against a consensual theory of conventions

In their Being Digital Citizens, Evelyn Ruppert and Engin Isin outline a theory of conventions on pg 25-26:

We shall characterize conventions broadly as sociotechnical arrangements that embody norms, values, affects, laws, ideologies, and technologies. As sociotechnical arrangements, conventions involve agreement or even consent—either deliberate or often implicit—that constitutes the logic of any custom, institution, opinion, ritual, and indeed law or embodies any accepted conduct. Since both the logic and embodiment of conventions are objects of agreement, performing these conventions also produces disagreement. Another way of saying this is that the performativity of conduct such as making rights claims often exceeds conventions. As Zivi writes, ‘[A]nalyzing [citizenship] from a performative perspective means, then, appreciating the extent to which our claims both reference and reiterate social conventions, and yet have forces and effects that exceed them.’

As I understand their point, the reproduction of a convention is a function of agreement. It represents ‘accepted conduct’ as inflected through the particular arrangement of social and technical parts which they build into their understanding of a convention. But surely there are many conventions we acquiesce to for entirely prudential reasons, without in any substantive sense ‘accepting’ them? Aren’t there also authoritative conventions with declining efficacy, as can be seen by anyone who tries to walk up/down escalators at Euston tube station on a regular basis?

I don’t think Ruppert and Isin would deny this. But I think building agreement into the definition of consensus precludes a grasp on the dynamics through which conventions are reproduced or transformed. To understand this as agreement intrinsic to the convention which produces disagreement extrinsic to it, leaves it a mystery as to the conditions under which the former can be influenced by the latter: if we accept that conventions are born, change and  die then we need to conceptualise conventions in a way that can link particular performances to the life cycle of conventions. I don’t think we can do this  unless we recognise the variable orientations of subjects to conventions as something within the reproduction or transformation of the convention itself.

This matters to my new project because I really like this socio-technical framing of conventions. Getting this right seems crucial to moving beyond affirmations of the vast expansion of social and cultural opportunities available to subjects in order to gain traction on why some subjects flourish under these circumstances and others do not. Conventions are a crucial mediating factor, particularly in terms of how opportunities are opened up and closed down for particular subjects on specific platforms.

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