Category Archives: notes

Notes – ANT and topology

Notes from Law, J. (1999) ‘After ANT: Complexity, naming and topology’ in Law, J. amd Hassard, J. (eds) Actor Network Theory and after, Blackwell

Here John Law addresses the problem of ANT becoming a homogeneous ‘theory’ whose ‘productive non-coherence’ and ‘capacity to apprehend complexity'(8) has been eroded by the very incorporation of ANT. What has come to hardly matter is exactly the tension between ‘actor’ and ‘networ’, which in the process of naming was an oxymoron intentionally created. Drawing on the history of actor-network-theory, he points to two different approaches to what ANT has come to be understood as.

  1. relational materiality (or semiotics of materiality):  As such, ANT represents an anti-essentialist framework whereby entities have no inherent qualities and are produced in relations. Divisions are understood as effects and outcomes and not given in  the order of things.
  2. performativity: entities are performed by and through these relations. The question of how, the how these entities gain their fixity through performativity, is for Law what ANT came to be associated with, a managerial task as he calls it.

What ANT clearly did, and as Annemarie Mol points out, is provide an alternative non-conformable spatiality which wages war to Euclidean topology. And to make this meaningful, stress how Euclidean spatiality carries with it certain understandings and socio-technical discourses and practices.  ANT de-naturalises these notions of the topographically natural and essentialist difference. It is in networks that regions are constituted and networks become this way alternative topological systems (nation-states in Mol are made of telephone systems paperwork etc).

The problem for Law is how the notion of the network has itself become naturalised and by this he refers to the process of ANT studies to refer to the how. For him the network concept leaves the character of relations open, does not aim to fix them, to stabilise them in an interpretation, just to translate them (make equivalents).

It is unclear to me if Law means that the problem with what ANT has come to mean or to be used as is actually its virtue as a form of spatiality. Does he mean that translation is a descriptive and neutral practice? Does he detest the fact that, as an alternative form of spatiality, the network limits the possible links that can be made (and thus the possible entities that can be produced)? Because as I understand this, noting the restrictions and the limits of possible relations is not tantamount to homogenising the links. This is not even my understanding of naturalisation, but on  the contrary, of de-naturalisation.  Seeing the notion of the network as an endless possibility and unproblematically incorporating it as an alternative topology carries itself certain assumptions and has its own underpinnings of socio-technical practices. It is also confusing how object integrity is thought as a matter of retaining the links, and just that. To be frank, I don’t get why there is such an insistence about not looking at the how.

Feminism in London 2009 – report notes

I attended the Feminism in London 09 Conference on Saturday 10th of October as part of my fieldwork. It was a vivid event with estimated 200 people attending. I arrived there around 9.30 in the morning and left at 5pm, and during this time I interviewed participants and attended presentations. Beatrix Campbell and Susie Orbach(see entry) opened the day.

Beatrix Campbell talked about the transition from the 70s to neo-liberalism and how, today, feminism seems to operate in increasingly difficult conditions. Femininities in particular find themselves vulnerable, within inhospitable conditions of hypermasculinities. She mentioned how the emerging economic powers contribute to this climate. They work with us and also against us. What seem to be transforming at the end of the 70s however for Beatrix, is not really happening as women seem to have re-entered contingent conditions regarding child care and full-time work. This going in and out of paid labour essentially leads women to perpetual exhaustion. ‘OK, what now needs to happen?’ she asks, how do we manage the work time balance? She drew the audience’s attention to masculinities and how men’s institutions have relatively remained unchanged throughout the years, and also to the historic development of the wage system. She suggests that we need a new academic agenda which synchronizes the politics of life with institutional provisions. The problem is HOW do we go on with this project, how do we bring these issues into national conversation? Once again she stressed how the modernisation processes that take place in China and other emerging economies re-engineer the ways women and men relate and that these developments will alter ways of relating in the Western world. ‘What happens there will transform here’, she notes. So the ways to bring these issues into the public agenda are through ‘little doors’ that the state leave open for the people on the assumption that, being so hard to pursue, people will eventually give up. Saying this, Beatrix represented a tired swimmer who is swimming against the flow. She emphasised that we need to siege the tools, especially as democratic practices are being discredited. She then moved to address ‘violence’. To Beatrix violence has become a prominent public discourse which is located mainly within the criminal justice rather the social justice scene. This is problematic as this discourse seems to be stuck at the correlation between violence and masculinity. Working with violent men, she suggests that there are 80000 young men who are themselves hurt and wounded and that we need to know more about them and how violence has been catastrophic for them as well as for the victim. Additionally, we need to notice how in the midst if this violence discourse climate, we are witnessing a resurgence of hyper masculinities and hyperfemininities, which are particularly confusing for feminists of a more military style- the style she called the ‘fuck me but don’t fuck with me’. In China, the western style re-feminisation of women today is presented as a return to nature. In conclusion, feminism needs to define narratives of the relationships between men and women and this way shape these complicated issues as a political platform.

I will here share also some notes during the ‘what’s wrong with prostitution’ discussion, mainly the question time.

The question time included questions linking prostitution and domestic violence. How do we (feminists/ women) deal with women working in trafficking. Is prostitution inherently wrong? How do we reply against choice in prostitution? Criminalization of men using prostitution. Would feminists need to see why men do it in the first place- in the sense of a supply/demand situation. Prostitutes and local authority care experience. Australian model of commodifying women. How to tackle the argument that women need prostitution for men otherwise they will get out and rape. What about sex workers advocating their vocation as a career choice.

reformatting politics / notes

In the Introduction of Reformatting Politics: Information Technology and Global Civil Society, Jodi Dean, Jon W. Anderson and Geert Lovink (CRC Press, 2006) argue about the ‘postdemocratic governmentality of network societies’ that is evident in the connections between civil society organisations (CSOs) and networked ICTs (namely the internet, mobile phones, satellite radio and television). The main question that guides the volume is ‘how are activists and new technologies transforming each other and the global space in which they interact’, in other words they are interested in the impact of the use of ICTs on contemporary politics and power balance.

Their main argument is that ICTs enable affiliations and engagement that do not fit the democratic imaginary (they exceed it) and that a new set of values needs to be used when speaking about network societies and politics. Networks reformat politics because the old concepts associated with democracy, and essentially the nation state, namely accountability, representation, constituency and legitimacy, are replaced by the notions of:

  • subsidiarity: the EU basic principle (Maastricht Treaty) of taking decisions at the lowest possible level – citizen
  • ‘multistakeholderism’: as a critique of the welfare state – breaks large constituencies around specific gov progs into isolatable ‘stakeholders’- provides CSOs with practical attainable goals and expertise that the org supplies. Constituency politics not meaningful.
  • expertise : fin and tech knowledge, knowledge of procedures, rules, practices, language, ideals, principles of gov/pri funders (no more representation on basis of identity, but on basis of agendas, relationships, activities and issues)
  • reputation management (rather than legitimacy)

Talking about ‘global civil societies’ cannot be merely an extension of the political topography of the nation state, it needs to  be informed by concepts of tech migration, informational mobility, reflexivity, mutable assemblages and contingent effects (see eg. Hardt and Negri 2000).

The levels of the argument thus are (how are politics reformatted by networks? — network communications are not tools for participation, this is not  a technological deterministic account, neither a celebration of the internet as information superhighway that makes democratic participation possible, it is rather a disruption of the western european image of democracy)

(1) networks ARE the social morphology of the information age (2) networks are materially based on networked communications, eg. the internet (3) network communications introduce new ways of relating–> (4) networks operate in flat mode – indirection: distribution of responsibility across different levels. networks are hybrid, mobile, reflexive, performative (5) democratic values shift (6) appeals and politics, governance needs to take account of this new social morphology

Surviving feminism?

A basic web search for ‘feminist issue’ brings up predominately body image pages: mainly related to Susie Orbach‘s book ‘fat is a feminist issue’, then make-up, not surprisingly prostitution, recently (and due to euro-elections& the BNP ‘threat’) anti-fascism, same-sex marriage, the (recession inspired) economy, teacher-pay, immigration, rape, the internet, and again, fat.

It occurs to me that naming something ‘a feminist issue’ is actually the issue – it actually signals that there is a green lights and then some weird creatures called ‘the feminist’ will step in and make it their job to preach what should and what should not be done about it. For example, in ‘Is make up a feminist issue’, the writer shouts

‘I remember thinking what the hell have feminists got to do with my legs, their mine, they can fuck off and deal with their own legs!’

and

‘For me, make up can help me get into a role but that doesn’t mean I am betraying the sisterhood, because my role is not exclusively ‘I am out to get men’s attention’. I just feel that where feminism is concerned they should stop focusing on surface issues, and I thought that was the whole point? To judge the person and not their looks’.

Feminists are the judge here and there is a lot of ‘betraying’ going on- I had a personal feeling of this when I seemed to function as a representative of ‘the feminists’ in a doctoral summer camp. Apart from the extreme inaccuracies that I heard (such as ‘Brighton is a place where people with AIDS chose to live’, ‘I think she is not a woman- Her confidence is not real- She must have a penis’, ‘feminism is a theory where women are superior to men’, and the overall understanding that feminism is this notion whereby everything must be  pure and sex is not permitted) there seemed to be a feeling of betraying feminism and a hostility to these women that stand there, like the ultimate judge for other womens’ actions. The guilt is such in these cases that even the mentioning of the word ‘feminism’ makes certain women adopt a defensive attitude of ‘what do you want? leave me alone’, or, at best, ‘I’ve been there, I know about all that, I’m now past it’ (as if feminism is a children sickness that you have to survive).

There is a war of definitions going on which concerns who does the definition. The war is between ‘the women’ and ‘the feminists’. ‘The feminists’ include media feminists like Julie Bindle who is a radical feminist, accused as transophobic, writing for the Guardian, or Germaire Greer who is a celebrity.  Or the f-word. And best-selling books that focus on body image. ‘The women’ include people who seem to adopt the ‘sex and the city’ attitude, a no-wave post-feminism according to which there is no need for feminism any more. This is essentially an anti-feminism stance since feminism is in fact a political position and these women are not just uninterested to the scopes of feminism, they are antithetical to its very existence.

In scholarly feminism, ‘feminist issue’ is whatever contributes ‘to understanding of the oppression of women’ (Karen J. Warren (1995) The Power and the Promise of Ecological Feminism, in ‘Readings in ecology and feminist theology’, edited by Mary Heather MacKinnon, Moni McIntyre) and it varies, depending on the school of thought. For example, ecological feminism will say environmental degradation, pollution and destruction of natural resources is a feminist issue because of the local effects it has in women’s lives.

It is important that the epistemological crisis which postmodern feminism caused to ‘the world of knowledge’, allows thinking of the different competing forces which attempt to define what a ‘feminist issue’ is in a fruitful way. There is not one feminist issue, there is not one issue in any case as there is not ‘one true story of reality’ to be told (Harding, S. (2005) From the woman question in science to the science question in feminism, in ‘Knowledge and society: forms of knowledge’, edited by Nico Stehr, Reiner Grundmann). Especially as the efforts to define what is and what is  not ‘a feminist issue’ do not necessarily come from different strands of feminism but in fact different forces within the society, this can be seen as a hegemonic struggle for power over meaning. What is troubling me however is how to incorporate this ‘war’ over meaning and in fact ‘war’ over the scope of feminism in the postmodern seeking of solidarity. If ‘the women’ who declare war to ‘the feminists’ do not want to be represented by them and do not accept their personal lives to be bullied that is one thing. If they object to the very need for an anti-oppression discourse, then this does not really allow any space for solidarity, or for indeed for politics.

Readings in ecology and feminist theology

biopower, biosociality, biopolitics notes

Some definition notes about the concepts of biopolitics, biopower and biosociality.

Biopower appears in Foucault and The History of Sexuality vol. 1 and it examines sovereign power over bodies, or the Right of Death and Power over life. Life becomes the centre of attention in the modernist states of the late 18th century (developed in the 19th), whereby wars are no longer waged in the name of the sovereign but in the name of survival. There are two poles across which power is exersided- the personal (the body, the anatomic) and the public (regulations for polulation control, mechanisms of birth and death).

Paul Rabinow and Nikolas Rose in their ‘Thoughts on the concept of Biopower today’ clarify the distinction between biopower and biopolitics as: biopower is the attempt to intervene to human existence whereas biopolitics includes the strategies over knowledge, authorities and practices of intervention that are desirable and legitimate.

For Rabinow and Rose, we cannot project the concept of biopower to analyse today’s liberal societies because the notion of’the social’ has declined, several responsibilities have moved to transnational bodies (e.g. EU, WHO) and welfare states have taken up the role of the sovereign (they call these changes ‘mutation’ and they roughly refer to the politics of individual wellbeing(micro/molar) and the politics of polulations(macro/molecular), coming together under single governmental control bodies).

Rabinow’s (1992) concept of biosociality– as examined by Sarah Gibbon and Carlos Novas in the Introductory Chapter of  ‘Biosocialities, Genetics and Social Sciences’ (2008), but also explored in other chapters of the volume. The concept is interesting  to me because it can be employed to explain the emergence of new groupings around new biological identities. Social scientists have tried to understand how ‘potential transformations in understandings of “life” may be involved in reassembling existing cultural, social economic ethical and political practices’ (1). How emerging truths (about what life is, what human is) shape identities and activisms (disease related sociality-identity)-as definition of illness changes (reclassification of illness as genetic, being at genetic risk due to a ‘suspicious’ gene), so do the identities and what is done about them. New opportunities for identifying with others–>organising is different.

TBC