Archive for February, 2016

Peter Trnka “Subjectivity and Values in Medicine”

February 19, 2016 Leave a comment

Trnka, Peter 2003. Subjectivity and Values in Medicine: The Case of Canguilhem. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 28(4): 427-446.

Canguilhem focuses on normality and pathology as the founding concepts of modern clinical and research medicine. In search of the normal to which therapy is drawn, Canguilhem unfolds its normative meaning. Unfolding further, he discovers the nature of the normative in the value-orientation of a constructive, future directed activity, i.e.,subjectivity. Value-orientation, accordingly, is not a variable or an object but a constructing of fields for variables or objects. Value-orientation and the creative act of the subject thus coincide. Holding that subjectivity is a real, creative biological activity, as Canguilhem does, means thatnormalityandvalue-orientation, as concepts, are neither pure scientific descriptions nor mere human preferences. (428)

The danger of Canguilhem’s work is a biologization of norms that neglects culture. Canguilhem seizes upon the idea of value-orientation (normativité), making it the pivot of his conceptual structure, while Foucault evades the normative, as if it were ineluctably a concept of the human sciences, though presupposing it in his critique of the human sciences. (429)

Canguilhem offers three interpretations of normality conceived as the norm of medicine: (1) the statistical average or the standard, (2) what ought to be, and (3) the new. Thefirst two senses are more familiar than the third, though it is this latter option that Canguilhem defends. (429)

Irregularity, for Canguilhem, is the constitutive condition of rules. The regulative ideal, the norm, or the rule is derivative of an experience of obstacle. This could be an epistemic point: awareness of rules is contingent upon transgression. Canguilhem’s point is stronger, i.e., ontological. The existence of a rule is, accordingly, derivative of the experience of an obstacle. The subjective experience of impediment brings the rule into being: ‘‘this which I now feel as resisting me should not be.’’ (430)

To be alive presupposes some ability to distinguish between good and bad in the sense of what helps or hinders me. This minimal sense of the evaluative is subjective for Canguilhem, meaning that it must take root in the individual organism. (431)

[…] he distinguishes between two forms of life or two evaluative conceptions of adaptation and health. The first consists of propulsive values which attain a normal state (a constant or stable condition) only to exercise their normative function anew, and so depart from the previously achieved equilibrium in search of another. The second mode consists of repulsive values, which are not truly normative though they are stabilizing or normality-seeking; i.e., the being that strives entirely for equilibrium and is unwilling to give it up once it is attained relinquishes the process of generating values in favor of a permanent normality and by doing so turns pathological. The first mode is expressive, the second retentive or preservative. (431-432)

Canguilhem’s affirmation of propulsive norms completes our set of identifications by bringing creativity in line with the true meaning of normality. (432)

The WHO definition of health as complete well-being is broad and difficult to distinguish from economic prosperity, social comfort, political freedom, and moral satisfaction. And this is precisely its point: health may be a function of all the above factors and so an all-inclusive conception of health will necessarily blur the dividing line between the medical and the economic, social, political, philosophical, etc. (433)

The evolutionary point of view raises a number of ontological questions for the enterprise of defining health and disease: the wherein question (does health and/or disease reside in the cell, organ, individual or species?), the where question (does health and/or disease reside in a place or unit or in the relation between unit and environment?), and the when question (does health and/or disease exist now or in the next generation, etc.?). The‘when’question really folds together all three orientations, for the individual in relation to the species in an environment is the locus of transmission of traits, healthy or diseased, between the present and the future. Matters related to the temporal dimension of health are often ignored, perhaps because the issue is difficult or because of our hubris: we are prone to believe we can predict the future or shape it as we wish. (435-436)

The subjectivist view should not be confused with Canguilhem’s biological and ontological theory of subjectivity. Subjectivism, closely allied with individualism and cultural relativism, loosely resembles evolutionary theory in that individual preference, like genetic mutation, is the arbitraryelement decisive for the future. Suchinternalexplanations fail for the same reason: to conceive of evolution as driven by random mutability is anabstractionfrom a complex and co-implicatedfield of variables; to conceive of satisfaction as a ‘‘merely subjective’’, personal reaction is also an abstraction from the situation in which satisfaction functions as a real variable. In both the cases of genetic mutability and personal satisfaction, the internal moment only makes sense given afield in which it acts or is acted upon. (437)

[…] Canguilhem provides a biological and ontological account of value: living beings orient themselves to their environments (in part) by way of values. Living beings discriminate and accommodate based on an appreciation of the world or a system of values, be they implicit or explicit – this is, for Canguilhem, an actual attribute of the biological world. The creation of norms within the biological world is valuable not merely as novelty but as the variability which novelty signals or presupposes. Variability or the creative generation of norms is valuable and valued at least in part because of the difference such norms make in intensifying and extending life. (438)

[…] Canguilhem’s repulsive norms are associated with a mechanist or functionalist orientation to life: the belief that a norm may be secured to withstand variation is linked to a view of nature as inert and fundamentally repetitive. Propulsive norms, on the contrary, appeal to a generative conception of natural processes wherein variable, not static, repetition is the fundamental law; life is a‘‘vital force’’or biological being, not a mechanism or function. (438)

Teleological and mechanist views are fundamentally in error concerning the character of biological life. Mechanism and functionalism are inadequate characterizations from a biological point of view because they conceive of the environment as a fact, given or pre-constituted. In contrast, Canguilhem offers a fully biological, i.e., an ontological, view wherein the environment is itself partially constructed by the activity and needs of the organism. (439)

To value an individual feature involves the environment only as a given past or present condition, but not as an evolving, dynamic system. Canceling out errors through genetic manipulation assumes prior knowledge of the future shape of the conditions under which organisms will live. Such‘‘engineering’’ is neither impossible nor valueless, but the hubris of believing one can engineer the individual and their environment to perfection assumes the permanence of nature and reserves the creativity of science and reason for the subject. (441)

Whether we can in fact eliminate genetic ‘‘errors’’ is not Canguilhem’s main worry. The very possibility of naming a genetic feature an‘‘error’’ is the concern. For if an ‘‘error’’in the medical sense is neither a statistical anomaly nor a lesion, if it is not itself a dysfunction but a marker or harbinger of dysfunction, then how can the issue of values be removed from the judgement of error, and how may we, even in the rare case where a genetic marker has near certainty of phylogenetic expression as a defect, be sure about the environment in relation to which all such notions derive their meaning? (441)

Normality secured in total stability and local adaptation is the precursor of total pathology. Canguilhem brands such a nightmare, in which the very possibility of disease is thought to be eliminated, the ‘‘disease of the normal man’’ („la maladie de l’homme normal“): „the disturbance which arises in the course of time from the permanence of the normal state, from the incorruptible uniformity of the normal, the disease which arises from the deprivation of diseases, from an existence almost incompatible with disease.“ (1978, p. 178) (442)


Marcello Barbieri “A Short History of Biosemiotics”

February 15, 2016 Leave a comment

Barbieri, Marcello 2009. A Short History of Biosemiotics. Biosemiotics 2(2): 221-245.

As a result of Sebeok’s revolution in semiotics, it has been taken almost for granted that the extension of semiosis, first to the animal world and then to the entire living world, is nothing but the extension of the Peirce view of semiosis to life. Sebeok (2001) expressed this concept in no uncertain terms: “Because there can be no semiosis without interpretability—surely life’s cardinal propensity—semiosis presupposes the axiomatic identity of the semiosphere with the biosphere”. (227)

The identification of biological semiosis with Peircean semiosis was advanced also by Jesper Hoffemeyer inSigns of Meaning in the Universe, the book where he condensed his manifesto in the statement that“the basic unit of life is the sign, not the molecule” (Hoffmeyer 1996; Emmeche and Hoffmeyer 1991). There was therefore a genuine continuity from Sebeok to Hoffmeyer, and their biosemiotics, being squarely based on the Peirce’s concept of sign, can be referred to as sign-based biosemiotics, or, more simply, as sign biosemiotics. (227)

[…] Markoš underlined that in human affairs we do observe real change, because our history is ruled by contingency, and entities like literature and poetry show that creativity does exist in the world. He maintained that this creative view of human history can be extended to all living creatures, and argued that this is precisely what Darwin’s revolution was about. It was the introduction of contingency in the history of life, the idea that all living organisms, and not just humans, are subjects, individual agents which act on the world and which take care of themselves. Darwin did pay lip service to the determinism of classical physics, but what he was saying is that evolution is but a long sequence of “just so stories”, not a preordained unfolding of events dictated by immutable laws (Markošet al.2007;Markošet al.2009). (228)

Darwin has shown that the history of life is as contingent as the history of man, and Heidegger has shown that man can create genuine novelties because he can interpret what goes on in the world. From these two insights, Markoš concludes that all living creatures are interpreting subjects, and that all novelties of the history of life were brought into existence by acts of interpretation. (228)

The existence of semiosis in life does not exclude, in principle, the existence of semiosis in inanimate matter, but the unifying idea of Prague was the concept, proposed by Thomas Sebeok, that“life and semioisis are coextensive”, i.e. that “semiosis exists in all living beings and onlyin living beings”. This became ‘the foundational principle’ of biosemiotics, and it was precisely its acceptance that realized the first step towards unification. It must be underlined that this principle is a scientific hypothesis because it isfalsifiable (a single example of semiosis in inanimate matter would immediately falsify it). (230)

Today there are still differences between the schools, but there is also a ‘minimal unity’ in the field because of two basic principles, or postulates, that are accepted by virtually all biosemioticians.
(1) The first postulate is Thomas Sebeok’s idea that “life and semiois is are coextensive”. This implies that semiosis appeared at the origin of life, and sharply differentiates biosemiotics from ‘pansemiotics’ and ‘physiosemiotics’, the doctrines that semiosis exists also in inanimate matter and therefore everywhere in the universe. It also differentiates it from the views that semiosis exists only in animals or only in humans beings.
(2) The second postulate is the idea that signs, meanings and codes are natural entities. This sharply divides biosemiotics from the doctrine of ‘intelligent design’, and from all other doctrines that maintain that the origin of life on Earth was necessarily the product of a supernatural agency. (230)

Code biosemiotics, in conclusion, is distinct from physical biosemiotics because it maintains that copying and coding bring new fundamental observables into existence. A second difference is that it describes the cell as a trinity of genotype, phenotype and ribotype, not as a duality of genotype and phenotype (Barbieri 1981). A third difference is that code biosemiotics recognizes the existence of a new mechanism of evolution (natural conventions), and states that the great steps of macroevolution were produced by the appearance of new organic codes (Barbieri1985, 1998, 2003a). (233)

For a long time it has been assumed that the function of semiosis is to interpret the world, but this is not the whole truth. We must acknowledge that in addition to interpretive semiosis there are two other types of semiosis whose function is not to interpret the world of life but to create it, to bring its objects into existence and to organize them into functioning wholes. Life is essentially about three things: (1) it is about manufacturing objects, (2) it is about assembling objects into functioning structures, and (3) it is about interpreting the world. The discovery that these are all semiotic processes, tells us that life depends on semiosis much more deeply and extensively than we thought on the basis of the interpretive semiotics of Peirce. This approach, in other words, is not wrong, but is too limited, too restrictive. There are three distinct types of semiosis in Nature and interpretive semiosis is only one of them. This is the great difference between the above schools of biosemiotics. Sign biosemiotics is based on the Peircean approach and assumes that semiosis is about interpreting the world. Code biosemiotics is based on the code model and assumes that semiosis is primarily about bringing objects into existence and organizing them into functioning structures. (234)

Hermeneutic biosemiotics, in conclusion, wants to turn biology into a field of the humanities, whereas code biosemiotics wants to keep it within science, because meaning is a natural entity and we must introduce it in science just as we have introduced the concepts of energy and information. And this is not because science is superior to the humanities. It is because organic meaning exists in the organic world just as cultural meaning exists in the cultural world. A true synthesis of biology and semiotics, in short, cannot be the reduction of one to the other. It can only be the realization that there is no unbridgeable divide between them. (235-236)

Any field of research relies on models, and in biosemiotics there are, today, two distinct models of semiosis: one based on interpretation, and one based on coding. They can be summarized in the following way.
(1) The Interpretation model was described in the treatise of Semiotics edited by Posner, Robering and Sebeok, and states that: “The necessary and sufficient condition for something to be a semiosis is that A interprets B as representing C, where A is the interpretant, B is an object and C is the meaning that A assigns to B” (Posner et al. 1997).
(2) The Code model states that: “The necessary and sufficient condition for something to be a semiosis is that A provides a conventional association between B and C, where A is a set of adaptors and B and C are the objects of two independent worlds (Barbieri2003a, 2006b). (236)

Can we say that there has been a real macroevolutionary discontinuity between single cells and animals? To this purpose, let us underline that the mind —or the brain—of animals does not interpret the world but only representations of the world. Any interpretation, in short, is always exercised on internal models of the environment, never on the environment itself. Single cells, on the other hand, do not build representations. They decode the signals from the environment but do not build internal models of it and therefore cannot interpret them. They are sensitive to light, but do not ‘see’; they react to sounds but do not‘hear’; they detect hormones but do not ‘smell and do not ‘taste’ them. It takes the cooperation of many cells which have undertaken specific processes of differentiation to allow a system to see, hear, smell and taste, so it is only multicellular creatures that have these experiences. Only animals, in short, build representations of the world and only these representations allow them to perceive,tofeel, and to interpret the world. The evolution from single cells to animals was far more than an increase in growth and complexity. (236)

Animals became capable of interpreting the world because they could build internal representations of it, and this is a process that single cells simply cannot do. Interpretation is essentially what Peirce called an ‘abduction’, a process that is neither induction nor deduction, but a ‘rule of thumb’ way of creating a link between observations and explanations (Peirce1906). More precisely, animals learned to interpret the world by using the two types of signs that Peirce called ‘icons’ and ‘indexes’. They did not, however, use the third type of sign, the ‘symbols’. Only our species managed to do that, and developed a third type of semiosis that was based on symbolic codes shared by all members of a community, i.e., on language (Deacon 1997). (238)

The evolution of semiosis was characterized therefore by three great innovations: (1) the origin of organic semiosis (the semiotic threshold), (2) the origin of interpretive semiosis (the hermeneutic threshold), and (3) the origin of linguistic semiosis (the cultural threshold). (239)

Jonathan Beever “Meaning Matters”

February 9, 2016 Leave a comment

Beever, Jonathan 2012. Meaning Matters: The Biosemiotic Basis of Bioethics. Biosemiotics 5(2): 181-191.

I argue that biosemiotics, as a robust scientific approach to meaning, can offer an empirical and immanent justification for the inherent moral value of all living things. Biosemiotics is capable of playing a role in justifying a broad scope of moral considerability. (182)

While we moral agents on the one hand rely on contemporary scientific analysis of the natural world to inform our moral habits, we also on the other hand hold on to transcendent metaphysical assumptions in our ethical analysis of those intuitions that we are unable to sufficiently articulate. This metaphysical stubbornness creates and maintains the dualism between fact and value. When we consider alternative approaches toward moral value, we discover that each faces the same difficulty. It is this grounding of justification on transcendent principles that continues to split ethics from science. The empirical and naturalistic approach to moral philosophy can be a development of our moral thinking that will allow the progress of our societal ethic to continue. (183)

It wasn’t until 1789when Jeremy Bentham famously questioned the modes of justification of human moral worth. He suggested that reason ought not be considered a criterion of moral value but, instead, the capacity to suffer. (Bentham 1789) Sentience, the capacity to experience pleasure or pain—to be better or worse off—is arguably the first criterion to offer a serious justification for the inherent moral worth of the non-human animal. (184)

Recognizing that all living things can be understood as semiotic systems directed toward ends,
biosemiotics is compatible with the denial of the traditional dualistic model of the natural opposed to the cultural. This divide—between the natural and cultural or between fact and value—stands only if the moral and/or the human is considered to be different in kind from the factual/natural. Peircean semioticians hold this not to be the case: semiotics entails the denial of the absolute natural/cultural divide based on the holistic understanding of semiosis, the use and interpretation of signs. Instead, one finds biological information to be messages rather than mechanisms: a naturalistic intentional/purposive attitude rather than a reductionist mechanical one. (185)

For, what are“subjective experiences”if not the creation of meaning from lived phenomenological experience? It seems to me that the basis of all these attempts to justify some scope of moral considerability focus on what matters to the subject, or what meaning the subject gives to its umwelt. It’s not having a soul, having the capacity for language, being able to reason, or being sentient that matters: rather, meaning matters. (186)

Biosemiotics offers us a theory of meaning based on the semiosic relationship of living things to their inner and outer worlds. As Jesper Hoffmeyer defines it,“[a]ccording to the biosemiotic perspective, living nature is understood as essentially driven by, or actually consisting of, semiosis, that is to say, processes of sign relations and their signification—or function—in the biological processes of life.” (Hoffmeyer 2008, 4) (186)

Peircean biosemiotics offers us the initial positing of a relevant and pragmatic theory of meaning-making at the boundary of life and semiosis. If meaning is at the root of moral considerability, and the goal of biosemiotics is to offer a scientific approach to meaning, then biosemiotics can be understood as a study of moral considerability. Central to this claim is that this semiotic value theory overcomes both the untenable transcendent ontology and the outmoded mechanical metaphysic that have plagued contemporary ethical motivations by reengaging an approach based on a naturalized semiotic intentionality. (186)

John Deely: „Semioethics, in short, is nothing more nor less than the question of what we are going to do about, how we are going to handle, the fact that human beings are not merely “rational animals”, still less res cogitanes, but in the fulness of their species-specifically unique being, semiotic animals, each and every one, an animal to and for whomnil semiosica alienum me
cogitabile est. It is a unique responsibility, alright, springing from the awareness of semiosis as embracing the whole planet, of times past, present, and to come, and of our impact upon it as the only semiotic animals within the Gaia. (Deely 2010a, 125)“ (187)

[…] his focus on human moral agency does not offer an account of the value inherent in semiosis
itself. We ought to remain wary of this impulse and to question whether what morally matters is semiotics or semiosis. On the account for which I argue, what morally matters, what makes something appropriately morally considerable, is making-meaning—semiosis—even if this meaning does not include an understanding of semiosis qua signa ipsa. (187)

Kull sets up a split between perspectives on biological value (reproductive, meronomic, and functional) (ibid 357) and models of semiotic value (valeuras sign network complexity, purposiveness, signification) (ibid 358) demonstrating the potential link between our thinking about biological and semiotic value. However, this early analysis is descriptive rather than prescriptive: offering us an explanation ofhow we do valuerather than why we ought to value. At this descriptive level, it cannot stand unamended among our best ethical theories. (188)

Morten Tonessen: „The reason why it makes sense to regard all semiotic agents, i.e., bioontological monads, as moral subjects, is that in respect to these entities, our actions make a difference. Only for semiotic agents can our actions ultimately appear as signs that influence their well-being. In capacity of meaningutilizers, all semiotic agents, be it the simplest creature, are able to distinguish between what they need and what is irrelevant or harmful to them. (Tønnessen 2003, 292)“ (188)

Hoffmeyer further explains that “…the decisive factor in triggering empathetic feelings toward
organisms of other species is the degree ofsemiotic individuationthat we perceive in them.” (Hoffmeyer2008, 331) The uniquely semiotic role of the human animal is essential to the creation of moral value, on this view. Despite this anthropocentric turn, the semiosic holism of biosemiotics offers the broadest possible criterion for value, one that coincides with life itself.“ [W]e may consider living systems as subjects in this restricted sense, that they are temporal beings capable of distinguishing and acting upon selective features of their surroundings and participating in the evolutionary incorporation of the present into the future.” (Hoffmeyer 1995, 149) (190)

A biosemiotic ethic is necessarily anecological ethic, bringing together the semiosphere and the biosphere in a theory of meaning tied to individual umwelten and justifying the moral considerability of all living things. (190)

Sara Cannizzaro & Paul Cobley “Biosemiotics, Politics and Th. A. Sebeok’s Move from Linguistics to Semiotics”

February 5, 2016 Leave a comment

Cannizzaro, Sara; Cobley, Paul 2015. Biosemiotics, Politics and Th. A. Sebeok’s Move from Linguistics to Semiotics. – Velmezova, Ekaterina; Kull, Kalevi; Cowley, Stephen J. (eds). Biosemiotic Perspectives on Language and Linguistics. Berlin: Springer, 207-222.

The perspectives of the erstwhile “Soviet semiotics ”, which put verbal language at the basis of all communications and of the organisation of culture, was at risk of both glottocentrism and anthropomorphism. In light of the recognition that there is communication prior to verbal language, Sebeok recast Tartu-Moscow notion of modelling systems and observed that (verbal language) “is the modelling system the Soviet scholars call primary but which, in truth, is phylogenetically as well as ontogenetically secondary to the nonverbal”. (209-210)

[…] the primordial and overarching form of communication is nonverbal. Nonverbal communication characterizes all life, including a large part of human life. Although humans also utilize verbal communication, nonverbal communication is implicitly overlooked in many realms of human endeavour. In fact, as we signalled above, Sebeok holds that natural language “evolved as an adaptation; whereas speech developed out of language as a derivative exaptation”. (210)

Exaptation, here and also as Stephen J. Gould and Elisabeth S. Vrba discussed it, demonstrates that one should not assume that the current utility of a biological phenomenon is a result of natural selection. An exaptation may be desirable and potentially an enhancement of the capacity for survival; but that does not necessarily entail that it is indispensable for survival, nor that the phenomenon in question is the product of natural selection. (211)

[…] what exaptation demonstrates most strikingly in respect of human evolution is that the phenomenon often central to definitions of humanity – language – is, in the verbal forms that have provided the foundation for communication and culture, only beneficial in evolutionary terms at one remove or more, or even, perhaps, in various cases, not beneficial at all. The communicational forms that are often taken for granted in the human Umwelt and, sometimes, have been assumed to be the only portal through which humans can grasp life, are, in this account, merely the veneer of anthroposemiosis. (211)

Discovering that semiosis is politically charged in the polis is one thing; but conveniently forgetting that semiosis occurs and is built on the development of signs in realms far beyond the polis is considerably more “apolitical” and reactionary than attempting to assume a supposedly “neutral” transdisciplinary vantage point. (213)

“Representation” assumes that human semiosis is mind-dependent (ens rationis), constantly preventing humans from gaining anything other than a tantalising glimpse of the mind-independent ( ens reale) universe. Yet, as Deely is at pains to stress in the wake of Poinsot, the sign fluctuates between both forms of dependency according to context. One might add that implicit in the contextuality of the sign is the sharing of some parts of signhood across the world of humans, other animals and plants, the variegation of semiosis being so extensive that “representation” does not really come close to capturing it. (216)

Ideology, like “information” cannot be “resisted” because it is not something that is transferred or forced upon humans; it is instead the relation of meaning that emerges when humans interact with real objects in a cultural, physiological and environmental context. These three contextual levels, and not just the cultural-linguistic one, all play a part in framing the way in which ideology is constituted. (219)

Biosemiotics has sought to proceed, in a transdisciplinary mode, from a concept of semiosis as “global” and with its own contextual effectivities sustaining Umwelten, rather than assuming that signification can be graded according to measures of truth and falsity derived from cultural taxonomies. In short, biosemiotics’ reconfiguration of the polis consists of having bigger fish to fry than traditional political approaches that signal the tyrannies of language and pursue the representational paradigm. This is not a matter of biosemiotics simply drawing back and stating that local political struggles are somehow less significant than the bigger picture, as some advocates of environmental politics have done. Rather, it is a global view recognizing that every
semiosis, local and quotidian, is subject to relation and is therefore the object of politics. Central to the representational view and, for Deely, the key impediment of modern thought, is the inability to arrive at a coherent distinction between mind-dependent and mind-independent being. Relations create a public sphere in which there is room for freedom, but there is also the possibility of reaching an understanding of nature, likewise through relations. (220)

Mitchell Dean “Demonic Societies”

February 4, 2016 Leave a comment

Dean, Mitchell 2001. “Demonic Societies”: Liberalism, Biopolitics, and Sovereignty. – Hansen, Thomas Blom; Stepputat, Finn (eds). States of Imagination. Ethnographic Explorations of the Postcolonial State. Durham; London: Duke University Press, 41-64.

It is thus fair to say that Foucault’s analyses of the arts of government, with some significant exceptions and indications in his lectures, are largely “internalist”. That is, they ignore the international arts of government that are the condition of these relatively autonomous, sovereign, territorially bounded states, and the practices that assign populations to specific states in the modern system of states. (42)

This is not the place to rehearse the details of Agamben’s appreciative critique of Foucault, but he does indicate the possibility that Foucault has underestimated the extent to which sovereign forms of power were constituted in relation to notions of life. […] However, Agamben himself may risk a lack of attentiveness to the specific character of modern biopolitics. (44)

Foucault’s statement, then, locates the problem of political danger in the combination, the “tricky adjustment” between two modes of exercising rule. The shepherd-flock game, or what he elsewhere calls pastoral power, has its birth in Hebraic and early Christian religious communities. Its genealogy concerns its transformation into centralized and largely secular exercise of power over populations concerned with the life and welfare of “each and all” with the development of the administrative stat in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The city-citizen game has its sources in Greco-Roman antiquity and notions of the polis and res publica and concerns the treatment of individuals as autonomous and responsible political actors within a self-determining political community. This mode of exercising power has been transformed by modern liberal and republican doctrines, notions of direct and representative democracy, and, most crucially, by the key status of citizenship being granted to certain members of the population within the territorial state. (45)

The genealogy of the welfare state seems to be bedeviled by this problem of trying to find a norm of provision that can adjust the competing demands of a subject of needs with the free political citizen. (45)

Very broadly, then, this retranslation of Foucault’s sentence on the demonic nature of modern states amounts to something like the following: All versions of what might loosely be called modern arts of government must articulate a biopolitics of the population with questions of sovereignty. And it is the combination of these elements of biopolitics and sovereignty that is fraught with dangers and risks. (46)

Drawing on the work of Robyn Lui-Bright (1997), we might say that there is an internal and external side of biopolitics. There is a social form of government concerned to govern the life and welfare of the populations that are assigned to certain states; there is also a kind of international biopolitics that governs the movement, transitions, settlement, and repatriation of various populations, including refugees, legal and illegal immigrants, guest workers, tourists, and students. This international biopolitics is a condition of the assignation of populations to states and thus of social government of any form. (47)

Sovereignty undergoes its own transformation: in the juridical theories of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such as those of Thomas Hobbes and Samuel von Pufendorf, he finds a more limited account of the sovereign right of death as conditioned by the defense of the sovereign. The end of sovereignty is, however, the continuation of sovereignty itself: it is caught in a kind of “self-referring circularity” (Foucault 1991: 95). Thus, Foucault argues that, if we take Pufendorf’s definition of the end of sovereign authority as “public utility” and seek to define the content of public utility, we find little more than that subjects obey laws, fulfill their expected tasks, and respect the political order. (48)

Foucault suggests that internally, however, in western European societies from the Middle Ages sovereignty is principally conceived as a transcendent form of authority exercised over subjects within a definite territory. (49)

One aspect of the democratization of sovereignty has been to create a universal language of rights by which efforts are made to regulate the conduct of sovereign states by various international governmental agencies. Another is that sovereignty and the language of rights has proven polyvalent enough to accommodate the claims of movements for self-determination among indigenous and other colonized peoples. (49)

The relation of the arts of governing and sovereignty is not the replacement of one by the other but each acting as a condition of the other. On the one hand, the existence of nominally independent sovereign states is a condition of forcing open those geopolitical spaces on which the arts of government can operate. On the other hand, a set of supernational agreements and regulations of populations is a necessary condition of the world inhabited by these sovereign states. (50)

Liberal government is a particular form of articulation of the shepherd-flock game and the city-citizen game. It assembles a pastoral power that takes the forms of a biopolitics of the administration of life and a form of sovereignty that deploys the law and rights to limit, to offer guarantees, to make safe, and, above all, to justify the operations of biopolitical programs and disciplinary practices. (51)

Mass slaughters may not necessarily or logically follow from the forms of political rationality and types of knowledge we employ, but they do not arise from a sphere that is opposed to that rationality and knowledge. It is crucial to realize, as Peukert argues in his book Inside Nazi Germany, that racism was a social policy, that is, a policy that was concerned with the elimination of all those who deviated from an ever more detailed set of norms and the reshaping of society into a “people of German blood and Nordic race; four-square in body and soul”. (59)

The key point for Foucault is that National Socialism is regarded as a particular articulation of specific elements of biopolitics and its knowledge of populations and individuals and sovereignty. It is not simply the logic of the bureaucratic application of the human sciences that is at issue but the reinscription of racial discourse within a biopolitics of the population and its linkage with themes of sovereign identity, autonomy, and political community. This form of sovereignty has been drained of all its potential to claim and protect rights by the removal, following Bauman (1989: 111), of all counterbalancing resourceful and influential social forces. (59)

The Chinese policy thus inscribes sovereign elements (of decree, interdiction, punishment, and reward) within a detailed biopolitical intervention into the intimate lives of its population. It does this not in the name of the fatherland, blood, and racial purity, but in terms of the targets envisaged by the plan. On one point, it is clear that Chinese policy is nonliberal in that it does not rely on the choices, aspirations, or capacities of the individual subject. (61)

Foucault’s analysis of National Socialism is a striking contribution to this problem for a number of reasons. First , it shows that this case of what might be thought of as, to put it mildly, a nonliberal or authoritarian form of rule is composed , like liberal rule, of biopolitical and sovereign elements. It also places National Socialism, like liberalism, within the development of a government of biopolitical processes. This does not mean that we should efface the differences between liberal and nonliberal rule. (61)

The more general argument advanced here is that modern politics must combine the resources of a biopolitics based on population, life, procreation, and sexuality with the deductive logic of sovereignty based on right, territory, death, and blood. Moreover, this biopolitics captures life stripped naked (or the zoe that was the exception of sovereign power) and makes it a matter of political life (bios). (62)

Austin S. Babrow & Kimberly N. Kline “Frome “reducing” to “coping with” uncertainty”

February 3, 2016 Leave a comment

Babrow, Austin S.; Kline, Kimberly N. 2000. From “reducing” to “coping with” uncertainty: reconceptualizing the central challenge in breast self-exams. Social Science & Medicine 51: 1805-1816.

[…] BSE promotion commonly suggests that women can use the procedure to detect cancer, that such exams can detect cancer in its early stages, and that detecting it in early stages reduces the threat of breast cancer, and hence that BSE reduces uncertainties associated with breast cancer. (1805-1806)

[…] social scientifc researchers have typically overlooked the possibility that both the likelihood and benefits of BSE (both for early detection and for selfawareness) depend upon complex interactions among a number of factors. For example, BSE practices appear to be shaped by embarrassment, which itself is a function of uncertainties related to sexuality (Salazar & Carter, 1994), uncertainty about a health practitioner’s response if it is a false alarm (Salazar & Carter, 1994), more general self-confidence, etc. Self-confidence is likely related to personal experience with women who have/have not detected breast cancer through BSE, training, age or stage-of-life – or embarrassment. And exam proficiency, which may or may not improve breast cancer outcomes, is likely shaped by factors such as embarrassment and/or self-confidence (Champion, 1992). (1808)

But, reliance on the ideology of uncertainty reduction as the principal means of understanding motives for and barriers to BSE inhibits attention to the complexities that are likely to be present, particularly as they may reflect cultural variations, just as this insensitivity reinforces the ideology. For instance, we know of no empirical BSE research that recognizes that the meanings and significance of uncertainty varies across cultures (but see Basso, 1979; Fox, 1980). By contrast, the recent French consensus statement on clinical recommendations for women at increased risk of breast cancer (see Eisinger et al., 1999) underscores the potential significance of such cultural variations. (1808)

[…] it is not surprising to learn in a recent Washington Postarticle that “even Joanne Schellenback, director of public relations at the American Cancer Society (ACS), has trouble bringing herself to do the whole (procedure)” (Kastor, 1997). Even for this representative of the primary BSE advocatory organization, the ACS, there is concern that, “unless you really know what you’re doing, everything feels like cancer” (quoted in Kastor). (1808)

Notably, Kline’s (1999b) analysis of BSE mass media articles revealed that, “according to this discourse, women did not choose against BSE, they `resist[ed]’ doing or `fail[ed]’ at monthly self- examinations and then offered `excuses’ and `ignore[ed]’ symptoms because they were in a state of `denial’ ” (p. 128). (1809)

First, women who expressed positive feelings with regard to BSE had invariably detected cancer during self-examination (though the articles gave no speci®c information about the cancer stage, leaving the open question of whether they had detected cancer in its early stages). These witnesses maintained that all women should practice BSE. On the other hand, women who had not detected any cancer found it to be embarrassing, guilt-laden, and fearful – and then affirrmed that these were barriers that needed to be overcome. For example, one woman lamented that “In my mind, the `routine’ breast exam is not routine at all: It’s a grim, lonely ritual in which we probe our bodies, our womanliness, for death” (Schneider, 1986, p. 90). This same woman went on to say that “we all know what weshoulddo Ð what’s absolutely sensible and necessary for us to do. But sometimes we are too scared to be sensible.” (1809)

[…] the ideology assumes that certainty should increase with knowledge and understanding, but gains in knowledge and understanding are often accompanied by a realization of the complex and dynamic interplay of factors (e.g. those influencing our health). That is, learning often produces greater uncertainty. (1811)

A related limitation of the ideology is that it glosses the important fact that reducing uncertainty on a particular issue, such as getting a de®nitive diagnosis or finding a treatment, gives rise to a cascading sequence of consequent uncertainties. For example, a woman may resolve her uncertainty about whether BSE is in general an e€ective method of early detection only to become concerned about her own ability to perform the exam, how she would react if she found a suspicious lump, and ultimately about the outcome of a cancer diagnosis. The ideology of uncertainty reduction artificially punctuates experience at the point at which a given concern has been resolved. Clearly, this ignores the extended meanings of BSE that thread their way through so many aspects of women’s experience. (1811)

A fourth limitation of the ideology is that people often seek to sustain or create uncertainty (Babrow, 1995; Lazarus, 1983; Ford et al., 1996). Again, it is commonly assumed, particularly in England and the United States, that uncertainty is bad, that it must be reduced (for the sake of mental health, for the sake of rational action). However, a woman who has been diagnosed with breast cancer may want to increase uncertainty about possible outcomes because doing so will presuppose that survival and non-disfiguring surgery are all within the realm of possibility. (1811)

As a fundamental feature of illness experience, uncertainty is not so much a state that is Ð and must necessarily be – reduced. Rather, we mustcope with uncertainty. (1812)

In short, one must necessarily cope with uncertainty, which may or may not mean reducing it, in the process of coping with illness. Appraisal determines whether one will move to reduce, seek, or sustain uncertainty. (1812)

A second signi®cant characteristic of coping with uncertainty is the necessity of understanding clearly and adapting responses to the particular type of uncertainty a person is experiencing. One of the unfortunate inclinations fostered by the uncertainty reduction ideology is to see these experiences as homogenous. (1812)

We believe that the ideology of uncertainty reduction inclines medical experts, social scientists, journalists, and women considering BSE and those with whom they interact to homogenize and thereby erase these significant distinctions. In contrast, the coping framework naturally inclines one toward the idea that there is no single way to live with uncertainty because it can take on so many forms. (1813)

For example, the person who says that she is confused by what she has been told about BSE might be expressing (a) diculty understanding one or more technical aspects of the information, (b) information overload, (c) concern about the inconsistency of available information, (d) doubts about what sources to trust, and/or something else. Hence, a basic practical implication of the current analysis is that the hearer must clearly understand the form of the speaker’s uncertainty. (1813)

Women’s uncertainty should not be denied or discounted as a simple and simply eradicated nuisance. Rather, doctors and others who interact with a woman dealing with BSE (or any other health concern) should first and always be prepared to recognize, understand, and validate her uncertainty. Moreover, pamphlets and other BSE promotional discourse must not ignore or discount uncertainties as “excuses” with simple solutions. Rather, it should encourage women to identify, re¯ect on, and discuss their uncertainties with health care providers and other sources of information and support. These steps are ethically as well as pragmatically important. Only when uncertainties are seen, understood, and appreciated can communication be used to foster (re)appraisal of both the uncertainty and alternative coping strategies. (1814)

Willem De Lint & Sirpa Virta “Security in Ambiguity”

February 3, 2016 Leave a comment

De Lint, Willem; Virta, Sirpa 2004. Security in Ambiguity: Towards a radical security politics. Theoretical Criminology 8(4): 465-489.

As Ole Wæver (1995) has written, the ‘securitization’ of social life is a condition in which issues are depoliticized and alternative ways of framing and responding to the problems of order are lost. (466)

In international relations the framing of security draws on political realism and the view that the state is the principal actor in an international system where the raison d’ˆetre is the preservation or expansion of self-interest. (466)

First, what is the episteme of the dominant realist security narrative? As Walzer (1977) demonstrates, it takes its genealogy from Thucydides, in particular his observations about the Athenian decision to attack Melos. Interpretation of this historical incident has been converted into an ahistorical truism about the mandatory properties of a secure order. In Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, and Machiavelli’s Prince, realist constructions are elaborated as the necessary conditions between authority and security (Walzer, 1977). This realism is succoured by Cartesian doubt and anxiety. It belongs with what Edwards (1997) more recently has described as a ‘closed world’ epistemology in which the quest is the final measurement—and thereby control—of all objective threats. With the presumed necessity of the fixing of interpretation offered by the heurism of the Leviathan, security discourse is oriented towards the closure of the textual and contextual antecedents. This makes the dominant security discourse ahistorical and positivistic. (469)

Accountability, as transparency to the norm, marks the termination or end of leadership. (470)

Leaders, after all, must fix the signifier, must privilege one value over another, and so prevent endless signification and indecision. Politics, in this construction, becomes techne: it is equated with techniques to simplify those significations and decisions. (470)

The dominant realist discourse security, then, is understood as an object stripped of contextuality, frame or observer. Uncertainty is displaced with knowledge, particularly knowledge about security as an object. Security is then something made up with limits and boundaries. This is aided by a political philosophy that champions necessity and exceptionalism, secrecy, public relations and strong leadership. Security must be known through elite command of information. The authorized subject alone can properly know. As a discursive mobilization this involves the discovery and production of substantive dimensions of security knowledge deficits, known as ‘security gaps’. (472)

So with respect to the epistemic position, we know that, unlike natural or first-order phenomena,
security is already a ‘pre-ordered social structure’ that has been informed by the ‘collective agency of human beings [to] produce regularities that are more or less institutionalized over time and space’ (Gill, 2003: 16). (473)

[…] Hänninen argues that politics may be usefully defined with the term ‘living with ambiguity’. This follows the Pocockian idea that politics ‘deals with the contingent event’ (in H¨anninen, 2000: 27). It is also consistent with Theodore Adorno’s definition of the authoritarian personality: intolerance of ambiguity. Authoritarianism is an intolerance of relationships other than dominion or submission and for the ambiguity that equal standing implies. It is identified with a predilection for decisive judgement and premature closure. A radical security politics, then, is both a rejection of authoritarianism and an embracing of ambiguity. (473)

According to Hänninen (2000), in a ‘society of control’ political action becomes an externality. This is to say, politics is continually conceived as separate from power and dangerous to order. The separations are aided by our inability to imagine politics as bounded in definite territorial and public space and by our thinking of ‘pure political events as always something which has just happened or is about to happen’ (H¨anninen, 2000: 30). Seen as a contingent event or a moment of chance, politics is the object of governmentalization (Holquist, 1997). (474)

Security is a process in which the field of risks are cultivated in the service of ongoing and potential operations. Thus, normatively and substantively, security = uncertainty. (476)

To restate: a radical security politics must serve to make the spaces of politics from which security might emerge. It must then celebrate the dynamism of those spaces. Even doing only this still requires offering some minimal defence of such a project. We believe that since this is already implicitly consistent with the objective of harm minimization, particularly the reduction of harm that derives from the defence of ambiguity, the substantive objective and even a kind of normativity may be reconciled with the urgings to de-normalize and de-individualize. It may be possible to argue that both the broadening of the political and the vetting of security policy ought to be undertaken with the aim of harm reduction. (478)

Security in ambiguity, on the contrary, structures the process of security discovery to afford a multiplicity of standpoints and conduits, maximizing the chances of chance. Built on the politics of events rather than organization, it prioritizes the creation of contingent, open spaces and makes institutions continuously accountable for harm reductions, or the harm that may come from or be prevented by the large array of institutions serving or abusing the need for security. Security in ambiguity and for harm reduction means inserting security as a reason for opening up the political in the long-term aim of reducing catastrophic dangers. Practically, this may be accomplished by subjecting institutions to unpredictability and to minor, particular, yet common interests. Ultimately, interdependency dictates not the balkanization or privatization of benefits and risks in the protection of enclaves, but rather security risk and benefit socialization and redistribution in the re-stimulation of the social. (478)

For us, the problem of security, like the problem of order, demands immediate reference to the political as a source of positive power. A politics of marginality depends on ever-changing action against the terror of the unambiguous order. It requires bringing the genuine idea of the political and politics into the discourse at the outset. (480)