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Political Matter

Political Matter: Technoscience, Democracy, and Public Life

Bruce Braun
Sarah J. Whatmore
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    Political Matter
    Book Description:

    Political Matter seeks to develop a fully materialist theory of politics, one that opens new possibilities for imagining the relationship between scientific and political practices. The contributors assert that without such a theory the profusion of complex materials with and through which we live—plastic bags, smart cars, long-life lightbulbs—too often leaves us oscillating between fearful repudiation and glib celebration.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-7495-4
    Subjects: Geography

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. The Stuff of Politics: An Introduction
    (pp. ix-xl)

    “That’s the stuff of politics.” It is a common phrase that often denotes nothing more than the shady deals and overheated rhetoric that we imagine constitutes political life in representational democracies, as intimated by Sir Ivor Jennings (1962) in the title of the third volume in his study of party politics in Britain. Inflected thus, it speaks of the pursuit of power and all the tawdry practices that go into attaining it. It suggests something ignoble, even insubstantial—that’sjustthe stuff of politics—an emphasis that separates politics from apparently more important or honorable aspects of human existence. But...

  5. 1 Including Nonhumans in Political Theory: Opening Pandora’s Box?
    (pp. 3-34)

    Let us start with the obvious problem—the impossibility of giving an adequate definition of the termnonhumans. I will present three obstacles that stand in the way of such a definition.

    The first obstacle is that the negative,non, does not correspond to any unifying category because we cannot use any longer the category of object. Objects, as opposed to subjects, will necessarily lead us back to problems of knowledge, whereas we must deal with nonhumans as existents.

    It is true that theories of knowledge and of existences were conflated when existence was derived from a divine creation, with...

  6. 2 Thing-Power
    (pp. 35-62)

    In the wake of foucault’s death in 1984, there was an explosion of scholarship on the body and its social construction, on the operations of biopower. These genealogical (in the Nietzschean sense) studies exposed the various micropolitical and macropolitical techniques through which the human body was disciplined, normalized, sped up and slowed down, gendered, sexed, nationalized, globalized, rendered disposable, or otherwise composed. The initial insight was to reveal how cultural practices produce what is experienced as natural, but many theorists also insisted on thematerial recalcitranceof such cultural productions.¹ Though gender, for example, was a congealed bodily effect of...

  7. 3 Materiality, Experience, and Surveillance
    (pp. 63-86)

    I seek to come to terms with the materiality of perception by placing Merleau-Ponty, Michel Foucault, and Gilles Deleuze into conversations with each other and neuroscience. Such a conversation has been obstructed by the judgment that Merleau-Ponty is a phenomenologist whereas the latter two are opposed to phenomenology. My sense, however, is that there is a phenomenological moment in both Foucault and Deleuze. Moreover, the conception of the subject they criticize is one from which Merleau-Ponty progressively departed. He also moved toward a conception of nonhuman nature that, he thought, was needed to redeem themes in thePhenomenology of Perception....

  8. 4 Materialist Politics: Metallurgy
    (pp. 89-118)

    How might one conceive of the relation between materials and politics? As is common enough in science and technology studies, this chapter centers on a case study: the field of metallurgy and the materiality of metals and other inorganic matter. The danger of using a case study, of course, is that the case simply becomes an illustration of an idea or principle that has been formulated somewhere else—that which we alreadyknow, and that which we simply want to make clear—whereas what we would like from a case study is that it is somethingmorethan an example,...

  9. 5 Plastic Materialities
    (pp. 119-138)

    You see it walking into the supermarket: an image of a plastic bag with a big black cross over it and the words SAY NO TO PLASTIC BAGS emblazoned above. The message is clear: bags are bad. How did it come to this? How did this flimsy, disposable thing acquire such a shocking reputation? How did using one in public come to mark the shopper as irresponsible? How did this humble object come to have such a claim on us?

    As the supermarket poster shows, bags have changed. They have become contested matter: the focus of environmental education campaigns designed...

  10. 6 Halos: Making More Room in the World for New Political Orders
    (pp. 139-174)

    This chapter represents one small part of a more general attempt to struggle over the hill of various Western philosophies, social sciences, and forms of politics to see a new, more open vista, one in which, through the articulation of an ontology of achievement, different associations are able to be made and made manifest, different togethernesses are thereby able to be forged, and different landscapes of possibility are subsequently able to be uncovered.

    To limit what is clearly an enormous number of lines of enquiry, I have therefore fixed on just one aspect of this attempt, namely, the politics of...

  11. 7 Front-staging Nonhumans: Publicity as a Constraint on the Political Activity of Things
    (pp. 177-210)

    Over the last years, a sizeable publicity machine has been set up by governments, energy companies, and environmental organizations to promote reductions in domestic energy consumption as a way for people to help “combat global warming.”¹ These initiatives have been criticized on various grounds, not in the least because of the lack of credibility of their hyperbolic claims such as the assurance that fixing energy-efficient lightbulbs or routinely unplugging one’s mobile telephone charger “helps repair the planet”²—claims that for a while were endlessly repeated on billboards, in the press, and so on, in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom....

  12. 8 The Political Technology of RU486: Time for the Body and Democracy
    (pp. 211-242)

    A public debate erupted in Australia in late 2005 when, in an unprecedented move, four female senators from across the political party spectrum sponsored a “private members bill” to repeal the federal minister for health’s jurisdiction over the licensing of RU486 (the so-called home abortion pill).¹ By February 2006, the newspaper headlines read, “No Pill Has Divided Australia Like RU486 Since the Oral Contraceptive Pill Was Introduced in the 1960s.”² In contrast to the global spread of the controversy over the contraceptive pill of the 1960s, the eruption of RU486 onto the political scene in 2005–6 was peculiar to...

  13. 9 Infrastructure and Event: The Political Technology of Preparedness
    (pp. 243-266)

    As a number of analysts have argued, contemporary citizenship is simultaneously political and technical (see, e.g., Barry 1999; also contributions to Ong and Collier 2005). Thus, for example, access to material systems of circulation—such as water, electricity, communication, and transportation—is critical to participation in collective life. Indeed, demands for such access are often sources of political mobilization. This collective dependence on what we might call “vital systems” also fosters new forms of vulnerability. Threats to the operations of these life-supporting systems may come from a number of sources: natural disasters, terrorist attacks, technical malfunction, or novel pathogens. The...

  14. 10 Faitiche-izing the People: What Representative Democracy Might Learn from Science Studies
    (pp. 267-296)

    Democratic political theory has unheralded champions in science studies. A cadre of scholars has succeeded in calling attention to a poignant paradox: modern democracy, which came to be in and through the fragile but ingenious practice of representative government, was rendered “powerless as soon as it was invented, because of the counterinvention of Science” (Latour 2004, 71). The idea is that the power of the laboratory was invented at the same time as that of the Assembly, and on the basis of a shared fiction of ontological difference. That fiction cleaves nature, as the domain of “mute things,” from society,...

  15. Contributors
    (pp. 297-300)
  16. Index
    (pp. 301-319)