The critique of power and the power of critique
An interview with Amy Allen by Ina Dimitrova
Ina Dimitrova: How would you define the main challenges before critical theory today? Since your пfirst book, your research has attempted to reconsider the problems of power and subjectivity. In what sense are they key problems for contemporary critical theory? Please describe your own project and its central stakes in unraveling the power/self connection.
Amy Allen: Critical theory faces a number of important challenges today. From a theoretical perspective, there is the challenge of articulating critical theory’s normative and philosophical project in a way that is responsive to the critical perspectives that have emerged from a number of different domains: feminist theory, queer theory, postcolonial theory, psychoanalysis, and poststructuralism. These critical perspectives have, in different ways, challenged the strong claims to moral-political universalism and the context-transcendence of validity claims made in Jürgen Habermas’s work, for example. Although these broad theoretical currents obviously contain many different and in some cases incompatible perspectives, such that it is dangerous to speak of them all in the same breath, still I think it is fair to say that a common thread in these discussions is the question of power and its relation to such notions as reason, autonomy, the rational subject, agency, selfhood, and so on. Hence engaging seriously with these theoretical approaches requires critical theory to develop a more complex and sophisticated analysis of power and also to rethink its understandings of subjectivity, autonomy, and even of reason itself, in light of that power-analysis.
Affirmative citizenship – A project for counter-hegemony
This paper attempts to sketch an ideal typology of social critique today. The main question is: If the social researcher is always involved in reciprocal interaction, how could s/he preserve a critical distance from, and a normatively privileged judging position on, interaction as such?Rereading the results of the collective project on Challenges to Representative Democracy Today, the author outlines three normative scenarios of contemporary critique: (1) a particular hermeneutic approach, which presupposes that the social researcher looses her/his privileged critical perspective and becomes merely a ‘midwife’in the articulations of the critical impulses of everyday practices (the ‘pragmatist sociology’ of Luc Boltanski); (2) a particular normativist approach, which presupposesthat interaction itself has an authentic normative form which allows us to describe social pathologies as deviations from this form (Jürgen Habermas’s ‘communicative rationality’ and Axel Honneth’s ‘recognition paradigm’); (3) a particular negatively radicalized critical approach, which presupposes that every form of institutionalizationis a form of domination which has to be subverted through radical – revolutionary or parodying – deconstruction (Antonio Negri and Judith Butler).This paper argues that all these approaches overlook one specific and inescapable power aspect of social critique: namely, the aspect of self-privileging which is immanent in the very act of making concrete critical judgments. This positive powerful gesture could be understood through Laclau and Mouffe’s general concept of hegemony, according to which resistances in any hegemonic relationship take the form of counter-hegemonic projects (which are also hegemonic and powerful). Agreeing with this concept, the author revisits the agonistic model, placing the emphasis notхon ‘the people’ as an abstract empty space of resistances (Laclau’s approach) but on‘the individual’, ‘the family’ and ‘the community’ as local or micro-hegemonic forms of life. He argues that these more concrete ‘small subjects of the political’ should be critically rethought and preserved as barriers against the degeneration of the macro-hegemonic chains of equivalences – rightist or leftist – into abstract ideologies. By reframing the project of radical democracy in non-dogmatic liberal terms, the author outlines an idea of ‘affirmative citizenship’.
Down with democracy! Long live the people! The people as a critical idea in contemporary radical political philosophy
This article aims to study the uses of ‘the people’ as a critical idea in the texts of three contemporary radical political philosophers: Slavoj Žižek, Alain Badiou, and Ernesto Laclau. The author’s purpose is not so much to point out the differences between them than to grasp a common trend: namely, imposing the figure of ‘the people’ as a subject of the political and as a source of a desired but difficult-to-define social change.The appeal for a historical rupture, unsupported by any utopia, could be considered as a double crisis – of the institutions of liberal democracy, as well as of the critical imagination itself.
Potentiality, exploitation and resistance of bodies-subjects For a persistent transformation
This article focuses on the actual structural transformation of the forms of political subjectification through the prism of one of the central concepts of contemporary radical philosophy inherited from Michel Foucault, the concept of biopolitics. The main question of the article – the question of the possibility of resistance of political subjects in the actual transformed condition – is formulated on the basis of a reinterpretation of Foucault’s concept (and of its interpretation by Paolo Virno, in particular), which starts from the hypothesis that it is structurally determined by the Aristotelian concept of dunamis and takes into account the latter’s conceptual trajectory over the centuries.
Subtracting – rejecting one. Occupy as a subjective recomposition
If today’s revolutions are not only taken as molar, as – in a narrow sense – political projects, but rather also as molecular revolutions, then the aesthetics of existence takes its place alongside the political project as a continual work of giving form to life, to living together. A contemporary concept of molecular revolution requires the ethico-aesthetic level of transforming forms of living into a beautiful and good life, as well as the becoming of forms of living together across continents: micro-machines, which in their singular situativity develop disobedient modes of existence and subjectivation, as well as translocally dispersed, global abstract machines.
The care of the self and the critique of the present
This paper tries to push further the reflection inspired by Amy Allen’s conceptual proposal that the Foucaultian notion of the care of the self may help contemporary social critique to overcome the aporia of the subject, that care of the self enables us to transcend the power relations that make us ‘who we are’. To this end, the paper offers a pragmatist reading of Michel Foucault’s later works on what he calls ‘technologies of the self’. Developing this pragmatist line of critical reading of Foucault through the lens of John Dewey’s and George Herbert Mead’s elaborations on the interactive constitution of the self, the author demonstrates the relative weakness of ‘the care of the self’ as a conceptual hope for social critique today. But what is more important, she shows that the practices of the self as a retreat from the political – the form that the idea of ‘care of the self’ practically takes in contemporary societies and especially in certain social movements – are well-suited to certain forms of domination. Finally, she makes the point that critical thinking is uncritically taking an unquestioned concept of domination as its main adversary, and this is diminishing the strength of critique itself.
Figures of the people in Foucault – The people as a power object
The concept of ‘the people’ is accompanied by constant debate on the genesis,structure and real dimensions of its supposed referent. The standard deconstruction oriented critique of ‘the people’ focuses mostly on the constructed character of this figure, omitting its status as a ‘reality’. By contrast, this paper offers a symptomatic reading of some texts by Michel Foucault, which starts from his analytical uses of‘the people’ (and the related ‘plebs’, ‘popular classes’, ‘population’). It thus offers a different perspective, which focuses on the multiplicity, heterogeneity and constant mobility of the reality called ‘the people’, as well as on the inevitable interrelation and confrontation of power relations and resistances that both generate ‘the people’ and keep it in permanent motion and displacement vis-à-vis itself. The implicit ambition of such a reading is to show that this type of analysis could tell us more about the concrete functioning of ‘the people’ than a critique that sees ‘the people’ merely as a fiction of a definite political imaginary.
The global city – A structural hole in the national territorial tissue
An interview with Saskia Sassen by Elitza Stanoeva
Elitza Stanoeva: When you introduced the concept and the theory of the ‘global city’, it was the outcome of your research on the interplay between processes on the global scale such as post- Keynesian economic and labour restructuring, and changes on the local scale of the city, e.g. in migration trends and income distribution, as it unfolded in the 1980s. In the second edition of The Global City (2001) you took up the task of testing your research framework vis-àvis the decade of the 1990s on the basis of updated empirical data. Later developments prompted you to further elaborate a typology of cities participating in the network of global circuits and to talk of global cities as well as cities that are not such, yet perform functions of global cities. How do economic competition and/or cooperation shape the network of global cities as well as their respective roles today? And if you were to start your research project on global cities today, which cities would you single out as emblematic places where ‘the global hits the ground’?
Saskia Sassen: That is an interesting question to ask me… I would select two types of cities: a) those that have long been international in the inter-state system meaning but not global, where I would include cities as diverse as Zurich and Mumbai, and most of the Central and East European major cities, including Sofi a; and b) cities that are not global nor international but that are the main cities in countries until now weakly linked to the traditional international system and the global economy that began in the 1980s (cities in the Asian republics of the former Soviet Union, many of the East European cities, and cities in Africa – though not Johannesburg and Cairo, which have long beenarticulated with both the international system and the new global economy).
This paper presents the findings of a study of voter databases. Voter databases such as Voter Vault or Vote Builder played a crucial role in the 2004 and 2008 United States presidential elections, and will probably increase their impact in the future. The paper claims that voter databases are accountable as a symptom of the emergence of a new governmental rationality brought about by the transposition of marketing technologies to politics. In order to substantiate that claim, the author tries to demonstrate that marketing rationality enables the use of biopolitical technologies on targets smaller, more unstable and more dispersed than the population at large. He believes that this individualization of biopolitics is able to produce a particular regime of governmentality capable of appropriating concepts as ‘people’ and ‘practices of self’, on which critical theorists often tend to rely in their emancipatory visions. The paper also offers a discussion on the applicability of voter databases and micro targeting in Bulgarian politics.
Organized crime: fictions and policies
Organized crime is a notion as powerful as other key concepts that are shaping the modern policy mindset, such as ‘corruption’, ‘good governance’, ‘human security’,‘ethnic groups and relations’, ‘civil society’, etc. Yet, as this paper argues, there is something deeply wrong with the way the phenomenon of organized crime has been conceptually grasped and strategically developed. The very possibility that something like crime may get organized and thus acquire the status of social organization, is remarkable. However, all current reductionist approaches to it have massively missed that point. This basic condition – how crime becomes a form of social organization –should be examined in a very focused, open, and resolute way. It is time to carry out a critical study of its conceptual basis, of the deep presuppositions, and of their far reaching policy implications as regards such a high societal risk as is the organization of crime.
Copycat tactics in processes of regime change. The demise of communism in Poland and Apartheid in South Africa
Adrian Guelke and Tom Junes
This article explores the possible linkages between the demise of communism in 1989 and apartheid in 1994. Through a comparative analysis of case studies of Poland– as the representative ‘first domino’ to fall in Eastern Europe – and South Africa, it shows that there were in fact certain parallels in the way the communist and apartheid regimes developed and ended. Subsequently, it discusses the effect that the events of 1989 had on the domestic political situation in South Africa, thereby transcending the more traditional transnational approach as South Africa was not connected in any direct way to Eastern Europe. In spite of this apparent lack of connection, part of the South African opposition sought inspiration in the tactics of the Eastern European anti-communist opposition. As this article argues, this merely represented a ‘copycat phenomenon’ in which activists in one situation mimicked the actions of others in a different situation, and as such can serve to explain similarities in processes of regime change in different and unconnected parts of the world.
Exceptional Cases – A Legal Dynasty of Political Crimes in Bulgaria
This paper deals with the problem of the historical metamorphoses of political crimes as codified in the criminal legislation of bourgeois Bulgaria as well as in a number of emergency laws adopted in the period between 1919 and 1944. It lays special emphasis on the specific way in which the communist regime in Bulgaria qualified and punished the so-called counter-revolutionary crimes (crimes against the Socialist State) in the 1951 Penal Act and the 1968 Penal Code. In conclusion, the paper looks at the legislative changes regarding political crimes, introduced into Bulgarian law and society after 1989.
Collective Identities and Moral Refl ection
This paper investigates the question about the possibility of justifying a universal framework for individual moral judgment and action against the background of moral pluralism. The paper is based on two theses: first, that moral pluralism is a basic theoretical fact, therefore any viable unifying framework cannot be presupposed, it can only be constructed from the available moral resources; and second, that if there are some universally shared values worldwide, their universality is not based on rational reflection and therefore cannot be used in a rationally justified framework. Borrowing Bernard Williams’s example of saving one out of two people in a burning house,the author argues that in implementing the supposedly universal value of life in our moral reflection and action, we are at the same time rejecting its universality. Another approach to grounding moral reflection, which accounts better for moral conditionality, is that of collective identities. But it does not help much with interpreting pluralism,since community values monopolize individual moral reflection. The author concludes that to approach the problem of pluralism more appropriately, we need a kind of ‘deeppluralism’ (William Connolly), incorporating a more flexible pattern of the ‘us-them’relation in our moral judgment, which allows complex moral reflection.
My Times Are in Thy Hand
This paper discusses the problem of taking decisions in situations of present will competence that have consequences in later periods, where the person who has taken such decisions may irreversibly lose his/her capacity to exercise and govern his/her own will. In the first part, the author reconstructs the topic in accordance with the rashly developed potentials of modern medicine and health care and from the perspective of the traditional and stale legal institutes. Having this background in mind, the author argues that it is easy to conceptualize the moral nature of the debate – the value conflict between ‘autonomy’ and ‘the will to live’, and the evaluation of this conflict only from‘the outside’ – considering other persons only as patients without the ability to act on their own. In discussing the two main categories of conceptual and practical obstacles– the living will and the health proxy – he intentionally lets them reflect each other.The aim of this risky coexistence is – on the basis of a terminological differentiation between ‘trust’ and ‘reliance’ – to propose, in the second part, that the solution to the problem in question requires a lexical order. In the first step, to provide an extended interpretation of the limits of personal representation set by Bulgarian law, and, in the next step, to ensure durable respect of a former will. Finally, the author makes general conclusions about a central and deeper obstacle to such a reform in the Bulgarian legal system, consisting in the institute of ‘incapacitation’ (declaration of legal disability).
Toward the Logic of Situated Practices
This paper considers the logic of situated practices in an ethnomethodological context. This focus is important not only as a better way of examining the nature of the ethnomethodological stance, but also as an avenue to comprehending the transformations in contemporary sociology since ethnomethodology itself could be seen as a real laboratory for studying them. The notion of ‘situated practices’, however,usually remains unexplicated in the course of ethnomethodological work. Hence, this paper seeks to trace out the genealogy of the idea of ‘situated practices’ from twoearly manuscripts of Harold Garfinkel (from 1948 and from 1952). Binding together notions intensively used by sociologists – such as ‘identity’, ‘identification’, ‘actor’,and ‘group’ – as co-belonging to the idea of ‘situating’, makes it possible to show the‘missing what’ that the young Garfinkel reveals in them. The second part of the paper demonstrates why and how these notions have grown into the key ethnomethodologicalideas of ‘membership’ and ‘instructed actions’.
Adam B. Seligman
Ambiguity and the Limits of Notation
How can we order the world while accepting its enduring ambiguities? This paper suggests a new approach to the problem of ambiguity and social order, which goes beyond the default modern position of ‘notation’ (resort to rules and categories to disambiguate). It argues that alternative, more particularistic modes of dealing with ambiguity through ritual and shared experience better attune to contemporary problemsof living with difference and calls on us to heed the particular, the contingent and experienced as opposed to the abstract, general and disembodied. Only in this way can new forms of empathy emerge congruent with the deeply plural nature of our present experience. While we cannot avoid the ambiguities inherent to the categories through which we construct our world, the author argues here the need to reconceptualize the ways in which we think about boundaries – not just the solid line of notation, but also the permeable membrane of ritualization and the fractal complexity of shared experience.
Logic of Reaffi rmation and the Retreat of the Political
This paper is based on the hypothesis that politics emerge when a decision has to be made regarding the common, and that every decision on the common simultaneously decides collaterally (in an implicit way, or according to the logical operator eo ipso)what are the boundaries and limits of the common (notwithstanding whether it confirms them, changes them, or cancels them).Thus the question arises: What is the specificity of this particular type of acts of reaffirmation, where the reaffirmation is a secondary act to another, explicit and central act of affirmation? This particular reaffirmation conceals itself as an act, while at the same time actually maintaining (or, to put it more precisely, incessantly creating) the horizon within whose limits the very act of decision on the common is realized. What is characteristic of such an act of reaffirmation is that it presupposes a convention, in the sense that a move is made within a coordination game where the player has to make guesses what the other players’ moves would be, and it is this convention that allows the act to be conceived as a ‘re-’affirmation. One of the theses in the paper is that in a situation of crisis such collateral, eo ipso reaffirmation becomes more and more problematical. However, affirmation as reaffirmation of the convention on the limits of the common,by the very fact that it conceals itself as an independent act (or as an act in general),discloses itself in its concealment to be a political action that retreats as political, and asanaction at the same time. And as long as it is this action that every time makes possible the concrete limits of the political, it enacts a retreat of the political ‘itself’, leaving politics to confront the risks of a double disappearing: a) either everything becomes political; b) or the political is restricted to a particular domain and thus becomes a problem of expertise.