Thursday 10 June 2010

Abstract: ‘Where’s the action?’ Latour, ontology and world politics

My proposed abstract for the 'Globalization and International Relations' conference at Oxford in September was accepted. I don't know exactly where I'm going to find the time to write it but perhaps if I post it here it'll make me find the time!

It'll be my first conference presentation, which is funny as I'm not even a student at the moment; Mr Independent Researcher, that's me. I'm currently planning to write an article on Latour and IR and submit it for publication by the end of the year. This paper will cover one part of my thoughts along these lines.

The abstract:
‘Where is world politics today?’ (‘Where’s the action?’) Two unsatisfactory answers: (1) In the variegated actions and interactions of states; (2) In the complex actions and interactions of non-/trans-state actor-networks that increasingly disregard the actions and interactions of states. It is clear: we are divided by disagreements over actors – to know ‘where the action is’ we must first know who or what is acting. We need to understand our actors; we need to understand our ontologies. The demise of the state has often been greatly exaggerated in Global Studies (GS), this much is true; yet, equally, an overbearing state-centrism is the nettle International Relations (IR) has been trying and failing to grasp for decades. This paper explores what I believe to be the best meeting point of these two problematics: the ontology of socio-political aggregates – states, nations, governments, bureaucracies, armies, terrorist networks, media networks, socio-linguistic networks, etc. To this end, this paper: firstly, reconsiders the ontology of how states and states systems are made, through the philosophy of Bruno Latour; secondly, it compares this initial analysis to notable recent attempts to apply Latour’s philosophy to GS through actor-network theory (e.g. Srnicek, 2010); finally, it considers the relationship between GS and IR both actually and prospectively – are the disciplines best conceived of as ‘close cousins’?; ‘progeny and progenitor’ (with Oedipal undertones)?; or, do they merely bear a ‘family resemblance’ to one another? The actual relation of the disciplines is a question to be left open, however I shall argue that, precisely for reasons discussed in this paper, the proper relationship of the disciplines should be one of vital and intensive symbiosis.