Bite Size Theory: Genealogy as Critique

“It turns out that we live in a world in which it is indeed quite easy to recognize the contingency of the self. But it is quite another thing, and a very difficult one at that, to engage in the loving labor of reworking the contingencies that we have become.”

Colin Koopman, 2013, Genealogy as Critique: Foucault and the Problems of Modernity, Indiana University Press.

Radical Democracy

My previously advertised co-authored paper with Gary Bridge, Geographies of Radical Democracy, is now published for ‘real’, in print, in the latest issue of the Annals of the Association of American Geographers. We have been sent a whole load of off-prints of the article – a long time since I have received any of those, it’s quite quaint really. Let me know if you want one!

Here is the abstract, again:

“There is significant interest in democracy in contemporary human geography. Theoretically, this interest has been most strongly influenced by poststructuralist theories of radical democracy and associated ontologies of relational spatiality. These emphasize a priori understandings of the spaces of democratic politics, ones that focus on marginal spaces and the destabilization of established patterns. This article develops an alternative account of the spaces of democratic politics that seeks to move beyond the stylized contrast of poststructuralist agonism and liberal consensualism. This alternative draws into focus the spatial dimensions of philosophical pragmatism and the relevance of this tradition for thinking about the geographies of democracy. In particular, the geographical relevance of pragmatism lies in the distinctive inflection of the all-affected principle and of the rationalities of problem solving. Drawing on John Dewey’s work, a conceptualization of transactional space is developed to reconfigure understandings of the agonistics of participation as well as the experimental institutionalization of democratic will. The difference that a pragmatist approach makes to understandings of the geographies of democracy is explored in relation to transnational and urban politics.”

Geographies of radical democracy

For anyone interested in this sort of thing, I have a new paper, co-written with Gary Bridge, just published on-line in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers, which addresses how best to theorise about the relationship between democracy and geography. It develops the idea of agonistic pragmatism, and the notion of transactional space, and explores how the idea of ‘all affected interests’ may, or may not, provide the grounds for rethinking this relationship. It’s an attempt to expand a little the range of reference points, in geography and related fields, for discussions of ‘radical democracy’. You can access a pre-publication draft of the paper here, and the abstract is below:

“There is significant interest in democracy in contemporary human geography. Theoretically, this interest has been most strongly influenced by poststructuralist theories of radical democracy and associated ontologies of relational spatiality. These emphasize a priori understandings of the spaces of democratic politics, ones that focus on marginal spaces and the destabilization of established patterns. This article develops an alternative account of the spaces of democratic politics that seeks to move beyond the stylized contrast of poststructuralist agonism and liberal consensualism. This alternative draws into focus the spatial dimensions of philosophical pragmatism and the relevance of this tradition for thinking about the geographies of democracy. In particular, the geographical relevance of pragmatism lies in the distinctive inflection of the all-affected principle and of the rationalities of problem solving. Drawing on John Dewey’s work, a conceptualization of transactional space is developed to reconfigure understandings of the agonistics of participation as well as the experimental institutionalization of democratic will. The difference that a pragmatist approach makes to understandings of the geographies of democracy is explored in relation to transnational and urban politics.”

Agonistic pragmatism

News from the Political Theory blog  of a new book on democracy and pragmatism by Jack Knight and James Johnson, The Priority of Democracy.  It puts an emphasis on pragmatism as a tradition that focusses on issues of institutional design and experimentalism, but above all, places this focus within an understanding of politics as ineluctably about conflict and disagreement.

I’m drawn to the argument of the book because it sort of confirms the line of argument that I have tried to articulate in a paper co-written with Gary Bridge at Bristol, on agonistic pragmatism and the geographies of radical democracy. It’s taken us about four years to write, and it’s just now been accepted by the Annals of the Association of American Geographers, which is nice. Our piece develops the same themes of experimentalism and institutional design in order to displace a stylized contrast between post-structuralist agonism and consensual deliberation that shapes debates about democratic theory in spatial disciplines like geography and urban planning – and we try to spell out a distinctive approach to spatial questions that follows from this agonistic understanding of pragmatism, via a reconstruction of the principle of ‘all affected interests’ and the concept of transactional space. I’m not sure when our paper will actually be out in public, sometime in the next year hopefully, but in the meantime, the Knight and Johnson book makes me think we might not be barking up entirely the wrong tree.

Who’s a pragmatist now, then?

Via Leiter Reports, a link to a short piece by the editors of a new Reader on Pragmatism, challenging the standard narrative of the ‘eclipse of pragmatism’ in post-WWII US philosophy – a narrative ascribed to the influence of Richard Rorty’s self-representation of his own post-Analytical apostacy, but also to books such as Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club and John McCumber’s Time in the Ditch which tell the story of this eclipse as political tales, and against which the emergence of ‘neo-pragmatism’ since the 1980s is usually asserted. In line with this argument, the Reader includes pieces by philosophers not usually associated with the ‘canon’ of philosophical pragmatism – Carnap and Quine for example; it also includes Richard Posner, who is often ignored in accounts of the resurgence of pragmatism (not least, for example, when pragmatism in human geography is being discussed; here is Rorty on Posner), and whose inclusion tends to play havoc with a conventional interpretation of the politics of pragmatism as naturally ‘leftish’ (although Posner has recently had a semi-conversion of sorts to a Keynsian-esque position on certain things).