Thursday, August 26, 2010

The boomers still want to have a debate about whether their values were right or not, whether they were  liberating or anti-social. Did sexual freedom unleash a new era of expression and female autonomy, or did it destroy the family? Did cultural hedonism overthrow the shackles of wartime austerity, or un-do the very basis for community? How about this, boomers: maybe it was neither. Maybe casual sex is neither life-affirming and liberating, nor immoral and self-destructive, maybe it's just casual. And maybe the bored 30-year-old smoking weed in front of an action movie is neither sticking it to the man, nor falling into the crevices of a broken society, but simply trying to forget about his boring job. Could it be that the real legacy of the boomers is neither anarchy nor utopia, but a sort of masturbatory tedium of people wondering which itch to scratch next? This is what Mark Fisher defines as neo-liberalism's "depressive hedonia... constituted not by an inability to get pleasure so much as by an inability to do anything else except pursue pleasure."
We need more bridges out of the arbitrary moralistic language of values, and into the political-economic language of institutions, governance, ownership, consumption and work. Part of this involves recognising how those bridges have been strategically dismantled since the 1960s, such that advertising and managerialism generates a closed loop of economics and psychology (centred around the self, desire, incentives, dreams, identity, efficiency etc), which remains safely insulated from sociology (centred around inequality, power, government, authority etc). People who either praise or criticise the legacy of the 1960s, but only in terms of what it meant for the individual, have not found a critical position external to that of the boomers themselves...
 Will Davies at Potlatch

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"...Marx didn’t denounce the destruction of factory equipment and strikes as a decline in morality or a betrayal of the work ethic. Instead he wondered what was being said and what new collectives were being invented. We should ask the same questions with all these twittering, face book chatting, blogging, video game playing kiddos that don’t seem to read books so good (even though literacy and reading is greater than it’s ever been in history). Is it possible that our own fantasies of what we’d like the multitudes to be like are getting in the way of clearly seeing what lines of flight are at work before our very eyes?..."


Counter-Performativity Bashing

Yuval Millo patiently rises to the defense of performativity:

1.  Yes, it’s just like ‘self-fulfilling prophesy’ but he and Mackenzie “show in detail how self-fulfilling prophecy comes about, how it becomes institutionalized, under what conditions it is ‘reversed’ and we expose the crucial role that non-human actors play in the process.”

2. The accusation that researchers ‘go native’ to understand the performativity of a theory misses the point.  The strongest STS and SSK works “strive to understand the techno-scientific knowledge embedded in the machines/devices studied and, critically, they identify and analyze the reflections of the larger political, social and cultural circumstances where these technologies were developed … by understanding the minute details of, say, how credit derivates are designed sheds new light on the macro conditions of neo-liberalism and gain better understanding of the crash.”
3. Finally, he elaborates a point made initially by ANT scholars in the 80s: “the fact that economic theory is being ‘made accurate’ does not mean that the theory or ‘economics’ operated so that this aim is achieved. Instead, performativity is the result (which is frequently unintended) of hybrid networks of actors who operate so as to promote a variety of agendas (scientific, political, commercial, etc.).”  In other words, simple epistemologies really don’t cut the mustard because they obscure how technologies - human and nonhuman assemblages - are tamed 

Latour's critique of modernity in a single paragraph

“For Latour as for Whitehead … there is a single ontology of events, and these events function as mediators that continually work, rework, and transform other events. Over time these events come to be stabilized as either natural events and phenomena or as subjective and cultural artifacts. The modern view Latour contests, by contrast, views events as intermediaries from the start that already embody their subjective or objective essence, an essence that will be revealed. In the first case, events are historical and anti-teleological in that they reflect the contingencies of their relationships to other events that are taken up over time though without presupposing whether such collectives (as Latour calls them) are guaranteed of success. In the second case, events are ahistorical and teleological. The essence is already there and whatever contingencies occur are accidental to the nature of the event, a nature that is predestined to be revealed at the end of the day.”
— Latour, Whitehead, and Chaosmos by Jeffrey Bell

Latour on Marx

 I agree with larvalsubjects that 

In CapitalMarx does not appeal to either the social or class as an explanatory force. Indeed, class only appears very late in Capital. Rather, it seems to me that Marx practices an exemplary form of actor-network analysis throughout both Capital and Grundrisse. Marx seeks to explain society in the manner of a sociologist of associations rather than appeal to society to explain the world around us. The actants that Marx appeals to in this story are wage-labor, the money form, factories, trade routes, the availability of resources, various technologies, etc. Here class does not serve an explanatory function, but rather is an emergent effect of how wage labor functions. Class is something that comes into being through a variety of different processes.
This concisely expresses a point Jessop and the Cultural Political Economy crowd have been attuned to for some time in trying to navigate between ‘soft economic sociology’ and positivist economics.  Referring to factories and trade routes as ‘actants’ nicely encapsulates one of the crucial material aspects to Marx’s thought, the other being the labour process itself:
In this respect, we can think of wage-labor in much the same way that DeLanda– who is bafflingly ferocious in his critiques of Marx –thinks about how seashells of fairly consistent shapes and sizes come to be distributed on a beach. Here the average power of the waves and the extent that water comes up on the beach distribute sea-shells of particular shapes and sizes along a narrow band on the beach. Likewise with wage labor and capital. And where the pursuit of capital goes largely unregulated, we witness, over time, a massive disparity in wealth where the lion share of wealth comes to be concentrated in the hands of a few. In other words, we get the formation oremergence of class. When class comes into being, certain additional consequences follow. If the machine of capital is to continue running, not only is it necessary for goods to be produced, but it is also necessary for goods to be consumed so that the production of additional capital can take place. How can that occur, however, when such a system is prone to depressions and recessions that limit the amount of available money for consumers? And so on.
I’d also encourage you to read the comments on the larvalsubjects post.  Jeffrey Bell pops up with a useful comparison between Marx and Marxism on one hand and ‘Latour’s distinction between science in the making and ready-made science (or ‘textbook science’)
“…what if we were to treat prices as artifacts? Not simply as artifacts of the market mechanism, but as technological artifacts, brought about by men and women working together to make prices a real thing? What if we shifted our analytical focus from the meaning (social, symbolic, cultural) of prices to the technologies, which sustain the price system? And what if we analyzed these technologies for what they stand for –e.g. what is the price system supposed to achieve? What makes it legitimate or acceptable? (Muniesa 2000)…Treating prices not as things, but as technologies, brings us back to a point first raised, perhaps, by Karl Polanyi (1944) in his critique of nineteenth century market society but powerfully extended by Callon (e.g., 1998, 2007) in his analysis of the “embeddedness of economic markets in economics.” The real power of economics, Callon argues, is ontological –it is the power to “economicize” the material world through the imposition of a legitimate language and the proliferation of “calculative agencies.” Economics produces (performs) a world (an economy) in which calculability is a key cultural competence, thereby reinforcing the applicability and performative power of economics itself. Furthermore, this back-and-forth movement between economy and economics is itself constitutive of the stable economic objects that we call “markets” or “prices”.”