Archive for December, 2012

Justin Clemens & Oliver Feltham “An Introduction to Alain Badiou’s Philosophy”

December 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Clemens, Justin; Oliver Feltham 2004. An Introduction to Alain Badiou’s Philosophy. – Badiou, A. Infinite Thought: Truth and the Return of Philosophy. London; New York: Continuum: 1-38.

Badiou’s guiding question: How can a modern doctrine of the subject be reconciled with an ontology? (3)

The problem with poststructuralism is that exactly the same of negative definitions serves to delimit its implicit ontology (whether of desire or difference): there are no self-identical substances, there are no stable products of reflection, and since there are no stable objects there can be no correlates of such objects. Thus in poststructuralism there is no distinction between the general field of ontology and a theory of the subject; there is no tension between the being of the subject and being in general. Where Badiou sees an essential question for modern philosophy, then, poststructuralism sees nothing. (3-4)

[…] Badiou recognizes a distinction between the general domain of ontology and the theory of the subject. […] he defers the problem of identity […] while he concentrates on the problem of agency. (6)

For Badiou, the question of agency is not so much a question of how a subject can initiate an action in an autonomous manner but rather how a subject emerges through an autonomous chain of actions within a changing situation. That is, it is not everyday actions or decisions that provide evidence of agency for Badiou. It is rather those extraordinary decisions and actions which isolate an actor from their context […] For this reason, not every human being is always a subject, yet some human beings become subjects; those who act in fidelity to a chance encounter with an event which disrupts the situation they find themselves in. (6)

A subject is born of a human being’s decision that something they have encountered, which has happened in their situation – however foreign and abnormal – does in fact belong to the situation and thus cannot be overlooked. (6)

There is nothing other than chance encounters between particular humans and particular events; and subjects may be born out of such encounters. […] Thus, Badiou displaces the problem of agency from the level of the human to the level of being. (8)

Thus the relation between the being of the subject and the general domain of Badiou’s ontology is a contingent relationship, which hinges on the occurrence of an event and the decision of a subject to act in fidelity to that event. (9)

Situations include all those flows, properties, aspects, concatenations of events, disparate collective phenomena, bodies, monstrous and virtual, that one migth want to examine within and ontology. The concept of ’situation’ is also designed to accomodate anything which is, regardless of its modality […] (10)

[…] unity is the result of an operation termed the count-for-one. This count is what Badiou terms the situation’s structure. A structure determines what belongs and does not belong to the situation by counting various multiplicities as elements of the situation. An element is a basic unit of a situation. A structure thereby generates unity at the level of each element of the situation. It also generates unity at the level of the whole situation by unifying the multiplicity of elements. This is a ’static’ definition of a situation: a situation is a presented multiplicity. (11)

[…] for Badiou unity is the effect of structuration – and not a ground, origin, or end. The consequence of the unity of situations being the effect of an operation is that a multiple that belongs to one situation may also belong to another situation: situations do not have mutually exclusive identities. (11)

The distinction between a situation and its structuring count-for-one only holds, strictly speaking, within ontology; the situation is nothing other than this operation of ’counting-for-one’. If a situation is a counting-for-one, then Badiou also has a dynamic definition of a situation. Once he has both a dynamic as well as a static definition of a situation – the operation of counting-for-one, and unified presented multiplicity – he is able to join his doctrine of multiplicity to a reworking of Heidegger’s ontological difference. (11)

Unlike Heidegger, however, the being of a situation is not something that only a poetic saying can approach; it is, quite simply and banally, the situation ’before’ or rather, without the effect of the count-for-one; it is the situation as a non-unified or inconsistent multiplicity. (12)

Badiou’s ’inconsistent multiplicity’ is therefore not to be equated with Aristotelian ’prime matter’; its ’actual’ status is, moreover, ’undecidable’. Precisely because a situation provokes the question ’What was there before all situations?’ but provides no possible access to this ’before’ that is not irremediably compromised by post-situational terminology and operations, it is impossible to speak of in any direct way. With the thought of ’inconsistent multiplicity’, thought therefore touches on its own limits; what Badiou calls, following Lacan, its ’real’. (13)

The void of a situation is simply what is not there, but what is necessary for anything to be there. […] This is the null-set, a multiple of nothing or of the void. On the sole basis of this set, using operations regulated by formal axioms, set theory unfoldas an infinity of further sets. Set theory thus weaves its sets out of a ’void’, out of what, in any other situation, is the substractive suture to being of that situation. […] In each and every non-ontological situation, its inconsistent multiplicity is a void. The only possible presentation of a ’void’ in set theory is the null-set. (16)

If one compares set theory to classical ontologies, indeed even to that of Deleuze, its modernity is immediate. It makes no claims concerning the nature of being, nor concerning the adequation of its categories to being. (18)

Consequently, in set theory ontology, the regime of identity and difference is founded upon extension, not quality. That is, every difference is localized in a point: for two sets to be different, at least one element of one of the sets must not belong to the other. (19)

The conclusion Badiou thus draws from set theory for the traditional philosophical problem of the relationship between language and being is that, although language bestows identity on being, being is in excess of language. […] In meta-ontological terms, the axiom of separation states that an undefined existence must always be assumed in any definition of a type of multiple. (22)

[…] it [set theory] has nothing to say about beings themselves – this is the province of other discourses such as physics, anthropology and literature. This is one reason why Badiou terms set theory a subtractive ontology: it speaks of beings without reference to their attribute or their identity; it is as if the beings ontology speaks of have had all their qualities subtracted from them. (23)

In meta-ontological terms, the power-set is the state of a situation. This means that every multiple already counted as one, is counted again at the level of its sub-multiples: the state is thus a second count-for-one. (24)

There are three types of multiple: normal multiples, which are both presented in the situation and represented by its state (they are counted-for-one twice); excrescent multiples, which are only represented by the state; and singular multiples, which only occur at the level of presentation, and which escape the effect of the second count-for-one. (24)

Natural situations are defined as having no singular multiples – all of their multiples are either normal or excrescent, and each normal element in turn has normal elements. Neutral situations are defined as having a mix of singular, normal and excrescent multiples. Historical situations are defined by their having at least one ’evental-site’; a sub-type of singular multiple. In set theory terms, a singular multiple is an element of a set, but not one of its subsets. Since each of a set’s subsets is made entirely of elements that already belong to the initial set, the definition of a singular multiple is that, first, it is an element of an initial set, and, second, some of its own elements in turn do not belong to the initial set. It is these foreign elements which are responsible for the singularity of a singular multiple. An evental-site is an extreme variety of a singular multiple: none of an evental-site’s elements also belong to the initial set. (24-25)

Howver, the existence of an evental-site in a situation does not guarantee that change will occur. For that something extra is required, a ’supplement’ as Badiou says, which is an event. […] The occurrence of an event is completely unpredictable. There is no meta-situation – ’History’ – which would programme the occurrence of evetns in various selected situations. (27)

[…] every multiple found in the model can be discerned using the tools of language. A generic set, on the other hand, is a subset that is ’new’ insofar as it cannot be discerned by that language. For every property that one formulates, even the most general such as ’this apple and this apple and this apple …’, the generic set has at least one element which does not share that property. […] The generic subset is only presented at the level of inclusion, and, unlike all the other subsets, it cannot be known via its properties. (29-30)

For Badiou, the actual work which carries out the wholesale change of a historical situation – in his terms, the fidelity practised by subjects to an event – consists of such experiments; infinite enquiries into the nature of the event, using an invented idiom to approximate what is discovered throug such enquiries. […] What results from such subtractions is a praxis made up of a hazardous series of bets, bets on the nature of the situation to come. Many of these bets will fall wide of the mark, but those that hit the target will help construct the new situation. (31)

Ontology only speaks of the structure of multiplicity: it has nothing to say about the qualities or identity of any concrete situation. (32)

Frieder Vogelmann “Neosocial Market Economy”

December 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Vogelmann, Frieder 2012. Neosocial Market Economy. Foucault Studies No. 14: 115-137. Online:

By  working  on  the  level  of  knowledge  (savoir),  archaeology  attempts  to  explain  not why statements are true (or false), but why they are “in the truth,” that is, why they can exist as statements that have a truth-value. (117)

The question is not how true statements of political economy came to influence the political reflections on how to govern; instead, one has to show how the knowledge (savoir) that  makes  it  possible  to  qualify  statements  as  true  or  false  becomes  part  of  the  practice of veridiction for the political rationality. (118)

Liberalism’s  defining  feature  is  the  relation  it  establishes  between  the  market  and  the government,  which  on  the  level  of  knowledge  takes  the  form  of  a  reversal:  Driven by its central imperative “not to govern too much,” liberalism installs the market as veridical practice, a site that produces the knowledge according to which the government must act. Whereas  the  market  had  previously  been  a  “site  of  justice,” subjected  to the  truth  of  government, the  new  knowledge  of  political  economy  holds  it  to  be  an  autonomous  sphere  with  its  own laws  which  ensure  that  prices  will  assume  their  “natural”  or “normal”  value, as long  as  the “naturalness” of the market is not disturbed by governmental interventions. (120)

Thus, the market becomes the mechanism which can  verify (or falsify) governmental practices by  making  visible  whether  the  actions  of  the  government  conform to or disrupt,  distort  and destroy the natural truth of the market.  Accordingly, a “best governmental practice” can only be one that respects and preserves the operation of the market mechanism. (120)

If  ordo-liberalism’s  initial  concern  is  the  state,  neo-liberalism  begins  with  the  individual’s perspective and reorganises the concepts of political economy from there. The focus is on  the  concept  of  labour.    Whereas  the  neo-liberals  leave  the  market  as  it  stands—i.e.  as  an arena of competition—they criticise the notion of labour in liberal political economy as a mere abstraction resulting from unilateral concentration on processes of production, circulation, and consumption.  In order to make room for a different economic theory that can adequately con-ceptualise  labour,  the  scope  of  economic  analysis  itself needs  to  be  widened;  economics therefore  becomes  a  theory  of  human  behaviour  under  the  aspect  of  assigning  limited  re-sources to concurrent means. (123)

Ute Tellmann  has convin-cingly  shown  that  this  is  “the  truly  sovereign  subject-position” within  the  neo-liberal  ratio-nality,  for  “occupying  this  position  allows  […]  to speak the truth  of  the  market  against  its failing empirical counter-part.” In contrast to the other liberal political rationalities, this is a truly  remarkable  achievement,  for  it  erases  the fissure  between  the  expert  and  his  truth-pro-ducing machinery.  Whereas ordo-liberalism is easily criticised, because the expert positioned above the  market must raise suspicions even from  a liberal perspective,—Hayek’s critique of the “pretence of knowledge” comes to mind—the neo-liberal expert who speaks for the mar-ket enjoys the full legitimacy of this governmentality’s site of veridiction.  Thereby and against classical  liberalism,  neo-liberalism  reintroduces  a  place  for  the  economic  sovereign. (126)

classical liberalism  attacks the police-apparatus of the raison d’État, ordo-liberalism directs its criticism against the totalitarianism it sees  lurk-ing  behind  a  planned  economy,  and neo-liberalism  opposes  what  it  diagnoses  as  the  restric-tion of personal freedom by an ever-growing (welfare) state.  The neosocial market economy, by contrast, denounces the excessive self-conduct of individuals: the over-inflated use of per-sonal freedom so dear to neo-liberalism, which in consequence is one of the main targets of the neosocial market economy’s strategy. (127)

It is hence in need of a new, stable “order” to limit those excessive freedoms  neo-liberalism  unleashed.    The  lesson  drawn  from  that  diagnosis  is  a  “repetition” (not a copy) of ordo-liberal ideas, adapted to a globalized economy and embedded in a differ-ent  strategy. This  is  a  first  reason  to  call  the  emerging  governmentality  “neosocial  market economy,” and the formative system of strategies that makes its strategy possible is once again the critique of an excess: the excess of individual freedom that threatens to undermine itself. (128)

“Responsibility”  is  the  notion  which  this  new  governmentality  introduces into the system of concepts and which already showed up in neosocial market economy’s strategy. (128)

Note  that  “responsibility”  as  the  new  governmentality’s  central  concept  is  not  simply attached to an unchanging governable subject, nor is it something external to this subject.  It is seen as the force that is able to transform the egoistic, excessively individualistic subjects neo-liberalism has bequeathed to the present political rationality into new ethical beings.  And according to the strategic analyses of the neosocial market economy, this will also change society as a whole; becoming responsible subjects entails an ethical conduct that is able to “repair” all those  broken  communities:  families,  neighbourhoods,  city  districts, and so on. Secondly, responsibility is nothing external, but derives from the interconnectedness of the individuals. The  argument  runs  something  like  this:  Because  we  are  “always  already”  in  situations that prompt us to “answer,” responsibility—the ability and the duty to respond—is an undeniable fact  of  human  existence;  making  people  responsible  is  hence  just  a  process  of  “reminding” them. Responsibility  is  therefore  both  an  objective social  fact  and allows  the  ethical  impregnation of every action—even of market transactions. (129)

If the political slogan of a “new market economy” was a first reason for naming the new governmentality “neosocial market economy,” a second, theoretical reason stems from its formative  system  of  governable  objects. (130)

The activating welfare state constructs a specific linkage  between  self-conduct  and  the  conduct  of  others  that  makes  it  possible  to  attribute every action both to oneself and to “the society”. […] Conversely, any passivity or any failure to assume one’s responsibility is not just uneconomical or a sign  for  individual  irrationality  but  turns into anti-social behaviour. (130)

Overall, the reinvented “social” is assigned a new role within this governmentality. As in classical liberalism, it serves to govern individuals, though not because society is the subject of  interest’s  natural  environment  that  can  be  regulated,  while  the  individuals  are left to “laissez-faire”-policy.  The “neosocial” instead works directly within the subjects to be governed. (131)

The  construction  of  the  “neosocial”  as  the  formative  system  of  governable  objects distinguishes  today’s  dominant  governmentality  from  its  predecessor  neoliberalism that tried  to govern without society. (131)

For it is not just a diffuse entity called  “society” that is subjectivated. Rather, the neo-social is  formed  by  inscribing  a  variety  of  different,  very  specific  “communities”  or  “networks” into the subject, each of them corresponding to a governmental practice the subject is involved in. (132)

The new formative system of governable  objects  of  the  current  governmentality  is  not  comprised  of  the  structure  of  incentives  that  guide  the  interest-driven  homines oeconomici,  as  it  is  in  neo-liberalism. Instead, the  formative  system  of  governable  objects  is  the  neosocial  as  a  web  of  communities  or  net-works that is installed within the “networking agent” as the principle of responsibility for his or her own actions as well as for his or her communities. (133)

The  formative  system  of  subject  positions  that  establishes  the  subject  positions  of  the governed with his double responsibility for himself and for his communities and of the governor,  who  forges  new  relations  of  responsibility  and  makes  them  count,  is  based on a particular view of man: a “relational” account of individuals as constituted and sustained by their various connections to others.  In an ironic twist, the neosocial market economy is thus able to adopt much of what has been articulated as a critique of the sovereign individual and to turn it into a useful governmental instrument. (135)

Calling into question this formative system of subject-positions—and thereby doing critique’s job of  “desubjectification  (désassujettissement)”—cannot simply mean  opposing  the  bonds  of  communities  by  individualism,  a  move  that  would  still  remain within the same formative system.  Instead, other forms of communities are needed, and this should  not  be  read  emphatically  but  rather  as  an  act  of  self-defence:  what  is  called  for  are counter-communities  that  can  negate  the  claims  made  upon  us  to  provide  enough  room  for further action, not just different communities to fulfil the same subjectivation in another way. (136)

Susan Petrilli “Semioethics, Subjectivity, and Communication”

December 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Petrilli, Susan 2004. Semioethics, Subjectivity, and Communication: For the Humanism of Otherness. Semiotica 148(1/4): 69-92.

As global semiotics, general semiotics today must carry out a detotalizing function. In other words general semiotics must present itself as a critique of all (claims to the status of) totalities, including world and global communication – a task which should have top priority among critics. If the critical and detotalizing dimension is lacking, general semiotics will prove to be no more than a mere juxtaposition to the special semiotics, a syncretic result of the latter, a transversal language of the encyclopaedia of the unified sciences […]

We could make the claim that in today’s dominant communication-production system difference understood in terms of otherness or alterity is substituted ever more by difference understood in terms of alternatives.

[…]according to the global approach communication is no longer considered in the oversimplifying terms described above but rather is equated with life itself. Communication and life coincide, as Sebeok’s biosemiotics in particular has made clear […]

As Emmanuel Lévinas above all has shown, otherness obliges the totality to reorganize itself always anew in a process related to what he calls ‘infinity’, and which may  also be related to the concept of ‘infinite semiosis’ (to use an expression from Charles S. Peirce). This relation to infinity is not limited to a cognitive dimension: beyond the established order, beyond the symbolic order, beyond convention and habit, it implies a relation of involvement and responsibility with what is most refractory to the totality, that is, the otherness of others, of the other person, not in the sense of another self, another alter ego, an I belonging to the same community, but rather in the sense of the other in its extraneousness, strangeness, diversity, difference  toward which indifference is impossible, in spite of all the efforts made by the identity of the I and guaranties offered by the latter.

there is no element whatever of man’s consciousness which has not something corresponding to it in the word … . It is that the word or sign which man uses is the man himself. For, as the fact that every thought is a sign, taken in conjunction with the fact that life is a train of thought, proves that man is a sign; so, that every thought is an external sign, proves that man is an external sign. That is to say, the man and the external sign are identical, in the same sense in which the words homo and man are identical. Thus my language is the sum  total of myself; for the man is the thought. (CP 5.314)

The utterances of the self convey significance beyond words. And yet, the ineffability and uniqueness of the self do not imply the sacrifice of communicability, for what the self  is in itself (in its firtsness) can always be communicated to a degree, even if only to  communicate the impossibility of communicating.

[…] identity  is  not  unitary and compact, but rather it presents an excess, something more with respect to closed and fixed identity. Self does not coincide with the I but is one of its representations, one of its openings, a means, an instrument, or modality, but never an end in itself.

Semioethics may be considered as working toward a new form of humanism, which is inseparable from the question of otherness. This also emerges from its commitment at the level of pragmatics and focus on the relation between signs, values and behavior as well as from the intention of transcending separatism among the sciences insisting on the interrelation between the human sciences, the historico-social sciences and the natural, logico-mathematical sciences.

Human rights as they have so far been claimed tend to be centered on identity, leaving aside the rights of the other. Said differently, the expression ‘human rights’ is oriented in the direction of the humanism of identity and tends to refer to one’s own rights, the rights of identity, of self, forgetting the rights of the other. On the contrary, in the perspective of our concern for life over the planet, human and nonhuman, for  the health of semiosis generally, for the development of communication not only in strictly cultural terms but also in broader biosemiosical terms, this tendency  must quickly be counteracted by the humanism of otherness, where the rights of the other are the first to be recognized. Our allusion here is not just to the rights of the other beyond self, but also to the self’s very own other, to the other of self.

This also leads us to interpret the sign behavior of humanity in the light of the hypothesis that if the human involves signs, signs in turn are human. At the same time, however, we must clarify that such a humanistic commitment does not mean to reassert humanity’s (monological) identity yet again, nor to propose yet another form of anthropocentrism. On the contrary, what is implied is radical decentralization, nothing less than a Copernican revolution.

Semioethics  does  not  have  a  program  with intended aims and practices to propose, nor a decalogue or formula to apply more or less sincerely, or more or less hypocritically. From this point of view, semioethics contrasts with stereotypes as much as with norms and ideology.

Semioethics is not fixed upon a given value or preestablished end, an ultimate end or summum bonum, but rather is concerned with semiosis in its dialogical and detotalized globality: indeed semioethics pushes beyond the totality, outside the closure of totality, with a gaze that transcends the totality, a given being, a defined  entity, in the direction of unending semiosis – a movement toward the infinite, desire of the other. A special task for semioethics is to unmask the illusoriness of the claim to the status of indifferent differences and to evidence the biosemiosic condition of dialogic involvement among signs, intercorporeity.

Christopher Norris “Epistemology”

December 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Norris, Christopher 2005. Epistemology. Key Concepts in Philosophy. London; New York: Continuum.

Realism, Reference and Possible Worlds

Hence Frege’s cardinal dictum that ’sense determines reference’, i.e., that in so far as such proper names refer it must be in virtue of our grasping the relevant descriptive criteria. On the contrary, Kripke maintains: the reference of gold was fixed by an inaugural ’baptism’ or act of naming, and has since held firm despite and across all subsequent changes in our knowledge concerning its nature, identifying features, physical properties, microstructural constitution, or whatever. (43)

In this respect […] such names are ’truth-tracking’ or ’sensitive to future discovery’. That is to say, their usage at any given time might always turn out (now as in the past) to be based on a limited or partial knowledge of just what it is – scientifically speaking – that constitutes the kind in question. (45)

For if reference is fixed independently of any descriptive criteria that happen to apply from one to another paradigm then we can perfectly well explain how a term like ’electron’, once introduced through the inaugural act of naming, continued to pick out the same referent despite some otherwise radical revisions to its range of defining properties or imputed characteristics. (46)

Thus philosophy of science can be saved from its own sceptical devices by acknowledging (1) that descriptive attributes don’t go all the way down, (2) that early usages are ’sensitive to future discovery’, and (3) that in the case of genuine (as opposed to empty or fallacious) object-terms their reference is preserved across even the most revolutionary episodes of theory-change. (47)

For the moment what chiefly concerns us – to repeat – is the distinction between ontology and epistemology, along with the necessity of drawing it in such a way as to render compatible two (as it might seem) conflicting or contradictory claims. These are, first, that the truth-value of our statements, theories, hypothesis, etc., is fixed objectively by the way things stand quite apart from our best state of knowledge concerning them; and second, that veridical knowledge can yet be achieved through the kinds of reliably truth-conducive method and procedure developed  by the various sciences. (60)

[Realism] is the claim that there exists a real-world domain of physical objects, events, structures, properties, causal powers and so forth which decide the truth-value of our various statements or theories and which cannot be treated as in any sense dependent on our current-best or even future-best-attainable state of knowledge concerning them. (61)

[Transcendental Realism]: What is crucial here is the complex dialectical relationship between, on the one hand, those ’transfactually efficacious’ laws of nature that depend not at all on our various kinds of controlled observation, experimental set-up, manipulative technique, etc., and on the other those non-naturally occurring (but equally law-governed) entities that show up under just such specialized, e.g., laboratory conditions. (61)

Thus one chief sense of the term ’transcendental’ in critical-realist parlance is the sense: ’pertaining to an order of objective reality and a range of likewise objective truth-values that may always in principle transcend or surpass the limits of human knowledge’. To this extent TR comes out firmly opposed to any positivist, empiricist, instrumentalist or other epistemic approach that would reject the idea of verification-transcendent truths […] (61)

[Transcendental realism] critiques Kant’s critique by maintaining (along with the alethic realist) that truth might always – now as heretofore – transcend or surpass our utmost epistemic powers while nonetheless holding this itself to be a matter of knowledge borne out by the history of science to date and by our grasp of the complex dialectical process through which science progressively converges on truth under various determinate […] conditions. (64)

On this view TR entails the downright contradictory pair of propositions (1) that every well-formed (truth-apt) statement has its truth-value fixed quite apart from our best knowledge concerning it, and (2) that veridical knowledge is yet within our cognitive grasp – perhaps at the ideal limit – through various well-tried methods of enquiry. (66)

Michael Nicholson “The Scientific Analysis of Social Behavior”

December 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Nicholson, Michael 1983. The Scientific Analysis of Social Behavior: A Defence of Empiricism in Social Science. London: Pinter.


The Nature of Scientific Statements

Thus our theories are not in the mind alone but also in what we presume to be an external reality, which is perceived by our senses. […] Clearly from one point of view this makes the position of science precarious in that all our theories are dependent on the conceptual framework. (37)

In talking of accepted body of theory, I shall not, unless specifically drawing attention to it, be merely making a comment about what most people working in a particular area happen to believe. I shall mean a body of theory which is highly confirmed by observation and is regarded as true, subject to the validity of the conceptual framework in which the concepts are interpreted. (38)

However, language is not a totally circular system but has contacts with the real world and some things have to be defined outside the language itself. Thus, some concepts must be defined ostensively, that is, by directly connecting the words of the language with objects or events. (38-39)

The propositions of the theory, then, consist of statements whose terms (in theories expressed in natural language, ‘words’) are understood by the readers and writers, having been defined ostensively or nominally from earlier ostensive definitions (ultimately ostensive definitions, that is they need not necessarily be ostensive within the specific scientific enquiry). (39)

A theory is a set of laws, which are general statements that purport to be about the world. To see whether a law does in fact conform with the world we cannot of course observe the law, which is a meaningless phrase, but only instances of it. (40)

A statement which is about the world asserts not only that something is true but also asserts (by implication) that other things are false. (41)

Popper complains of being misunderstood on this point but I can find no clear statement of how it is that a failed test is not a refutation and how a test can be a test if it is not possible to fail it. If these two propositions are correct, then I reiterate that testing and refutation are formally the same. (42)

No form of direct observation whatever is possible in the case of the centre of gravity, not because of any limitation in the observational tools but because of the nature of the concept itself. It is inherently not observable. Its ‘existence’ is determined only by the role it plays in a set of deductions which have observable consequences, but its meaning comes only from its position in this deductive framework. (45)

The concept is ‘invented’ rather than ‘discovered’. Something is discovered if a set of observations indicates that it exists. Its existence might well have been predicted by a theory but it could (in principle) have been discovered without the theory. However, the theoretical term is invented as a means of organizing observations, that is, as a part of a theory without which the concept is meaningless and hence ‘undiscoverable’. (46)


Goals and Theoretical Terms in the Explanation of Social Behavior

The goal of an action is the end which the actor intends it to produce. At some point there must have been some act of choice (conscious or unconscious) so that some alternative goal would have been possible. We can use an alternative vocabulary and talk about action being motivated. A motive is a desire to achieve a goal and on these definitions anything which is said about motivation implies some parallel statement about goals. I shall confine myself to using ‘goal’. Goals can be conscious or unconscious; from the point of view of the analysis here it is not very important. (65)

It is the goal-seeking activity which is the theoretical term. […] Thus the goal-seeking formulation of the problem can be seen as a theoretical form. By this I mean that any statement couched in this form is necessarily a theoretical statement whose meaning and definitions lie solely in the deductions which can be made from a system in which it plays part. […] The theory is derived from a set of postulates which underlie the goal of maximization of utility. Now utility, like the centre of gravity, is definable only in terms of the theory and the maximization of utility is a useful concept only because it permits deductions to be made which themselves do not contain the term. (70)

Propositions asserting goal-directed behavior are theoretical propositions. They do not themselves have empirical reference and are testable only inasmuch as they form a part of a theory which has testable lower-level propositions. Thus the concern felt over their possibly dubious position in a supposedly empirical science is for the most part misplaced. They are propositions which are of a different form from normal causal propositions, but they fit perfectly happily within a deductive system, yielding testable propositions in normal causal form. (71)

Thus, it is the decision to try to achieve the goal, and to select a particular procedure for doing so which causes the acts and not the goal itself. (73)

Three different senses of ‘unrealism’:

1) idealization. The criterion of a theory’s adequacy requires that the discrepancy between a deduction made within the theory and the corresponding statement about the world is sufficiently small for whatever purpose is in hand. The permissible degree of discrepancy is something which is given external to the theory itself and depends on its application to some problem. (75)

2) limited domain. If a model is to be useful then its domain has to be specified. The as if  procedure is no good if it is not clear what problems the assumption applies to. […] How much it matters whether an assumption is unrealistic or not depends on how wide or interesting the domain is and whether it is clear what elements are unambiguously within it. (76)

3) verbal unrealism. It is a form of unrealism which raises problems in the social sciences only in goal directed models, though on analysis the problems can be seen to be entirely trivial. An actor in a situation frequently does not use the same concepts in formulating his conduct as the analyst who describes his behavior. This is, of course, not surprising when the actor is not using goal-seeking terms. It might appear to be unrealistic when the actor’s descriptions of the situation are phrased in goal-seeking terms, but different terms to those used by the analyst. There is then an apparent conflict between the analyst and actor. (77)

There are two completely different forms of statements covered by an as if proposition. The first are the theoretical propositions which it is meaningless to test directly. The second form of as if statements are those which are actually incorrect, such as the mathematical billiards player discussed above. Within the relevant domain it might be perfectly predictive but it is false, can be directly tested, and further outside the domain will yield incorrect deductions. (78)

An organization has a procedure for taking decisions which may be formally or informally devised. Whichever it is, the organization has a decision-making structure, which the crowd has not. This means that I can avoid the problem of analyzing the concepts involved in such phrases as the ‘crowd has decided’. (80)

The issue is to what extent the behavior of the organization as a unit within its own higher-level social system can be understood without reference to the events within the subsystem. […] Another issue which is raised in systems where groups are the unit, is whether the group chosen is the ‘proper’ unit of analysis. (81)

A social unit is a model, an abstraction with a limited domain, and can be used for answering questions only within its domain. (82)


Artificial Worlds

It is an abstract world which exists purely in linguistic or mathematical form but where the statements involved in the model are simpler, either in their complexity or number, but similar, to statements which are presumed to be true of the real world. (108)

A theory is a set of propositions which, if it is a correct theory, are propositions about the real world and hence are facts. They can properly be tested against the real world. There are no clear criteria for the construction of such models and a good model is just one that ‘looks good’. (112)

A simulation is a physical system (this includes human systems) which is investigated not for its own sake but for some presumed parallelism between it and a primary system one wishes to investigate. (117)

Peter K. Manning “Semiotics and Fieldwork”

December 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Manning, Peter K. 1987. Semiotics and Fieldwork. Newbury Park, London, New Delhi: Sage Publications.


Fieldwork traditions

1) The British Anthropological Tradition. […] a case-based, ethnocentric view, or what might be called an „emic“ or internal perspective that is not general and is limited in its interpretative range to that observed culture. […] a close attention to empirical data, or the facts, rather than to more abstract questions of theory. […] Since much of the work is undertaken alone, there is a degree of auto-didacticism inherent in this approach, as there is still in all forms of fieldworks. […] Is anthropology a sicentific – even in the usual meaning of social scientific – discipline that seeks generalizable knowledge in an objective fashion, or is it a literary craft, modeled on the writing style of Clifford Geertz? (14)

2) The Chicago and Neo-Chicago Traditions. […] membership preceded the analysis in many cases. In another sense, there was an attempt to be a covert or at least marginally participant member stepping bavk to look with new eyes something about which on previously knew. (15) Tactically, as was the case in the British tradition, one was to approach the group openly, and seek to inspire trust and confidence through this open approach to one’s subject population. […] The insider’s knowledge of the social world would, in fact, be partial, and reported as such; there was no assumption, interest, or belief in the idea that one would reveal to outsiders aspects of the society that were destructive to the group studied. (16 – study of underdogs, the powerless). […] Although in many respects the level of generalization was modest, there were continuous attempts to integrate the studies in a social ecological framework, the framework of work and occupations, and of collective behavior. (16)

3) The Existential Tradition. Whereas for Malinowski and associates and the Chicago school of fieldwork, the issues were matters of finding and flatly stating objective truths, the issues for the existential fieldworkers devolve from the researchers’ stance to the world and the transactional relationship between the subject and object. […] Field notes and modes of keeping them became secondary or tertiary issues, rarely discussed in detail in any of the classic sources, nor in those in the existential tradition; it is there as an issue, but seems to be relegated in the published work to questioning of relationship and meaning. (18) There is no assumption here of consensus, of cooperative subjects, or of a single unifying perspective; quite the contrary. The overall aim is to penetrate and reduce the social facades of others using the strategic and tactical weapons of intellectuals. Thus the older rules about secrecy, trust and mutual trust, protection of one’s subjects’ worlds, and, even to some extent, the editing of field reports to save the face of the researcher and the research subjects, no longer hold. (18-19)


Limitations of Fieldwork

1) Ad Hoc Problem Selection. Because the selection of problems is neither theory- nor method-driven; cumulative knowledge available in virtually any area is limited. (23)

2) Limited Domain of Analysis. The combination of ad hoc problem selection and narrowness of focus based on the single investigator model produces studies unlikely to contribute to a body of knowledge addressing theoretically selected and analyzed problems. (23)

3) Role Relationships Are Not Consistent. Field studies, as the above review illustrates, are not based upon consistent definitions of the role of the fieldworker. […] Insofar as the reflective relationship is critical to the enterprise, and that itself is unstandardized, there can be no more than moments, segments of social life, described, and a humanistic perspective displayed. (23-24)

4) Descriptive Focus. The primary rationale for field studies is that they describe a segment of the social world in some detail. (24)

5) Single Case Focus. In the absence of specific dimensions along which some phenomena are being compared, it is difficult to establish the generality of the findings. (25)



The work of semiotics is, as was suggested, to uncover the rules that govern the conventions of signification, whether these be in kinship, etiquette, mathematics, or art. It is not a descriptive technique that aims to lay out the historical or prior conditions necessary or sufficient for the appearance of a phenomenon. […] Its formal and analytic character directs attention to signs and how they signify, both the association among a series or set of signs (such as a menu, list, traffic signs, or a course syllabus) and between a signifier (such as a traffic sign) and a signified (stop; go; no left turn). Because in every sense the system precedes the individual signs, and their associations and functions, attention is directed in the first instance to sign systems themselves as systems. The purpose is then to make formal the discerned relationships. (26)

It [semiotics] is also a form of cultural analysis. All human behavior, once interpreted, is conduct. Semiotics looks at rules that govern conduct. Semiotics distinguishes performance or speech from the rules that govern it or control speech, language rules. (29)

[…] discourse and rules that govern it are seen as governing the possible forms, roles, and actions that one might imagine or impute to a “person.” Persons attain status only as elements of a signifying system. Thus semioticians might see a person as Freudians do, a bundle of symptoms (“a neurotic”), as a set of economic drives for consumption and production, as a chaos of passions as in a Judith Krantz novel, or a disembodied voice as do record producers. These are human constructions of humans, abstractions, and they make social life possible. (31)

Semiotics must proceed to isolate structures as if a definite general structure existed; but to be able to do this, one must assume that this global structure is simply a regulative hypothesis, and that every time a structure is described something occurs within the universe of signification which no longer makes it completely reliable. (32 – Eco “A Theory of Semiotics”, 129)

Social life is a field of signs organized by other signs about signs that communicate various social relations. Sociology can be seen as a subfield of semiotics. (33)

By attending to the codes (ways that content and expression are connected) that order given domains within social groups, and the meanings and social and behavioral responses that are associated with such coding, a conceptual apparatus for the analysis of culture is created. This lens permits isolating, characterizing, manipulating, and recombining elements of a cultural code in a systematic and formal fashion. (35)

Structuralist theories are glossed here as those that (a) contain focus upon binary oppositions within linguistic systems, (b) utilize some model of language as a fundamental metaphor for explaining (some) social relations, (c) view discourse as the primary focus of analysis, and (d) attempt to explain the production of discourse and texts with relatively formal rules and principles. (36)

[…] the referent is not a discriminate parameter among signs. Only their relations to each other are considered. The ideational nature of semiotics is such that even ideas are viewed as signs of a sort. Encoding, or the process of subsuming phenomena to a code is seen as both decoding and encoding simultaneously (since any sign that can be considered as such is coded in some fashion, any action of encoding involves extracting it from one code and entering it into another). Encoding is possible because codes can be combined, conflated, reversed, and layered together, that is, expression and content in one can become a sign in a secondary coding system, and so on. (39)

The actor provides the interpretant. (39)

The concept of a message is a function of a cognitively or semantically isolated text within an organizational field. (42)


Semiotics and Fieldwork

It should be emphasized that semiotics is an analytic technique, not a data-gathering technique. Most fieldwork, and much of the fieldwork literature, focuses on data-gathering. […] Semiotics is a mode of problem identification. (43)

Semiotics is a mode of pursuing the relevant units of analysis within a context. (44)

Semiotics is a way of formalizing analysis. (44)

Semiotics permits, indeed, requires comparisons. Semiotics is based on the central notions of opposition in context as the source of meaning […] This means that studies of single cases, or types, or groups, must involve implicit but perhaps unrecognized comparisons. (46)

Semiotics requires that analysis penetrate surface meaning or mere description and extract underlying modes of understanding. (46)

Semiotics assumes different perspectives on social life. (47)

Michel Foucault “The Political Technology of Individuals”

December 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Foucault, Michel 2000. The Political Technology of Individuals. – Foucault, M. Power: Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984. New York: The New Press, 403-417.

Reason of state, first, is regarded as an “art,” that is, as a technique conforming to certain rules. These rules pertain not simply to customs and traditions but to a certain rational knowledge. […] The art of governing people is rational on the condition that it observes the nature of what is governed, that is, the state itself. (406)

In a few words, reason of state refers neither to the wisdom of God nor to the reason or the strategies of the prince: it refers to the state, to its nature, and to its own rationality. (407)

1) The first of those ideas is the new relation between politics as a practice and as knowledge. It concerns the possibility of a specific political knowledge. […] The state is something that exists per se. It is a kind of natural ob-ject, even if the jurists try to know how it can be constituted in a le-gitimate way. The state is by itself an order of things, and political knowledge separates it from juridical reflections. Political knowledge deals not with the rights of people or with human or divine laws but with the nature of the state which has to be governed. […] A government, therefore, entails more than just implementing general principles of reason, wisdom, and prudence. A certain specific knowledge is necessary: concrete, precise, and measured knowledge as to the state’s strength. (407-408)

2) The second important point derived from this idea of reason of state is the rise of ne w relationships between politics and history. (408) Politics has now to deal with an irreducible multiplicity of states struggling and competing in a limited history. (409)

3) […] since the state is its own finality, and since the governments must have for an exclusive aim not only the conservation but also the permanent reinforcement and development of the state’s strengths, it is clear that the governments don’t have to worry about individuals—or have to worry about them only insofar as they are somehow relevant for the reinforcement of the state’s strength […] the individual becomes pertinent for the state insofar as he can do something for the strength of the state. […] From the state’s point of view, the individual exists insofar as what he does is able to introduce even a minimal change in the strength of the state, either in a positive or in a negative direction. (409)

The marginalistic integration of individuals in the state’s utility is not obtained in the modern state by the form of the ethical community characteristic of the Greek city. It is obtained in this ne w political rationality by a certain specific technique called then, and at this moment, the “police.” (409)

When people spoke about police at this moment, they spoke about the specific techniques by which a government in the framework of the state wa s able to govern peo-ple as individuals significantly useful for the world. (410)

[…] “the police” appears as an administration heading the state together with the judiciary, the army, and the exchequer. But in fact it embraces all those other administrations, and, as Turquet says, “it branches out into all of the people’s conditions, everything they do or undertake. Its fields comprise justice, finance, and the army.” (411-412)

So, as you see, the police in this Utopia [Turquet’s] include everything, but from a very particular point of view. Men and things are envisioned in this Utopia in their relationships. What the police are concerned with is men’s coexistence in a territory, their relationships to property, what they produce, what is exchanged in the market, and so on. It also considers how they live, the diseases and accidents that can befall them. In a word, what the police see to is a live, active, and productive man. Turquet employs a very remarkable expres-sion. He says, “The police’s true object is man.” (412)

Police as practice/administration: In short, life is the object of the police. The indispensable, the useful, and the superfluous: those are the three types of things that we need, or that we can use in our lives. That people survive, that people live, that people do even better than just survive or live: that is exactly what the police have to ensure. (413)

This systematization of the French administrative practice seems to me important for several reasons. First, as you see, it attempts to classify needs, which is, of course, an old philosophical tradition, but with the technical project of determining the correlation between the utility scale for individuals and the utility scale for the state. The thesis in De Lamare’s book is that what is superfluous for individuals can be indispensable for the state, and vice versa. The second impor-tant thing is that De Lamare makes a political object of human happiness. (413)

Now happiness is not only a simple effect. Happiness of individuals is a requirement for the survival and devel-opment of the state. It is a condition, it is an instrument, and not simply a consequence. People’s happiness becomes an element of state strength. And, third, De Lamare says that the state has to deal not only with men, or with a lot of men living together, but with society. Society and men as social beings, individuals with all their social re-lations, are now the true object of the police. (414)

Police as discipline: And hence, last but not least, “police” became a discipline. It was not only a real administrative practice, it was not only a dream, it was a discipline in the academic meaning of the word. (414)

Die Politik is basically for him the negative task of the state. It consists in the state’s fighting against its internal and external enemies, using the law against the internal enemies and the army against the external ones, von Justi explains that the police {Polizei), on the contrary, have a positive task. Their instruments are neither weap-ons nor laws, defense nor interdiction. The aim of the police is the permanently increasing production of something new, which is supposed to foster the citizens’ life and the state’s strength. The police govern not by the law but by a specific, a permanent, and a positive intervention in the behavior of individuals. (415)

We can say now that the true object of the police becomes, at the end of the eighteenth century, the population; or, in other words, the state has essentially to take care of men as a population. It wields its power over living beings as living beings, and its politics, therefore, has to be a biopolitics. Since the population is nothing more than what the state takes care of for its own sake, of course, the state is entitled to slaughter it, if necessary. So the reverse of biopolitics is thanatopolitics. (416)

The failure of the major political theories nowadays must lead not to a nonpolitical wa y of thinking but rather to an investigation of what has been our political way of thinking during this century. (416)

I think that the main characteristic of our political rationality is the fact that this integration of the individuals in a community or in a totality results from a constant correlation between an increasing individualization and the reinforcement of this totality. From this point of view, w e can understand why modern political rationality is permitted by the antinomy between law and order. (417)

Law, by definition, is always referred to a juridical system, and order is referred to an administrative system, to a state’s specific order, which was exactly the idea of all those utopians of the be-ginning of the seventeenth century and was also the idea of those very real administrators of the eighteenth century. I think that the conciliation between law and order, which has been the dream of those men, must remain a dream. It’s impossible to reconcile law and order because whe n you try to do so it is only in the form of an integration of law into the state’s order. (417)