The OAC Press is excited to launch its Working Papers Series with Huon Wardle's "Cosmopolitics and Common Sense."

The paper is a written version of his presentation at the St Andrews Centre for Cosmopolitan Studies inaugural conference, 'A Cosmopolitan Anthropology,' held in September 2009. You can read Wardle's own report of the conference to the OAC here.

Wardle takes as his focus the debate between Ulrich Beck and Bruno Latour over the notion of the cosmopolitan or cosmopolitical. Through the intervention of a third figure, Max Stirner, Wardle claims that what is at stake in this debate is the meaning of subjectivity vis-à-vis the social. In so doing, he argues that Kantian common sense offers a distinctive frame for what is involved in both a cosmopolitan imaginary and anthropological common sense.

Since the aim of the Working Papers series is to invite OAC members and ultimately the general public to commentary and join our debates, we have set up this discussion thread to encourage critical engagement with his paper.

Views: 197

Replies to This Discussion

Huon, I really enjoyed your paper. I found myself nodding in agreement with you at every turn, that is, until the ethnographic section at the end where you consolidate your argument.

I wonder if your analysis leaves out the best of what I took to be at the heart of cosmopolitics. With the ethnographic example, it seems as if you've reduced the concept to another instance of the politics of culture, or cosmology.

For me, Latour's notion of cosmopolitics was always a way to foreground in analysis how whole collectives of persons and things are assembled and mobilized. Here, I am not talking just about "baloma spirits, patrilineal ancestors, yams or cassowaries;" but also roads, buildings, NGOs, mining tailings, and the internet.

How do you see these sort of 'actants' fitting into the kind of cosmopolitics you could endorse?
Thanks Justin, It is intriguing that you enjoyed the paper up until the ethnographic example. You could certainly read that instance as exemplifying a politics of culture and I would be interested to know how you would have described it differently. The problem for me starts with the question of 'common sense' from Lazarus' stance. I can't talk directly to the Mayflower, the Stone of Scone or the other actants, I can only talk to Lazarus and proceed from there reconstituting a situation as I go, so to speak. An emphasis on the standpoint from which Lazarus construes and subjectively mobilises the relevant community (within the reflexive frame of our conversation) seems to me to be crucial. Hence, I am interested in your critique but I haven't quite grasped it yet. Is the difference that you would want something on a wider scale - more interconnected processes, more situations where these actants would come more clearly into view? I don't think it is (the small) scale you are concerned with, so what would you want to see extrapolated, or more clearly distinguished?

Justin Shaffner said:
Huon, I really enjoyed your paper. I found myself nodding in agreement with you at every turn, that is, until the ethnographic section at the end where you consolidate your argument.

I wonder if your analysis leaves out the best of what I took to be at the heart of cosmopolitics. With the ethnographic example, it seems as if you've reduced the concept to another instance of the politics of culture, or cosmology.

For me, Latour's notion of cosmopolitics was always a way to foreground in analysis how whole collectives of persons and things are assembled and mobilized. Here, I am not talking just about "baloma spirits, patrilineal ancestors, yams or cassowaries;" but also roads, buildings, NGOs, mining tailings, and the internet.

How do you see these sort of 'actants' fitting into the kind of cosmopolitics you could endorse?
Hey Huon, just very briefly: We will have a session on citizenship and cosmopolitanism next Tuesday, and I make my students read your text. I will also encourage them to comment on your paper on this site. Let's hope it works!
Sounds fascinating - I look forward to it.


Florian Mühlfried said:
Hey Huon, just very briefly: We will have a session on citizenship and cosmopolitanism next Tuesday, and I make my students read your text. I will also encourage them to comment on your paper on this site. Let's hope it works!
The ethnographic moment you chose is an example of the "structure of the conjuncture" (Sahlins 1985) kind, which exposes the different logos at play and risk in any encounter. Yours with Lazarus had the effect of making contingent your own (anthropological) common sense vis-a-vis that of his, which made you rethink yours. What your paper demonstrates nicely contra Viveiros de Castro's Amerindian perspectivism (1998) is that cosmopolitics of this kind is always personal.

But your insistence on the subjective begs the question of its other half, and also runs the risk of reducing anthropology to one of comparing multiple perspectives. This is why I mentioned a "politics of culture" in my previous response. So you are correct, I am asking what happens to the larger scale or context in this kind of analysis? What happens when more than logos is at stake?


Huon Wardle said:
Thanks Justin, It is intriguing that you enjoyed the paper up until the ethnographic example. You could certainly read that instance as exemplifying a politics of culture and I would be interested to know how you would have described it differently. The problem for me starts with the question of 'common sense' from Lazarus' stance. I can't talk directly to the Mayflower, the Stone of Scone or the other actants, I can only talk to Lazarus and proceed from there reconstituting a situation as I go, so to speak. An emphasis on the standpoint from which Lazarus construes and subjectively mobilises the relevant community (within the reflexive frame of our conversation) seems to me to be crucial. Hence, I am interested in your critique but I haven't quite grasped it yet. Is the difference that you would want something on a wider scale - more interconnected processes, more situations where these actants would come more clearly into view? I don't think it is (the small) scale you are concerned with, so what would you want to see extrapolated, or more clearly distinguished?
Justin Shaffner said:
Huon, I really enjoyed your paper. I found myself nodding in agreement with you at every turn, that is, until the ethnographic section at the end where you consolidate your argument.

I wonder if your analysis leaves out the best of what I took to be at the heart of cosmopolitics. With the ethnographic example, it seems as if you've reduced the concept to another instance of the politics of culture, or cosmology. For me, Latour's notion of cosmopolitics was always a way to foreground in analysis how whole collectives of persons and things are assembled and mobilized. Here, I am not talking just about "baloma spirits, patrilineal ancestors, yams or cassowaries;" but also roads, buildings, NGOs, mining tailings, and the internet.

How do you see these sort of 'actants' fitting into the kind of cosmopolitics you could endorse?
Thanks Justin, those are helpful critical comments and food for thought. Yes, I can see the structure of conjuncture type of explanation as relevant to how I have presented the case. And I might add Gluckman's (or before him Fortune's) situation focused analyses. Then Griaule and Mintz in quite different ways have used conversation as a basis for building a social analysis. I just list these to say there is nothing 'new' in what I am doing at that level. And, of course, Latour also takes conjunctural situations as his mode of revealing the different actants involved in his settings. But you may well be right that developing the case in that way suggests that I am proposing a singular 'method' of presentation which I am not; the aim is simply to indicate some of the themes in play (anthropologists are constrained by using words when experience is both less and more than words). The case is 'small' in the sense that at its centre are two speakers (practitioners of the 'logos'...), but I could certainly make it bigger - CNN is here, coffee farmers are standing in the background, super-power politics is present and interested and so on.
One of the reasons I was so excited by your paper is that it allowed me to think through my own research in the Middle Fly region of Papua New Guinea, located downstream from two large scale mining operations and also on the border with Indonesia. I work with kamok-anim, or fight leaders, as they negotiate relations with transnational corporations, NGO's and the state. In my dissertation, I use the concept "cosmopolitics" to help me talk about how leaders, holding in mind their respective communities, attempt to affect manageable outcomes for themselves through the mobilization of various assemblages. You are right to invoke Mintz's work on life history and also Gluckman's situational analysis. Speaking of which, I wonder what Gluckman's work on the allocation of responsibility would add, if anything, to all of this?

Huon Wardle said:
Thanks Justin, those are helpful critical comments and food for thought. Yes, I can see the structure of conjuncture type of explanation as relevant to how I have presented the case. And I might add Gluckman's (or before him Fortune's) situation focused analyses. Then Griaule and Mintz in quite different ways have used conversation as a basis for building a social analysis. I just list these to say there is nothing 'new' in what I am doing at that level. And, of course, Latour also takes conjunctural situations as his mode of revealing the different actants involved in his settings. But you may well be right that developing the case in that way suggests that I am proposing a singular 'method' of presentation which I am not; the aim is simply to indicate some of the themes in play (anthropologists are constrained by using words when experience is both less and more than words). The case is 'small' in the sense that at its centre are two speakers (practitioners of the 'logos'...), but I could certainly make it bigger - CNN is here, coffee farmers are standing in the background, super-power politics is present and interested and so on.
Yes - the Gluckman allocation of responsibility theme seems appropriate: I often use the Lloyd Peters article on ambiguities. If I remember, in the introduction there is a discussion of Evans-Pritchard where he could be interterpreted as prefiguring the idea of statistics as actants; I think he is talking about the government deployment of statistics a la Azande divination. Douglas talks about very similar themes in that chapter on Lele and Belgian colonialist notions of ecology/weather. Where Gluckman has the edge, perhaps, is that his mode of argument does not really require a fixed 'society' in the background, though it is often evoked. In these kinds of fights, including the fights presumably of the 'fight leaders' you describe, the building up of a space and time for the agents involved and the demonstration of their moral qualities is surely integral; but I guess that your 'fight leaders' are always working against the situation that their agents are transformed in the meetings into purely fabricated 'cultural' ideas, whereas the mining corporations are working with preexisting 'natural' facts.
Huon, your essay is a wonderful guide to the Beck/Latour debate and to a host of interesting figures from Kant to Viveiros de Castro via Stirner, Simmel, Bakhtin, Arendt and others. It is a treasure house, to be visited over and over again. But – there had to be a ‘but’ – I found myself asking what the subjectivity in question is good for. What does it help each of us to do, so that we may judge the value of various positions for our own political purposes?

I can see that Beck wants to escape from the restrictions of German nationalism in order to be able to assess the personal risks of being a world citizen today. I have always felt that Latour’s subjective politics arose from the need to debunk and marginalize scientists who knew more about his subject of study than he does. This meant dethroning Pasteur as the guy who invented modern fermentation by making agents of the microbes that do the actual work; removing western science from its pedestal and celebrating instead the multiple natures of ‘Amerindians’; offering the piecemeal perspective of American pragmatism to a jaded French political discourse. Above all, it meant ensuring his own success in the cut-throat competition of Parisian academic politics. But has any of this undermined Maxwell’s equations, made milk safer, thrown up a satellite or even regenerated French politics? It has made academic life more interesting for some and Bruno Latour is a star, that’s about it.

If the Third Critique is to be our bible – and why not – there has to be a way of cutting through Lazarus’s blather without pandering to it. Actually, Livy painted Hannibal as a black threat to civilization as we know it, when half the towns of Italy rallied to his side. Fustel wrote about it too. I know that because I studied them. Or, to take an example from Yale in the 70s, we read Marx’s Capital in an interdisciplinary circle and one woman produced a highly imaginative account of an early chapter. I argued that Marx hadn’t written what she said and was told that no-one had the right to tell her otherwise. Some of the neo-Kantians held that all knowledge is irreducibly subjective, but that reason depends on trying to square what we think with what is out there. We devise intellectual communities to help individual scholars get things right. Has all of this gone just because the nation-state is on shakier ground these days?

Every human being is a unique person who lives in society. We are therefore all individual and social at the same time and the two are inseparable in our experience. Society is both inside and outside us; and a lot rides on our ability to tell the difference as well as to make a meaningful connection between them. Society is personal when it is lived by each of us in particular; it is impersonal when it takes the form of collective ideas. Life and ideas are likewise inseparable in practice, but they need sometimes to be distinguished.

It is therefore just as damaging to insist on a radical separation of individuals and society or of life and ideas as it is to collapse the difference between them. Modern capitalism rests on a division between personal and impersonal spheres of social life. The institution of private property initially drove a conceptual wedge between our individuality and an active sense of belonging to society. Indeed the latter was made invisible or at least unreachable for most of us. But private property assumed the form of public ownership by large business corporations and even governments. It then became convenient to merge the personal and impersonal spheres in economic law, leaving a general confusion in political culture between the rights of individual citizens and those of abstract social entities wielding far more power than any human being ever could. The consequences for democracy are disastrous.

Is it so hard to distinguish between real persons and the impersonal organizations they live by? Bill Gates is Bill Gates, not Microsoft, and, when he plays bridge with Warren Buffet, they talk about money, with consequences for the rest of us. We have no difficulty with a play that represents modern physics as a meeting between Nils Bohr and Werner Heisenberg in Copenhagen. The problem is that even the humanities have become so abstract that it has become quaintly old-fashioned to imagine that living people are what make society and ideas. The Anglophone founders of classical liberalism from Locke to Smith and Jefferson knew that and their greatest poets, from Milton to Blake, expressed it in words whose meaning we have forgotten. “General Forms have their vitality in Particulars, and every Particular is a Man.”

Writing a century ago, in the full spate of a bureaucratic revolution powered by machine industry, Max Weber saw no social force capable of resisting a highly centralized version of impersonal society. Our perspective, looking back at the twentieth century, is rather different. On the one hand, bureaucratic capitalism has evolved to a highly mobile form operating on a global scale; on the other, national bureaucracy sometimes seems to be an endangered species and its industrial basis in the old centers of western power has almost withered away, only to be reborn in Asia.

The latest stage of the machine revolution has speeded up human connection at the world level. Society now takes a number of forms – global, regional, national and local. We need new impersonal norms to guide our social interactions in such a world, but not if it means denying the significance of individual personalities. The stage is set for a new humanism capable of uniting these poles of our existence (there, I declare my allegiance!). The word “humanity” contains within itself the elements of our predicament and their potential synthesis. It is a collective noun, a moral quality and a historical project for our species. If it is not obvious to us now how these make up our common humanity, then that is because we have just stumbled into a machine revolution whose implications we can barely imagine.

Modern knowledge, as organized by the universities, falls into three broad classes: the natural sciences, the social sciences and the humanities. This is to say that the academic division of labour in our day is concerned with nature, society and humanity, of which the first two are thought to be governed by objective laws, but knowledge of the last requires the exercise of subjectivity or critical judgment. Whereas nature and society may be known by means of impersonal disciplines, human experience is communicated between persons, between individual artists and their audiences.

Nature and humanity are represented conventionally through science and art, but the best way of approaching society is moot, since social science is a recent (and, in my view, failed) attempt to bring the methods of the natural sciences to bear on a task that previously had fallen to religion. If science is the commitment to know the world objectively and art the means of expressing oneself subjectively, religion was and is a bridge between subject and object, a way of making meaningful connection between something inside oneself and the world outside. For a time it seemed that science had driven religion from the government of modern societies, but the search is on now for new forms of religion capable of reconciling scientific laws with personal experience. Kant’s cosmopolitan moral politics offer one vision of the course such a religious renewal might take.
Keith, this gives serious pause for thought - and thanks again for the opportunity you have provided for this kind of discussion. Two decades ago someone told me to read Vico's New Science (1725): there was at that time a bit of a buzz around that book because it had been held up by Levi-Strauss and Edmund Leach as offering an alternative perspective for anthropologists. When I read it I was amazed; it consists of a story in which the earth was originally controlled by giants who lived in caves, people must have had writing before they had speech and so on - hardly a match for Rene Descartes, who was Vico's main rival, surely. Once I had cut through the 'blather', I realised that that story wasn't crucial; it was the consequences of Vico's approach that was significant. He argued that society was, first, a poetic creation and, second, a rationalisable object (he did not say it was irrational). In-so-far as the social can be construed in a 'rational' form to the exclusion of its poetics, it has reached the end of its capacity for productivity; at which point the age of reason ends and the ground for a new poetics is laid. I think that both Beck and Latour draw on that imagery in their work; the current rational forms (grandest of all, the sociological concept of 'society') have become emptied of meaningful content and are being replaced by new ones, a new poetics.

In this regard, there strike me as existing two sides to how Kant figures in the history of modern social science; on the one hand he is used legislatively to distinguish the 'rational' from the 'irrational' uses and interpellants of (social) science. I suppose you might include someone like Needham as an exemplar of that in anthropology. Then there are those for whom what is valuable in Kant is his critical philosophy and critical anthropology. Here the focus is on the manifold of experience - What concepts are we using? Where did those concepts come from? What is appearing? how does it enter our experience? Do the concepts we use make any 'sense' in relation to what we now witness? The pragmatists, Peirce in particular, posed a strong challenge to the 'legislative' version of Kant when they pointed out that the transcendental categories (time, space, causality) were not stable (Darwin and Hegel had their part to play in this); that they were (and this includes scientific ideas) relative to communities of thought; that, for better or worse, the categories were created by these communities. If the community as a network expands or contracts or changes its form or disappears, that makes a difference to our field of concepts and to our capacities for thought. So yes, I think you are right: call it religion or poetics or aesthetics - it comes into play when people are not clear what kind of community they belong to, or which community they wish to create or who should be included. The subjective aspect enters the foreground, as a question for critical anthropology, in terms of how the individual exercises their imagination interactively to include or exclude the others.
In contrast to Keith, I believe that “the subjectivity in question” does have its place in your discussion, Huon. You manage to show quite clearly how for Beck, subjectivity is “without question a property of human individuals” (p. 6), whereas for Latour, “subjectivity derives its qualities from its distribution across emergent networks” (p. 3). It is not difficult to see how these differing notions have an effect on the reflection of “common sense”/“communality” as inherent to the concepts of cosmopolitanism and cosmopolitics.

I am not sure, however, if the triangulation of the positions of Beck and Latour with the position of Max Stirner is of much help. Stirner’s notion of the “spook” may be a useful tool to tackle much taken for granted assumptions of cosmopolitanism. But does it tell us more about Beck’s “zombie categories”? The same applies to your references to Kant, Arendt and Bakhtin. In my reading, they couldn’t substantially contribute to an understanding of the Beck/Latour controversy.

What I found stimulating, however, is the way you outlined Viveiros de Castro’s impact on Latour’s thinking. It is striking, indeed, how something allegedly so “pristine” like the Amerindian’s cosmology seems to underly Latour’s “pluriverse”. And I very much agree that “more considerations seems needed” (p. 19). The core question to me is, how much Latour’s “pluriverse” really depends on Viveiro de Castro’s Amerindians. Is their cosmology (just accepting for a second that such kind of consistent and “pristine” cosmology really exists) a prerequisite for Latour’s model, or just peripheral? Is it inherent, or more like an ornament? Maybe, in the end, Latour just wants to show off. Something like: My thinking stretches from the Amazonia to the most advanced laboratories, from the seemingly simple, to the seemingly complex …

In any case, I absolutely subscribe to your concluding sentence: “the refinement of pristine indigenous cosmologies – elaborately articulated symmetric fictions – that provide the foil to a critique of ‘Western’ society is unsustainable” (p. 22). Yes! Funny, that things like this still have to be said, but they do. I just witnessed a presentation of Joanna Overing, who talked about the allegedly egalitarian worldview of the Amazonians. No trace of history or time in her presentation whatsoever. No trace of spatial particularities, none of events. And what is the Amazonian worldview, in the end? Who makes part of it? What about the descendents of former slaves having escaped into the Amazonia?

So again, here’s my question: Is this the death strike to Latour, or does his “pluriverse” survive without the Amerindians?
Thanks Florian,

And thanks to all for your rigorous eloquent, but non-aggressive inteventions. Each of you has chosen a particular straw or several straws to pick out of my basket, so I am wondering whether there will be anything but a hole at the end! I remain dogged however. On the point at hand, I am not sure how much power Latour's approach necessarily draws from the Amerindian case; though recently he has made many statements asserting the link forcefully. It may simply be that given the genealogy of structuralist and post-structuralist thought, drawing on the Amerindian situation a la Tristes Tropiques, gives a paradoxical solidity to a case where it is not required but where it undoubtedly lends authority. James makes some comments that could stand in for the arguments about multinaturalism, for instance. The fact remains that the Amerindians have been drawn in to the case and presented as integral to it.

Let me defend the the two other pivotal figures, Stirner and Kant, though. First my argument is that Stirner's iconoclasm responds to the same predicament that Latour's iconophilia talks to: that social life is only workable if the individual coopts many other actors/idees fixes/spooks into her/his own actions. Stirner is constantly trying to serve eviction notices on these others in order to rediscover his own self. Now, if Beck is right and the cosmopolitan predicament entails further heightened individualisation; and if objective principles thereby are increasingly recognised as features of our own consciousness, then the question of subjectivity returns in the very strong form of what judgements we might or should feel able to make. On that score, the interpretation of this paper whereby I am suggesting that anything goes, that anyone's opinion is as good as another's, has to be recognised as quite the opposite of what I am arguing in the Kant/Arendt section: on the contrary, I propose there that if individualisation (in a world with many centres) is heightened, then the interrogation of subjective judgement is heightened too; that doesn't reduce the burden of making rational meaning it increases it.

RSS

Translate

OAC Press

@OpenAnthCoop

Events

© 2017   Created by Keith Hart.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service