Decoloniality Mini-Conference


CONFERENCE OPPORTUNITY: Decolonialty mini-conference (9 panels) at the Eastern Sociological Society Meeting, Boston March 17-20, 2015. Panels on a number of topics including “Decoloniality and the State” and “Beyond the ‘Human'”. If you do non-human/post-human, postmodern state theory or state modeling, and can connect to decolonial options/epistemic disobedience get in touch asap (submission is on Oct 30) (write me at:

We are happy to host newcomers to decoloniality as well as seasoned/experienced scholars. Please consider this an open invitation to join the important discussion about decoloniality and the social sciences. There may also be opportunities to Skype into the meeting so please do keep that in mind.


Derelict Olympic Stadiums Correlate with Trade Increases?

… as material leftovers, structures for mega-events stand as forensic evidence that states are communicating to each other on an international platform through a material language.

Derelict Olympic Stadiums Correlate with Trade Increases?

Recently, Jan-H. posted about the “pro-durability” bias in STS (or the possibility of it) and used the all too familiar case of derelict Olympic stadiums that pepper large urban settings; the leftovers of mega-events that struggle to find suitable use.

Athens, Greece, comes to mind…


(image from here)

In the city there is a large leftover infrastructure that was quite a joy to run on as a visitor, although, because of the intense smog in Athens’ city-center, it was difficult to run up and down the steps sometimes … well, without coughing. The stadium above is the Panathenaic Stadium, and doing some background research on it, I found a really cool blog “Urban Ghosts: Forgotten Places and Urban Curiosities” written by Tom, a journalist from Sheffield, UK. He writes:

The one stadium that refuses to give up the Olympic ghost and enjoys the lion’s share of the tourists is not a state-of the-art 21st century arena, but the Panathenaic Stadium of the ancient world.  The structure was originally used to host the athletic portion of the Panathenaic Games in honour of the Goddess Athena.  It was rebuilt in 329 BC – the only major stadium in the world to be built of white marble.  Once seating 50,000 people, the Panathenaic Stadium also hosted the Olympics in 1870, 1875 and 1896.  Its modern brethren pale into insignificance alongside such an impressive track record.

But surely vast investment like that cannot be recouped … can they?

Well, maybe, leftover infrastructure may be the by-product and correlate of trade increases.

hosting – or even bidding on — “mega-events” like the Olympics leads to a 30% increase in trade for those countries (check it out here in the Wall Street Journal).

What is so outstanding about this is how durable the trade increases are. In the academic paper, Andrew K Rose and
Mark Spiegel say this in their abstract:

Economists are skeptical about the economic benefits of hosting “mega-events” such as the Olympic Games or the World Cup, since such activities have considerable cost and seem to yield few tangible benefits. These doubts are rarely shared by policy-makers and the population, who are typically quite enthusiastic about such spectacles. In this paper, we reconcile these positions by examining the economic impact of hosting mega-events like the Olympics; we focus on trade. Using a variety of trade models, we show that hosting a mega-event like the Olympics has a positive impact on national exports. This effect is statistically robust, permanent, and large; trade is around 30% higher for countries that have hosted the Olympics. Interestingly however, we also find that unsuccessful bids to host the Olympics have a similar positive impact on exports. We conclude that the Olympic effect on trade is attributable to the signal a country sends when bidding to host the games, rather than the act of actually holding a mega-event. We develop a political economy model that formalizes this idea, and derives the conditions under which a signal like this is used by countries wishing to liberalize.

Such structures suggest that the hosting nation “is open to trade liberalization“; however, as Tom mentions (and as world events have shown), the Greeks are not enjoying this trade benefit.


(image from here)

As Greece grapples with more than $370 billion of public debt, the dormant arenas have fueled anger over a lack of forward planning as the country ramped up to the 2004 Summer Olympics.  For many, the disused venues – with their operating costs adding more pressure to the already-strained city coffers – stand as visible reminders of Greece’s age of excess spending.


These sorts of material leftovers stand as forensic evidence that states are communicating to each other on an international platform through a material language. If so, the durability of these structures can be seen as either an outstanding reminder of a nation’s openness to liberalized trade, or operate like a vestigal organ no longer needed that can only harm you when it does not operate properly…

Water as a boundary liquid … ahhh…object

Good news for our friends in water infrastructure research (and for those interested in STS and state theory of course): Patrick Carrolls “Water, and Technoscientific State Formation in California” has just been published as an “online-first” by Social Studies of Science!

This paper argues that water gradually became, over a period of more than half a century, a critical boundary object between science and governance in California. The paper historicizes ‘water’, and argues that a series of discrete problems that involved water, particularly the reclamation of ‘swampland’ in the Sacramento Valley, gradually came to be viewed as a single ‘water problem’ with many facets. My overarching theoretical aim is to rethink the ontology of the technoscientific state through the tools of actor-network theory. I conclude with the following paradox: the more the technoscientific state forms into a complex gathering – or ‘thing’ – of which humans are part, the more it is represented and perceived as a simplified and singular actor set apart from those same humans.

4S/EASST Open Panels: Program Practice

Copenhagen is coming closer every day – only 263 days to go until the next 4S/EASST joint meeting will take place this October. Nicholas already announced that we are going to organize a so called Open Panel on “On states, stateness and STS: Government(ality) with a small ‘g’?” which can hold up to 15 papers. I repeat the call here: we are still looking for good contributions – please feel free to contact us!


(c) Photo: Tobias Sieben

As there are 106 panels in 10 thematic fields many of you might have noticed the flood of emails with CfPs on the various STS lists. Although the list of Open Panels is included in the overall CfP many (we are no exception) felt the necessity to individually post the call. You might have guesses that this has to with promoting our own work, but well…no, that is not the reasons. The reason is: software.

Here is why: To submit a paper to an Open Panel the submitted has to tick a checkbox – that is how a paper proposal gets linked to a panel. The problem for us organizers is the following: we do not know what has been submitted yet – there might already be 15 papers, there might be none. We simply cannot see that until the call is closed. So: the only way to get informed is getting individual notifications from those who submit. I guess that is the “secret” reason for individual calls: To remind potential submitters of who is organizing which panel individual calls are one opportunity…we still do not know the exact number of submissions until March 18th, but we can try to get an approximation. So: you would do us a real favor if you could send us a notice when you submit a paper to our panel. Thanks a lot!

the vagaries of studying the state

Bartleson, in The Critique of the State, makes a great point about the current state of state theory. One camp, which we’ll call the contextual historians, views the state as something “essentially relative, historically variable, and contextual.” Hence, there is no such thing as “the state” but there are states operating in historic relief and we can observe them. Another camp, which we’ll call abstract philosophers, views the state as something of an object or a thing, and thus ontologize the state to be more of a “transcendental [idea] … with invariable content.”

That established, one of the foundational problems in state theory has to do with criticisms between these perspectives. Scholars, such as Bevir in The Logic of History of Ideas, have attempted to reconcile these seemingly incommensurate, if not opposing approaches to the state. However, and this is crucial, it does us no good. We cannot criticize historians for their committment to historical contingency any more than you can criticize philosophers for their committment to abstract systematizations. Without a committment to contexutality, historians would not be historians. Without a committment to abstract systematizations, philosophers would not longer be philosophers.These camps are at loggerheads.

The solution, Jens claims, is conceptual autonomy from the vantage point of logical constructivism. Here’s why: in principle, we cannot assume the stability and coherence of the state (theoretically and ontologically) in research when the stability and coherence of the state (theoretically and ontologically) are what are in question. Next, even if we could get past that, standards of stability and coherence “do indeed vary across time and context by virtue of the simple fact that they themselves are conceptual in chatacter” too, and hence we would need the tools of logical constructivism to uncover these conceptual shifts as well (even if we did assume the state into existance). Lastly, by selecting conceptual autonomy as a tool, Jens is essentially agreeing with the abstract philosophers that the state is unquestionably foundational to political discourse, because only conceptual autonomy puts the analyst in a position verify if the state concept is unquestionably foundational to political discourse because its conceptual stability and coherence are precisely what he intends to examine.

The state (or the state hypothesis) is an assumption from one perspective, and an open empirical question from another.

Jens Bartelson


Jens Bartelson is blowing my mind; his Critique of the state is a great book, and surprisingly concise.

What I like the most out of this book is that it manages to do what so many other books about the state do not or cannot, and that is that it links our conceptual ideas about states and statehood to the question of pondering an alternative to state authority or practical alternatives for the role of the state in contemporary society. Of course, the author shifts seamlessly between discussion of political theory, international relations, and even political philosophy, but the real value in this book (apart from being a great tour through the halls of state theory wherein Jens is its careful curator and our guide) is the shift from theory to pratical matters.

The closest thing to getting us to a theory on political performativity that I have seen…

Forthcoming book "Man, Agency, and Beyond" and a sneak peek…

Edited by Daniel Jacobi & Annette Freyberg???Inan, Man, Agency, and Beyond: The Evolution of Human Nature in International Relations will soon go to print at Cambridge. The editors have, in all honesty, willed this book along; they were able to provide two rounds of reviews in two months! The book is built from earlier discussions from a 2011 Catalytic Workshop, which even has some good notes available on-line — interesting stuff.

Jan and I are contributing a chapter that draws on our interests in state theory (mainly from social theory and political theory, but also, with encouragement from the editors, literature from international relations too).

We ask a deceptively simple question: during international relations, who or what acts?

Here is an excerpt:

TITLE: Acting in International Relations? Political Agency in State Theory and Actor-Networks  

AUTHORS: Jan-H. Passoth, Department of Sociology, Bielefeld University; Nicholas J. Rowland, Department of Sociology, Pennsylvania State University


Who acts in international relations? From state theory generally, and the field of International Relations specifically, the readymade answer is: ‘states do’ – so long as we assume states to be the high-modern regime of nation-states that so dominantly sorted-out conceptual possibilities of political agency during the 20th century. An alternative approach to global politics, in contrast, searches for political power beyond the state. Contemporary shifts toward neo-liberal and other transnational regimes are reshaping the political landscape to enable entities beyond the state to gain importance in governance. We are, thus, left with two options: We see states as entities capable of acting on the stage of global politics, or we see states as one of many patterns through which political activity is enacted. This dichotomy neatly parallels how agency has been conceptualized in social theory: Either we swallow the bitter pill of essentializing a high-modern model of human nature to understand how actors establish, maintain, and transform political order, or we join the deconstruction camp and dissect the mechanisms, techniques, and discursive patterns that surround this model of human nature, which will then one day probably be ‘erased, like a face drawn in the sand at the edge of the sea.’[1] We develop this tension in our paper about who or what acts during international relations.

[1] Michel Foucault, The Order of Things (New York: Pantheon, 1970), p. 387.

4S in Cleveland, a first couple of notes

Since I am the only one of our little outfit to be still left in Cleveland I might just as well start off reporting from the 4S meeting with a couple of quick Sunday morning impressions.
As usual, the meeting as a whole was well attended, and the organizers did a good job of providing a well-balanced mix of themes and issues.
Before I get to the sessions organized by Nicholas and Jan, I should say that the “author meets critics” panel with Marion Fourcade and with Daniel Breslau, Mary Morgan, and Ted Porter discussing Fourcade’s book about “Economists and Societies” somewhat stood out for me. For one thing, the discussants provided excellent commentary, but more generally speaking, I just love this format. Rather than having four+ different papers cramped into 90 minutes, you actually get a couple of very smart people discussing the same piece of work. Maybe the organizers could think about making this format a still bigger part of the overall schedule.
Then, of course, the two sessions about “Seeing states and state theory in STS”, organized and hosted by Nicholas and Jan, were surely the place where things were happening with respect to the interests represented in this blog. The powers that be provided one of the finer rooms and a good crowd of people was present, despite the fact that it was Saturday afternoon. If I should pick a presentation that impressed me the most, it was the presentation by MIchael Rodriguez-Mu??iz. He is studying the work of census representatives in getting the cooperation of people whose data have to be collected. What I liked so much about this study is that it nicely illustrates the work that has to be done at the periphery to make a technology that is historically highly crucial for establishing state power work in actual practice. It turns out that sometimes, rather than the state being summoned as an authority to implement a certain obligation, the actual exercise of state power benefits from being dissimulated. Fascinating stuff right there.
Thanks to Nicholas and Jan for making it all happen! I sense an STS field in the making here and maybe a continuous series of sessions for future 4S meetings. And one more reason to look forward to next year’s 4S in Copenhagen.