Happy New Year from ISO!

The blog is making some big changes in 2019: 

Cheers and Happy New Year! 

* image from: http://www.walkwithgod.org/where-am-i-going/


Presentation: 4S, 2015


4S 2015 Denver is our (Jan-H and I’s) presentation from, unsurprisingly, 4S 2015 (Denver), wherein we reflect on the trends and recurrent themes in our five years of organizing panels around STS, governance, and the state, which we are now calling simply “Social Studies of Politics.” We have a chapter summarizing a bit of this in “Knowing Governance,” but the paywall is steep, steep!

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.

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.

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).

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.

4S deadline was last Friday; we submitted


Here is our session proposals for 4S in Argentina next year; hopefully we see you there. I think leadership at 4S will select the sessions it wishes to host in about two or so weeks.


First name: Nicholas J.
Last name: Rowland
Co-authors: Jan-Hendrik Passoth
Session Title: STS and “the state”
Session Description:

Consistent with the general theme of the conference, “Science in context(s): Souths and Norths”, we encourage 4S and ESOCITE scholars researching the emerging intersection of STS and “the state” to submit their work. This jointly-held meeting affords us the unique opportunity to balance South/North perspectives on both “the state” and STS, which is a rare opportunity indeed, and will be the source of a rich discussion among participants.

We anticipate hosting a series of papers in a series of “Open Panels.” In particular, we are hoping to find papers that give rise to new dialogues and exchanges on the following four topics:

1. Empirical cases of “the state” as manifest in infrastructure or in everyday life: New and exciting work in infrastructural developments offer fresh perspectives and cases to reconsider dated theoretical approaches to understanding what the state is and what they state is becoming. Likewise, a new line of research in “the state in everyday life” offers a perspective no less fresh that gets at mundane experiences and routine activities that either bring us closer to the state or fend us off from it. How these differ in the North/South divide are of prime concern.

2. Empirical cases of “the state” as manifest in material or in environmental arrangements: State formation has been a perennial question in state theory. However, as scholarship develops, the old theories of the state, which emphasize war-making and international treaties, have given way to new research on the practical aspects of state formation, as in, how do you form a state. Chief concerns in this area are material activities associated with state formation and, crucially, environmental concerns related to forming states in the first place and sustaining them in the long run. Again, how these differ in the North/South divide are of prime concern.

3. Where is the state and where is not the state? State absense/state presence: This topic emerged organically from the last 4S meeting in San Diego, and while it is new to us and is far more experimental than the above themes, we consider it of vast potential. One way to re-think the state is to ask where it is and where it is not. Are there new boarders emerging between states? Are there areas inside of the traditional territorial zones that bound states where the state simply does not appear to be present? Is it possible that the state is present even in its absence, under certain conditions? We don’t know the answers to these questions; it is the most “open” of the open panels.

4. Theoretical approaches to the state and state theory: No doubt, state theory has odd and deep roots in the Northern tradition of scholarship. Ideas that need to be challenged. We anticipate this coming from two directions if we are sensitive to STS and the state. First, in the North, fresh perspectives on the state are emerging through the lens of STS. Second, in the South, fresh perspectives on the state already exist as alternatives to traditional Northern scholarship on the state (and, of course, STS shapes these discourses too).

Please consider sending your abstracts to our set of open panels. The multiple panel format ensures a sustained audience and prolongs the discussion of our work far beyond a single paper or a single panel.

Biotech for the Academy

My research mainly involves trying to think us out of the conundrum of state-based violence using re-figurations of the body politic.  Actual, structural (since all violence stems from actual violence on actual bodies—the threat of hurt and harm), gendered, normalized, terroristic.

If not out of violence per se, as I suspect it is constitutive of the human experience, into a form of knowledge/power that strives to care for the most vulnerable and nurture the multiple forms of being and becoming that emerge and will emerge…a form of political subjectivity that “judges not as the judge judges,” but, as Whitman wrote in the preface to Leaves of Grass “as the sun falling around a helpless thing.”

A tall order, perhaps but one that is crucial to any political project. How do we, as humans, citizens, neighbors, mammals, etc, tend to our world? How is dialogical space made to open creative re-thinking, -figuring, -imagining about how local, state, and global politics function?

More broadly, what I am wrestling with is life.  How is life included in politics? In our institutions, discourses, or urban planning projects? How do state politics understand life, or to ask the more traditional philosophical question: What is a life worth living? How do we create the conditions needed for realizing the good life? Turns out that life is really complex and messy.  It eludes definition and control.

In earlier posts, I have shown how I chose microbiotic communities and co-evolved parasites in the human gut. Walt Whitman was a sometime poetic counsel for these Uexküllian forays in the worlds of animals and humans.  Technology can also be a part of making choices that privilege certain social configurations over others. In this post, I want to talk about art, biotechnology, and critique. Art is another way to imagine different political configurations and futures.  (Detournement can work, too.)

On Monday night at Hobart William Smith, I attended a lecture by Dr. Steve Kurtz, a professor at SUNY-Buffalo and founding member of the Critical Art Ensemble. Since the late 1990’s CAE’s founding concern shifted from the digital revolution to the biotech revolution. As Kurtz explained, the digital revolution was a difference in degree rather than kind–it increased the level of intensity of communication, but was more a revolution of scale that intensified the bombardment of the sign rather than internalizing that sign.  The biotech revolution, Kurtz argued, was more than a revolution.  Previous to this, the body was sacred and humans could always find some relative freedom inside their body, if no where else.  Biotechnology, on the other hand, is coding the body from the inside out. Life and potentiality is understood through the genetic code.

The posthuman, the cyborg, became a reality in a different way than it had been previous to this biotech revolution.  This could be a utopian future or a nightmare.  What, argued Kurtz, was needed to nudge it toward the utopian?

biotech for the people

People must participate and know the political stakes of biotechnology or it will not be democratic, but controlled by policy makers or corporate interests.  The role of the CAE, and of artists more broadly, is to deliver messages, show the stakes, and the possibilities of these revolutions.


This, as I see it, is the same project as critical social and cultural theory in academia.  Academics also show the stakes of the policies and norms that are, more than likely, controlled by the elite, the corporate, and the tyranny of the minority in the US Congress.

To return to Kurtz’s talk and its resonances with the research I have presented on this blog, what does it mean that the body can be understood, manipulated, enhanced, improved, with technology as an extension of the actual body?

Aimee Mullins, Photo Credit: Howard Schatz

Aimee Mullins

These shifted understandings of the body must deliver emancipatory messages, show the political stakes involved, and bare the possibilities the biotech body for reinvigorating democracy and other forms of participatory governance. Importantly for academic disciplines, as Nicholas and Jan highlight in the “When in doubt, de-Center humans” post, how does this shift affect our disciplines?

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.

Homeopathic Infrastructure: Machiavelli on Infrastructure

Recently, an old dissertation fell into my lap and I’d like to tell you about it. I asked my work study to find basically anything about the state and state theory for Jan and I’s book “The State Multiple,” which we are writing now. Well, the dissertation was from 1988 by Michael Soupios, now a storied professor at Long Island University here in the states, where he’s being teaching for three decades and more. His 1988 dissertation from Fordham *(he has multiple PhDs) is titled “Human Nature and Machiavelli’s Homeopathic Theory of State” wherein he tackles the basic quandary set forth by Machiavelli.


Quoting the dissertation:

The terms “homopathic” or “homeotherapy” are of medical origin and refer to a form of treatment in which an element similar to the causative agent of a disease is itself used in attempting a cure. It is precisely this approach that we find offered in Machiavelli’s political formula.

The dissertation goes on to explain how Machiavelli’s vision of humans was basically that we are a bunch of decrepit liars and thieves and, thus, deserved to be treated with as much manipulation and self-service as we would impart on others. Call this, let’s say, a Hobbsian antidote to the crisis of the commons and the natural order of man, although Michael Soupios refrains from the comment (good to stay on topic in a dissertation!). We are not to be ruled and governed by a force that helps us to repress our baser instincts and then choose to be together non-violently as a form of supra-self-interest (sort of like a dynamic where we cooperate just long enough to compete, like children playing nearly any game), and, instead, we see Machiavelli’s view that you treat like with like, or his homeopathic view of states. Michael Soupios tackles fear and force, fraud as an instrument of the state, and creative conflict within the state before setting his sights on how this approach could even be instantiated as a model for International Relations.

The dissertation is fascinating and essentially well-written. Now, this view of politics is politics by political means, if you will. Since this writing, STS has entered the discussion of the state, perhaps foremost by my friend and ally in state theory, Patrick Carroll, who, in his many written works, shows how the state, as we know it (i.e., as an actor, a macro entity capable of action, etc.) is a falsehood of sorts and instead the state is made-up of all things stately such as people, bogs, trees, and all the measurement techniques used to make the state’s ‘self’ register in formal documents of statehood and statecraft. For Patrick, the state is constructed and environmental rather than iconic and abstract; material rather than conceptual.

So, with enough force, could Michael Soupios and Patrick Carroll be collided with enough force to make the argument: if one model for the state is homeopathic (i.e., Mach’s), and if one model for the state is material, then could we have a hybrid theory, a homeopathic-material theory of the state?

If that is the case: what would the infrastructural equivalent of homeopathic statecraft look like? I don’t yet know, as I’ve only just completed the dissertation read, but it seems like a viable option forward if one wants to engage the cocktail of normative and empirical claims-making that is contemporary political theory.

The Bodies Politic


Political theory and philosophy often speak of the body politic as multiple, or as a composite being.  Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan is, for IR, our most familiar image and idea of how multiple bodies form into larger bodies.  As Latour points out in the introduction to Making Things Public,  Hobbes Leviathan always included more than human bodies:

But in addition to the visual puzzle of assembling composite bodies, another puzzle should strike us in those engravings. A simple look at them clearly proves that the “Body Politik” is not only made of people! They are thick with things: clothes, a huge sword, immense castles, large cultivated fields, crowns, ships, cities and an immensely complex technology of gathering, meeting, cohabiting, enlarging, reducing, and focusing. In addition to the throng of little people summed up in the crowned head of the Leviathan, there are objects everywhere.

As Latour stresses, this political body is filled with actants (Latour’s word that blends and loses the so-called modern distinction between a subject and object).  Actants have varying degrees of “agency,”  but more importantly, it is the connections, or translations between actants and what assemblages these connections form, that shows the unfolding story of communal life.

To add to this busy and complex assemblages of actants, I throw in the human body itself as a microcosm of these same connections and entanglements.  The human microbiome, studied and understood anew through metagenomics, systems biology, and epigenetics, becomes a body multiple, too.

By way of example, bacteroides are commonly found in the human intestine where they have a symbiotic, or commensal, relationship with humans.  They aid in breaking down polysaccharides that the human body would not otherwise be able to process.  Fifteen to twenty percent of our daily caloric intake is absorbed in this manner.   There are new studies that suggest that gut microbiota both cause and can be the cure for autoimmune disorders like allergies and irritable bowel syndrome and, according to the Committee on Metagenomics,   “[T]hese functions are conducted within complex communities—intricate, balanced, and integrated entities that adapt swiftly and flexibly to environmental change.”.

Consider, again,  that the DNA of other life forms in our body outnumber us 10 to 1–many of these invisible to us up until recently. To take metagenomics and the microbiomes of the human body seriously means the human body becomes a community, not only a container–a “mutualistic human-microbial”  series of interactions.  Not only are we embedded in our environment, but our bodies are home to our own communities of micro flora and fauna.

If we extrapolate this to the macro level and the idea of the body politic, what can these commensal, host-guest relations teach us about human communities?  Writ large: The State as Person (the body politic) based on these lively human containers becomes dynamic, pluralistic, permeable, heterogeneous. This idea of composite bodies is nothing new, as we spoke above about Hobbes’ Leviathan, humans have imagined, and tried to create societies that respect diversity while securing freedom, but these diverse bodies may need decidedly different security regimes. Regimes that flow, and understand complex systems–both emergence and other perturbations in the system (noise, as Serres, said)– differently. The body and the body politic as a hybrid forum, a nested sets of complex permeable, rather than autonomous bodies need different security assemblages.  It certainly puts a different spin on issues such as immigration (immigrants and diseases are often linked), for example.  We always already are immigrants and guests and aliens, necessarily.  This is health, not sickness, in a body as multiplicity. Purity and isolation will slowly poison this body from the center out, like a closed petri dish.

The preservation of the body and the body politic has had multiple figurations–the state and nation, of course, looming the largest in this horizon of politics, but these figurations have never quite worked because few have quite captured the extent to which we are blended and imbricated with each other–both between and across species boundaries.  These leakages, or how these problems exceed the capacity of the sovereign state and the system of sovereign states,  are the problems of modern politics.  We can see them reflected in current debates in international politics like immigration, refugees, predator states, and climate change, to name but a few.  These may be more aptly defined as symptoms of a larger misunderstandings about how relationships are formed with multiple bodies coexisting in a mutual biosphere.

I have tried, from the perspective of the human body as understood through metagenomics, to show the similarities between relationships in the internal relations between members of microbiotic communities in the human gut and the relations between members of a political society. If, through research like this, we can no longer uphold the fiction of autonomous selfhood–a hard shelled container body that collides with other bodies and has clearly defined and rational interests (bring up biology and physics); what must that mean for institutions we “create in our own image?”

Abstracts are in for 4S 2013 San Diego!!!


Submissions in! Jan and I (Nicholas) proposed an open session for this year’s Society for the Social Studies of Science meeting in San Diego this fall. We already have 18 submissions for the one session, which — at least I think — is the highest level of interest we’ve had in the state/stateness area of STS in the last few years of organizing these panels/sessions. Obviously, this is very cool, and we are stoked. If you sent us an abstract, thank you; they look great. Looks like we’ve got a month to put the abstracts into order. We are being allotted 15 total spots to spread over 3 sessions, which will also be the biggest set of sessions we’ve been allowed to host.

Timing: According to the webpage about the conference, by 12 May 2013 abstract submitters should learn of their acceptance notification and the placement of their respective papers (the day afterward, early registration starts, coincidentally).


Also, for those unfamiliar with the sessions we promote: We called the proposed session “State Multiplicity, Performativity and Materiality: Current STS Research on State and Stateness,” and our brief description reads:

Annual Meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S), October 9 – 12, 2013 — San Diego, California


Open Session 43. State Multiplicity, Performativity and Materiality: Current STS Research on State and Stateness


Organizers: Jan-Hendrik Passoth; Nicholas J. Rowland


Currently, science and technology studies is rich with opportunity to conceptualize the state and comment on its consequences for global living. While long under the conceptual jurisdiction of traditional political science, political sociology, and political history, scholars in science and technology studies have, with their own concepts and style, taken to rethinking the state and, with renewed nuance, capture its many and multiple influences in our (decidedly) material world. Similar to the move made by scholars in the social studies of finance, when they showed us how to rethink economic sociology, recent work on the machinery and infrastructure of governing is growing in significance. We see large empirical studies of water infrastructure in India, Columbia, and US states such as California, research on public transportation systems and global logistics, work about census creation and population data gathering as well as growing and genuine theoretical contributions to state theory and theories of stateness have all been published in recent years.

The upshot: Conceptual lens such as multiplicity, performativity, and materiality, which are central to contemporary science and technology studies, provide one such direction toward an explicitly science and technology studies perspective on the state. We believe that this line of thinking, if properly developed in-house by science and technology studies scholars, has the potential to produce discourse-changing research even among our friends in traditional political science, sociology, and history. This open panel will consist of two or three sessions. We invite empirical and theoretical contributions on a wide variety of topics, regions, and theoretical approaches. We encourage work-in-progress as well as more mature projects to the session. We especially invite papers on the multiple ontologies of political entities such as states, the performativity of social and political theory, and the materialities of governing modern states and their environs.

The Cabinet of Curiosity and the Levels of Analysis Problem in International Relations (IR)

Last October during the Millennium conference, Materialism and World Politics, STS and IR theorists met on the last day to discuss potential collaborations and resonances between the two discourses.  “Materialism” as a theory and as a methodology made a helpful facilitator for this conversation. One of the main points the discussion centered on during the conference was what “subjects” could be “objects” of study in each discourse.

It came down to this: STS likened choosing its subjects and objects of interest to looking into a “cabinet of curiosities.”  IR is decidedly wedded to its levels of analysis. The sovereign state and the international system of states, and–to a lesser degree–the sovereign individual. These are the legitimate subjects/objects of study in IR.  Of course, these levels are being pushed and questioned, as is evidenced by the conversation we had in London, but they figure large in the epistemology of IR.

To return to the subject of “bodies,” there is something puzzling about how IR, as a discourse and a practice, speaks of the body, or, more specifically how IR theorizes and and understands the human body in this tripartite schema of system, state, and individual.

In other disciplines, there has been an increased interest in the study of the body as a social and material phenomenon beyond a scientific or medical perspective, but, until recently, IR has never much about the human body. Conversations and analysis have focused on the state, and on the individual as connected to states.

But, how is this “individual” understood beyond the civil and legal terms that dominate our field?  Not just as a voter or a rational actor, but as an actual, material body that can be fragile, leaky, diseased, sold, colonized, male, female, multiple?

This body is a powerful body, one that cannot be fully securitized or regulated, but its seductive power to IR theorists is unmistakable.  Folllowing in the footsteps of Machiavelli, Hobbes, Kant, and other precursors that IR has adopted as its own, IR theorists have understood or likened the state to a person (Wendt and constructivism), or used body metaphors to describe it (organs of government, for example).

This “state as a person” debate and bodily metaphors show that the body never really disappeared (as sociologists and social theorists already said in the 1980s and on), it was just less visible. A variety of recent literature in IR, and the conference in London, can attest to a new (renewed?) interest in concerns of the flesh, so to speak.  This may be due, in part, to a concomitant questioning the sovereign state as the legitimate subject of study, and most relevant actor in IR in a complex, interconnected, and globalized world with diverse actors and multiple relations of power and accountability.

This is certainly where STS has the most to offer IR–some promiscuity, as Deleuze would insist upon, in methods and subjects/objects of study. Cabinets of curiosities rather than hierarchies and levels.


Technology for Everyday Sharing and Caring

Last night at Colgate University, we brought in a speaker for our Global Engagements program.  His name is David Crawford, and he is an anthropologist at Fairfield University.  It was a really terrific talk–he works in rural Morocco–about experience of globalization in urban and rural places.  During the talk, he spoke of hearing an Amish farmer speak at the Yale Cooperative Ag School.  At the beginning of the talk, the farmer told the audience that his community had no tractors, but they did have a washing machine.  Dr. Crawford joked that this distracted him through the entire talk: why a washer and not a tractor?  The answer: Tractors make it possible for one man to use too much land, and to be able to work the land by himself.  Horses and plows put each community member into a place where he has to ask for help and to recognize his communal relations.  The amount of land that can be tilled is less, therefore leaving more for future generations.  All the hay harvested in day needs to be collected before it gets wet.  This is more than one man and one horse can do so he has to ask for help from the neighbors.

This is a much different idea of technology: this Amish community deliberately integrates their choices about what is important into the technology they choose to employ.  They have washers because laundry tends to be a solitary chore that, if done without a washing machine, is very time consuming and laborious.  The technology here frees up the women to pursue other chores and spend more time with their families and the wider community (I forgo a discussion of gender politics here, though I am sure one is warranted).

These choices deliberately bind the community together for the future.

This was one of those talks that get the gears turning in your own head. For my work, it directly ties into how we think about the technologies of the self and our bodies.  I asked in the last post: What kind of body politic is needed if we understand our bodies as “walking ecosystems,” “planets,” “superorganisms,” or “human-bacterial-hybrids?”  What choices about technology can we make that would bind us together rather than create “individuals”?  This may be radically different than the state form we currently have…

What about the technology in your life? What choices are integrated into your life because of the technology you use?

Reminder: March 17 is the deadline for 4S

As a reminder, the deadline for submitting abstracts to 4S this year is quickly approaching. As a break with years past, the leadership at 4S is getting a little bit stricter with each passing year so that submitting abstracts to session organizers informally is no longer been seen as an acceptable practice, and, instead, leadership would like all abstracts to flow through the formal system.

Annual Meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S)

Just a quick reminder: Only two weeks remain to submit paper and session proposals for the 4S Annual Meeting in San Diego. Deadline is March 17. Visit the meeting home page to begin. http://www.4sonline.org/meeting

October 9 – 12, 2013 — San Diego, California, Town and Country Resort and Convention Center. Meeting home page: http://www.4sonline.org/meeting

Jan-Hendrik and I (Nicholas Rowland) have organized Open Session 43, which we anticipate will host, with luck, two or three panels of presenters. Per usual, we are in pursuit of the infrastructure of the state in its multitudinous forms and incantations.

See our session proposal below:

43. State Multiplicity, Performativity and Materiality: Current STS Research on State and Stateness
Jan-Hendrik Passoth; Nicholas J. Rowland
Currently, science and technology studies is rich with opportunity to conceptualize the state and comment on its consequences for global living. While long under the conceptual jurisdiction of traditional political science, political sociology, and political history, scholars in science and technology studies have, with their own concepts and style, taken to rethinking the state and, with renewed nuance, capture its many and multiple influences in our (decidedly) material world. Similar to the move made by scholars in the social studies of finance, when they showed us how to rethink economic sociology, recent work on the machinery and infrastructure of governing is growing in significance. We see large empirical studies of water infrastructure in India, Columbia, and US states such as California, research on public transportation systems and global logistics, work about census creation and population data gathering as well as growing and genuine theoretical contributions to state theory and theories of stateness have all been published in recent years.
The upshot: Conceptual lens such as multiplicity, performativity, and materiality, which are central to contemporary science and technology studies, provide one such direction toward an explicitly science and technology studies perspective on the state. We believe that this line of thinking, if properly developed in-house by science and technology studies scholars, has the potential to produce discourse-changing research even among our friends in traditional political science, sociology, and history. This open panel will consist of two or three sessions. We invite empirical and theoretical contributions on a wide variety of topics, regions, and theoretical approaches. We encourage work-in-progress as well as more mature projects to the session. We especially invite papers on the multiple ontologies of political entities such as states, the performativity of social and political theory, and the materialities of governing modern states and their environs.

Please consider submitting to our session or writing us to inquire about whether or not your work would fit into the session’s framework.

"Viewing the Technoscientific State through the Heteroscope"

“Viewing the Technoscientific State through the Heteroscope: The State, displaced or misplaced?” (could also be called “The Dancer and the Dance”) Alexander Stingl, European University Viadrina, Frankfurt/Ode.


Alexander gave a dynmaic presentation in a style, for example, reminiscent of Deleuze. He opened with an interesting comment about governing and dancing, challenging audience members to rethink concepts they have happily taken for granted for decades. The high-watermark for me was hearing “The new State is, I argue, a nomadic entity that gazes at us just as heteroscopically as we gaze back at it.” The notion of a heteroscope implicates, in my best estimation, the idea of a complex state. Of course, actor-models of the state must be cast out in favor of a more diffuse and networked vision of the state. Put another way, it might imply what Patrick Carroll has been theorizing, namely, the state as a “complex gathering” or, as he sometimes says, “a thing” (the way that a party is a thing, both just one thing and also a thing made of other stuff like people and drinks and cake). The underlying theoretical justification for this ought to be found, and Alexander said as much during the talk, precisely where Patrick Carroll, Jan, and I find it … through the lens of actor-network theory.

I first met Alexander at 4S during the meeting in Copenhagen; however, I’ve seen his work, and he is quite prolific (see cv here).

I first read Alexander’s work in the American Sociologist. His paper, “Truth, Knowledge, Narratives of Selves,” is about:

Starting with a distinction of two types of discourse analysis—the analysis of a discourse and discursive analysis—the article discusses an analytical genealogy of truth and knowledge production, that can fulfill both empirical and archival requirements. The model’s main purpose lies in understanding diagnostic and therapeutic decision-making in doctor–patient interactions.

Stingl’s original abstract for 4S reads:

“How to govern?”, is a question that not only fazes governments, politicians and political parties but an increasing number of (world-)societal actors, enmeshed in the making of science policy and politics of science itself. They are subject to government while licensed to usurp governing positions over disbanded and unevenly organized societal collectivities, imbricated in regimes of governance that are post-legitimized, post-transparent, post-democratic procedures.

As STS scholars, we must critique the acceleration in dependence on techno-scientific practices of knowledge and management beyond the State: Citizens of nation-states and post-national conglomerates, and producers of techno-scientific knowledge demand legitimated representation, representative participation, and transparency, where post-democratic society and techno-scientific embeddedness of decision-making processes on the trans-local scale (trans-local meaning, broadly, that stake-holders and stock-holders do not share the same space of causes and effects) seem to suggest that people paradoxically proliferate and govern their existences in abandonment of the State, while transnational corporate entities rematerialize as quasi-state entities. STS critique demands suggestions for alternative forms of governance and novel conceptualizations of statehood: Does the techno-scientific state emerge naturally from the actual governance practices of actors such as corporations, NGOs and collective actors formed by interested private citizens as stakeholders? Will it redefine the boundaries of empirical and theoretical concepts in displacing or misplacing the State, and how does the state so placed see people and how do they look back? The new State is, I argue, a nomadic entity that gazes at us just as heteroscopically as we gaze back at it.