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« Some Thoughts on Cyborgs and Symbiots | Main | Law, Ontology, Heterogeneity »

States, Cyborgs, Actants

Marc, thanks for an excellent set of comments – and for insight into musical traditions I have to confess I know little about. At this stage I would want to ping back a couple of comments by way of clarification, but also hopefully provocation for further thought/comment:

With regard to my original post you note

you asked about whether the modern state has particular dynamics, and I am assuming you mean that are unique to it.

Not really, I was careful to say ‘distinctive’. I think we are actually in broad agreement here. I take a quite Foucauldian line: power is transhistorical, but practices of power take on historically specific variants. Types of power may surface in many historical periods, but in each they will be bundled together to create specific and distinctive practices. The state shares much with informal empire, for example, but it is nonetheless distinct from it. One of its distinctions is the notion that power is unitary and singular within state borders. This is not necessarily the case in other forms of extensive political power (and the origin of recent problematic relations between states and diasporas). The other is the nineteenth century notion of the coincidence of the state and nation (understood ethnically as Volk). Of course all of this is to say that what is distinctive about any configuration of power is also changing over time – it evolves and does not emerge fully formed at a particular moment. Moreover, forms of power may coexist – for example state and trans-local governance in the contemporary period.

Now, with regard to cyborgs you note that

I have always held that humans, and our proto-human ancestors, were "cyborgs" or, more properly, symbiotic creatures who have enjoyed such a relationship with our technology for at least 1.9 million years and, possibly, 2.3 million years.

I think the point here might be to separate humans using tools from humans acting in a feedback relation with surfaces of control. Your comments regarding the specificity of communication technologies are instructive in this regard. The cyborg is not simply a tool user but rather a subject in which technological capability is constitutive of a particular (distributed) way of life. Perhaps, though you can shed further light n this.

And with regard to things and actants. I think the issue here is what we mean by agency (or, if we must, intent). Bennett notes that

Curled up inside the idea of human agency are several related notions, including efficacy, directionality, and causality…Efficacy names the productivity of agency, its power to create. It points to the fact that something new has been made to appear or occur….[D]irectionality [refers to] the sense that agency entails a movement away from some initial condition or configuration and toward something else [C]ausality…[refers to] [e]mergent causality…another way of conceiving a nonlinear, indirect causality, where instead of an effect obedient to a determinant, one finds circuits where effect and cause alternate position and redound back upon each other..[1]

She notes that it is not a matter of naively projecting intent on things, but rather asking whether thet have efficacy, directionality and causality. In this light, perhaps it is easier to see how we might talk of ‘actants’. But I’d be interested in your further reflection on this.


[1] Bennet, Jane, 2005. ‘The Agency of Assemblages and the North American Blackout’, Public Culture 17(3):456-9

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