inception in a San Francisco meeting (anybody know anything about that particular founding meeting?) — society that reflections on the need for professional societies to attend to annual meetings and publication outlets for its members.

The first annual meeting program is in this issue too. The meeting was held in Ithaca, NY, at Cornell University. The meeting started November 4 (Thursday) with an invited panel on interdisciplinary in the social studies of science (including Jean-Jacque Salomon). After lunch, John Law give a talk “Anomie and Normal Science” (I’m not sure what project this relates to in his long publication history) and Karen Knorr gives a talk “Policy Makers’ use of social science knowledge: Symbolic or instrumental?”. The next session is about the structure of science where Nicholas Mullins and a big group from Indiana University present. On Friday morning the next session starts with Karen Knorr giving another presentation, this time about the organization of research units, along with Sal Restivo’s talk about Chinese social studies of science — interesting. After lunch, business meetings ensue, a cocktail hour at 6:00pm, and then during the banquet Nelson Polsby introduces Robert Merton’s presidential address. On Saturday morning (November 6, 1976) — I would really have loved to see this session, although I was not yet alive — “Problems in the Social Studies of Science” could be applied to the topics (and the participants), which includes Steve Woolgar’s (Brunel University) “Problems and Possibilities of the Sociological Analysis of Scientific Accounts,” Bruno Latour’s (The Salk Institute) “Including Citation Counting in the System of Actions of Scientific Papers,” and — another classic — H.M. Collins’ (University of Bath) “Upon the Replication of Scientific Findings: A Discussion Illuminated by the Experiences of Researchers into Paraphychology” (the research project that Ashmore later lambastes him for in The Reflexivity Thesis under … Steve Woolgar’s tutelage — perhaps Ashmore attended the session). After lunch we see another session by the same title with invited scholars — possibly from the ISA — from Bielefeld, Kiev, Hungary, and East Berlin).

Not a lot more of interest given that a few pages are missing — the missing pages include notes on the forthcoming meeting as well as an unnamed book review — but the list of just-completed dissertations is a fun tour of the past.

Obama on infrastructure and business retention


President Obama links infrastructural improvements to business retention, specifically, that unless American start to improve the country’s infrastructure, which will require Congress to discontinue divisive austerity-politics, or else we will continue to lose businesses abroad as they pursue higher-quality infrastructure for their business needs.

Perhaps this is a pathway that will result in some of the changes that are much needed. Whether this linkage is true or not (i.e., whether infrastructural improvement is linked meaningfully to business retention) is essentially unimportant; whether it results in actual political or economic change seems to be the only operant quality of concern given that truth in politics seems at most a tertiary concern for a generation of politicians.

Appropriately, Obama gives the speech near The Governor Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge, the crumbling cantilever bridge spanning the Hudson River at one of its widest points. 

Twitter as a tool for political protests


Just out is a new paper on using Twitter as a tool for social protest, written by Lisa Ems “Twitter’s place in the tussle: how old power struggles play out on a new stage” being published in Media Culture Society.


The recent proliferation and impact of protest events in the Middle East, northern Africa, and the development of a worldwide Occupy Wall Street movement have ignited inquiry into the people, social structures and technologies that have helped give these social movements form. Three cases are described here which add to this discussion and lead to a pruning of the analytical landscape in this subject area. By looking to the use of Twitter as a tool for political protest in Iran in 2009, Moldova in 2009 and the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh in 2009, the complexity of the intertwined social and technological strands that have given rise to these new political protests is acknowledged. By realizing that this distinction is salient yet fuzzy, it becomes possible to make new observations, ask new questions and begin to understand the nature of recent political tussles and the communication tools used in them. For instance, this article posits that by seeing the particular use of a new communication tool – a socio-technical assemblage – as an artifact, analysts can learn something new about the motivations of those sitting at the negotiating table.

If you’re standing in front of the pay wall, consider this useful little link here.

The failures of constructivist language

This is an excerpt from a paper that we will present in Izmir, Turkey, next week as part of the European Workshops in International Studies; we are in the social theory section (big surprise) organized by Benjamin Herborth, University of Groningen, and Kai Koddenbrock, University of Duisburg-Essen.

photo v 00005

(left-over Nazi bell from the ’36 Summer Olympics)

On the failures of constructivist language for our purposes.

In each case, the materiality of the object contributed to its fate. There were clear economic, cultural, and logistic costs and considerations associated with our objects under study being de-constructed, re-constructed, or, for lack of a better term, un-de-constructed, or, put simply, left. Upon even modest reflection, the available constructivist vocabulary seems to fail us in these moments; primarily developed for understanding how things are to be built, we find it difficult to utilize such language for encapsulating and illuminating the processes associated with the allowable decay resistant materials and the slow unintended or unattended-to wasting-away of durable objects.

The only apparent option is to capture attempts at (re)framing — discursively, symbolically, but not practically — the (re)appropriation of monuments in official and unofficial accounts of history. People “make sense” of these ruins, so the classic constructivist interpretation goes. And as soon as they stop or do not care any more there is nothing left to say. That is exactly what Foucault bemoaned when he complained about a historiography that turns monuments into documents. One can easily see that his complaint does not only hold for historical accounts, but for social sciences looking at contemporary issues as well: if we cannot find someone who makes sense of something, then that something simply does not count. But as our cases show: that does not make these massive pieces of concrete, bronze, and iron go away; it does not even leave them untouched. Even when people do not care, forget, or even ignore: the stuff left-over by former state projects stays and shapes what can and cannot be done with it.


(Soviet War Memorial)

As we view the cases, those Soviet War Memorials constitute a kind of classic form of international relations, one held together by international treatise and inter-governmental agreements regarding the conditions of maintenance for the sites. Based on agreements, the materiality of the sites are not to be marred. The formerly-Nazi Olympic bell constitutes another form of international relations that is de facto, meaning, the bell’s unearthing and repositioning outside the Olympic stadium is not the outcome of treaties with another nation or the result of any linger agreement from former German governments. The bell’s durable material hardly needs to be willfully maintained; however, to remove it would require a considerable quantity of will, both economic and cultural. As the international stage observes how Germany will learn to deal with its past, the irremovable bell lingers-on in public view with only modest material transformation, which recognizes without celebrating the past. How Germany relates to the material residues of past governments becomes a form of international relations.


(perpetually graffitied Ernst Thälmann Park memorial bust)

The Thälmann bust appears to us as an example of international relations unquestionably shaped by materiality, or, put another way, as a standing example of material international relations. The costliness of its decommissioning outweighed so greatly the will and coffers of the Berlin city commission that, despite being selected for removal on the basis of historical value, the monument endures (Ladd,1997: 201). Unlike the Soviet War Memorials, the the Thälmann bust is not vigorously maintained; however, it has also not been disabled like the Berlin Olympic bell. The operant or public identity of the memorial in Ernst Thälmann Park is one of a graffitied material behemoth. Creative urban artists embellish the statue and only occasionally and without ceremony is hulk washed of the ongoing alterations that it is subjected to from the public.

In sum, the Soviet War Memorials endure for classical reasons of international relations; the Olympic bell endures, irremovable but intentionally altered so that it no longer bears the inscription of a past government and it is incapable of expressing its material purpose to ring; though its removal was approved by a commission whose sole purpose for convening was to determine how the Berlin cityscape would be selectively altered, through its hulking materiality the Thälmann bust endures in a state of semi-permanent but allowable vandalization.

As we reflect on the monuments to a former age, we think of commentary on the repurposing of the Berlin Olympic stadium. Walter’s (2006: xiii) reflects in an extended passage from a perhaps little-read preface:

“Whereas other Nazi edifices such as the rally grounds at Nuremberg are rightly abandoned, this is a building still very much in use – even playing host to the 2006 World Cup final. Although some argue that a structure so closely associated with the Nazi period should not be used, it would seem churlish (and uneconomical) to abandon so handsome and vast a building. In 1936 it may well have been regarded as an architectural embodiment of the waxing power of the new German Reich, but in 2006, the seventieth anniversary of the Nazi’s Olympics, it stands as a symbol that Germany has the ability to come to terms with its past. Why should it not be used? What harm does it do? The shape of the Olympic Stadium does not register as a symbol of evil in the same way as the infamous entrance to Auschwitz, with its railway lines converging to pass under its all-seeing watchtower. The stadium may well not be free from guilt, but like many associated with the Nazi regime, it does not necessarily deserve the death penalty.”

The language used in the passage above to execute an old stadium produces a clear image in the mind; however, do not mistake it as a heartfelt call from the inner-circles of STS to adopt a relational materialist approach to the symmetrical depiction of humans and nonhumans. Still, there is a kernel of insight worth coaxing into germination.

Sentencing a stadium to death would not only be deemed mean-spirited and irrational by Walters, the implication is that one way to deal with international relations (even with old dead states, like the Nazi state) is through the material relations — what Barry calls “material politics” — of monumental spaces such as architect Werner March’s, on Hitler’s orders, grand Olympiastadion staged in the Reichssportfeld (which was built on the foundation of the previous Olympiastadion from the aborted 1916 Games in Berlin). By material politics, Barry conceptualizes processes by which the material world gets drawn into a dynamic relationship with politics; the material world, as it happens, is an important resource for the practical conduct of politics. In STS, Barry’s approach can be contra-positioned with the old adage that “artefacts have politics,” by which Winner (1986) means that technologies have politics as a quintessential part of their design or contextual situatedness.

Returning to our main line of discussion, Barry’s project is explicitly about dealing with a project under construction, in his case, laying a rather large oil pipeline, while our is about dealing with a project long-since constructed. Barry’s case is emergent; our cases are left-over. For us, this sometimes means intervention or decommission and other times it means preservation or transformation, either way, the state must relate to these residues of past states. While the constructivist language common to STS accounts serves Barry well, we find it wanting and search for alternatives more suitable for conceptualizing and describing decay amid durability and the state of being left behind.

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:


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.

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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.

Idyllic bomb site


Often referred to as the world’s most idyllic bomb site, the Marieta Islands were used as bomb practice by the Mexican government in the early 1900s. But after an uproar from the community, the government cease their bombing and declared the island a natural park. Over the years, tides have brought sand and water in to fill these holes, creating breathtaking beaches hidden from the outside world.” (from here)

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.

“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.

Integrate the social sciences and humanities?


One of the Horizon 2020 grand challenges for research and innovation is precisely that: Integrate the social science and humanities.

The value and benefits of integrating Social Sciences and Humanities
European Social Sciences and Humanities are world class, especially considering their diversity. They are indispensible in generating knowledge about the dynamic changes in human values, identities and citizenship that transform our societies. They are engaged in research, design and transfer of practical solutions for a better and sustainable functioning of democracy. Their integration into Horizon 2020 offers a unique opportunity to broaden our understanding of innovation, realigning science with ongoing changes in the ways in which society operates.

1. Innovation is a matter of change in organisations and institutions as well as technologies. It is driven not only by technological advances, but also by societal expectations, values and demands. Making use of the wide range of knowledge, capabilities, skills and experiences readily available in SSH will enable innovation to become embedded in society and is necessary to realise the policy aims predefined in the “Societal Challenges”

2. Fostering the reflective capacity of society is crucial for sustaining a vital democracy. This can be achieved through innovative participatory approaches, empowering European citizens in diverse arenas, be it through participation as consumers in the marketplace, as producers of culture, as agents in endangered environments, and/or as voters in European democracies.

3. Policy-making and research policy have much to gain from SSH knowledge and methodologies. The latter lead to new perspectives on identifying and tackling societal problems. SSH can be instrumental in bringing societal values and scientific evaluation into closer convergence.

4. Drawing on Europe’s most precious cultural assets, SSH play a vital role in redefining Europe in a globalising world and enhancing its attractiveness.

5. Pluralistic SSH thinking is a precious resource for all of Europe’s future research and innovation trajectories, if it can be genuinely integrated. H2020 offers this opportunity for the first time.

Conditions for the successful integration of Social Sciences and Humanities into Horizon 2020

7. Recognising knowledge diversity: Solving the most pressing societal challenges requires the appropriate inclusion of SSH. This can only succeed on a basis of mutual intellectual and professional respect and in genuine partnership. Efficient integration will require novel ways of defining research problems, aligned with an appropriate array of interdisciplinary methods and theoretical approaches. SSH approaches continue to foster practical applications that enhance the effectiveness of technical solutions.

8. Collaborating effectively: The working conditions of all research partners must be carefully considered from the beginning and appropriately aligned to set up efficient collaboration across different disciplines and research fields. This includes adequate organisational and infrastructural arrangements, as well as ties to other stakeholders in civil society and business. Budgetary provisions must be appropriate to achieve this goal.

9. Fostering interdisciplinary training and research: Integrating SSH with the natural and technical sciences must begin with fitting approaches in post-graduate education and training. Innovative curricula foster a deepened understanding of the value of different disciplinary approaches, and how they relate to real world problems.

10. Connecting social values and research evaluation: Policy-makers rightly insist that the impact of publicly funded research and its benefits for society and the economy should be assessed. Accurate research evaluation that values the breadth of disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches is required to tackle the most pressing societal challenges.

Abandoned Places


Abandoned places. Stunning visuals.

I am of the mind that abandoned places have something, analytically, to contribute to infrastructure studies. Once you click the link, you’ll see that the producers of this compilation (not sure how many pictures are truly “there’s”) suggest with the opening lines that this is something about what the entire world would like without people, which is sort of a pseudo-apocalyptic comment on global warming, the end of days, and curiosity about “a world without people” (anymore — or this documentary about life after people). The first lines read:

These real life ruins offer an eerie glimpse into a world without humans. Their dark walls inspire a sense of wonder like I’ve never felt before.

This should surprise no one. Perhaps the thought experiment is a good one for students, but generally thoughtful people don’t have to let their minds wander/wonder too far to know what a world without people would look like as our infrastructures remain slowly giving way to the elements.

What else might infrastructural relics like these tell us? Surely, it is fair to say that they would teach us something new every time we returned to them. However, one of the points that these might tell us, which archeologists and anthropologists have claimed for more than a century (and quite longer, I would guess), is that infrastructural remains indicate more than just “people” were here. Many of these remains (pictured above) are not ancient, either, so we don’t need to impose meanings on where these structures came from or how they were used in antiquity. These are contemporary ruins that sit precariously alongside “life as we know it” now. The point? Some, but not all, are state projects, meaning, of course, real people on the ground ultimately produced the structures that “remain,” but the attributional source of the work is a non-human entity called “the state” … these are pieces of evidence that the state exists somewhere, somehow. How to harness that insight for state theory would be a great bridge to infrastructure studies (and infrastructural relics might also be a nice play on literature for infrastructure studies that would sort of be like the relationship between STS and disaster studies, although, there is something really nice about a slow decay as compared to a momentary boom found in most disaster studies — exceptions, of course, exist).

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).

Andrzej W. Nowak on “Ontological Imagination”


Our colleague and friend Andrzej W. Nowak (see him on from Adam Mickiewicz University (Uniwersytet im. Adama Mickiewicza w Poznaniu) in Poznań, Poland, just put a new paper on-line and it deserves some attention.

His new paper “Ontological imagination: Transcending methodological solipsism and the promise of interdisciplinary studies” is available free here. This let’s the cat out of the bag, so to say, but here goes:

To conclude, without phronetic politics, ontological analyses are only an esoteric game, whereas politics and critical reflection are blind without a posthumanist, historical ontology.

Nice, no? If you don’t know Nowak or his work, we have mentioned him on the blog before with regard to our annual 4S meetings. This year, his talk at 4S with the long title “The fragile life of the state and its ambivalence: from the vaccination commando to the anti-vaccination movement. Merging Actor-Network Theory with World-system Analysis” was outstanding. At one point, the crowd was audibly gasping when Nowak discussed the state as akin to a jar of pickles — see the original slide below and then a follow-up slide where he makes the claim (in person) even more forcibly:


DSC07030 - Copy

At any rate, I will post about presentation as part of a series starting in the new year. So, his new paper. Here is his provocative abstract:

This text is a presentation of the notion of ontological imagination. It constitutes an attempt to merge two traditions: critical sociology and science and technology studies – STS (together with the Actor-Network Theory – ANT). By contrasting these two intellectual traditions, I attempt to bring together: a humanist ethical-political sensitivity and a posthumanist ontological insight. My starting point is the premise that contemporary world needs new social ontology and new critical theory based on it in order to overcome the unconsciously adapted, “slice-based” modernist vision of social ontology. I am convinced that we need new ontological frameworks of the social combined with a research disposition which I refer to as ontological imagination.

Andrzej wants nothing more than to slam together, with so much rhetorical force that they fuse, the likes of C. Wright Mills and Bruno ANT Latour. Do accomplish this, he follows the lead of Flyvberg, stating:

My starting assumption is that one of the problems plaguing the contemporary humanities and social sciences is their isolation from social problems (Flyvbjerg 2001: 166). … Today we know that these fictively-traced boundaries of modernity
cannot be upheld (cf. Beck 1992, Feenberg 2010: 181). The ozone hole, anti-vaccination movements, energy security, terrorism and religious revival do not fit simple modernist frames (cf. Latour 2011).

It initially reminded me of Latour’s Politics of Nature (which I reviewed), but as I read on, I am not so sure. In fact, I am now thinking that perhaps Nowak got it better than Latour did.  In the end, Nowak’s “ontological imagination” amounts to this:

The notion of ontological imagination is conceived as multi-faceted, and if one follows Mills and draws and analogy to sociological imagination, at least three main aspects thereof can be listed: methodological, sociological-historical, and moral-political. Let us characterise each of them. The methodological aspect of ontological imagination is, above all, the abandonment of the ideal of science as theory and letting go of the illusions related to humanistic fundamentalism (Abriszewski 2010: 143-157). Using ontological imagination requires noticing the complex network of actors that construct our collective, in accordance with the principle of symmetry, raised by Bruno Latour (Latour 2011). The second aspect consists in the response to the challenge posed by the so-called reflexive modernity and to the fears evoked by technoscience (Nowak 2012). It is the hope that disseminating such sensitivity and cognitive disposition will help to empower groups and individuals in the world of technoscience.

Check out the conclusion for the real push: to be ontologically imaginative will also require us to engage real social problems and perhaps engage in the social change we supposedly only study…

To be, for a moment, critical: The term “ontological imagination” (though sociological in form and function in Andrzej’s use) is not an original term; in fact, this idea has been used elsewhere, for example, in literature, on blogs, in books, and even lectures, often featuring pragmatist thinker William James who, it seems, is not featured in Nowak’s work.

Door to Hell, 42 Years Later


Proverbial “Door to Hell”, Derweze, Turkmenistan: Check out a video here.

The Door to Hell is a natural gas field in Derweze (also spelled Darvaza, meaning “gate”), Ahal Province, Turkmenistan. The Door to Hell is noted for its natural gas fire which has been burning continuously since it was lit by Soviet petrochemical scientists in 1971, fed by the rich natural gas deposits in the area. The pungent smell of burning sulfur pervades the area for some distance (Wiki).

Not the first time we talked about disasters on the blog. For example, about how Google worked in Japan post-Fukushima disaster to use Google-cars to help find missing persons. About how the intersection of infrastructure studies and disaster studies will likely grow in future years. More recently, we featured “Philip Mirowski’s Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste … an important and distinctive contribution to debates around the politics and economics of the economic crisis”.

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.

The EASST meeting in Torun, Poland, is now accepting session tracks


The EASST meeting in Torun, Poland, is now accepting session tracks for those who would like to propose some productive sessions (or unproductive ones too, I suppose).

Link to the call for sessions is here, and December 16 is the deadline.

December 16: Proposal for convenors and thematic tracks deadline
January 2014:Communication to the convenors of acceptance of
January 31 2014: Call for submission of abstracts with the final track list included
March 28 2014: Deadline for abstracts submission
May 16 2014: Communication of acceptance/rejection of abstracts to authors and opening of online registrations

Surely, I will try to attend this meeting so friends in state theory and related issues of infrastructures, please do let me know if you’ll be there/submit!

About the conference

The EASST conference 2014 addresses the dynamics and interrelationships between science, technology and society. Contributors are invited to address the meeting’s theme of ‘Situating Solidarities’ though papers on any topic relevant to the wider field are also welcome.

The theme of ‚situating solidarities’ addresses asymmetries of power through a focus on material, situated sociotechnical configurations. Heterogeneous networks of actors are stabilised to different degrees through complex negotiations.  Rather than seeking universal abstractions the theme asks questions such as: What do the chains and networks of asymmetries look like? How do they travel? What do they carry? Do asymmetries translate to inequalities? What are the solidarities that shape the practices, artifacts and ‚know-hows’ in situated material contexts?

Political and ethical engagement is a central concern for a view of science as changes in collective practice, rather than as individual contemplation. How should STS observe or influence the raising and erasing of social and technical asymmetries in everyday life? What do the ‚situated solidarities’ of dealing with asymmetries and inequalities look like? Can STS contribute to the work of solidarising to connect asymmetric agents, places, moves and networks to weaken inequalities and change hegemonic relations?

A more detailed call for tracks will be available on the EASST website and circulated on Eurograd shortly.

The city of Torun is located on the banks of the River Vistula.  It has an extensive medieval town centre which is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The university and the city provide a great location for the EASST 2014 conference.

Welcoming back Stef Fishel

Our guest blogger emeritus Stef Fishel is joining us now as a full-time site blogger. Join us welcoming her back to the blog!


Stefanie Fishel received her doctorate in Political Science from Johns Hopkins University and a Master’s degree in International Relations from the University of Victoria. Dr. Fishel approaches International Relations using techniques and inspirations from Science, Technology, and Society (STS) studies, the philosophy of science, and biology. She is currently at Hobart William Smith Colleges in the Department of Political Science.

I met Stefanie at the 2012 Millennium Conference at the London School of Economics during a post-conference workshop about how actor-network theory and international relations might fit together (if at all). During her stint as a guest blogger in April, she wrote us some interesting and unusual posts about microbial roommate, homeopathy and Walt Whitman, the bodies politic, materialist directions in international relations, and technologies of sharing and caring.

Welcome back and welcome aboard!

When in doubt, de-center humans


The challenge of de-centering humans — especially in the traditional home of human-centricity like sociology or anthropology but also in the humanities — has been gaining attention for years; however, a few ongoing developments are worth considering.

First, in human and cultural geography, our fellow bloggers at THE ANTHROPO.SCENE have recently posted (thanks, dmfant) a video “Decentering the human in human geography“, which is a lecture about ontological, epistemological, and even moral issues related to “human exceptional-ism” in our social sciences. The talk is by Kay Anderson, University of Western Sydney. At 45 or so minutes long, the talk defies simple summary; however, one might hazard this synopsis: humans have been deemed irreducible to nature, but their very ‘humanness’ is precisely predicated on their transcendence of mere beasts; the specialness of humans (and this is no news to long-time readers of ANT), thus, distracts us from material forces of significance; our presenter then historicizes, thus rendering vulnerable, human exceptionalism, treating the concept like an artifact of time rather than one of truth; hence, the lesson is that de-centering humans through historicizing the processes of centering humans, in the first place, and by appreciating humanism’s materiality and smashing the boundary between humans and nature, can we finally get a de-centered view of humans in geography. Of course, there are many more voices in this discussion that have been overlooked (by me, of course).

What makes Anderson’s talk so interesting is that by historicizing the concept of human exceptionalism we can take the concept to be an empirical matter rather than a presupposition for starting analysis (we tried to do this move with reflexivity). But this requires a careful tour of early biological sciences (e.g., Linneaus) and especially naturalists and anatomic crainiology, but in so doing, we realize that the claims toward human exceptionalism, under the bright light of empiricism, were often unstable and frequently revised in substantial ways. While I fully realize that post-humanism has been around for decades (although Haraway’s cyborg seems so odd now, so 90s), Anderson’s shift of perspective is a welcome development, and one, I contend, could be replicated in other areas. Here is the only room for criticism, though: in biological sciences (and perhaps I am raising the boundaries I would just as well smash, but …) there is not such a clear or direct link to the social sciences wrought with human exceptionalism; I agree that Anderson is uncovering the roots of this plague (i.e., human exceptionalism), but once it leaves the proper confines of biological sciences and then it taken-up as a presupposition or justification for “doing anthropology”, for example, the concept has been transported and, to some extent, changed as a condition of transport. Thus, surely, human exceptionalism has historically meant something different in anthropology as compared to sociology, each of which could be uncovered in a future analysis, or, consider, a comparison to international relations, which brings me to my second point … ir.


Second, in international relations, a book is underway that considers ‘the human’ from a post-anthropological perspective. Some of us contributing to the book are using this opportunity to de-center humans too, only this time, it is an experiment to see how far one can de-center humans and still have viable theories for international relations, in our case, theories of the state. The opening lines of the to-be book are above in the image and give one a sense of the tone for the book.

An upcoming event is going to be held at Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main4th Global International Studies Conference 2014” (Aug 6-9), which I would love to attend, will no doubt also deal with issues related to de-centering humans. This would be a great opportunity to blend some of the thinking in geography, anthropology, and international relations precisely because the book, which is related to this conference. is considering a “post-anthropological international relations” …

The conference details are:

Our goal is to provide an interaction space in which International Relations research expertise can be shared on an international level and thus contribute to the expansion of a truly global professional network. For this purpose, IR scholars from around the world will meet in Frankfurt and present their research to a broad audience made up of scholars and experts in all fields of international studies. The overarching theme of the conference is „Justice, Peace and Stability: Risks and Opportunities for Governance and Development“. In addition to classical issues in diplomacy, security and development studies, panels and roundtables will pay special attention to novel issues in global politics, including emerging actors in international relations and new forms of south-south cooperation.

Our paper that will be part of the book, opens like this;

Acting in international relations? Political agency in post-humanist state theory


Jan-H. Passoth, Department of Sociology, Technische Universität Berlin

Nicholas J. Rowland, Department of Sociology, Pennsylvania State University


This edited volume sensitizes readers to a budding divide in International Relations (IR); a shift away from crafting overly-anthropological accounts to describe the practice of international relations (ir) and toward what our editors are calling post-anthropological scholarship.[1] The chief difference hinges on the position of the human element in IR; front and center, in the former, peripheral and de-centered, in the latter. The upshot for patient readers is insight into what the consequences of this shift will mean for IR and ir.


Our chapter constitutes an experiment to test the outer limits of this shift. We ask: how far can we, as scholars, decenter the human element before our models of international relations implode? To this end, we selected ‘the state’ as our test case. By only analyzing models of the state, we were finally able to dis-inhabit the state of the human element entirely, but, in the process, we were challenged to re-conceptualize many our otherwise taken-for-granted, anthropological assumptions about political agency. No doubt, some readers will be dissatisfied or un-persuaded by our experiment in post-anthropology; admittedly, we had no choice but to scour many, occasionally incompatible literatures to trace-out a fully uninhabited state in the course of our analysis. That being said, we generally believe that our analysis identifies and explores some of the outer limits of what it might mean to legitimately de-center the human element in IR. This test in post-anthropology also has an important implication for the relationship that binds IR to ir. One of the enduring quests in IR and beyond is to determine a universal, ontologically sound definition of the state once and for all. However, we now take this as a fruitless, if not reckless, endeavor. One viable alternative direction for future IR research would be to formulate and, ultimately, implement a model of the state that is more consistent with models of the state that are used in ir (i.e., out there in practice). Put another way, in IR, we need models of the state that capture the complexity of how models of the state are actually used in ir. This shift requires not a theory, but an approach to theories – a model of models – and we develop this line of inquiry forthwith.

[1] Regarding merely the label ‘post-anthropology’; we are fully aware that this term could quite easily be misinterpreted if taken too far from its orienting context in this edited volume, or if it is taken to be a literal description of our scholarship here. It is important to note that the post-anthropological turn in IR scholarship has nothing at all to do with the long tradition of Anthropology as a discipline, and, coming from the small world of Science and Technology Studies, it is significant for us to be clear that post-anthropology in IR is not a direct challenge to the anthropology of science, which our area of study has done so much to cultivate. From this point forward in the chapter, when we use the terms ‘anthropology’ and ‘post-anthropology’ it will be in the same spirit that our editors layout in their orienting introductory chapter, to wit, our title contains the term ‘post-humanist’, which we see as consistent with this distinction.