Category Archives: Theory

Fully Automated Episode 2: Biopolitical Imperialism, with Mark G.E. Kelly

Our guest this week is Mark G. E. Kelly, an Associate Professor in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts at Western Sydney University. He is the author of The Political Philosophy of Michel Foucault (2009), as well as of Biopolitical Imperialism (from Zer0 books, in 2015) and he is also working on a book called ‘For Foucault: Against Normative Political Theory’ (SUNY, expected 2018).

Kelly has weighed in a number of recent ‘Foucault’ controversies, including the question of whether Foucault was a neoliberal. In this interview, we get into that debate. But I think for most listeners, the interesting stuff will be towards the end, where Kelly talks about Biopolitical Imperialism, and addresses the conflict in Syria.

The podcast was recorded on Wednesday, April 5, 2017. In the interview, you’ll hear Kelly comment on Donald Trump’s pivot a few days previous, on Syria. Two days after the recording, on April 7, the US military launched a cruise missile attack on a Syrian airfield. The attack was carried out in response to a chemical weapons incident in Idlib province, perpetrated allegedly by Syrian state forces. It would be hard to imagine a stronger confirmation of Kelly’s arguments about Biopolitical Imperialism.

New Publication – “Popular Culture and World Politics,” edited by Federica Caso and Caitlin Hamilton

timthumb.phpAn essay I co-wrote with Iver B. Neumann, ‘Worlds of Our Making in Science Fiction and International Relations,’ has just been published in a volume entitled Popular Culture and World Politics: Theories, Methods, Pedagogies’.  The book is published by E-International Relations, and is edited by Federica Caso and Caitlin Hamilton. The book is available on Amazon, or as free-to-download PDF.

The piece is largely devoted to the question of defining science fiction, and its interest to IR scholars. Here’s an excerpt:

“Taking this broad array of artefacts seriously, then, as artefacts proper to the literary genre of science fiction, the question becomes one of how consumer expectations are subject, among other things, to the expectations generated by the conventions of this genre. Following Cultural Studies theorists like Darko Suvin, we recognise that science fiction is ‘a literary genre whose necessary and sufficient conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author’s empirical environment’ (suvin, cited in Freedman 2000, p. 16). The term ‘estrangement’ (rus. ostranenie), coined originally a century ago by russian formalist Shklovsky, is that which gives the text the power, implicitly or explicitly, to give the reader over to a sense of the possibility of another reality. By contrast, ‘cognition’ refers to that which enables the text to rationally account for the way this alternative reality actually works. It performs this operation by posing explicit differences between the inner workings of its narrative world and those of our own.

As Freedman (2000) stresses, however, operations of estrangement are not in and of themselves all that politically significant. Texts orientated more towards estrangement, such as tolkien’s Lord of the rings, can be read for all intents and purposes as fantasy. Texts that focus more on cognition, on the other hand, tend towards realism at the expense of imaginative difference, thus potentially stretching the limits of the genre too far in the opposite direction. For this reason, as freedman cautions, the exact parameters of science fiction as a genre are somewhat difficult to nail down. For freedman, what is essential ultimately is the ‘cognition effect’, that is, ‘the attitude of the text itself to the kind of estrangements being performed’ (Freedman 2000, 18, emphasis in original). Thus, even though actual science may someday supersede the cognitively rational elements of a particular science fiction text, it should remain a part of the genre because the author originally understood what he or she was writing to have a potential cognitive validity. On this account, a definition of the genre would necessarily exclude the Lord of the rings, but it would feasibly include the more traditional estrangement-centric ‘pulp’ of Hugo Gernsback’s 1929 Amazing Stories, of which Star Wars would naturally be considered a contemporary exemplar.

For the sake of precision, however, we might want to narrow this definition down a little. By the time Shklovsky came up with the term ‘estrangement’, the idea that alternative realities were not only part of literature’s remit, but one of literature’s defining traits, was already firmly ensconced. A romantic such as Coleridge defined poetry in terms of a willing suspension of disbelief. Thomas more’s Utopia was first published in 1516. Indeed, taking into consideration that older literary traditions are basically part of religious traditions, and noting that religion is a social phenomenon that by definition operates with more than one reality – there is the profane and visible reality, and then there are one or more alternate realities – we would argue that the existence of what Suvin refers to as ‘an imaginative framework alternative to the author’s empirical environment’ is the historical literary rule. It was only with the coming of modernity that the possibility of a wholly disenchanted literature emerged. In light of this, the oft-heard throwaway line that all literature is science fiction cannot be written off without argument.”

Thanks to all involved for putting this together!

CFP – Global Crises / Capitalist Expressions: Critical Connections

***CFP for a panel***

Title: Global Crises / Capitalist Expressions: Critical Connections

Where: EISA 9th Pan-European Conference, Sicily, 23-26 September 2015

Abstract: What are the ways that relations of global capitalism can be made intelligible through analyses of various “crises”? This panel seeks to develop the analysis of contemporary capital by way of capturing its expressions, or effects, in a range of contemporary global crises (economic, environmental, epidemic, colonial, militaristic, etc.). We hope to highlight different iterations of global capitalism through its intrinsic tendency to crisis, and by doing so, to underscore the possibilities of a variety approaches to the critique of capitalism. Thus, we invite papers addressing a breadth of potential sites and scenes of contemporary capitalism’s globality, from those involving more immediately situated struggles over the limits it places on everyday material existence to more widely-scaled analyses, focusing on the governmental and governmentalizing dynamics of globalization itself. Gathering these various approaches together, this panel will be an opportunity to explore the stakes of global capitalist discourse and practice as it advances norms of market-based existence, individual responsibility, flexible partnership and resilience, all the while beset by the aporias of uneven development, financialization, war profiteering, corporate welfare, and the reckless extraction and consumption of resources.

For more info, contact Nicholas Kiersey (at the address on this website) or Garnet Kindervater. Submissions no later than Monday, September 29, please.

Between Fetishization and Thrift? A Response to Dave Eden’s Autonomy: Capitalism, Class and Politics.

Between Fetishization and Thrift? A Response to Dave Eden’s Autonomy: Capitalism, Class and Politics.

The wonderful people over at Disorder of Things have posted an extended version of my recent review of Dave Eden’s excellent ‘Autonomy: Capitalism, Class and Politics.’ The original version, which appears in the current issue of New Political Science, is focused more on the book itself. This version tries to offer a more developed response to Eden’s thoughts on the place of the critique of the commodity in contemporary Marxism. Sincere thanks to Wanda and Pablo for hosting the piece. ~ Nick

What is Enlightenment? Reflections on Foucault, Critique, and Freedom

Foucault5Foucault often spoke of critique in vague terms. A truth that “functions as a weapon,” on the one hand, but which can “light fires, watch the grass grow, listen to the wind, and catch the sea foam in the breeze and scatter it,” on the other. Statements like these appear to us as riddles. But what is critique for Foucault, really? One fascinating answer to this question can be found in his short piece, “What is Enlightenment?”

Now, I confess, when I was in graduate school I used to think this was one of the toughest bits of Foucault reading out there. I suppose I still do. Where I really struggle is later in the piece, when he gets into the opposition between two ideal types, the man of the modern world and the flâneur. Here, he paraphrases Baudelaire’s description of the flâneur as one who adopts “the spectator’s posture.” It seems to me that the flâneur is kind of a drop out, or somehow self-involved – a cynical figure who  refuses to engage with the world around him. Either way, against this passive figure (which Foucault does not praise), the modern man has an active stance in the world. His being in the world somehow changes it, but not fundamentally. Foucault observes that the modern man’s attitude towards the world, and himself, involves both ambition and acceptance of certain limits to that ambition. That is, it “does not entail an annulling of reality, but a difficult interplay between the truth of what is real and the exercise of freedom.” In this sense, modern man is he who strives to take what is natural in the world, including his own self, and make it somehow more than it was. And the emblematic figure of the modern subject here is the dandy, the ultimate entrepreneur of himself, who is compelled constantly to “invent himself” in relation to those limits. Perfect, or at least moving towards some sort of optimal state.

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Battlestar Galactica & International Relations


Battlestar Galactica & International Relations

Battlestar Galactica and International Relations (Hardback) – Routledge.

Just a brief note to let you know the book I co-edited with Iver Neumann, Battlestar Galactica & International Relations, is now available. You can buy it on Amazon in hardback and Kindle formats here. A cheaper, paperback version of the book will be coming later this year. This project has been over two years in the making, and started with a random encounter at the bar at an ISA convention in New York. As the convention was taking place, the cast and crew of the show were addressing the United Nations, just up the road, on the plight of child soldiers! We were pretty blown away by the idea that such an encounter was even possible. And we got talking… well, what WAS “BSG’s” political message, anyway? At the following year’s ISA in New Orleans, we held a panel wherein we discussed some ideas about the show and noticed that, well, some IR folk were *serious* fans of the show:

bsg panel

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Tidal 4 – Coming Soon!

Of interest, a new issue of Tidal (No. 4) is coming out on Friday. From the Facebook page:

Tidal 4 is being released this Friday evening. At this event, you can pick up your own free copy of Tidal 4. It will include original, commissioned contributions from many organizers of Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Sandy and Strike Debt, such as Shyam Khanna, Pamela Brown, Sofia Gallisa, Ann Larson, Nastaran Mohit, Harrison Magee, among others, as well as known thinkers such as Michael Hardt, Silvia Federici, George Caffentzis, John Holloway, and Chantal Mouffe. Collective pieces from Tidal Team and friends (Nick Mirzoeff, Andrew Ross, Nicole Hala, Nathan Schneider, among others) and a Student Movement piece from Free University folks. At this beautiful event, we welcome you to great conversation and presentations by many of the contributors and friends.

Tidal is available from the Occupy Theory site.