Thursday 10 June 2010

Middlesex moving to Kingston

It is interesting how mixed the responses to the CRMEP's move from Middlesex to Kingston have been. I, myself, am delighted although everyone recognises that it is by no means a victory without caveats attached and that the campaign must continue. The primary criticism seems to be one of the campaign 'selling out' because they didn't go down in a hopeless blaze of glory. The more fair criticisms note that two junior members of staff won't be included in the move and that Christian Kerslake is still suspended without another job to go to. I can see where this reasoning would come from but the campaign have made very clear that their struggle is not over! They're not just going to abandon their friends and colleagues; the suggestion is absurd.

Despite what the few come-lately naysayers have suggested, the student campaign has been absolutely brilliant and I see no reason to assume that it will be anything else now that the Centre's future has been secured. The campaign has wisely avoided what is often the downfall of student protests, which is to adopt a poise of all or nothing, us against the world -- a 'the revolution starts here' attitude. Such an attitude deflates even the most unexpected and, frankly, unexpectable victories such as the recently announced Kingston move.

A good friend of mine once remarked that ' it is important for the Left to celebrate small victories, otherwise we just become a bunch of grumpy, middle-aged, white men arguing furiously about our almost identical views in dark rooms above dingy old pubs' (I'm paraphrasing and possibly embellishing).

We have not passed from the darkness to the light and there remains a lot of work to do but if such pragmatism sours events such as this which even the most outrageous optimists would have struggled to see coming then we are in a pretty pitiful state.

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.

Tuesday 8 June 2010

Little Lateral Realism Story

If not 'realism' then what? Anti-realism? Surely not! 'This statement is not true' is too pointless a waste of time to ever be more than silly and sophomoric; at worst it is simply moronic. Latour's position is clearly superior. Statement A is more or less universal, more or less true, more or less a fact depending on its associations; that is, on its relativity. If I whisper statement A and nobody hears it then it is extremely weak. If I pick up a megaphone and bellow it out then it could be stronger; then again, if the excessive volume annoys people who would, had I just whispered A closer to them, been receptive to it then it is counterproductive; volume - that is, raw power - doesn't necessarily equal 'strength'. Suppose I stand on Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park in London, soapbox under foot, and pontificate A to passers by. The fate of A is then dependent on my rhetorical skills, the weather, other speakers present at the same time, etc. Passers by and other onlookers may think me just another lunatic - they may immediately assume A is some weird conspiracy theory and not listen at all. If so, A remains weak - a fiction and a mere one at that. Then again, perhaps people will listen. Perhaps A is, under the right conditions, an unexpectedly powerful statement - a 'lure for feeling', indeed. Perhaps it is so powerful that it takes on a life quite of its own. Perhaps my listeners become stronger believers than myself. Perhaps then I become like Monty Python's 'Brian', terrorised by a mob that believes me to be the deliverer of the sublime A to the people. A, then has become strong - too strong! The stronger it becomes the more universal it is; the more people believe it to be true, the more entangled in all manner of heterogeneous human and non-human associations becomes the more truthful it becomes - the more real it becomes.

Critical realists call their realism (both critical and) 'depth realism'. I call mine 'lateral'; I could also call it 'breadth realism'.