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


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

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

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

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

Continue reading

Island Worlds – Photo exhib on the A&N Islands

Coming up in less than a week, in Pune, India – ‘Island Worlds’ my new photo exhibition on the Andaman & Nicobar Islands

The photographs have all been specially reproduced on silk fabric to offer a new visual and aesthetic experience even as they explore the many moods and dimensions of the islands that I have myself seen and experienced over the last two decades.

At the inauguration on February 13, the poetry-music band, Mystic, will present a new concert ‘Singing the sea’ that will evoke the spirit of our world of water.

‪#‎thelastwave‬ ‪#‎islandworlds‬

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

Leviathan Monument

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Squirrels, Sharks, and Eagles, oh my!

While teaching STS, I was recently talking to my students about what constitutes an “internet attack.” The students arrived with clear examples in mind (and in hand, which was part of the assignment). The answers were primarily in the form of human-based hacking projects, and, as most of you know, they are abound. Giving the timing of the assignment, most of the cases had something to do with hacks against the US, hacks against power production facilities, and financial institutions.


However, one student brought this: Sharks, replete with jokes about Sharknado as evidence of the prowess of the shark. Seeing as how a previous lesson was about ANT, with an emphasis on non-human agents as not-to-be-ignored agents in understanding social order, broadly speaking, this was a sign that at least one student “really got it.”

Another student brought in this: an eagle hitting a drone, hard.

Not a few days pass, and the blog’s oldest friend, dmf, sends me to a great website, half-serious, half-satire, CyberSquirrel1. The site is a terrific description of how our critical infrastructure is seemingly the most danger from other nation-states; however, the empirical materials do not seem to suss-out such an explanation; in fact, squirrels and other non-humans are responsible for more “attacks” than anyone else.

Makes for a great lesson if you want to find a fresh new way to bring infrastructure and the agentic role of nonhumans into the classroom in a way that is, to my mind, far better to the early discussions that Latour made about stop signs or door hinges.

A river’s journey

A river’s journey

“Rising along the eastern slopes of the Agasthyamalai range of the Western Ghats, the Tamirabarani river travels a short 125 kilometres before reaching the Gulf of Mannar near Punnaikayal. Passing through Tirunelveli and Thoothukkudi districts in Tamil Nadu, it spells life for those in the dry and arid plains along this part of the south-eastern coast of India. …”


Continuing from my last post on the forests of KMTR, in India’s southern western ghats, here is a feature on the River Tamabarani that originates in these mountains – the journey of a river from source to the sea, from the canopy to the coast and the many things that happen along the way…This feature appeared in The Hindu Sunday Magazine on October 18, 2015, and really really underlines the nature’s infrastructure theme for me in more ways than one. For the full text and more pics click here


NEW BOOK: Assembling Policy

Portada final

I am Sebastian Ureta and Nicholas has invited me to discuss my new (November 2015) book Assembling Policy.

Also, I owe a big thank you to MIT Press for publishing Assembling Policy!

For readers of the blog: Given past interest in Foucault, the origins of governmentality, and hybrid infrastructures, I thought the book would be of interest, seeing as how I mix classic STS with governmentality studies (among other things). I’ve published in The Information Society, Social Studies of Science, Organization, Public Understanding of Science, Urban Studies, and a few other places, if you’re curious about other work.

The case: I analyze the Transantiago, a mayor infrastructural policy carried out in Santiago, Chile in 2007 with utterly disastrous results. You can see the publisher’s overview bellow.

*I am happy to expand/comment on any of the book’s contents — please ask in the comments!

Publisher’s Overview:

Policymakers are regularly confronted by complaints that ordinary people are left out of the planning and managing of complex infrastructure projects. In this book, Sebastián Ureta argues that humans, both individually and collectively, are always at the heart of infrastructure policy; the issue is how they are brought into it. Ureta develops his argument through the case of Transantiago, a massive public transportation project in the city of Santiago, proposed in 2000, launched in 2007, and in 2012 called “the worst public policy ever implemented in our country” by a Chilean government spokesman.


Ureta examines Transantiago as a policy assemblage formed by an array of heterogeneous elements—including, crucially, “human devices,” or artifacts and practices through which humans were brought into infrastructure planning and implementation. Ureta traces the design and operation of Transantiago through four configurations: crisis, infrastructuration, disruption, and normalization. In the crisis phase, humans were enacted both as consumers and as participants in the transformation of Santiago into a “world-class” city, but during infrastructuration the “active citizen” went missing. The launch of Transantiago caused huge disruptions, in part because users challenged their role as mere consumers and instead enacted unexpected human devices. Resisting calls for radical reform, policymakers insisted on normalizing Transantiago, transforming it into a permanent failing system. Drawing on Chile’s experience, Ureta argues that if we understand policy as a series of heterogeneous assemblages, infrastructure policymaking would be more inclusive, reflexive, and responsible.

KMTR’s one-mile corridor

KMTR’s one-mile corridor

The story of how a small patch of forest in India’s southern-western ghats (a global biodiversity hotspot) was saved in the 1970s…at it’s heart is the work in the decade of the 70s of two American primatologists, who were studying the rare and endemic Lion-tailed macaque, the enimatic, canopy dwelling primate of these forests…These forests are also the source of much of the water security of the region (a key point in the natural infrastructure’s that I’ve been discussing a bit on this blog!!)

For the full story including some incredible 1970s pics of the region by the primatologists see http://www.sanctuaryasia.com/conservation/field-reports/10169-kmtrs-one-mile-corridor





Threads of tenacity

Threads of tenacity

Continuing here from my last post – on the magic of indigo and the master Yellappa –  here is another older story of another such tradition and master-craftsman from the same part of the country…This is a feature on the technique of ikkat (tie-and-dye) weaving in the southern Indian state of Telangana; the story of K Narasimha…

http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/blink/article6488781.ece#im-image-001 chitiki Business line02chitiki Business line2

Pankaj Sekhsaria is Joining Us!


Pankaj Sekhsaria, our most recent guest blogger, has agreed to join us for the long-term. 

Pankaj is a doctoral candidate from Maastricht University Science and Technology Studies. He just gave us a great piece on indigo, cotton, and dying infrastructure. You might recall mention of research on jugaad, but Pankaj’s work is so much more than that. If you review the academia.edu page, then you’ll see a substantial amount more about jugaad, including an engaging and well-read newspaper piece about the topic,  along with a piece in Current Science, India’s leading science journal, and there is also a chapter is an edited volume that is worth the read. Pankaj is also author of The Last Wave, a novel that is engrossing — I’m learning — and that was well-received on the topic of deforestation and, I think, finding meaning in a world ravened by capitalism’s insufferable appetite.

Welcome aboard, Pankaj!

Last of the blues

Last of the Blues

Remembering the exceptional Yellappa, a man who carried the knowledge, skill and practice of colouring cotton yarn with natural indigo as part of a rich tradition in the Indian sub-continent.

In The Hindu Sunday Magazine, December 13, 2015




Infrastructural Lives, Reviewed

Add this one to your reading list: Steve Graham and Colin McFarlane have edited a book, which has just come out, Infrastructural Lives

Contributors include AbdouMaliq Simone, Maria Kaika, Vyjayanthi Rao, Mariana Cavalcanti, Stephanie Terrani-Brown, Omar Jabary Salamanca, Rob Shaw, Harriet Bulkeley, Vanesa Caston-Broto, Simon Marvin, Mike Hodson, Renu Desai, Steve Graham, and myself.  Arjun Appaduria kindly provided a thoughtful foreword for the book.

Continue reading

3:1 — Post-Neutrality –Post 3 of 3

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

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

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

3:1 — Post-Neutrality — Post 2 of 3


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

Our final 3:1 on “Post-Neutrality”


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

A case can be made for post-neutrality, and this week, joining us, is Andrew L. Russell (Stevens Institute of Technology, arussell@stevens.edu | @RussellProf | http://www.arussell.org).


Latour on Paris Attacks


Latour on Paris Attacks: 

What is so discouraging about the terrorist acts is that our discussion of what motivated the operations is as insane as the acts themselves. With each attack of this nature, we restage the grand war drama, the nation in peril and the protector-state purporting to rise up against barbarity. This is what states do, we say: we should have a basic expectation of security, and the state should have the means to provide it. End of story.

But what makes the current situation so much more dismaying is that the crimes committed on 13 November have occurred within a few days of another event about to take place that involves tragedies of a different kind, ones that will require that we come up with very different answers to wholly different threats that have nothing to do with ISIS/Daech. I am referring, of course, to the World Climate Change Conference in Paris, the COP21, which we are now liable to deem less serious, less urgent than the police response to the bloody escapades of those machinegun-toting lunatics.

See the rest here and here.

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!

Smart Fitness Infrastructure


Report from 4S in Denver

In a session “The Reflexive Turn in Art and Science Studies: Art and Science 1: Power Relations in Art and Science Studies: Methods of Analysis” (long title, right?), Paula Gardner (OCAD University) gave a fascinating talk about smart fitness infrastructure titled “Pull, Process, Print: Aesthetic Interventions in Biodata.”


Gardner talked about the, for lack of a better phrase for me as a sociologist, the McDonaldization (or rationalization) of personal activity and the tracking of voluntary self-care activities such as step-counting with pedometers, distances-estimates for biking, calorie-burning for running, and so on. Think: any infrastructure for health as manifested in stuff like Fitbit.


Topics discussed included data fetichism, that data are not raw but always appear already processed for the user, that they assume a base-line, for example, size or step, that we are quantifying the self ourselves, that it is important for us to compare one another in this fitness architecture, that our activity levels may be used against us at work where we need to appear like active and productive employees (or else), and that there may be forms of “interference” (among other things) that these trackers impose upon our lives, our work-outs, and our health that are yet unknown. In all, a fascinating piece.

Frugal and Reverse Innovations – Quo Vadis?

*Frugal and Reverse Innovations – Quo Vadis?*
by Henri Simula, Mokter Hossain and Minna Halme
*Current Science*, 10 November 2015, 109(9), 1567-1572.
*Abstract*: The concepts of frugal and reverse innovations are recent
entrants to the innovation literature. Frugal innovation conveys the
important idea of innovating under circumstances of resource scarcity.
Reverse innovation refers to another significant turn in thinking and
practice – innovations from low-income contexts can enter wealthier markets,
a major shift from the previous innovation paradigm. There are some
hallmark examples of these types of innovations but the current academic
literature is still limited. The purpose of this article is to study these
concepts and present a conceptual framework that combines underlying
drivers. We also present ideas for future research avenues.

*Download Full-Text PDF*:

Click to access 1567.pdf

IO: Infrastructure Observatory


Infrastructure Observatory (IO) is a “community devoted to exploring and celebrating the infrastructural landscape.”

Their mission: “to render visible the oft-invisible guts of modern life, and foster chapters of enthusiasts around these structures throughout the world.”

The group recently came out with this pocket-sized waterproof book about “shipping containers and the corporations that own them” (The Container Guide, 2015). They also held MacroCity, a cool-looking group of critical panels and city infrastructure tours wrapped into one conference.

Their main page is a little with interesting photographs of urban infrastructure — check it out. As of right now (late 2015), they are — somewhat obviously — set in major metropolitan areas: San Francisco, New York, and London. However, I’d love to see, in the future, groups like this China, India, or elsewhere.

Patterns of COMMONING


Promises to be very interesting….
Patterns of COMMONING
What accounts for the persistence and spread of “commoning,” the irrepressible desire of people to collaborate and share to meet everyday needs? How are the more successful projects governed? And why are so many people embracing the commons as a powerful strategy for building a fair, humane and Earth-respecting social order? Continue reading

A Jugaad reading list

Since it was jugaad that got Nicholas to get me to blog on Installing (Social) Order, here’s a ‘jugaad reading list’ that I’ve used in the writing of my doctoral dissertation. It’s reasonably comprehensive and is a combination of newspaper articles, Journal publications and also books. Some of these are accessible online and I do have pdfs of many of the journal publications – so if anyone is looking for the full text please email me at psekhsaria@gmail.com

A Jugaad reading list

Birtchnell, T. (2011). Jugaad as systemic risk and disruptive innovation in India. Contemporary South Asia, 19(4), 357–372.

Bound, K., & Thornton, I. (2012). Our Frugal Future: Lessons from India’s Innovation System. London: Nesta.

Cappelli, P., Singh, H., Singh, J., & Useem, M. (2011). The India Way – How India’s Top Business Leaders are Revolutionizing Management. Boston, Massachusets: Harvard Business Press.

Datta, P. (2010). A Case Study Special on Innovation – Making Aspirations Count (Editorial). In P. Datta (Ed.), (p. 4). New Delhi: BusinessWorld.

Continue reading

2016 Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) Annual Meeting – Singapore


Formed in 1958, SHOT is an interdisciplinary and international organization concerned not only with the history of technological devices and processes but also with technology in history, the development of technology, and its relations with society and culture –that is, the relationship of technology to politics, economics, science, the arts, and the organization of production, and with the role it plays in the differentiation of individuals in society.

Continue reading

More on the wildlife-infrastructure conundrum

Continuing along the lines of my earlier post, Wildlife’s Infrastructure nightmare, here are links to two very recent news-reports on this wildlife-infrastructure link, if it can be called that…
a) Cutting a rail-link through a forests cuts off the corridor for primate movement and then we construct a bridge to bridge the earlier cut…The story of a rare primate in a small forest of the North-east Indian state of Assam
Bridge to connect gibbon families

b) And in the same region of the country, a wild Asian elephant dies, when human negligence results in the electrocution of the pachyderm when he comes in contact with a live high-tension electric cable: The death of an elephant

Wildlife’s infrastructure nightmare

Dear Friends,

I’m very honored and excited to be invited as a guest blogger on Installing (Social) Order and am hoping I can make some interesting and valuable contributions. And I start here on the issue of infrastructure, but from a completely different vantage point – that of wilderness and wildlife. One on my key interests going back more than 2 decades is wildlife conservation in South Asia, the part of the planet I belong to and have been living in since I was born. As part of my work with the environmental NGO Kalpavriksh, I have been editing a newsletter on wildlife for over 18 years now. It is called the Protected Area Update, and one issue that comes up repeatedly is the impact on wildlife, wilderness and the environment on account of our relentless drive to create more and more and more ‘infrastructure’. It is something I keep reporting and commenting on and here is one small editorial I wrote for the February 2012 issue of the newsletter. It’s a little old if one goes by the date, but the concerns on the ground today are just as real if not actually more acute. The piece is also a little India specific, but I think it captures the challenges and that is why I’m sharing it here.

And here’s where you can access the entire 24 page newsletter in case you are interested in reading the specific newsletter or the entire set check Protected Area Update – 2012


(Editorial, Protected Area Update Vol. XVIII, No. 1, February 2012)

More roads that penetrate deeper, railway lines that connect better and faster, dam projects for power and irrigation, coal mining for more electricity, high-tension power lines to evacuate that electricity…. This is one side of India’s infrastructure and constantly lauded growth story.

There is another side to that very story which reads something like the following: Roads that cut through rich forests, railways lines that regularly kill elephants, dam projects that drown pristine forests and wildlife habitats, coal mining that rips apart tiger corridors, high tension lines that kill elephants in Orissa and flamingoes in Gujarat…

From the Nallamalla forests of Andhra Pradesh to the valley of the Alaknanda in Uttarakhand; from the elephant forests of Orissa to the Great Rann of Kutch in Gujarat – the story is the same – what is unfolding is nothing short of a nightmare for India’s wildlife. The infrastructure for our automobiles, power and lifestyles is leaving nothing of the natural infrastructure that the wild denizens need. As we travel faster, longer, and deeper and as the GDP becomes the only mantra, the elephants, the tigers, the leopards and even the flamingoes are getting hemmed in more and more with every passing day.

The fate of the flamingoes in Gujarat highlights this starkly. Their only option on being disturbed at night by vehicular noise in the Great Rann was to fly into high-tension wires hanging above and get charred instantly. Between the vehicle and the wire, India’s beleaguered wildlife is getting sandwiched and slaughtered like never before.

One ‘eco’ – the economic is soaring as everything ecologic is being torn to shreds. The tragic irony is that the same system sells to us and to the world the prowling tiger, the gamboling elephant, the soaring birds and, yes, the dancing tribal as ‘Incredible India’. We at the PA Update are part of a small crowd that’s watching on with incredulity. And with despair.

Our broken peer review system, in one saga

We’ve discussed the peer-review system in science a number of times; this time, as a saga. I’ve had this experience many, many times. If you don’t wish to review the saga, the final section has some alternatives to business-as-usual in the peer-review system.

Family Inequality

When at last Odysseus returns. When at last Odysseus returns.

Everybody’s got a story. This is the story of publishing a peer-reviewed journal article called, “The Widening Gender Gap in Opposition to Pornography, 1975–2012.” The paper has now been published, and is available here in preprint, or here if you’re on a campus that subscribes to Social Currents through Sage.

Lucia Lykke, a graduate student in our program, and I began this project in the fall of 2012. We came up with the idea together. I did the coding and she wrote the text. Over the course of two years we sent the paper to four journals – once to Gender & Society, four times to Sex Roles, once to Social Forces, and twice to Social Currents, which finally accepted it in July 2015 and published it online on September 21.*

This story illustrates some endemic problems with our system…

View original post 4,881 more words

John Oliver on Stadium Infrastructure

In a humorous account, John Oliver explains why wealthy sports teams are ripping-off American taxpayers via expensive stadium infrastructure, which is an investment that essentially never “pay off” for tax payers in those cities. There are strong opinions about this, suggesting that benefits rarely materialize, which are supported by public research, although there are presumably intangible benefits of having a local team stay local.

Pacification of Rio’s Favelas


Infrastructure is often seen as a pivot-point for addressing social ailments, directly or indirectly. That is what you’ll read — that assumption fully addressed — in Mariana Cavalcanti‘s “Waiting in the Ruins” a book chapter in Infrastructural Lives. What social ailments? Anything in the way of establishing Rio de Janeiro as a world Olympic city.

Questioned is the rhetoric championed by proponents of the favelas pacification programs as a form of “state intervention” — finally! Continue reading

Planning Against the Political

Path to the Possible

Jonathan Metzger, Phillip Allmendinger, and Stijn Oosterlynck have a new volume out.


Here is the publisher’s blurb:

This book brings together a number of highly innovative and thought provoking contributions from European researchers in territorial governance-related fields such as human geography, planning studies, sociology, and management studies. The contributions share the ambition of highlighting troubling contemporary tendencies where spatial planning and territorial governance can be seen to circumscribe or subvert ‘due democratic practice’ and the democratic ethos. The book also functions as an introduction to some of the central strands of contemporary political philosophy, discussing their relevance for the wider field of planning studies and the development of new planning practices.

View original post

Is STS a bordello or cabinet of wonders?

Nicholas gave us one of our most popular posts this year–a rumination from November 2013. Given its continuing popularity, perhaps the 3:1 Project should take on how we define our disciplines…

Installing (Social) Order


This is based on some ruminations over the last year, which I’ve mentioned a while back casually and which our now full-time blogger Stef Fishel discussed more recently.

Here goes: Is STS a bordello or cabinet of wonders? (I write in the plural because Jan-H. and I were writing this together)


… we recognize the unorthodox and outlandish agency of “nonhumans” like scallops, microbes, Portuguese sea-going vessels, and British military aircrafts. In fact, the way we just listed those example case studies into the minutiae of STS scholarship is more telling than it might immediately appear. You see, STS is populated by intriguing micro case studies, and, from a far, STS appears to outsiders like a “cabinet of curiosities.” Because our research is punctualized into individual case studies, and these case studies were so routinely juxtaposed with one another during the era of great edited volumes…

View original post 277 more words

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

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

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

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

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

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

Call for Papers


EcoMaterialisms: Organizing Life and Matter

EcoMaterialisms: Organizing Life and Matter

University of California, Irvine

Friday 15th May 2015

“EcoMaterialisms: Organizing Life and Matter” will bring interdisciplinary graduate work to  bear on the ongoing critical discussions grouped under the umbrella of “new materialisms.” While what exactly these new materialisms might be or look like remains a vitally open question, this conference is an attempt to map a number of conceptual coordinates that give this emergent field of inquiry some consistency. As Diana Coole and Samantha Frost write in the introduction to their edited collection on new  materialism, “If we persist in our call for an observation of a new materialism, it is because we  are aware that unprecedented things are currently being done with and to matter, nature, life,  production, and reproduction. It is in this contemporary context that theorists are compelled to  rediscover older materialist traditions while pushing them in novel, and sometimes experimental,  directions…

View original post 236 more words

Lucid Theory Workshop: Between Philosophy & World Politics

Global Theory


Lucid Theory

Writing Between Philosophy and World Politics

Monday 24 November 2014
The University of New South Wales, Australia
Morven Brown Building, Upper Campus, Room 310

Places are available: Please RSVP to a.burke@adfa.edu.au and a.bloomfield@unsw.edu.au

Download the full LucidTheory_Program+map.

This workshop aims to stage a dual dialogue: between the methods and concerns of philosophy and international relations, and between philosophers and international relations theorists themselves. It recognizes that while IR theorists have long been drawing upon and contributing to philosophy, and philosophers have been directly engaging problems and ontologies in world politics, there are few useful sites of contact, crossover and collaboration between these two scholarly communities. They have separate traditions and sites of intellectual training, tend to publish in different journals, and rarely attend the same conferences. Even as they are pursuing trans-disciplinary forms of scholarship, they do so separately. We use the term “lucid” purposefully to reflect…

View original post 149 more words

Relative realities, theoretical sensitivities


Annemarie Mol’s take on empirical philosophy; I saw this talk, or a nearly identical one, when she later gave it at Københavns Universitet this fall. There is a thread to be curious about, however, and that is a comment she made during the Q&A of the session I attend. I asked: “I have read much of your work and recall words like “ontology,” “multiplicity,” and so on, which are now missing in your new work — why?” Mol’s answer, roughly paraphrased: “I like to keep things fresh so now I use “onto-norms”…” I thought: that’s a little odd, but perhaps new concepts for every new project has some appeal, but the “I don’t like them anymore” or “I prefer fresh concepts” just strikes me as more of an aesthetic decision than anything else, not that I dislike aesthetic decisions, but it just struck me as odd in a talk about empirical philosophy.

synthetic zerØ

Annemarie Mol’s take on empirical philosophy.

View original post

Latour’s inconsistencies unveiled


In this terrific article in New Literary History, Graham Harman draws-out some of Latour’s inconsistencies in his shift from old ANT days (i.e., the early Latour) to the more recent emphasis on “modes” (i.e., the late Latour) related to his culture-nature rejection-reficiation (played with a few of these idea a decade ago reviewing his book PoN).

Infrastructural Lives — new book out now


Add this one to your reading list. Steve Graham and Colin McFarlane have edited a book, which has just come out, Infrastructural Lives (http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415748537/).

Contributors include AbdouMaliq Simone, Maria Kaika, Vyjayanthi Rao, Mariana Cavalcanti, Stephanie Terrani-Brown, Omar Jabary Salamanca, Rob Shaw, Harriet Bulkeley, Vanesa Caston-Broto, Simon Marvin, Mike Hodson, Renu Desai, Steve Graham, and myself.  Arjun Appaduria kindly provided a thoughtful foreword for the book.

Doing ANT on ANT


In Gad and Jensen’s (2009) excellent paper “On the consequences of Post-ANT” — available here free — we read a number of slightly cheeky comments in the abstract, but the one I am curious about I put in bold below:

Since the 1980s the concept of ANT has remained unsettled. ANT has continuously been critiqued and hailed, ridiculed and praised. It is still an open question whether ANT should be considered a theory or a method or whether ANT is better understood as entailing the dissolution of such modern ‘‘genres’’. In this paper the authors engage with some important reflections by John Law and Bruno Latour in order to analyze what it means to ‘‘do ANT,’’ and (even worse), doing so after ‘‘doing ANT on ANT.’’ In particular the authors examine two post-ANT case studies by Annemarie Mol and Marilyn Strathern and outline the notions of complexity, multiplicity, and fractality. The purpose is to illustrate the analytical consequences of thinking with post-ANT. The analysis offers insights into how it is possible to ‘‘go beyond ANT,’’ without leaving it entirely behind.

Question: Does anyone know precisely what paper or presentation — or “other” sort of document — they are referring to when stating “doing so after “doing ANT on ANT”? 

*Also, please forgive in advance the image of mating ants used for this post on “ant on ant.”

Conference CFP: Agency of Things

Agency of Things:
New Perspectives on European Art of the Fourteenth–Sixteenth Centuries

Conference: 11–12 June 2015
Deadline for abstracts: 30 November 2014

Co-organized by Institute of History of Art, University of Warsaw
and National Museum in Warsaw

This two-day interdisciplinary conference seeks to investigate whether agency of things as a new research model more accurately than traditional theories and methods informs our understanding of religious, social, political and ideological systems or networks which shaped various communities (court, city, convent, pilgrim) during the period under investigation.

All speakers will be invited to visit the newly reopened Gallery of Medieval Art at the National Museum in Warsaw with its curator Professor Antoni Ziemba.

We invite proposals from a variety of disciplines and perspectives, provided that they present innovative insights into the realm of agency of artistic and non-artistic objects. Acceptable topics may include, but are by no means limited to, the following topics:
  • Scale and size of things as conditions of their agency
  • Physical and sensory agency of things
  • Animated things and things for manual handling
  • Objects actively defining and operating within a space
  • Things used in performances, rituals, recitations and sermons
  • Craftsmanship and its role in agency of things
  • Human subjects in a process of dissemination of objects
  • Emotional and psychological agency of things

Papers should be twenty minutes in length and will be followed by a ten-minute Q&A session.
Please e-mail an abstract of no more than 300 words to Ika Matyjaszkiewicz and Patrycja Misiuda-Ramlau to agencyofthings@uw.edu.pl by 30 November 2014. Along with your abstract please include your name, institution, paper title and a brief biography of no more than 150 words. Successful applicants will be notified by 30 January 2015. The conference proceedings will be published after the event, therefore please indicate whether you would be interested in further developing your paper for a publication.

FREE Review of Lemke’s “Biopolitics”


Great review of Thomas Lemke’s excellent book Biopolitics: An Advanced Introduction is available here free. The review is written by Michael Lait, who was, at the time, a PhD student at Carleton University (Ottawa) (I think he still is a PhD student there). We look forward to more good work from Michael, and, just recently, we have seen it! His new draft paper neatly titled “The rotting heart of Gatineau Park: Mapping issues, institutions and publics in a unique political situation” is now on-line and worth a read, available also free here.

* Picture shamelessly borrowed from: http://foucaultsociety.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/buffaloreport_foucault11.jpg

In which I am reminded of Latour…

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

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

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

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

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

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

And especially for Mr. McCain:

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