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.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Against (eco-)austerities, left and right

Reading this Ecomodernist Manifesto, I am reminded of the Accelerationist Manifesto. These tracts have little to nothing in common politically (besides a general commitment to a renewed modernism); however, they do to some extent have a common target: eco-austerity (or, traditional left-wing environmentalism).

I am tempted to draw a link between austerity on the right (as we find once again now in our regrettable General Election here in the UK, with both major parties competitively swingeing state budgets like there's no tomorrow) and left austerity or eco-austerity—in other words, the belief that foreseeably convergent environmental and economic crises require a radical reduction in the material expectations of both the already wealthy (in global terms) and the would-be wealthy (i.e. 'developed' and 'developing' countries).

Austerity in its neoliberal form is not going away any time soon. It has become engrained in British political discourse (and not only here) to such an extent that it seems almost incontestable—we are arguing only over rates, degrees and timetables.

I have profound reservations about neo-modernism in both its centre-right, third-way, neoliberal version (ecomodernist) and in its self-consciously radical left, techno-vanguardist version (accelerationist); however, their shared resistance to the austerity project that is traditional left environmentalism is to be commended.

There are deep problems with both sets of solutions but they are asking some of the right questions.

Furthermore, I wonder if one of the key political fissures in the coming years will be precisely this sense of a project of austerity—which, as I have suggested, does not exist only on the right. The distinguishing feature of rightwing austerity is that it is only the poor that are expected tighten their belts to assuage their hunger pains (and, of course, that this project concerns only the economic in ignorance of the ecological). The rich are the aristocracy who can splurge their hard-earned ill-gotten gains as they please—the more frivolously the better, it seems. The poor lap up their crumbs and must never forget to say 'thankyou.'

I do not believe that the distinction between left and right is any less vital now than it ever was. However, it is not the only political shibboleth/sorting hat that matters. If the left is to maintain (and further) the strength of this distinction in the years to come, years in which ecological politics will become ever more indistinguishably suffused into the general political fabric, it has to address its own austerity hangups.

In the long-term, there will be no countering neoliberal austerity without overcoming eco-austerity.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

'An Ecomodernist Manifesto' reviewed—part 1

There is much in this document that is praiseworthy. However, it gets off to a bad start:
To say that the Earth is a human planet becomes truer every day. Humans are made from the Earth, and the Earth is remade by human hands. Many earth scientists express this by stating that the Earth has entered a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene, the Age of Humans.
That is a very poor interpretation of 'the Anthropocene' for several reasons. First, it simple mindedly interprets 'anthropos' as 'homo sapiens.' Second, and even more important, it continues the claim previously made by several of its authors, namely that human beings are 'The God Species' capable of harnessing earth systems. It confuses perturbation with control, peril with mastery.

'An ecomodernist manifesto' published

An Ecomodernist Manifesto

So much wrong with it that it's difficult to know where to begin. Will take some digesting...