Thursday, 16 April 2015

"The varieties of diplomatic experience (with special attention to the problem of territory)"—for workshop on "Bruno Latour and Environmental Governance"

I'm very excited to be taking part in a workshop next month titled "Bruno Latour and Environmental Governance."
Since the 1980s Bruno Latour has attempted to supplant the prevailing image of science by proposing a pragmatic and anthropological perspective. [...] The two-day workshop takes as its starting point the idea the Latour's work can be used to explain and understand the workings of environmental governance, using the IPCC as a prime example.
It's being organised and funded by UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy and PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and will be held at Cumberland Lodge, Windsor (just outside London)—an impressive venue!


My paper will be titled, wordily, "The varieties of diplomatic experience (with special attention to the problem of territory)." I hope to:

(a) Introduce the history of diplomacy as a word and practice, particularly drawing on the existing literature on the subject in the field of International Relations.
(b) Articulate diplomacy as a philosophical concept, particularly as it is developed in the work of Isabelle Stengers (see for example).
(c) Relate the preceding to the concept (and problem) of territory, particularly comparing its modern, state-centric iteration (as traced most notably by Stuart Elden) to the speculative, topological conception articulated by Bruno Latour in his most recent works (see here for an overview).

The crucial link between (b) and (c) is Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz—he is the prized witness of Stengers' philosophical diplomacy and is credited by Elden as articulating the modern conception of territory for the first time. Understanding his creative conception of territory as a diplomatic act itself allows Latour's reconception to be framed as a diplomatic act also—and thus related to the geo-ontological upheavals that institutions like the IPCC are grappling with in their own ways.

My overall argument is that 'high-level' diplomacy, such as is practised at the IPCC, can only succeed if diplomacy is occurring at all levels and everywhere. Geogovernance (being the focus of the workshop) cannot be taken in abstraction from geopolitics (taking the latter term more or less as Latour articulates it).

I attended a really excellent conference session on anthropology and diplomacy in Exeter this week. Their focus was, as you might expect, 'everyday' diplomacy outside the corridors and constrictions of formalised, state diplomacy (although not ignoring the unavoidable connections and collisions between tentacular state institutions and mediative practices everywhere).

I want to bring these threads together—the historical, the philosophical, the anthropological—and to use this convergence to nudge the concept of geopolitics towards an integration of state and non-state apparatuses.

It's very much a work in progress, and will remain so for a while; however, it should be published, with a bit of luck, in a special issue of Science & Technology Studies next year.

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