All posts by Nicholas Kiersey

Episode 11 (Part I): ‘Situationism’, with Charlie Umland and Jim Calder

Welcome to Episode 11, of Fully Automated, an Occupy IR Theory podcast! Today, we have Part One of our first ever two-part episode, on the topic of Situationism! Joining me for this episode are two friends of mine from Columbus, Ohio, Charlie Umland, and Jim Calder. They are pretty sharp, when it comes to this topic. And, over the course of this two-part episode, they’re gonna help us understand just who the situationists were, and who they weren’t.

Now, coincidentally, situationism has sort of been back on the radar, lately. In February 2017, the New York Times ran a piece by Robert Zaretsky, called ‘Trump and the ‘Society of the Spectacle’.’ In the piece, Zaretsky offers this very Situationist sounding line:

Like body snatchers, commodities and images have hijacked what we once naïvely called reality. The authentic nature of the products we make with our hands and the relationships we make with our words have been removed, replaced by their simulacra.”

In the episode, Charlie, Jim and I get into some discussion of this piece. One of our big points is that perhaps Zaretsky’s take is kind of off the mark. For him, the Trump is the master of the image, in a time when the very form of image itself, has hijacked our reality. Focusing on the image as the problematic form this way, however, Zaretsky’s Situationists resonate somewhat too cynically. Indeed, it could be said they bear a familiar resemblance with the work of another famous French scholar, Jean Baudrillard. Now, Baudrillard doesn’t hail from Situationism. But he is a critic of contemporary capitalism, and he is particularly preoccupied with the rise of what he terms ’hyperreality’ — an economic era dominated by the logic of the image, wherein humans have been seduced into a state of passive consumption. For Baudrillard, where older modes of capitalism were predicated on production of actual goods, society today is a simulation; we are a consumer society, but what we consume is nothing more than signs, or symbols. In such a society, even political resistance has sort of dissipated into a kind of moral relativism; we no longer fight for any particular group’s “code” — instead we adopt a stance of ironic “fascination.”

This attitude of fascination, or what we might even call flanneurism, is exemplified in a scene in the recent Adam Curtis documentary, Hypernormalization. In this scene, we meet a young Patti Smith, giggling as she recounts the ironic prospect of poor people, watching movie trailers over and over, on a small screen outside of a cinema. Its as if she’s hypnotized herself, by the total surrender to passivity of the people watching the screen. She is overwhelmed by the cynicism of it all, and can only laugh.

But in the episode, we make the argument that this is perhaps precisely the wrong way to interpret the Spectacle. Situationism is much more than simply a critique of seduction; the theory of spectacle is NOT simply that we have been reduced to the status of a mass of consumers, or that we are simply distracted by the ongoing barrage of the media’s meaningless images. To the contrary, a key concept that has come up for us in our discussions is that of “separation” — which is something like the alienation experienced by everyday people, not just in capitalism, but also in other highly bureaucratized technical systems, like the Soviet Union, when rationalities of expertise work to delegitimize any demand they might make, for true collective participation in the productive systems that govern their lives. And, we argue, it is in this sense that Society of Spectacle is still very much a Marxist project. One need only consider how frequently the topic of the proletariat is discussed, and the various tasks to which it must attend, if it is to survive.

So, a little bit about our guests today. Both are from Ohio:

  • Charlie Umland is a cook. He likes to learn about art and philosophy and communism, and he is an unapologetic D&D fan.
  • Jim Calder works in public humanities, and supports the radical critique of everyday life, mostly through reading groups – and, he also loves smoking. Catch him on Twitter at @jamesdcalder

In the first part of the show, you’ll hear us outline some of the basic ground we want to cover: separation, the contrast with Baudrillard, the role of theory, the attitude of the situationists towards modernity, and the emancipatory potential of technology.

Next week we’ll be dropping Part 2 of this episode, which looks at Situationism in something more like an activist light. We’ll talk about the role of the Situationists in the context of the student uprising, in May ’68, their attitude towards the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, some of their scattered commentaries on war, and the question of what, if anything, Guy Debord would have to say about Jordan Peterson(!).

Special thanks this week to Darren Latanick, who produced the episode. As always, feel welcome to reach out on Twitter if you have any feedback or questions: we’re at @occupyirtheory

#EISAPEC18 CfP — Technological Change and the Shape of an IR to Come (S43)

The below is a call for papers for the section, Technological Change and the Shape of an IR to Come, at the 12th Pan-European Conference on International Relations (EISA), Prague, September 12-15, 2018

This section seeks to advance discussion at the intersection of speculation on future trajectories of International Relations as a discipline, and the increasing focus on utopian and/or dystopian visions and imaginaries in the domain of popular culture. We invite contributions that navigate and challenge the horizon of the possible within and beyond the discipline. Specifically, we seek papers that have an explicit forward-looking dimension in their method and/or approach, on the spectrum between scenario-based analysis or forecasting, and storytelling or speculative academic fiction.

Not to be confused with a call for works in the genre of futurism (i.e., prediction-making), contributors to these panels are invited instead to investigate their own disciplinary perspectives to assess possible times ahead. Panels may, for example, want to examine possible trends based on the confluence of a number of issues pertaining to technological change: How are current anxieties over automation and universal basic income reflected in IR, or affiliated literatures? Conversely, what role might IR have in narrating the complexities of a global order where ‘fully-automated luxury communism’ is not only possible but actively demanded? Or, equally, in reaction to such demands, to what extent might current trends in digitalization and media bespeak a re-modulation of social order around novel modes of control, and securitization? Finally, what can we say of the multitude-style content of the hashtags, memes, and aesthetics of newly invigorated ‘millennial’ leftist movements as they embrace and reorient, for example, the iconography of Soviet-era space exploration, in a politics of race- and gender-based liberation?

Panels should advertise in advance that they are actively soliciting audience involvement in their proceedings. We invite papers that address the themes indicated in the suggested panel titles below, but will consider alternative full panel proposals:

1. Back to the future? Engaging the techno-utopian visions of IRs past
2. A phantom menace? Emancipation and the specter of luxury communism
3. Battle at the binary stars? The politics of race, gender, and millennial singularity
4. Elysium? Fully-automated consumption vs the speculative limits of ecology
5. Age of Ultron? Artificial Intelligence and our possible global ethical futures
6. Orphan Black? Post-scarcity and intellectual property law

Details:

  • Venue: University of Economics (VSE) and Institute of International Relations (IIR), Prague
  • Dates: September 12-15, 2018
  • Conference Theme: ‘A New Hope’: Back to The Future of International Relations Section
  • Section Title: Technological Change and the Shape of an IR to Come (S43)
  • Closing date for submissions: February 1, 2018
  • Official conference hashtag: #EISAPEC18

For more details, and the submission form, see the Conference website: www.eisapec18.org

Sincerely,
Nicholas Kiersey (Ohio University): kiersey@ohio.edu
Laura Horn (University of Roskilde): lhorn@RUC.DK
– Section Chairs

Episode 10: Sclofsky & Funk on ‘The Specter That Haunts Political Science’

This episode continues a short series of podcasts on the place ofMarxism in International Relations. Last episode, we had Bryant Sculos, of Florida International University discussing his piece “Marx in Miami: Reflections on Teaching and the Confrontation with Ideology,” co-authored with Sean Walsh, of Capital University. If you haven’t listed to that episode yet, check it out. We got into some great discussion about various techniques and exercises that allow us to use Marx in the classroom, and create space in students’ minds for thinking about the historically-situated nature of human consciousness. And I think what we took away from the conversation was this idea, simply, that while perhaps its not our role to ensure that our students buy into Marxism as a political program, there’s nevertheless a really worthwhile payoff if instructors are willing to take the time to model for students how Marxism can help us think historically about who we are. Where do our ideas come from? What is subjectivity? Marx offers a range of useful thoughts on all these subjects.

Now, as a follow-up to last week’s episode, THIS WEEK we are joined by Sebastian Sclofsky and Kevin Funk, who have a piece in the latest issue of International Studies Perspectives, ‘The Specter That Haunts Political Science: The Neglect and Misreading of Marx in International Relations and Comparative Politics’ (free version can be found here). If last week’s episode was about the opportunities that Marxism offers, this week’s episode is about the rather weak state of Marxism in political science, these days.

Sebastián Sclofsky is a PhD Candidate in the Political Science Department & Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Florida. His research focuses on the politics of criminal justice and urban policing — Looking primarily at South Los Angeles and São Paulo, he examines how negative encounters with the police shape residents’ racial identities, local space, and sense of second-class citizenship.

Kevin Funk is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and Law and director of International Studies at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama. And his main research focus right now is on the globalizing discourses of transnational corporations, and the emergence of micro-level zones of global-urban capital, like the “Sanhattan” neighborhood, in Santiago, Chile.

Episode 9: Bryant Sculos, on “Marx in Miami”

Welcome to another episode of Fully Automated! This week we are starting a short series of podcasts on the place of Marxism in In- ternational Relations. Next episode, we’ll be joined by Sebastian Sclofsky and Kevin Funk, who are going to be discussing a piece they have in the latest issue of International Studies Perspectives, ‘The Specter That Haunts Political Science: The Neglect and Misreading of Marx in International Relations and Comparative Politics’. So, look out for that episode, coming in about a week’s time. Its a great interview, and I am really looking forward to posting it for you.

Meanwhile, on this episode, we are joined by Bryant Sculos, an adjunct professor at Florida International University (FIU), to discuss an 2015 piece he co-authored with Sean Walsh, of Capital University, entitled “Marx in Miami: Reflections on Teaching and the Confrontation with Ideology,” which appeared in the journal Class, Race and Corporate Power. In this interview we talk about the particular challenges of teaching Marxism in a city like Miami, with its high population of Cuban immigrants. You’ll hear Bryant discuss some of the unique challenges he encounters in the classroom, and some of the pedagogical approaches that he and his co-author have developed, as they seek to overcome them. Marx, of course, was one of the great thinkers of the historical situatedness of human consciousness. And, regardless of your take on his wider political program, the value of his approach to questions of human nature and political power, cannot be gainsaid.

Towards the end of the interview, we’ll also ask Bryant about his recent run-in with the far-right media, who’ve picked up on a recent piece of his, on the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast, which Bryant argues is exemplary of toxic capitalist masculinity … we’ll ask him why he refused to go on television and defend the piece.

Episode 8: Colin Coulter on Ireland, Austerity’s “Model Pupil”?

Coulter & Nagle, Eds.

On today’s episode, we are joined by Colin Coulter, of the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. Colin is a Lecturer in Sociology, and he has an article out recently in Critical Sociology, co-authored with Francisco Arqueros-Fernández and Angela Nagle, entitled Austerity’s Model Pupil: The Ideological Uses of Ireland during the Eurozone Crisis.

As some listeners may know, I have myself been working on a book about the role of culture in Irish austerity. And I’ve always found Colin to be a really great writer on this subject. He has a real knack for seamlessly blending together both analysis of the material dynamics of the Irish financial crisis, with a critique of the role of culture as force sustaining the legitimacy of austerity as the necessary solution. This cultural project is one being carried out by government institutions, to be sure, but also by a number of other cultural agencies that exist within Irish society, as they seek to orient Irish people better to understand their responsibility in causing the crisis.

But Colin also has an analysis of how certain strains within the Irish academic left have perhaps enabled this process — namely by overlooking questions to do with the production of capitalist culture. Colin explains the role of capitalist culture in Ireland in a really accessible manner, so its great to have him on the show. I think you’ll really enjoy the interview.

You can find a copy of Colin’s article on my Dropbox. Remember, if you like what you hear, please leave us a positive review on iTunes. As ever, if you have any feedback, you can reach us on Twitter @occupyirtheory. Enjoy the show!

Episode 7: David Bailey on Protest Movements and Parties of the Left

David Bailey

Our guest for this episode is David Bailey, Senior Lecturer in Political Science and International Studies, at University of Birmingham. David is joining us to talk about his forthcoming book with Rowman & Littlefield, Protest Movements and Parties of the Left.

As we’ve been arguing on this show for the last few weeks, there is no doubt at this stage that the left is ‘back’. Arriving admittedly a decade or two later than Latin America’s “Pink Tide”, the left has made electoral gains recently, both in Europe, and in the US. Yet it is also clear that the left is not used to having this kind of potential. To the contrary, suffering through its long period of post-Cold War defeat, it has been content to engage in a lot of internal squabbling, and become comfortable avoiding the tough question of how it might engage ordinary people with its ideas. David Bailey’s book is a very interesting intervention, in this sense. Without necessarily taking a side in the debates he examines (to what extent should the left embrace the state? Should we pursue reform, or revolution?), he surveys the history of some of the more prominent moments and modes of leftist protest and struggle. What is interesting, however, is he choses to do this in an optimistic way. Refusing the left’s traditional mournful stance on its history, and deliberately trying to focus on the things the movements got right, Bailey is out to capture the spark of revolutionary disruption in each of his case studies, where the impossible was somehow, suddenly, made possible.

I got to see an advance copy of the book recently, and more than anything I was kind of pleasantly surprised by his open-minded stance on left strategy, finding those sparks of disruption everywhere, from the early days of 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, to the anarchist movements of the Spanish Civil War, and even in post-war parliamentary reformism. The civil rights movements get a look in here, and there are chapters on the New Left, the history of feminism, and the rise of environmentalism. And those interested in more recent history will find the last chapters quite interesting I think, looking at the Occupy movement and, more interestingly, the influence of ‘Left Populist’ struggles Latin America on the rise of what Bailey calls ’left pragmatism’ in Europe and North America, embodied of course in parties like Syriza and Podemos, but even more recently in figures like Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders.

Episode 6: TYT’s Michael Tracey on Free Speech after Charlottesville, Left Iconoclasm, and the Fetonte Scandal in the DSA

Michael Tracey

Our guest for this week’s episode is Michael Tracey, of The Young Turks — Tracey by his own account is a man of the left, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that, to read some of the commentaries that have been written about him online. He’s known primarily known for his iconoclastic views on what he calls “the Russia derangement,” something we addressed on this show all the way back in Episode One, with Tara McCormack.

I encountered Tracey in Chicago last weekend, at the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) Convention. We set this interview up with a view primarily to talking about the Convention, and the state of the American left. In this episode, we do address those topics, including the controversy surrounding the election of Danny Fetonte to the DSA’s National Political Committee, or NPC. But with the tragic news of rightwing violence in Charlottesville, VA this morning (the interview was recorded early afternoon, on Sunday, August 13), it seemed proper to address the rise of fascism in the United States, too. In true form, Tracey has some views on that subject which might not be popular among left comrades — including a defence of the ACLU’s decision stand up for freedom of speech for Alt. Right activists. As you’ll hear in the show, however, he gives a good account of himself, and leaves us with much to think about.

Please enjoy the show. As ever, if you have any feedback, you can reach us on Twitter @occupyirtheory. You can follow Michael Tracey on Twitter @mtracey.

Episode 5: Douglas Lain of Zero Squared, on the Alt-Left, Angela Nagle, and #DSACon17

We have a very special guest for this episode. Douglas Lain, of Zero Books. In the interview, we discuss a range of topics, but I think the focus of the interview is on how capitalist narcissism is playing out in leftist online culture.

Specifically we address:

  1. How podcasting has enabled a new debate among the left, concerning the priority of identity;
  2. The rise of the Alt-Left, and whether or how the term functions to smear those seeking to re-assert the priority of revolutionary values in leftist discourse;
  3. We also address the critical reception of Angela Nagle’s sensational new book, Kill All Normies, published by Zero Books … a book that is ostensibly about the emergence of the Alt-Right, but in this conversation, Doug and I focus mostly on the other main aspect of the book, which is Nagle’s explanation of the rise of “call out culture” on the left.
  4. Finally, with the #DSACon17 (the 2017 Democratic Socialists of America convention) starting this week, I ask Doug if he has any advice for delegates to the convention.

Episode 4: The Corbyn Factor, with Owen Worth

This episode we’re talking about the 2017 British General Election, and the surprising performance of Jeremy Corbyn, and the British Labour Party. Our guest is Owen Worth, Senior Lecturer In International Relations at the University of Limerick, in Ireland. Owen specializes in the study of social movements, and has published a number of works on varieties of resistance to neoliberalism, from religious fundamentalism to more leftist expressions. On the day of the election, he had a piece published in the Irish Times, wherein he argued that Corbyn would likely do very well, as a result of the mobilization of large numbers of young “anti-establishment” voters in the UK.

In the interview, you’ll hear Owen refer to something called a War of position. This is a term drawn from the theories of Antonio Gramsci. In contrast with Gramsci’s notion of the “war of movement,” which refers more to the classic revolutionary strategy of trying to seize state power by direct assault, through armed insurrections, mass protest, strikes, and the like, the “war of position” is more about trying to catalyze new forms of social imagination, and encouraging new ideas to which we attach our consent. But what is the axis of those new ideas? In the following, you’ll hear Owen argue that the results of the election suggest British politics is in the process of being rearticulated around what might prove to be an unhealthy battleground, between young and old voters. We talk about the significance of the Corbyn result for Ireland, and the way his performance has been received by the Irish media.

CFP: Critical IR and IPE at the End of Capitalism Call for Papers/Participants for ISA Venture Research Workshop 2018

We are seeking participants to contribute to our proposed Venture Research Workshop at the ISA Convention 2018 in San Francisco. If successful, the one-day workshop will be held on 3rd April 2018 and travel grants will be made available. The proposed format is a series of three short panels followed by an open roundtable discussion featuring invited questions on our themes. Participants will also be invited to contribute to an edited volume.

Proposals to participate should be submitted in the form of a short abstract (max. 200 words) addressing one or more of the themes outlined below. Please submit these to Adam Fishwick (adam.fishwick@dmu.ac.uk or @Adam_Fishwick on Twitter) and Nicholas Kiersey (kiersey@ohio.edu or @occupyirtheory on Twitter) by 15th June 2017.

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