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September 08, 2011



Nicely posted, Will.

I knew that we'd reached a point of collective self-bamboozling when my best friend, a man of great good sense, started muttering that perhaps what was wrong with his life (in the 1990s) was that he was 'under-mortgaged'.

The late great Christopher Lasch argued that the consumer economy is phantasmagoric, providing a spectacle of goods in glittering contexts, often deliberately magical and fantastic, as in a lot of advertising and window displays. Advertising since the 60s increasingly fails to tell you about the product but wraps it in an aura. All this is indeed an attempt, utterly cynical, at re-enchantment of the world in the service of disenchanted capitalism. The mystery is why we keep falling for the idea that the next purchase will stay enchanted even when we get it home and take it out of the designer shopping bag. All over England after the riots people must have stared at their looted booty and wondered why it wasn't making them feel any better, and why it looked so much less alluring stuffed under the bed or propped against a wall.
I have no answers except the impossible recommendation that everyone embrace mild-mannered religion and take it seriously.

Pat kane

I used to enjoy inverting the old Blairite maxim "social cohesion & economic dynamism" by saying what I wanted was to manage the tension between "economic cohesion & social dynamism". I wonder whether we might get to the first as a result of macroeconomics being changed by debt & climate externals, and the second by dwelling in this rich anthropological way on the motives & understandings of looters. But the actor-network theory stuff leaves me cold. What does it suggest beyond complex adaptive systems theory about the non-predictable outcomes of institutional performance?

Will Davies

Pat - I'm not a particular ANT enthusiast either, but I thought in this case it might be interesting to think about how 'non-humans' appear to have driven us all a little crazy. Much of the ANT stuff seems slightly couched in irony, and is pitched at challenging orthodox sociology. I guess its main contribution has been to provide tools for empirical studies - though whether it produces anything better than other forms of pragmatism, as you suggest, I don't know.

Rod McLaren

> I paid a visit to Argos shortly after the London
> riots, and felt an eerie sense that objects were
> no longer what they were. [...] This sense of
> placid, inanimate objects becoming alive and
> dangerous also pervaded the financial crisis,
> from 2007 onwards.

This is great stuff. I suppose that this sense - the un/familiar and desired/feared object - can be found in Freud, and perhaps further back in eg the Moche Revolt of the Objects http://mochepottery.wikispaces.com/ , in which the sun dies and tools and objects animate and angrily rise up, over-turning their human "masters".

Will Davies

Thanks, Rod. That's a very interesting comparison.

pat kane

Yep, I stare into the abyss of the Deleuze/DeLanda nexus between philosophy and systems-thinking more than occasionally, and sometimes it stares back... Tarring it as "vitalism" - across the organic/machinic divide - seems too hasty, given all the interesting stuff about networks, society and emergent phenomena that I've been reading recently. But your line about "needing to rediscover the virtues of a boring, inanimate economy, as the basis for an animated social and cultural world" is what I meant by "economic cohesion/social dynamism". And it's interesting that some of this "boringness" and economic cohesion is being invoked by smart-greens like Tim Jackson and NEF, as a macro-regulatory response to low/no-carbon societies, in the form of shorter working weeks, or social wage - liberating people into a form of "big society" that doesn't have to just happen in the evenings (Oscar Wilde's critique of socialism). The other part of the jigsaw, which Yochai Benkler's book The Penguin and the Leviathan symbolises, is the "social" turn in economics - the presumption that if human nature is more pro-social than neo-liberalism posited, then we might not need to worry about the "free rider" problem in a much more "boringly arranged" (less Schumpeterian, I guess) economic system. It's interesting to think about the overlap between ANT (distributing agency to objects) and a new "cooperation studies" (asking us to remember our instinct to the collective), in their mutual challenge to egoistic decisionism as market man or woman.

Will Davies

Yes, I liked your line about 'economic cohesion/social dynamism'. And the ingredients you list are intriguing. One question is whether we are culturally ready for the 'new tedium'... As silly as much of it is, perhaps hipsterism hints at some way out of this, finding novelty in craft and social innovation, as a way of keeping capital overheads to a minimum. But at present, that is a tiny corner of the economy, which is preyed on and commodified by the rest of it for profit (e.g. how mobile phone companies seek to own the entire experience of live music).

Finally, the ANT stuff has strange cross-overs with behavioural economics as well. The 'choice architectures' of the nudgers are like the 'non-human actors' of ANT. So pensions policy now, in a Deleuzian sense, seeks to design an entire assemblage of saver and savings plan, to produce the optimal outcome.


Brilliant post.

Not sure how this fits, but I saw it and thought of your recent posts http://www.scrapclub.co.uk/

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