28.9.10

A New Philosophy of Society – Chapter 1: Assemblages Against Totalities (part two)

In the first part of my comments on chapter 1 of Delanda’s A New Philosophy of Society I talked about the crazy mix and mingle of properties and relations that come together as real world assemblages, and how arbitrary it sometimes seems to characterize relations between wholes and parts as “relations of exteriority” only. And I don’t think this criticism is simply about semantics because I think it is very important to recognize the “fuzzy” boundaries, interpenetrations, contaminations, and interdependencies obtaining between real world entities.

Another aspect of DeLanda’s assemblage theory I deeply appreciate – as set out in chapter one – is the twin notions of territorialization and deterritorialization.

Here is how DeLanda describes territorialization:
"The concept of territorialization must be first of all understood literally. Face-to-face conversations always occur in a particular place (a street corner, a pub, a church), and once the participants have ratified one another a conversation acquires well-defined spatial boundaries. Similarly, many interpersonal networks define communities inhabiting spatial territories, whether ethnic neighbourhoods or small towns, with well-defined borders. Organizations, in turn, usually operate in particular buildings, and the jurisdiction of their legitimate authority usually coincides with the physical boundaries of those buildings"(p.13)
And here is how Levi Bryant descibes deterritorialization:
"Deterritorialization, by contrast, refers to the intervention or appearance of components that destabilize an assemblage, either causing it to change or perhaps even causing an entirely new assemblage to emerge." [source]
With these Deleuzian concepts DeLanda injects a process-relational dimension into the life of assemblages. What is at stake is how entities and assemblages come into being and are maintained. DeLanda is clear on this issue: all things come into being through “historical” (read cosmological) and material morphogenetic processes. These processes, just as the “mechanisms” and “relations” discussed previously, must also be tracked and understood empirically in the particular contexts in which they operate. But DeLanda is content, at this point in his narrative, to only mention the necessity of acknowledging these operations in our mapping of social realities because all assemblages and entities exist in the context of these dual processes. For DeLanda, then, being and becoming are simultaneous - with objects and assemblages emerging out of the flux and force of ecological events.

Although DeLanda’s ontology posits a world in process, with eddies of organization generating the temporal entities we call ‘parts’ and ‘wholes’, he wants to take the reader further still to suggest the some of the deeper more intricate details of the components gathered together in assemblages. What interests me in this regard is how DeLanda conceives of manifesting entities as moving equilibriums with definitive properties and capacities unleashed in relation. Here is how DeLanda frames it:
“We can distinguish, for example, the properties defining a given entity from its capacity to interact with other entities. While its properties are given and may be denumerable as a closed list, its capacities are not given – they may go unexercised if no entity suitable for interaction is around – and form a potentially open list, since there is no way to tell in advance in what way a given entity may affect or be affected by innumerable other entities” (p.10).
As I read it, DeLanda suggests that properties are given in the entity's actualization but its capacities are afforded in situ and only ever unleashed in relation. That is to say, the most powerful or potent expressions of assemblages and objects are brought forth or actualized in relationships with other assemblages and environments. For me this deeply implicates all entities in a relational mesh of affect and affordance – where assemblages and objects depend on each other and background situational occurrences for their efficacy or power in the world. This way of thinking assemblages will have significant consequences for how DeLanda thinks about persons in network in chapter 3.

Incidentally, I find it strange, in light of DeLanda’s suggestion that an assemblage’s capacities (‘what an assemblage can do’) is only ever unleashed, extended or augmented in relation, that Levi Bryant suggests  DeLanda’s theory is congruent with object-oriented thinking and specifically Bryant’s own conceptual framework.

Here is Bryant’s suggestion:
“DeLanda’s point is thus that we must not confuse the properties of an entity with the capacities of an entity. Properties of an entity are local results of interactions between entities. For example, the water boils because it is heated up. Capacities of an entity are powers that an entity possesses, regardless of whether these powers are exercised or not. The confusion of entities with their powers is what Roy Bhaskar called “actualism”. Actualism reduces the being of an entity to the properties that happen to be actual or occurrent in that entity at a particular point in time.” [source]
As I read it, DeLanda (as quoted above) thinks just the opposite. Although DeLanda does (rightly) distinguish between an entity’s properties and capacities, he argues that “properties are given” and “capacities are not given”. DeLanda suggests that the properties of an entity or assemblage can be understood as a potentially closed list of the actually occurring qualities possessed by an entity, whereas an entity’s powers or capacities are affected by “innumerable other entities” and in “no way” can we understand what an assemblage is capable of doing in advance, or in isolation from, what it is afforded in its interactions with other entities. All of this can be found on page 10 of chapter one.

This, I believe, demonstrates DeLanda’s commitment to a materialist conception of 'occurring entities' which exist in intimate and constant relation, while always coming into being (becoming) through concrete and dynamic historical processes. And despite DeLanda’s insistence that relations are always ‘relations of exteriority’, I believe, when pushed, DeLanda would concede that it’s relations and material processes “all the way down” and not objects per se.

The genius of the concept of assemblage is, I believe, its ability to mediate between object-oriented understandings of the world and the recognition of the deep contextual and relational aspects of being. Because an assemblage is never truly its own master (never truly “withdrawn” from other entities), always beholden in some way to its own actually existing parts, and because parts necessarily relate with each other in order to generate wholes, they can be understood as dependent-relational beings and relatively independent-agentic systems simultaneously. With a robust assemblage theory, then, we can appreciate both temporal objectivity (the temporary existence of actual entities) and relational efficacy (the always connected affordances of capacities) in our investigations of real world situations.

25.9.10

Hägglund on the Logic of Derrida

In the video below, philosopher Martin Hägglund reads excerpts from his book Radical Atheism: Derrida and the Time of Life (2008), and argues that the unitary logic of Jacques Derrida's philosophy shows itself with notions such as "auto-immunity" and "trace".  I'm not sure I follow his arguements here (or the relevance to anyone other than hyper-literary types), but it is interesting trying to follow along with his meandering assertions.  The video was shot in October of 2008 at Cornel University.

Description of the book from the publisher:
Radical Atheism presents a profound new reading of the influential French philosopher Jacques Derrida. Against the prevalent notion that there was an ethical or religious "turn" in Derrida's thinking, Hägglund argues that a radical atheism informs Derrida's work from beginning to end. Proceeding from Derrida's insight into the constitution of time, Hägglund demonstrates how Derrida rethinks the condition of identity, ethics, religion, and political emancipation in accordance with the logic of radical atheism. Hägglund challenges other major interpreters of Derrida's work and offers a compelling account of Derrida's thinking on life and death, good and evil, self and other. Furthermore, Hägglund does not only explicate Derrida's position but also develops his arguments, fortifies his logic, and pursues its implications. The result is a groundbreaking deconstruction of the perennial philosophical themes of time and desire as well as pressing contemporary issues of sovereignty and democracy.

23.9.10

Socialism Next?

From Counterfire:
The crisis that burst upon the world in 2007 undermined neo-liberal ideology and created a new audience for socialist ideas. Dominic Alexander looks at three books that attempt to address the new possibilities for socialists.
Michael A. Lebowitz, The Socialist Alternative (Monthly Review Press 2010)
Alan Maass, The Case for Socialism (Haymarket Books 2010)
Erik Olin Wright, Envisioning Real Utopias (Verso 2010)
The economic crisis beginning in 2007 punctured the dominance of neo-liberal ideology, without completely overturning it. To accomplish that, and force socialism back on the agenda, is the urgent political job of the left, as the establishment’s relative disarray will not last for the long term. The tired old saw on democracy still functions for capitalism as a whole: however bad capitalism is, it is the best system possible. Breaking this piece of common sense is a priority. Happily, the crisis does seem to have given left-wing writers the confidence to start openly arguing for socialism once more.

Despite books by figures as different as Badiou (The Communist Hypothesis) and G. A. Cohen (Why Not Socialism?), much of this new wave of writing seems to be coming from the context of the American continents. The upsurge in the left across Latin America in the last ten years or so, as well as simultaneous bitter divisions within the USA, no doubt provide the impetus. Nonetheless, the three books considered in this review are all very different in intentions and approach, and so it might be considered somewhat unfair to consider them side by side. And yet, it is precisely their very varying perspectives that beg comparison.
Read More @ Counterfire.Org

A New Philosophy of Society – Chapter 1: Assemblages Against Totalities (part one)

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Chapter 1 is without a doubt my favorite chapter of the entire book. This seems like an odd statement for me to make since so much of my rhetoric often includes a critical stance on ontology in the strict sense. It’s true I have always found it problematic to construct abstract generalizations about reality without intimate recourse to the empirical minutia that constitutes that which we seek to speculate upon. What could theoretical models (maps) really tell us about empirical realities (territory) that cannot be understood given enough attention to the actual circumstances themselves? As it turns out, quite a bit.

In this chapter DeLanda makes it clear that in order to truly understand the complexity of social reality we must have some sense of “how things hang together” (to steal a well know phrase from Gregory Bateson). DeLanda tells us that what he hopes to accomplish in the first chapter and with the whole book is to sketch out the broad contours of a plausible social ontology in order to “elucidate the proper ontological status of the entities that are invoked by sociologists and other social scientists” (p.8). That is, DeLanda wants to inject some clarity into social scientific discussions about what actually constitutes our complex social reality.

DeLanda convincingly, although briefly, makes the case in the first part of the book that social scientists bring with them deeply embedded ontological commitments (or metaphysical lenses), and beliefs about the world that need to be critically investigated in order to get beyond certain biases and privileged areas of focus. On this point, I completely agree. In fact it was my initial reading (four years ago) of the assemblage theory outlined in this chapter that inspired me to begin to take ontology more seriously. Researchers need to make their assumptions about causality, relation, scale and time explicit if they are to become aware of how those assumptions frame and focus their attention and guide their interpretations. Only after rigorously examining their ontological assumptions about the world can researchers hope to begin checking the logic these beliefs entail against the available empirical evidence from particular social situations.

I think Levi Bryant does a fabulous job of summarizing the main points of the chapter (here), so I won’t repeat his efforts, but there are a few issues that I would like to address which were brought up by Jeremy (here) and Circling Squares (here) – and in some additional comments by Bryant (here) on DeLanda’s positions compared to that espoused by Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO).

First is the issue of interiority and exteriority. DeLanda argues that much work in the social sciences has been unfortunately limited by the “organismic metaphor” characterized by an unjustifiable belief in the importance of “relations of interiority”. As Bryant summarizes:
Within the organismic metaphor, society is compared to the human body, such that 1) all parts are dependent on one another, and 2) all parts (institutions) work together like organs in an organism to promote the harmony of society as a whole. Here it is notable that this conception of relations between parts is not restricted to organismic conceptions of society, but also to structuralist conceptions of society. The key thesis shared by these orientations is that parts have no existence or being apart from the whole to which they belong. [source]
Certainly there are several examples of classical social thinkers who have fallen prey to such an overestimation of the supposed seamless unity of social systems and relations. DeLanda names the philosopher Herbert Spencer and sociologist Talcott Parsons as key examples. Within the anthro world I come from I would certainly include Radcliffe-Brown among those influential social scientists who at times seemed to ‘explain away’ the complexity of social contexts in favor of a kind of functionalist determinism. Although, having preoccupied myself with the work of all three of those gentlemen in the past, I must also suggest argue that each of those thinkers held much more nuanced perspectives than one might suspect. Talcott Parsons in particular defended a detailed model of functionalism that attempted to shed light on multiple scales of reality, and generally acknowledged personal as well as societal level causality. Radcliffe-Brown, as well, often supported many of his more general statements with evidence taken from extensive fieldwork in the Andaman Islands, Australia, and elsewhere.

Regardless, DeLanda’s point should be taken: it is important to understand how parts and wholes relate and are actually produced and maintained. And, for his part, DeLanda argues that whole and parts come together through “relations of exteriority”. As Bryant describes:
The central feature of relations of exteriority is that the components of an assemblage may be detached from it and plugged into a different assemblage in which its interactions are different (10). DeLanda argues that the properties of the parts of an assemblage can never explain the whole or assemblage they constitute. Those wholes or assemblages are dependent on the component parts (there’s nothing mystical about emergence), but have a structure of their own that is irreducible to these parts. [source]
It is here that things get a little messy for me. While I certainly agree with DeLanda that many components of assemblages can be detached from the larger whole, and are indeed irreducible to the whole in which they are parts, I would also argue that there are wholes that have parts that cannot be detached without both whole and part ceasing to be. For example: organisms. Without falling back into metaphoric confusion, we can say that there are many such real organic wholes that depend on their parts for continued existence (what is a raven without a raven brain?), and visa versa (can a human heart continue beating without being connected to circulatory system, or a circulatory system without a nervous system, or all those parts without a body?).

The point is, for me, that there are numerous kinds of assemblages. There are organic bodies, metallic machines, non-profit organizations and families, to provide just a few examples. And if we respect this diversity of assemblages and build it into our models and ontologies, then we must also take a much more nuanced stance on relationality – because particular assemblies have specific properties and particular relations.

For example, while wolves have “external” relations between individuals (males and females, males and males, young and older), these relations also affectively combine into the “internal” relations of the larger pack. Relations in this case can be alternatively understood (and simultaneously tracked) as either “eternal” or “internal” depending on the level of analysis one wants to privilege. Even more complex are the “external” relations between wolves and wolf-packs and the prey on which they depend and draw nutrients from through “internal” metabolic processes. Here, relations that seem “external” between wolf and, say, rabbit quickly become “internal” as the wolf absorbs the flesh (material-energetic properties) of the rabbit into its own inner being – allowing that wolf to then thrust its energies into “external” relations with its pack members, and potentially setting off a new round of relations between mates, which then results in egg fertilizations that catalyze “internal” relations of gestation and reproduction. 

What this example showcases is how many actual real-world assemblages are a mixed affair – hybrids with relations of exteriority and interiority mixing and mingling simultaneously, and sustaining and maintaining variously interpenetrated and interdependent relationships. In the case of animals, the relationality between entities can quickly cascade into a whole series of variable internal/external effects and affects generating complex sets of interacting and supporting assemblages.

However, this ‘mix and mingle’ of relations and properties is not restricted to organic entities. For example, assemblages such as corporations depend upon “external” relations of cash flow and profit for continued operations, while also transforming much of their cash into “internal” relational capacities such as office supplies or human resources. The point here is that relations of all sorts (with consumers, managers, expertise, knowledge, market forces, etc) interpenetrate the operations of the corporation, and influence its capacity for success and continuance.

Both examples, I believe, suggest that there are many assemblages that cannot simply be considered as “relations of exteriority”. Depending on the specific properties involved, and the intensity and rhythms of their relations, actually existing assemblages are far more promiscuous (to steal a term from Levi) than what DeLanda seems to suggest. All assemblages, on all scales have variable capacities for relation, fusion, absorption, symbiosis, autonomy or dominance, depending on the particular properties and circumstances involved.

It is precisely this type of complexity that is also the basis for my agreement with both Jeremy and Levi Bryant who each seem to suggest just how important it is to track and understand the “real connections” between entities and among assemblages.

Here is how Jeremy puts it:
“Whenever we start talking about how wholes affect their parts I start to feel as if the explanations become magical in a way, as opposed to causal. For example, when De Landa says that social assemblages constrain and enable their components or that they can be thought of as creating a "space of possibilities" I ask, how do they do it? By what mechanism? De Landa himself says that he's interested in causal explanations, but I can't seem to find the causal mechanism for the kind of relationship between part and whole that he's discussing.” [source]
I certainly support Jeremy’s questioning of the validity of talking about wholes and parts abstracted from the actual circumstances of real assemblages. Despite the importance of being able to create a model of reality (ontology) with which to examine the logic of our assumptions, it is even more important to track in detail the empirical realities upon which our models are based.

In DeLanda’s case, if he wants to argue that assemblage theory is useful for analyzing a wide variety of entities and social realities then ultimately he is going to have to demonstrate the particular way in which specific entities and social relations are assembled, or are either “enabled” or “constrained”. Fortunately in DeLanda’s case his previous work in A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History went a long way to demonstrating how an assemblage theory might explain actual historical and social developments. I believe that that book and A New Philosophy of Society might be better read in tandem or consecutively in order to get the full breadth and depth of DeLanda’s thinking on several of the issues raised in this book.

22.9.10

Toxic Alberta: Tumorous Fish Downstream from Alberta Oil Sands

One whitefish has a golfball-sized tumor bulging from its side. Another is simply missing part of its spine, its tail growing from a stumpy rear end. One has no snout. Another is colored a lurid red instead of a healthy cream. Others are covered with lesions and still others are bent and crooked from deformed vertebrae.

All were taken from Lake Athabasca, downstream from the Alberta Oil Sands ('Tar Sands'). The lake and surrounding watershed is also the source of drinking water for thousands of first nations people living in the area.

Is this what civil society looks like?:

Killam Memorial Professor of Ecology at the University of Alberta David Schindler holds a deformed white fish caught in Lake Athabasca. 
Two-Jawed mutant fish downstream from Oilsands

learn more: here

21.9.10

Power and Anti-Imperial Anthropology

Below is a recent blog post by Dr. Maximilian Forte, university professor, political anthropologist and general dissident, who has written extensively and critically on the history of anthropology, and has provided much needed commentary on the ridiculous tragedy of the Human Terrain System program run by the U.S military

In this post Max drops some quotes from John Gledhill’s Power and its Disguises, one of my very favorite texts (I keep it front and center on my book shelf) and a great resource for getting a real sense of where political anthropology has been moving the last 10 years or so. He then provides some follow-up commentary and perspective well worth reading.

I suggest you go over to Max’s website and have a look because the man is one of the most cogent and ethically-minded anthropologists working in the field today. Enjoy.
Colonial and Anti-Imperial Anthropology
by Maximilian Forte

The following quotes come from John Gledhill’s Power and its Disguises: Anthropological Perspectives on Politics, 2nd ed. (London: Pluto, 2000).

page 1:
Half a century ago, the subject matter and relevance of political anthropology still seemed relatively easy to define. Under Western colonial regimes, one of the most valuable kinds of knowledge which anthropologists could offer to produce was that relating to indigenous systems of law and government. Most colonial governments had opted for systems of indirect rule. Colonial authority was to be mediated through indigenous leaders and the rule of Western law was to legitimate itself through a degree of accommodation to local ‘customs’.

In the last analysis, however, the laws and authority of the colonizers were pre-eminent. Anthropologists in the twentieth century found themselves in the same position as clerics in the Spanish-American Empire at the dawn of European global expansion. The authorities were interested in witchcraft accusations and blood feuds with a view to stamping out what was not acceptable to European ‘civilization’. Yet there were some areas of indigenous practice, such as customary law on property rights, which colonial regimes sought to manipulate for their own ends, and might even codify as law recognized by the colonial state. This bureaucratic restructuring of indigenous ‘traditions’ and socia1 organization was generally carried out within a framework of European preconceptions, giving anthropologists an opportunity to offer their services in the cause of making colonial administration work.

A particularly intractable problem for the colonial regimes was that of finding persons who could play the role of authority figures in areas where state-less or ‘acephalous’ societies predominated.
page 3:
…the critical strands of an anthropological approach to politics were not those that became hegemonic in the discipline in the period after 1940. This was the date when the British structural-functionalists established ‘political anthropology’ as a formalized sub-field.

…most of the profession did display ‘willingness to serve’. More significantly, the analyses of mainstream academic anthropology, in both Britain and the United States, proved incapable of confronting the fact that its object of study was a world structured by Western colonial expansion and capitalist imperialism in a systematic way.
pages 3-4:
…it remains necessary to strive for the decolonization of anthropology today. The problem is not simply the relationship between the development of anthropology and formal colonial rule, but the historical legacies of Western domination, the continuing global hegemony of the Northern powers, and contemporary manifestations of racial and neo-colonial domination in the social and political life of metropolitan countries.
First, a note about terminology from a guilty party who frequently has used, and often still uses, the phrase “decolonized anthropology.” What Gledhill is speaking about is anthropology on the side of the colonizers, colonial anthropology in the sense that it served the mission of colonization. “Decolonized anthropology” can therefore sound strange, if we are still speaking of the anthropology of contemporary Western elites–it can sound strange because it suggests that these elites (Malinowski, Evans-Pritchard, Radcliffe-Brown, etc.) were themselves colonized, that their discipline was occupied by dominant, foreign interests, and that we, their successors, need to liberate ourselves from that dominance much the same as colonized territories in Africa.
Read More @ Zero Anthropology

Publisher Comments about the book Power and its Disguises:
Arguing that an anthropology that confronts the politics of academic knowledge can transcend its colonial origins to challenge enthnocentrism, Power and Its Disguises explores both the complexities of local situations and the power relations that shape the global order. The book begins by analyzing the politics of societies without indigenous states and non-Western agrarian civilizations in order to confront the politics of domination and resistance within the colonial contexts that gave birth to the discipline.The author then examines the contemporary politics of Africa, Asia and Latin America, showing that historically informed anthropological perspectives can contribute to debates about democratization by incorporating a 'view from below' and revealing forces that shape power relations behind the formal facade of state institutions. Examples are drawn from Brazil, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guatemala, Indonesia, India, Mexico, Peru, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Sri Lanka, amongst others.Emphasizing the need to avoid both romanticism and blanket pessimism, the book shows how the study of micro-dynamics of power in everyday life coupled with sensitivity to the interactions between the local and global offers critical insights into such issues as state terror and ethnic violence, the emancipatory potential of social movements and the politics of rights, gender and culture. The book ends with discussion of the politics of academic research and academics' efforts to play a critical role.

20.9.10

Jacques Derrida Interviews Jazz Legend

THE OTHER'S LANGUAGE: JACQUES DERRIDA INTERVIEWS ORNETTE COLEMAN, 23 JUNE 1997

Translator's note: The meeting between saxophonist/composer Ornette Coleman and philospher Jacques Derrida documented here took place in late June and early July 1997, before and during Coleman's three concerts at La Villette, a museum and performing arts complex north of Paris that houses, among other things, the world-renowned Paris Conservatory. Here Derrida interviews Coleman about his views on composition, improvisation, language and racism. Perhaps the most interesting point of the exchange is the convergence of their respective ideas about "languages of origin" and their experiences of racial prejudice.

This interview was originally conducted in English several days before Coleman's
concerts, but since original transcripts could not be located, I have translated it back into English from the published French text.

Full Interview (PDF): Here


Ornette Coleman (b.1930) is an American saxophonist, violinist, trumpeter and composer. He was one of the major innovators of the free jazz movement of the 1960s. Coleman's timbre is easily recognized: his keening, crying sound draws heavily on blues music. His album Sound Grammar received the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for music.

Jacques Derrida (1930–2004) was an Algerian born French philosopher famous for developed the critical technique known as 'deconstruction'. His work has been characterized as both post-structuralist and as "postmodern theory". His prolific output of more than 40 published books, together with essays and public speaking, has had a significant impact upon the humanities, particularly on literary theory and continental philosophy. His best known, but least understood, assertion with regard to his philosophy was that "there is no outside-the-text."

18.9.10

Dude, You Have No Quran

I've been told that I need to "lighten up", well... perhaps. But I did find the following very amusing:



Still wondering why the F%#K someone would want to insult a billion Muslims, AND make militant religious fundamentalists even MORE angry at the U.S? Thank Shiva that Dude took his Quran!

16.9.10

A New Philosophy of Society – Introduction

Seeing as I’m running a little behind with the DeLanda Reading Group (DRG) I’m going to try and be as brief as I can to catch up. Levi Bryant has already posted his commentary (here) on the Introduction and Chapter One (here), while Alex Reid has also weighed-in on Chapter Two (here). I’ll try and give a short overview of some of points and comments that interest me most in the next couple posts before it’s my turn to write a little ditty on Chapter Three.

To start things off Bryant provided a really nice summary of the main issues appearing in first part of the book. As Bryant notes, DeLanda is quite explicit about his aim for the book in the very first lines:
“The purpose of this book is to introduce a novel approach to social ontology. Like any other ontological investigation it concerns itself with the question of what kinds of entities we can legitimately commit ourselves to assert exist.” (p.1).
And DeLanda follows up this statement by letting the reader know that he will be arguing for an explicitly and decidedly "realist" social ontology. What does this mean? DeLanda is equally clear in this regard:
“…a realist approach to social ontology must assert the autonomy of social entities from the conceptions we have of them. To say that social entities have a reality that is conception-independent is simply to assert that the theories, models and classifications we use to study them may be objectively wrong, that is, that they may fail to capture the real history and internal dynamics of those entities” (p.1).
If DeLanda wants to hammer out a realist ontology of society he does so, perhaps, with many wondering why such a project is needed? Aren’t there already many researchers making great use of empirical methodologies and realist conceptions of the world? As Circling Squares says in his comments on Bryants post, “‘[m]ind independence’ is in no way a new idea, it is the mainstream view for social scientists of all stripes.” In fact, among many social scientists there really isn’t much of debate about whether things exist independent of our conceptions of them. And outside of some fringe new-age ideologies or isolated academics, I think we would find it quite difficult to find people arguing for the position that human minds create reality.

Even so, on a sensual level we find ample evidence that our world is permeated by intruding realities beyond our conceptions and control – including such “realities” as viruses, pepper-spray, commodities, shopping malls, private ownership, product fetishes, dictators, famines, police, wars and banks. Many people in the world live “the real” everyday, and in ways that are often detrimental to their personal well-being. So, at first glance, DeLanda’s thesis might even seem somewhat banal.

While, for the most part I agree with that line of thinking, it must be acknowledged that DeLanda’s audience are not those people. DeLanda is, first and foremost, a philosopher – and specifically a Deleuzian philosopher drawing extensively on what has come to be known as the “continental” tradition. So DeLanda’s project must primarily been seen as philosophical - as an attempt to reach out to those thinkers who, having learned from the intensities of critical theory of the 80’s and 90’s that focused on language and interpretation, may, again, be seeking out a way to supplement their thought with a new concern for material life and the more tangible dimensions of human experience. And in order to contextualize his arguments DeLanda must place his philosophical project among academic debates between the so-called ‘realists’ and so-called ‘anti-realists’ – often about access to knowledge, the role of language and interpretation, materialism, methodology and similar topics.

Of particular interest is DeLanda’s shrewd attempt to refigure assumptions about the relationship between subjective experience and language and physical entities or objects in the world. As Bryant notes,
“Within this framing of the realist and the anti-realist debate, everything revolves around the opposition between subjects and objects. Anti-realists are those who favor subjects (or the social or language), while realists are those who favor objects or the natural.” [source]
DeLanda doesn’t waste words in dispensing with the awkward formulation of objects v. subjects, and instead argues for the recognition of language and texts as material entities that necessarily circulate among other equally real objects. Bryant clarifies:
“In calling for a realist ontology of society, DeLanda brings about a short-circuit, crossing wires that aren’t supposed to be crossed. Within the frame that defines the discourse of Modernity as articulated by Latour, DeLanda draws a transversal line across the heterogeneous domains of subject and object. A transversal line is a line that crosses two other lines. In calling for a realist ontology of society, DeLanda declares that the social, too, is real, that it exists, that it has being, that it isn’t simply mental.” [source]
What results from recasting human activity in terms of material entities and processes is a conception of the social as a collection of real objects and systems, or set of systems, that can be tracked and understood as assemblages. DeLanda does recognize the role of meaning and communication, but wants us to consider the ways in which those realities interact and are generated through various material and expressive processes. What is important, then, is to try to figure out and understand how objects and subjects socially interact, and on what scales do these interactions take place. As DeLanda goes on to tell the reader, his intention is to take them on a journey through these various scales of reality, from the pre-personal to territorial states and beyond, in order to (re)construct a plausible story of how complex social life actually is. Here is how DeLanda puts it:
“It is only by experiencing this upward movement, the movement that in reality generates all these emergent wholes, that a reader can get a sense of the irreducible social complexity characterizing the contemporary world” (p.6).
For me, the power of DeLanda’s project in the book is not so much contingent on his ability to convince us that there is a real world, but in the novelty of his particular theoretical apparatus, and it’s ability to highlight the complexity and most salient features and forces of our social realities.

Another issue DeLanda raises in his introduction, and one Bryant mentions in his summary, surrounds the notion of “social constructionism”. DeLanda writes,
“ …sociologists use the term ‘construction’ in a purely metaphorical sense, ignoring ‘its literal meaning, that of building or assembling from parts’. By contrast, the realist social ontology to be defended in this book is all about objective processes of assembly: a wide range of social entities, from persons to nation-states, will be treated as assemblages constructed through very specific historical processes, processes in which language plays an important but not a constitutive role”(p.3).
I completely agree with Bryant and DeLanda that we need to rehabilitate the notion of “construction”. I won’t get too much into that at this point, for fear of meandering too far from the path, but I suggest that DeLanda’s recasting of human communication and expressive capacities in dynamic materialist terms – explored in this book and in detail in his other works – offers an opportunity for us to not only to confront the fact that human language and conceptual life contributes to social reality, but also to understand how human expressivity and language are only one element in much more complex and diffuse social ecologies.

As Bryant suggests:
“…the concept of constructivism advocated by DeLanda, Latour, and Stengers refers to the arduous work of building out of real components. It is not a sovereignty of thought that creates reality however it might like, but is rather a grappling with entities that always resist in their own ways and that constrain what can be built.”
Taken further, I would suggest that it is precisely the “grappling with entities” that should compel us to reconsider our relationship with ‘the real’. Human life is animated with a primal concern (or care) with real world problems, having evolved for hundreds of thousands of years grappling and coping with the sometimes harsh, sometimes bountiful realities and forces of the world. Therefore a “new” social ontology - one that is worthy of our attention - should tap into this drive to reconsider ‘the real’ by extended the primordial project of adaptation and interpretation and yield new insights into our practical existence. And it is in this sense, that “social construction” becomes, for me, not simply a mental process, but also technical, political and ethical imperative.

It is in this vein, also, that I agree with DeLanda’s suggestion at the end of his introduction that the theoretical work he will lay out in the next hundred pages or so is deeply relevant to social scientists. The models and classificatory schema social scientists use are full of presuppositions about what constitutes not only the ‘social’ or the ‘cultural’, but also human agency, political solidarity, sovereignty, justice, community, personal identity, etc., etc., etc… It is therefore important that social scientists, as well applied social engineers and policy-makers, begin to look closer at their own implicit ontologies if they are going to accurately and effectively model, map and intervene in social contexts. Only after researchers have made their ontological commitments explicit and have traced the logical consequences, affects and effects of their conceptual tools can they then begin the arduous task of actually reporting back something meaningful and useful about the world at large.

15.9.10

The Anthropology of Garbage

In an interview with Alex Carp anthropologist and garbage expert Robin Nagle explores the deep culture of waste and that underlies our contemporary consumption patterns and capitalistic mindsets. Particularly fascinating is Nagle’s discussion of how the velocity with which many people live their lives affects the intensity of our superfluous material outputs. The interview is relatively short, so check it out.

From The Believer Magazine:
Robin Nagle has been the anthropologist-in-residence at New York City’s Department of Sanitation (DSNY). She is the first to hold this title (though DSNY has had an artist-in-residence since 1977), which, the department claims, makes it the city’s “sole uniformed force… with its own social scientist.” As an anthropologist, she trained in fieldwork and the tools of social science; as a sanitation worker, she had a route in the Bronx.

One of Professor Nagle’s largest current projects has been the attempt to build support for a Museum of Sanitation in New York. In a city that has museums for each of its other uniformed services, as well as for sex and skyscrapers, this project has been met by a derision analogous to the invisibility many individual sanitation workers find in their interactions with citizens when on the job. Reviews of a preliminary museum exhibit Nagle staged last year treated it largely as a curiosity, not really a surprise in a city that wants its garbage out of sight and out of mind. It is often when focusing on the paradoxes of this attitude that Professor Nagle’s work is at its richest: many of her insights come from exploring the social energy and meaning of an accelerated elimination process that, in the effort to make a city’s garbage invisible, has created Fresh Kills, one of the only man-made structures massive enough to be visible from earth’s orbit.

Most commentary on the impact of garbage and consumerism treats waste either as material or as metaphor, but Professor Nagle’s analyses explore the tension between the two. One example: in a short history of New York’s first street cleaners—who organized as the germ theory of disease reshaped ideas of public health—Nagle noted not only that their work resulted in massive decreases in infant and child mortality, but that the workers’ uniform of a clean white coat reflected the era’s focus on hygiene and public cleanliness as markers of civilization and a healthy citizenry. One challenge of writing such a history is conveying what Nagle has called “the ripeness, the stench” of cities that was an everyday part of urban life for all but the most recent generations, a fact that has been so widely excluded from stories of the past and forgotten today.

Her next book, Picking Up, asks the question “What is it like to be a sanitation worker in New York City today?” Robin Nagle directs the John W. Draper Interdisciplinary Master’s Program in Humanities and Social Thought at NYU.
Read the Entire Interview @ The Believer Magazine

9.9.10

Emanating Sensations and Immanent Properties

Recently Tom Sparrow over at Plastic Bodies has been making a series of fascinating statements on what he seems to be calling “radiant sensations”. What strikes me most about Tom’s comments is how concise he is when suggesting that an entity’s ‘qualities’ are the immanent properties of its embodied expression.

Here is a particularly clear statement:
“Instead of thinking of qualities as attaching to or inhering in some substance, and thus collecting around their substantial core awaiting human perception to notice them, maybe we can think of qualities as exploding from the anarchic center of objects. On this view, qualities are not attached to substances, but rather emanations of what would be a substance.” [source]
I couldn’t agree with Tom more. Entities are their emanating qualities. I think that when we investigate how perception works in the world - in ourselves and other animals - we never actually find some inter-mediate gap between two entities where qualities appear to one or both of those entities in excess of either entity’s actual constituent-being. As Tom explains it, “qualities” are not something that simply come into being through indrect contact and perceptions of ‘substances’, nor are they peripheral to the deepest individuality of any particular entity. “Qualities” are intrinsic emanations of an entity’s individuality and being-in-the-world. What Tom might be suggesting, if I get him right, is that we might want to begin understanding entities as completely embodied actants in the world, fully disclosed of-themselves, and capable of being directly encountered by other entities exhibiting their own intrinsic ‘qualities’.

read this post on white background @ primate ontography

Tom elaborates in a subsequent comment:
"I guess the main point I want to make about sensation is that it’s not an exclusively human event: all bodies, animate and inanimate, are prone to sensations. How? Well, I’m obviously using an expanded version of the term ‘sensation’. A sensation is less something that happens to a body (although it is that too), and more of something possessed by a body. A property, if you want. This property does not reside in a substance, but rather is part of the disposition of a thing to generate certain effects (a thing being a collection of properties whose singularity is defined by its disposition, but I can say more about thinghood/objecthood later).

An example: sandpaper has the capacity to be abrasive. If it scratches a surface, it is because the sandpaper is abrasive, not because the surface (e.g. my skin) has the sensation of abrasion. The sensation of abrasion belongs to the sandpaper; it is not simply an effect that occurs in a sentient being. One might object that sandpaper is only abrasive for bodies susceptible to scratching, and thus it is the receptive body that senses. I have two replies. First, we could (and I do) make a distinction between the virtuality and actuality of sensations. Sensations are actualized liminally, that is, when contact is had between two bodies. Virtually, sensations (their effectiveness) reside ‘in the things themselves’. A thing just is a singular set of sensations/qualities, albeit a coherent and autonomous set. Second, on this reading, even non-sentient bodies can have sensations. Wood can sense the abrasiveness of sandpaper because the former can be scratched. Arguably, marble too can sense sandpaper, although marble is less prone to scratching…

I think in phenomenology we typically think of the object as the center of a series of perspectives (adumbrations) that circle around it. The vector of these perspective is pointed from the subject toward the object, thus the object sits pinned in the center of these perspectives, the force and distribution of which keep the object in place. I would like to think of the vectors pointing outward from the object, and thus the core of the object as dispersive and effective. This does not mean the object is ‘reducible to its relations’, it just means that the source of our sensations is the object’s radiation, not our intentional perception or our special status as sentient creatures." [source]
I’m not sure I follow Tom all the way to saying that non-sentient entities have “sensations”, but would suggest, rather, that all entities can be said to embody affective expression and catalytic capacities. But I certainly agree, contra many metaphysicians, that perception and sensuality can be understood as the embodied capacities evoked by direct encounters between the inherent properties of things.

It is my belief that it is the pernicious ‘theater of the mind’ ontology – where perception is understood as a staging process of qualities uncovered within mental space – which has generated most of the faulty epistemological assumptions over the years about our inability to ‘know’ things "in-themselves", or as they actually exist. By positing an unbridgeable gap between the empirical world and our "sensations" of it, metaphysicians also implicitly accept a supposedly unbridgeable 'gap', or non-commensurability between the empirical world and our own constituent being. From this perspective our encounters with actual entities become mythologized and explained away as mere ‘shadows’, representations or “impressions” in need of ordering by radically disembodied minds. Kant’s phenomenon/noumenon divide is but one iconic example of this ontological-epistemological conflation.

However this conflationary position is not strictly philosophical, but also, and in large part, a result of the habitual mistake of privileging ocular perception (seeing) over our other embodied perceptive capacities(senses). Of course there are cultural and historical reasons for this privileging in European and neo-European societies, but we need only refer to the Umeda and Kaluli of Papua New Guinea as groups of people who instead privilege auditory perception, resulting in very different sets of epistemological conclusions. As Alfred Gell puts:
“In the New Guinea forest habitat [dense, unbroken jungle]… hearing is relatively dominant (over vision) as the sensory modality for coding the environment as a whole… Umeda, and languages like Umeda, are phonologically iconic, because they evoke a reality which is itself ‘heard’ and imagined in the auditory code, whereas languages like English are non-iconic because they evoke a reality which is ‘seen’ and imagined in the visual code” (The Language of the Forest, p.247-8, 1999).
Moreover, even a passing acquaintance with the cognitive and neurological sciences would suggest there are alternatives to the ‘theater of the mind’ understanding of perception. In fact, neuroscientists have been quite clear that models of perception which maintain a supposed “gap” between subject and object are no longer tenable. All perception is embodied perception afforded through material and biological processes. I will not go into detail about the advances in knowledge within these sciences here, but instead point the interested reader here and here, and to the work of Damasio, Lakoff, Thompson and John Protevi for a fuller account of why many philosophers continue to get it wrong on issues of perception and experience.

As I understand it, humans do not interpret the world by constructing some representation of objects or entities “in their minds”, but instead directly encounter the world by sensing it and relating to it through their assembled immanent properties and emanating qualities - which in the case of animals includes biological sensory capacities. But the same holds for non-human entities or objects: they too emanate outward, expressing and acting upon (affecting) the world from their own “anarchic center” of immanent properties.

It is important to note that for me an entity’s properties are immanent in two ways: first, every entity is nothing other than the extensive and intensive properties it consists of – properties that are radically specific to whatever that thing actually is. As Tom puts it, an entity is “a collection of properties whose singularity is defined by its disposition”. And this “disposition”, for me, is an entity’s embodied structural capacity to affect and be affected. Secondly, all the qualities or properties an entity embodies emerge from, and are assembled by, the same preexisting immanent background of energetic-materiality and natural processes. This ‘background’, or what we might simply call ‘reality as such’, is literally what affords beings their being-ness. That is to say, all particular entities are collections or assemblages of properties and elements available in the wider, pre-human ecological worldspace. And because of this affinity or continuity all entities are of this world and act in the world at the same time. And it is this continuity or dual actuality in the world that allows entities to interact more or less directly, or ‘intimately’ with each other (depending on their proximity and relationship).

In this scenario, then, what we have during any encounter are two radically embodied entities directly interacting (relating) through the collision and/or resonation of their immanent properties, creating ‘qualitative’ affects in the process. And when I say “in the process” I mean exactly that: encounters between entities are temporal-relational events driven by the intensive processes and complex interactions between differentially assembled properties of each emanating entity. In other words, and to repeat, all relations between real ‘bodies’ (entities) happen precisely between the temporal affective forces (powers, potency, or efficacy) emanating from the immanent properties and capacities temporarily coalesced as those particular entities.

Incidentally, I think the combination of this ontological intimacy with the ‘temporal affective force’ of things (explained above) is precisely what Bennett’s theory of ‘vibrant materiality’ and ‘thing-power’ entails. Far from being cut off from direct access to each other, all entities, by virtue of their immanent properties, emanate or exert their particular ‘thing-power’ on each other creating dynamic catalytic encounters with varying affects and effects according to a) the constitution and disposition of the entities involved, and b) whatever other environmental variables or influences coming into play.

And, as Tom’s comments suggest, the implications of an ontology of intimate relation (with direct encounters) on how we think about perception and sensation are many. For starters, if humans have the capacity to encounter other objects more or less directly as affective assemblages of properties then some sort of realism would become a veritable default position – leaving solipsism and idealisms of all kinds dramatically indefensible.

As Tom notes:
"Realism hinges on the question of whether or not objects assail us. If we think they merely beckon us, then the idea that subject and object reciprocally determine each other’s form seems plausible. That is, a certain postdualist idealism/irrealism may be right. But if objects assail us with their qualities or with sensations, then there is something to be said about their autonomy from our perceptual or cognitive machinery.” [source]
I believe objects and entities do indeed “assail us”, and each other, with their “qualities” or immanent properties. And because an entity’s properties are both immanent in the world (partaking in universally dispersed material-energetic elements and processes), and radically contingent (emerging through particular historical and cosmological circumstances), they affect each other both directly and in radically idiosyncratic ways.

Let me pause to emphasize this point: the affect dynamics of real entities are radically particular to the historical and cosmological circumstances from which they come into being. And, yet, most dynamic-affective situations are rarely straight-forward - holding forth in complex, multi-dimensional ways that defy linear or multi-linear logic and description. That is, entities as temporal assemblages of immanent properties are vulnerable to a myriad of affects - attacked and attacking (relating) on multiple scales and from various angles, depending on the circumstances obtaining within the wider ecology of forces, flows and things.

And I do think Tom’s insight about 'emanating qualities' combined with an appreciation of the temporality of embodied assemblages leads to just such a process-relational view of interacting entities. However, to be sure, the jumble of concepts, entailments and conclusions asserted here are only my perspective, and may not even remotely reflect Tom’s positions or ontology.

Ultimately, I think Tom might want to take us in a slightly different direction – as evidenced a follow-up post titled, “Six Theses on Sensation” where he briefly outlines some thoughts on how to rework the concept of sensation  in order to “give it a more robust definition and render it amenable to realism as well as a certain materialism.” I think Tom’s comments give us a glimpse as to what just such a robust realism might look like, while also challenging us to rethink what we think we know about “sensations”. I will have more to say on this over at Tom’s blog in the next few days, but I would urge those of you interested in following Tom down that rabbit hole to go check out his site for further elaborations.

8.9.10

Mental Illness Costs Canadian Economy $51 Billion a Year

Mental illness causes more lost work days in Canada than any other condition, costing the economy $51 billion a year in lost productivity, according to a study from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

The study found that mental health leave on average costs double that of leave for a physical illness. The cost of a company for one employee on short-term disability due to mental health is nearly $18,000, it said.

"In an average year, a firm with 1,000 employees might expect about 145 disability cases,” said Carolyn Dewa, head of CAMH’s Work and Well-Being Research and Evaluation Programme. “Of this, only a fraction are on disability due to mental illness, yet it costs employers the most."

Learn More @ CAMH

7.9.10

Toscano on Badiou and Revolutionary Thinking

In the following essay Alberto Toscano concerns himself with delineating Alain Badiou’s political thinking in the crucial period of the mid-1980s, and in particular to differentiate Badiou’s conclusions from those reached by theorists Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe in their contemporaneous and influential Hegemony and Socialist Strategy.
Marxism Expatriated
By Alberto Toscano

Today’s radical political (or metapolitical) theory is the offspring of a contorted dialectic of defeat and reinvention. Though it is common to take contemporary ideas on emancipation and political subjectivity at face value, many of the defining characteristics of these recent writings are obscured if we fail to address how they emerged out of a reckoning with the failure or distortion of Marxist politics, and, moreover, if we disregard the extent to which they maintain an underlying commitment to the Marxist impulse whence they arose.

The mode of separation, as it were, from the organisational and theoretical tenets of Marxism (in whichever guise) can tell us a lot about the present resources and limitations of theoretical contributions to the contemporary thinking of politics which drew initial sustenance from that tradition, even if they are now allegedly “beyond” Marx and Marxism. This is certainly the case with the work of Alain Badiou, whose knotty relationship to his own Marxist-Leninist militancy and to Marxist theory has recently become the object of rich and detailed investigation…

Read More @ khukuri

3.9.10

DeLanda Reading Group: A New Philosophy of Society

Over at Larval Subjects Levi Bryant has organized a reading group for Manuel DeLanda’s A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity (2006). Quite frankly I loved this little book the first time I read it. DeLanda's arguments are strait-forward, clear and convincing. In fact, much of DeLanda's work on assemblages, self-organizing dynamics, differential intensities, material processes,  non-linear developments of collectives, cities and social milieus is outstanding. DeLanda began his career in experimental film, later became a computer artist and programmer and is now a major philosopher and Adjunct Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, at Columbia University.

Here is the product description for the book from Amazon.com:
Manuel DeLanda is a distinguished writer, artist and philosopher. In his new book, he offers a fascinating look at how the contemporary world is characterized by an extraordinary social complexity. Since most social entitles, from small communities to large nation-states, would disappear altogether if human minds ceased to exist, Delanda proposes a novel approach to social ontology that asserts the autonomy of social entities from the conceptions we have of them. This highly original and important book takes the reader on a journey that starts with personal relations and climbs up one scale at a time all the way to territorial states and beyond. Only by experiencing this upward movement can we get a sense of the irreducible social complexity that characterizes the contemporary world.
The schedule for the reading group is as follows: [Note: these dates are approximate, as Levi has posted on the introduction already, and will be posting his thoughts on chapter one over the next couple days.]
September 1-12
Host blog: Larval Subjects (Levi)
Under discussion: Introduction & Chapter 1, "Assemblages Against Totalities"

September 13-26
Host blog: Digital Digs (Alex)
Under discussion: Chapter 2, "Assemblages Against Essences"

September 27- October 10
Host blog: Archive Fire (Michael)
Under discussion: Chapter 3, “Persons and Networks”

October 11-24
Host blog: Struggles With Philosophy (Mark)
Under discussion: Chapter 4, "Organizations and Governments"

October 25- November 7
Host blogs: Philosophy in a Time of Error (Gratton) and Circling Squares
Under discussion: Chapter 5, "Cities and Nations"
It should be fun reading heavy-hitters like Bryant and Gratton as they dig in to DeLanda’s theory - and I look forward to all the potential comments this group might raise. DeLanda’s work continues to be fundamental for me, so getting multiple perspectives on his framework can only enhance my understanding. Please feel free to chime in whenever and as often as you can! Cheers.

2.9.10

Is Whitehead the King of the Realists?

“Of all the modern philosophers who tried to overcome matters of fact, Whitehead is the only one who, instead of taking the path of critique and directing his attention away from facts to what makes them possible as Kant did; or adding something to their bare bones as Husserl did; or avoiding the fate of their domination, their Gestell, as much as possible as Heidigger did; tried to get closer to them or, more exactly, to see through them the reality that requested a new respectful realist attitude.”

- Latour, B. 2004. 'Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam?: From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern', Critical Inquiry 30, 225-248. (p.244)

A New Home for Neuroanthropology

Neuroanthropology has moved! Greg and Daniel are now blogging over at the new Public Library of Science project: PLoS Blogs - a non-profit, ad-free collective of research professionals and science writers.


For those of you not reading that blog (what the hell is wrong with you!) here is a description:
Neuroanthropology examines the integration, as well as the breadth, of anthropology and neuroscience. Sometimes we do straight neuroscience, other times pure anthropology. Most of the time we’ll be somewhere in the middle.

The blog thrives on intersections and convergences, aiming to mesh the insights of neuroscience and anthropology into a more cohesive whole. We often throw some psychology, philosophy, evolution and human biology into the mix as well.
Greg and Daniel regularly generate outstanding and fascinating posts, while also providing commentary and links to some of the most cutting edge research happening today. I recommend Neuroanthropology to anyone interested in human behaviour, neuroscience and/or culture.

Here is the rationale behind the recent move in the author’s own words:
One of the things that has us most excited, that really clinched our decision to make the move to PLoS, is that we hope we might act as a voice for anthropology in a scholarly and public forum built around science and medicine. Anthropology offers powerful insights from cross-cultural research and sophisticated integrative theory that deserve a much wider audience, one we hope to help grow here at PLoS Blogs.

As research becomes increasingly international and interdisciplinary, researchers in all fields need to confront the complexities of worldwide variation and of cultural biases, including our own. Anthropology has done this work for over a century now, and is in a wonderful position to offer the fruits of these intellectual efforts, including hard won wisdom from our own field’s mistakes, to the work of science and medicine represented at PLoS.
Congrats to them! As for you… go READ and SUBSCRIBE to that blog. Seriously. Go.

1.9.10

Brandom on Normativity, Intentionality and Ethics

The following interview is with University of Pittsburgh professor of philosophy, Robert Brandom, on his 1994 book Making It Explicit. Here he discusses discursive scorekeeping, “normativity”, and Hegel's master-slave dialectic.

Brandom works primarily in philosophy of language, philosophy of mind and philosophical logic, and his work manifests both systematic and historical interests in these topics. He advocates the view that the meaning of an expression is determined by the process of deriving the strict logical consequences of assumed premises.

Many of Brandom's published papers are available at his website: http://www.pitt.edu/~rbrandom/

Part One:


Part Two:

Žižek on the Big Questions

Statements like the following taken from a recent interview place Slavoj Žižek firmly within the Speculative Realist camp:
“For the last few decades, at least in the humanities, big ontological questions - What is reality? What is the nature of the universe? - were considered too naive. It was meaningless to ask for objective truth. This prohibition on asking the big questions partly accounts for the explosion of popular science books. You read Stephen Hawking's books as a way to ask these fundamental, metaphysical questions. I think that era of relativism, where science was just another product of knowledge, is ending. We philosophers should join scientists asking those big metaphysical questions about quantum physics, about reality.”
My only objection here would be that we should be asking post-metaphysical (radically empirical) questions as opposed to strictly metaphysical questions. The difference makes all the difference.
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