Politics and Ontology - CFP

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MANCHESTER Workshops in Political Theory 2011 - 31 August - 2 September 2011

Call for Papers - Ontology and Politics Workshop

Convenors: Paul Rekret (Queen Mary), Simon Choat (Kingston), Clayton Chin (Queen Mary)

Despite its pervasiveness, the question of the relation between ontology and politics continues to be a crucial one for Continental philosophy. While the place and status of the question of being in the realm of the political has occupied much of social theory in the past twenty or thirty years, we remain no closer to drawing any common ground on these themes. Post-structuralist or post-foundational political thought has insisted on the inherent contingency of any political ontology and has, from this notion, sought to draw out a framework for an emancipatory politics grounded
in the concepts of difference and otherness.

However, such a stance finds itself increasingly challenged today. On the one hand, thinkers such as Alain Badiou and Jacques Ranciere call for the need to think a politics grounded in a conception of universality rather than alterity, while on the other hand, so-called speculative realism more fundamentally challenges the very notion of ontology as it has been conceived by the majority of Continental thinkers in recent decades.

This panel aims to explore the intersections of politics and ontology and the resulting implications for thinking both the political and the philosophical.

We invite papers addressing the following and any other related themes:

-Is there a place for reflection on ontology in the theorisation and study of politics?

-Is there a necessary transitivity between the ontological and the political? How should this relation be conceived?

-Is there a necessarily leftist or emancipatory ontology?

-Should the politics which has generally been thought to follow from post-foundational or post-structuralist ontologies be re-evaluated in light of recent critiques?

-Does a new and different relation between ontology and politics follow from recent speculative materialist ontologies?

If you would like to present a paper at this workshop, please submit an abstract of 300-500 words (or a full paper to p.rekret@qmul.ac.uk or S.Choat@kingston.ac.uk by 15 June 2011.

For more information on the conference see: http://manceptworkshops.wordpress.com

Re-Thinking War in the 21st Century

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The Nietzsche Network has been kind enough to share audio files of the keynote speakers from their recent conference, 'Re-Thinking War in the 21st Century'. The event featured Julian Reid and Manabrata Guha - two preeminent thinkers of the changing nature of warfare. (Note: Manabrata's talk was through a video-link and so the audio quality suffers a bit, but it is still certainly listenable.)

Session #1: [MP3]
a) Keynote: Julian Reid, 'Refusing Peace, Affirming War: On the Importance of Thinking Biopolitics Polemologically'
b) Respondent: Lele Leonardi
c) Discussion

Session #2: [MP3]
a) Keynote: Manabrata Guha, 'Intensive War: ...Not the Beginning, Not the Middle, Not the End...'
b) Respondent: Nandita Biswas Mellamphy
c) Discussion

Both Sessions: [MP3] [Streaming]

(Image shamelessly borrowed from Manabrata!)

CFP: Immigration against the Empire

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Interesting new call for papers from a new journal/magazine. Details below:

about pro/visions
pro/visions is a new magazine/journal (double blind peer-reviewed) that seeks to push critical theory beyond the academy and into the streets. Therefore the content will reflect rigorous (and playful) thought but using language that is accessible to anyone. We seek to create a space for theory to meet praxis (and the ivory tower the people/s). Think Gramsci's "organic intellectual" meets Chuck D and they get into a fist fight--with the world.

"immigration against the Empire"

This issue situates immigration (and other forms of nomadism) as a disruptive event against Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's concept of Empire. Between Arizona's new immigration law in the United States and the French government's response to immigration, it would seem that as the "Third World" pops up in the "First World" neo-liberal policing comes into view of the Global North. In light of the various reactions to these events, responses from the radical Left, in and outside of academia, need to be formulated in order to map resistances and the role of the immigrant and the exile within the Empire.

Articles should be connected to the following suggested topics:
  • Specific case scenarios of immigration in and between geopolitical regions around the globe.
  • Legal, ethical and political controvery/ies concerning immigration policy.
  • The political role of the undocumented worker within U.S. and global paradigms
  • Underground immigrant support networks and their clashes with the "minutemen"
  • Conceptions of identity in relation to immigration
  • Spanglish (or other creoles) as political act
  • Strategies for immigrant solidarity, locally and globally
  • Immigration as a response to neo-liberal forces
  • Illegal immigration as a form of resistance to politics and ideology
  • Systems of race, gender and other social norms within nomadism

submission guidelines
Submissions are welcome in all languages, with a preference toward English, Spanish and Spanglish.
Articles must be between 2,000 and 3,000 words in length with endnotes and a bibliography. Citations should follow the latest version of MLA.
Abstracts must be between 150 and 300 words.
A short biographical description of 3-5 lines should be included.

If you are interested in submitting to pro/visions, please send an abstract by email to provisions.editors@gmail.com no later than July 1, 2010. Final versions of articles will be due August 1, 2010.

Nietzsche, Foucault, Deleuze: Re-Thinking War in the 21st Century

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A really interesting call for papers and conference coming up in London, Ontario soon. Absolutely wish I could make it, though with any luck the organizers (hint, hint!) will have some recordings or texts made available after. Featuring two of the most interesting writers on the linkages between modern war and contemporary philosophy: Manav Guha (Reimagining War in the 21st Century: From Clausewitz to Network-Centric Warfare) and Julian Reid (The Biopolitics of the War on Terror: Life Struggles, Liberal Modernity and the Defence of Logistical Societies).


The Nietzsche Workshop @ Western:
"Nietzsche, Foucault, Deleuze: Re-Thinking War in the 21st Century"

Thursday, May 6, 2010
Faculty of Social Science, Dean’s Boardroom
The University of Western Ontario

"The present European War is sometimes closely connected with Nietzsche. It is even called Nietzsche in Action, or the Euro-Nietzschean War" (Salter, 1917).

The theme of the second Nietzsche Workshop @ Western brings Salter’s early statement to bear on the (perhaps novel) forms of war characteristic of the 21st century. The aim of this workshop (more specifically) is to investigate the problematic relation between war in the bio-technological era and the critical socio-political insights of Nietzsche and his two most influential successors, the post-Nietzscheans Foucault and Deleuze.

Topics of interest to the conference would include:

• the concept of polemos (war) in Nietzsche, Foucault and/or Deleuze
• the militarization of peace
• war, terror, and bio-politics
• war and/as the ‘becoming’ of life
• the ‘subject’ of war and/or terror
• new tactics of war and/or terror

Keynote Speakers:

Dr. Manabrata Guha, author of Reimagining War in the 21st Century: From Clausewitz to Network-Centric Warfare (Routledge 2010), Assistant Professor of International Security and Strategic Studies at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, India, and
Dr. Julian Reid, author of The Biopolitics of the War on Terror (Manchester University Press, 2007), co-author of The Liberal Way of War: Killing to Make Life Live (Routledge, 2009), Lecturer in the Department of War Studies, King’s College London, UK.

Abstracts of no more than 250 words are to be sent to Nandita Biswas Mellamphy c/o the.nietzsche.network[at]gmail.com no later than April 10, 2010. For more information, visit the Nietzsche Netwørk on facebook, at http://groups.to/nietzsche (where links to the Nietzsche Worskhop @ Western event-page and other pertinent information can be found).

Institutionalizing Revolution

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While I've not always been a fan of Zizek's political analyses, I have to say, his latest book is terrific. There's any number of really great ideas by him in it, but I'll just point out two of them here. First, is the emphasis on the importance of the Included/Excluded division to understanding any political response to the contemporary world's problems:

"[The four antagonisms of modern capitalism:] the looming threat of an ecological catastrophe; the inappropriateness of the notion of private property in relation to so-called 'intellectual property'; the socio-ethical implications of new techno-scientific developments (especially in biogenetics); and, last but not least, the creation of new forms of apartheid, new Walls and slums." (91)

"In the series of four antagonisms then, that between the Included and the Excluded is the crucial one. Without it, all others lose their subversive edge - ecology turns into a problem of sustainable development, intellectual property into a complex legal challenge, biogenetics into an ethical issue. One can sincerely fight to preserve the environment, defend a broader notion of intellectual property, or oppose the copyrighting of genes, without ever confronting the antagonism between the Included and the Excluded. [...] One can well imagine a society which somehow resolves the first three antagonisms through authoritarian measures which not only maintain but in fact strengthen existing social hierarchies, divisions and exclusions. [...] As this logic reaches its extreme, would it not be reasonable to bring it to its self-negation: is not a system which renders 80 percent of people irrelevant and useless itself irrelevant and of no use?" (98/103)

Second is his move beyond the limitations of 'direct participatory action' and the romanticism given to revolutionary moments, in favour of actively constructing a new order, a new institutionalized order:

"My suggestion is rather this: what if today's global capitalism, precisely insofar as it is 'world-less', involving a constant disruption of all fixed order, opens up the space for a revolution which will break the vicious cycle of revolt and its reinscription, which will, in other words, no longer follow the pattern of an evental explosion followed by a return to normality, but will instead assume the task of a new 'ordering' against the global capitalist disorder? Out of revolt we should shamelessly pass to enforcing a new order." (130)

"The key test of every radical emancipatory movement is [...] to what extent it transforms on a daily basis the practico-inert institutional practices which gain the upper hand once the fervor of the struggle is over and people return to business as usual. The success of a revolution should not be measured by the sublime awe of its ecstatic moments, but by the changes the big Event leaves at the level of the everyday, the day after the insurrection." (154)

To which I say: yes, yes, and yes.

My only real problem with the book is twofold: Zizek explicitly argues that the terrain of politics is ideology, in some parts of the book. (Though this is belied by his comments in other parts of the book.) While ideology is important, too much focus on it leads us to neglect material factors. Secondly, and related, is that the general ideas of 'ideology' and 'capitalism' are far too baggy to grasp onto real concrete political action. This would take a lot of work to demonstrate, but something like actor-network theory is immensely more useful for understanding how to work with the conduits through which ideology passes. As an empirical study of specific political situations, actor-network theory is well-suited to actively working in the world.

New Simondon PDF

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A long while ago on this blog, I posted up a PDF of the only English translation of Gilbert Simondon's On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects. But my lack of technical skills meant that the original PDF was an image that readers were unable to copy and paste selections from. However, one intrepid reader, Angelos, undertook the effort to convert it to text, and added an index and clickable footnotes, making it a much more user-friendly PDF. So I'm posting up Angelos' new version, with a sincere thanks for his work on this:


Genocide Monitoring and Early Warning

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In light of discussions about militancy, responsibility, activism, and the usefulness (or not) of various academic writing, it seems really appropriate to point to a quick way you can make a significant difference right now.

Google is currently taking votes for Project 10 to the 100, where a number of projects are up for voting, with the winner receiving $10 million of funding and the support of Google's impressive technical team.

Far and away the most important idea is to create a genocide monitoring and alert system, where the entire international community can coordinate and become aware of the potential for genocides before they occur.

From Google:

"Much of the necessary technology and data-gathering methodology already exists both for general crisis mapping and for early warning systems capable of preventing mass atrocities. A key remaining step is to make this data more widely available to strengthen international aid agency coordination, improve resource allocation, develop timely policy and help evaluate current humanitarian practices."

- The deadline for voting is October 8th, so don't put it off; take the 10 seconds to vote.

(h/t Stop Genocide Blog)


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Just a quick note to highlight a new Deleuze-focused blog, Deontologistics. A few excellent posts up already, with promises of more to come on Badiou and Brandom. He also self-professes that he's "been known to dabble in speculative realism, though [he doesn't] inhale."

Also, it looks as though I will be giving a short talk at Goldsmith's on September 30th, along with some of the brightest people I know. The event will be based around Dominic Fox's fascinating book, Cold World: The Aesthetics of Dejection and the Politics of Militant Dysphoria. I'll have moved to England the day before, so hopefully some fun jetlag-induced hijinks will follow. I'll post up more details as they become finalized.


Militant Dysphoria

Wednesday September 30th, 2009

Room RHB 256, Goldmsiths, University of London 2-6 PM

Facebook Event page


Dominic Fox

Nathan Brown

Mark Fisher

Nick Srnicek

James Trafford

Alex Williams

An event to discuss some of the issues raised by Domininc Fox's Cold World: The aesthetics of dejection and the politics of militant dysphoria, due to be published by zer0 at the end of September. What is meant by 'militant dysphoria', and in what ways can the concept help us move beyond the impasses of contemporary politics? How might disaffection be converted into militancy? What political potentials are there in dysphoric music such as Black Metal? The event will also explore the relationship between politics and Speculative Realism.

This will not be a formal academic conference. Instead, it will follow the pattern set by the Weird events at Goldsmiths and the recent UEL symposium on the hardcore continuum. There will be short semi-formal presentations by speakers, but the emphasis will be on discussion of concepts rather than on presenting of papers etc.

The event is free but anyone interested in attending should register with Mark Fisher (k_punk99[AT]hotmail.com). Places are limited. In addition, if anyone would like to give a semi-formal presentation, please let me know.

Berlusconi in Tehran

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Slavoj Zizek has a new piece up in the London Review of Books, focused on Iran and Berlusconi. Elsewhere, Graham Harman is undertaking a live-blogging of the writing of his new book - an immensely helpful set of posts that help to de-mystify the writing process. And Michael O'Neill Burns has just written on Peter Hallward's latest intriguing piece on 'The Will of the People'. Hallward's project has always been interesting and daring for its breaks with what is currently fashionable in philosophy, and I hope to soon put up a post about this latest essay. And this has been around the politics blogosphere lately, but in case you missed it, Marc Lynch has an international relations reading of the feud between Jay-Z and The Game and its relation to American hegemony - easily one of the best blog posts in the last little while. Finally, I've been having a fascinating and productive online discussion with Nate and Duncan about non-philosophy and Ray Brassier's work. Definitely a lot to think about throughout the discussion, and ideally I'll try to systematize some of the thoughts at some future point. I'm busy with a couple other, off-line, projects right now, so posting will remain unfortunately light for the foreseeable future.

Anarchism and Prefigurative Politics

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At the suggestion of Andrew in the comments to my last post, I took up reading through Richard Day’s Gramsci is Dead: Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movements in order to come to some understanding of how modern day anarchism is responding to the general malaise of contemporary leftism. (A malaise, I argue, that is most blatantly clear in the absence of any real movement to systematically change the current model of capitalism, despite the biggest crisis of our economic system since the Great Depression. Instead, at best, we have discussions of regulating banks and financial markets, and perhaps reforming the decision-making bodies of the international financial institutions. It’s not even a return to the welfare state, as there is little argument being made for more social provisions or automatic stabilizers.)

While Day’s book is excellent and intriguing on a number of levels (some of which I’ll point out later), it still ultimately fails to get past the problems of modern leftism – in particular, its inability to transform social systems. In Day’s argument, this inability is in fact a benefit – a sign that present leftism is moving beyond the ‘hegemony of hegemony’ and instead working towards the ‘affinity of affinity’. For Day, hegemony refers to the idea that in order to effect change, one must control the levers of power and bring about change in as wide as possible of a way (often through the state). The hegemony of hegemony refers to the notion that this conception of how to bring about change has itself been hegemonic. But as an anarchist that refuses all relations of hierarchy and oppression, there’s a contradiction in trying to impose one’s ideas on another. One can’t subscribe to a vision of an egalitarian society and simultaneously justify using structures of authority to impose this vision on others.

The alternative, then, and one which Day sees as operative throughout modern day anarchism (and in fact, also in Negri and Hardt) is the logic of affinity. In this model, change is not brought about by taking over state power, or by inciting a widespread revolutionary uprising, but rather by operating outside these circuits – through direct action that immediately creates the sort of community being aimed at (a post-capitalist, post-statist society).

As Day states, these types of non-hegemonic tactics can include: “dropping out of existing institutions; subversion of existing institutions, through parody; impeding existing institutions, via property destruction, ‘direct action case work’, blockades, and so on; prefiguring alternatives to existing institutions, often via modes of activity that otherwise fall within the purview of a hegemonic politics, for example protests; and finally, construction of alternatives to existing forms that render redundant, and thereby take power from, the neoliberal project.” (Gramsci is Dead, 19)

The problem with all this, however, is that anarchism has self-consciously withdrawn from all the levers of power that might actually make a significant and concrete difference! The result, I would argue, is that at best, anarchism merely opens up small and often temporary spaces of community that escape the logic of capitalism or the state-form. And at worst, these small and temporary spaces only function to mitigate capitalism’s worst excesses, thereby undermining their own goals by perpetuating capitalist relations even further. There is no way in which anarchism can effect a concrete social change on any significant scale. It is left believing in the power of its ideas and hoping that others will agree and join in.

That being said, there are numerous things that are laudable about anarchism. Most notable is its willingness to grapple with concrete political problems and local situations – something missing from most other ‘radical’ leftisms. Anarchism is effective in the small-scale situations in which it tends to operate; the problem is simply that it willingly refuses any significant method of propagating its form of social organization. (This is a problem for any political theory, but unlike anarchism, most are fighting and scrapping over every available means to spread their ideas.)

Anarchism should also be acknowledged for its creation of prefigurative politics – a form of direct action that works to immediately create a new social organization without waiting for a revolution and without attempting to reform current social institutions. We can think here of how a protest movement may be planned based on universal consensus, or how communities may informally organize together to provide social goods like health care and food for each other. In this, anarchism at least attempts to answer the question of what a new post-capitalist, post-statist society would look like. While I disagree with much of anarchism (in particular, it’s belief that a withering of the state would lead to a better society, or its belief that important state functions can be replaced by communities based on affinity), it’s nevertheless the case that it’s much more relevant to the real world than the abstract ruminations of much of the politics espoused by continental philosophy.

Prefigurative politics, it seems to me, offer important examples of how post-statist, post-capitalist communities can function, and what their own limitations are. Both are worthwhile subjects for theorists to analyze.