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  • Mark 8:48 am on August 7, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , crowd, , publics   

    The overaffectation of the crowd 

    From pg 163 of Material Participation by Noortje Marres:

    Among concepts of the community of the affected we could also include theories of affective politics developed in recent cultural theory (Thrift, 2008; Terranova, 2007; Blackman, 2008). Such ‘post-emotive’ conceptions of the public propose to understand the mobilization of publics in terms of the quick and intense propagation of feeling through a population that sensationalist media make possible, in a quasi-epidemological way. Importantly, the rise to prominence of such affective publics is often traced back to precisely the period in which the pragmatists wrote their books about democracy in the technological society, the 1920s, and indeed, to these very works, insofar as they also discuss the new opportunities provided by mass media for the instant proliferation of passions and the creation of sensations, and relatedly, the increased possibilities for the manipulation of public sentiments, and their deployment for partisan purposes. (Walter Lippmann, moreover, holds a special place in this history as a member of the American national public propaganda committee during the First World War.) This affective public may arguably be understood as a technologically mediated version of the crowd. I have decided to exclude this community of the affected from consideration here, as it opens up a very different set of problems of the public than the ones I will focus on. The biggest problem of affective publics is arguably that of their ‘overaffectation’, an unsustainable, unproductive form of engagement in which mobilization does not translate into action.

  • Mark 7:56 am on June 30, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: issue formation, mattering, , publics   

    The analytical space where ‘publics’ meet ‘problems’: keeping it open rather than shutting it down 

    From Material Participation by Noortje Marres pg 57-58:

    By defining the public in terms of a problem of relevance, pragmatism undid two persistent attempts to solve the problem of material publics by conceptual means: the tendency to either internalize or to externalize the problems of the public. They warned against the attempt to externalize public affairs, and to assume that issues are simply ‘out there’, and all that is required for effective public action upon them, is an adequate (expert) understanding of these ‘objective’ problems. Rather, the public’s problems are also internal problems: they require some kind of mobilization on the part of social actors. However, the pragmatists equally warned against the attempt to conceptually resolve problems of the public by ‘internalizing’ the issues, and by suggesting that public issues are at heart a problem with people’s inability to take them seriously. 30 From the standpoint of the problem of relevance, the problem is not one of human nature–it is not a problem with its given epistemic, emotional or psychological constitution (illiteracy, indifference, short-sightedness). But neither are the issues at stake exactly ‘out there’, as an objective problematic that impacts on humans actors from an external environment. From the pragmatist perspective, the actors in here are not necessarily de-mobilized, and the problem is not necessarily all ‘out there’, but this does not necessarily solve much, as the question remains how relations of relevance can be established when actors are intimately affected by problems in which they have little investment?

  • Mark 10:57 am on February 14, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Anthropocene, , , publics, , toxic, toxicity   

    The ontology of toxicity 

    My notes on Liboiron, M., Tironi, M., & Calvillo, N. (2018). Toxic politics: Acting in a permanently polluted world. Social studies of science48(3), 331-349.

    The authors of this paper take “a permanently polluted world” as their starting point. It is one where toxicity is ubiquitous, even if unevenly distributed. Unfortunately, “[t]he tonnage, ubiquity and longevity of industrial chemicals and their inextricable presence in living systems means that traditional models of action against toxicants such as clean up, avoidance, or antidote are anachronistic approaches to change ” (pg 332). The pervasiveness is such that we need to move beyond the traditional repertoire of management (separation, containment, clean up, immunisation) which is premised on a return to purity whiled depoliticising the production of that toxicity by treating it as a technical problem to be managed. In doing so, we can begin to see how toxic harm can work to maintain systems rather than being a pathology which ensues from systemic failure

    There is conceptual work required if we are to grasp the politics of toxicity, encompassing how we conceptualise toxic harm, provide evidence for it, formulate responses to it and grasp the interests reflected in its production and management. This involves rejecting a view of toxicity as “wayward particles behaving badly” (pg 333). As they explain on pg 334, toxicity is relational:

    Toxicity is a way to describe a disruption of particular existing orders, collectives, materials and relations. Toxicity and harm, in other words, are not settled categories (Ah-King and Hayward, 2013; Chen, 2012) because what counts as a good and right order is not settled.

    They suggest a distinction between toxins and toxicants. The former occurs naturally in cells, whereas the latter are “characterized by human creation via industrial processes, compositional heterogeneity, mass tonnage, wide economic production and distribution processes, temporal longevity, both acute and latent effects, and increasing ubiquity in homes, bodies and environments” (pg 334). This includes naturally occurring minerals which are rendered problematic through industrial processes that lead them to occur in specific forms, locations and scales productive of harm.

    Laws surrounding toxicants are based upon threshold limits, usually in relation to effects on human bodies. These are supplemented by cost benefit principles based around the avoidance of ‘excessive costs’ given available technologies. In this sense, the breakdown of order on one level (enabling toxicants to spread because it wouldn’t be ‘feasible’ to prevent it) facilitates the reproduction of order on another level (ensuring viable conditions for the continued reproduction of the commercial sector involved). I really like this insight and it’s one which can be incorporated into the morphogenetic approach in an extremely productive way.

    This focus on toxicity enables us to links together these levels, providing a multi-scalar politics of life. There is a temporality to toxicity in which a slow disaster is not easily apprehended. For this reason agents seek to make it legible as a event through actions like photography or protest actions. But this easily gives rise to a politics of representation, seeing the claims of environmentalists as (at best) on a par with the claims of commercial firms. Rendering these processes legible through mechanisms like sensational images can reproduce existing differences between centre and periphery, the heard and the unheard.

    Their interest is in modes of action “beyond governance-via-policy, in-the-streets-activism and science-as-usual” (pg 337). I’m not sure what their motivation is for this beyond the drive to “no longer privilege the modern humanist political subject and epistemologies based in claims and counter claims”: are they saying that a narrow politics of evidence and judgement has its corollary in public activism around public issues which have been established evidentially? I can see the analytical case for trying to get beyond this dichotomy but I’m not sure I see what is at stake politically in doing so. Their interest in actions such as  “the everyday, obligatory practices of tending to plants and others as toxic politics that do not necessarily result in scaled-up material change” doesn’t seem politically fruitful to me precisely because of the multi-scalar mode of analysis they offer (pg 341). Why should we challenge “activism as heroic, event-based and coherent” (pg 341)? Again I can see an analytical case for this, even if I disagree with it, but I don’t see what is at stake in this politically. It might be there are unintended consequences to thinking in terms of ‘effective outcomes’ but the force of this argument rests on an implicit claim about outcomes. Why is it important to “make room in dominant political imaginations for multiple forms of local, low resolution, uneventful, uneven, frustrated, desireful, ethical, appropriated and incommensurate forms of justice” (pg 343)?


  • Mark 9:58 am on January 28, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: public art, publics,   

    2nd CFP: Geographies of Public-Art Co-Production: Let Us Talk about Public Art, but Where Are the Publics? 

    Annual International Conference, London, 26–29 August, 2014
    Royal Geographical Society (RGS) with Institute of British Geographers (IBG)

    CFP: Geographies of Public-Art Co-Production: Let Us Talk about Public Art, but Where Are the Publics?

    Sponsored session by the Space, Sexualities & Queer Research Group (SSQRG)

    Update: seeing the current SSQRG sponsorship of this session, we actively seek contributions that address public-art co-production from the angle of sexuality and queer studies and/or public artworks with sexuality content.

    Martin Zebracki (University of Leeds) & joni m palmer (independent scholar)

    Art in public space is often surrounded by a cacophony of voices from artists, policymakers and a wide range of viewers. Where producers of public art frequently lay claims on audience effects and public engagement, we believe these claims deserve academic scrutinisation along the everyday experiences of both practitioners and beholders in consideration of reconfiguring understandings and potentialities regarding co-production—i.e., collaborations between producers and publics—in the field of public art.

    This session invites scholars across disciplines as well as practitioners to critically and creatively engage with the encounters between producers and publics of public art. The questions that this session embarks upon include, but are not limited to:

    • How are knowledges about public art constructed in the encounters between producers and publics?
    • How are public art’s publics involved in public art from its preparation through its implementation phase and the time thereafter?
    • To what extent do the everyday perceived opportunities and challenges of publics’ involvement in public-art production differ between the perspectives of producers and publics?
    • How might we engage and engender multiple perspectives to create novel collaborative understandings, methodologies as well as sites for knowledge exchange toward geographies of public-art co-production?

    We are open to any original discussions and creative contributions attending to theoretical, methodological, empirical and/or artistic dimensions of the subject matter.

    Seeing the current SSQRG sponsorship of this session, we actively seek contributions that address public-art co-production from the angle of sexuality and queer studies and/or public artworks with sexuality content.

    If interested, please submit a 250-word abstract to Martin Zebracki at m.m.zebracki AT leeds.ac.uk by 12 February, 2014. A special journal issue might follow this session, so we appreciate if you indicate any interest therein in your submission document. Please contact us should you require any more information about this CFP.

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