Title: Creativity in the Bioglobal Age
Subtitle: Sociological Prospects from Seriality to Contingency
Date: 2006
Notes: Thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, University of New South Wales, 2006.

    [Front Matter]






      0.1 Fin-de-sie`cle sociology: whose crisis?

      0.2 Sociology’s choices: the dialogical turn or the consilience of sociobiology?

      0.3 Supercomplexity: the university in the bioglobal age

      0.4 Creativity in the bioglobal age

      0.5 Why “seriality?”

      0.6 Seriality in the bioglobal age

      0.7 Problems to be identified & how to engage with them

      0.8 Complexity: a universal entry point into social science?


      1.1 Theories of modernity and science and technology studies: mutual neglect?

      1.2 Sociology & the “authenticity” of the everyday

      1.3 Overcoming modernity?

        Table I: Contrasts between Empirical Pragmatics & Critical Theory regarding analysis of presuppositional everydayness

      1.4 Reconciling modernity theory and science and technology studies


      2.1 What is “contingency”?

      2.2 An early history of contingency & violence

      2.3 Towards a theory of creative morphogenesis


      3.1 The aporias of sociology and the double imaginary signification of modernity

      3.2 The Silence of the Lambs: the serialistic speciesist effects of humanism?

      3.3 A ‘modernist’ response to Wolfe & Elmer

      3.4 Are we still creative?

      3.5 Neither individuals nor masses: beyond the discrete qualities of subjects/objects


      4.1 The hidden injuries of sociology

      4.2 A closer look at some key features of object relations theory

      4.3 Keppel’s model of the signature pattern & clinical rage

      4.4 Laing’s dilemma: compliance in the false self

      4.5 Eigen’s Winnicott: omnipotence, the handmaiden of omniscience

      4.6 Scepticism and the limits of knowledge

      4.7 Good Will Hunting

      4.8 Contingent selfhood?


      5.1 An introduction to the critical methods of new historicism

      5.2 New historicism as destroyer

      5.3 New historicism as redeemer?

      5.4 Escaping Seltzer’s Luhmannesque naturalism: the need for triple contingency

      5.5 The institutional destiny of cultural trauma & the formation of avant-garde intellectuals

      5.6 Moving beyond corporate fictions: the cultural materialism of Brook Thomas


      6.1 Universities: embodying the spirit of universitas?

        Table II: Contrasts between modes of inheritance transmission and relation of ends to means as correlated to forms of social life (as developed from Toennies & Fuller 2004: 37).

      6.2 Complexity: closed or open sciences?

      6.3 Networks as the “triple helix” of industry, university & government

      6.4 Knowledge integration: supervenience & biological reduction

      6.5 The relevance of constructivism and realism

        Table III: Contrasts between classical, evolutionary, critical realism and evolutionary constructivism.

      6.6 The product of these clarifications: constrained constructivism

      6.7 Critical or specific intellectuals?


      7.1 The future viability of the political order

      7.2 Cultural materialism: responding to bioglobalism as “Plan X”

      7.3 Post-histoire; the advent of apocalypse

      7.4 Translating the future: structures of feeling and/or catachreses?

      7.5 Futurological politics: between inescapability & attainability

      7.6 [So finally] Isn’t the news terrible?

    Epilogue: A Treatise on Method as Illustrated by the Contrasts between Seriality/Parallelism and the Realist Constructivist Nexus of a Common Culture

      8.1 Society as artefact: normative questions

        Table IV: How liberalism defines itself against metaphysical antinomies by proclaiming the exclusivity of material particulars.

        Table V: The ethical principles crosscutting the problematiques

        Table VI: Psychological principles for the continuity of the acting person & the certainty of knowledge

        Table VII: Epistemology

        Table VIII: The viability of the political order

      8.2 Choosing the correct method

      8.3 Strydom’s three cognitive master frames of modernity


[Front Matter]


Never yet, in the great pattern of inheritance and response, have two wholly identical individuals been formed. This, rather than any particular image of virtue, is our actual human scale. The idea of a common culture brings together, in a particular form of social relationship, at once the idea of natural growth and that of its tending. The former alone is a type of romantic individualism; the latter alone a type of authoritarian training. Yet each, within a whole view, marks a necessary emphasis. The struggle for democracy is a struggle for the recognition of equality of being, or it is nothing. Yet only in the acknowledgement of human individuality and variation can the reality of common government be comprised-

Raymond Williams: Culture and Society 1780-1950 (Edinburgh: Pelican Books, 1958 [1961]: 323).

At the end of modernity, among the twilit ruins of the citadel of Reason, the victor in the great battle for control of the Cartesian fortress sits atop a pile of rubble, crowned with the leaves of the vine, singing the song of primal unity and primal contradiction, looking with steely eyes toward the horizon and dreaming of new conquests. He bears a striking resemblance to the omnipotent God of Christianity, his supposed enemy and opponent. Like that God, he is beyond reason, beyond nature, and beyond good and evil. He calls into question all that is stable and certain. He is a god of terror and of joy. He is everything’s creator, everything’s destroyer, and everything’s redeemer-

Michael Allen Gillespie: Nihilism before Nietzsche (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995: 255).


This thesis is the first dedicated sociological attempt to offer a critical response to cultural studies and allied discourses that concern themselves with the relationship between technology and violence. A critical reconstruction is necessary because these cultural theorists have failed to adequately contextualize their arguments in relation to both the globally ascendant neoliberal policy outlook and its associated social Darwinian technoculture: the combined pernicious effects of which could be described as the logic of “social constructionism as social psychosis”.

The most prominent manifestation of this theoretical psychosis has to do with an interest in biotechnology in particular. The problem I identify in the treatment of this theme, from my sociological point of view, is how easily it can be used to support a technologically determinist position. One undesirable side effect is that these determinists are able to project from present trends a dystopian exhaustion of all critique. In the thesis of “bioglobalism” this state of affairs is characteristically presented as strongly challenging, if not always completely undermining, many of the central presuppositions of social science inquiry. Not the least among these, sociologists are taken to task for insufficient recognition of processual “network” forms of distributed agency in technological processes.

At stake therefore is the recovery of sociological critique. It follows that the core of my thesis is the radical reworking of two related heuristic devices: seriality and contingency. Seriality is taken to refer to social practices as diverse as the possible relationships between the social problem of rationality, case studies of individuals who have run amok, and the functioning of network characteristics. I rework one of Heller’s problematiques in order to evaluate the possible significance of [serial] violence as an indicator of the “going parallel” associated with the growth of bioglobalism.

I use contingency to eschew seriality’s implicitly deterministic accounting of the social. Here I propose a new conceptual relationship between creativity and action. This rethinking is designed as an alternative to the predominance of the Lacanian and new historicist models favoured by cultural studies practitioners. Emphasis is accordingly placed upon how creative action is articulated through communication and cognitive practices.

In later chapters I articulate these innovations with two related normative projects: Raymond Williams’s cultural materialism, and three of the “problematiques” Peter Wagner has identified as inescapable for theorizing modernity: the continuity of the acting person, the certainty of knowledge, and the viability of the political order. I conclude with a renewed conception of the role of normative critique as a form of conceptual therapy for bioglobal projections of seriality.


Table I: Contrasts between empirical pragmatics & critical theory regarding analysis of presuppositional everydayness

Table II: Contrasts between modes of inheritance transmission and relation of ends to means as correlated to forms of social life.

Table III: Contrasts between classical, evolutionary, critical realism and evolutionary constructivism.

Table IV: How liberalism defines itself against metaphysical antinomies by proclaiming the exclusivity of material particulars.

Table V: The ethical principles crosscutting the problematiques

Table VI: Psychological principles for the continuity of the acting person & the certainty of knowledge

Table VII: Epistemology

Table VIII: The viability of the political order

Table IV: How ‘going parallel’ resolves the four antinomies


I would firstly like to thank my supervisor Paul Jones for helping me see this project through to completion. I felt really fortunate to have access to such an authority on the work of Raymond Williams, to the degree that I almost at times unconsciously reshaped my thesis to accommodate even more cultural materialism than I had initially believed could be possible. Hans Joas responded to my queries and kindly sent me his unpublished manuscript, “Violence & Contingency”, which proved to be an invaluable resource. Frederic Vandenberghe gave me access to an important selection of his unpublished work, and also offered supportive comments (along with some constructive criticism). Steve Fuller answered my questions about social epistemology, and sent me a pre-publication copy of his book The New Sociological Imagination. Without Steve’s encouragement I doubt that I could have properly framed many of the “big picture” issues in my thesis. Helen Meekosha was generous in her provision of rare material, and inspiring by her personal example. I am indebted to David Peritz for granting me permission to cite his interesting work on the relationship between complexity and social theory. Jason Davis remains a close friend after more than 20 years, who offered advice on some directions to follow and also helped track down material for me. Many thanks also to Ngairre Ann Pettit –Young for her excellent information retrieval skills (so sorry you had to move on; good luck to you).

If things had worked out differently, this thesis might have focused on the culture of electronic music. I hovered on the fringes of the Sydney scene for a few years, and wish to thank Richard Fielding for providing an original manuscript explaining the origin of the band name Severed Heads. I won’t name drop here any of the other characters I got to “hang out” with, but I am prepared to venture the claim that a certain theoretical reading of this aesthetic might be able to chart its crossover points with the topic and metaphors I did eventually choose to work with. This would entail something more complicated though than tracing the obvious formal textual correspondences (i.e. lyrics, album artwork etc) to, for example, those dusty old Whitehouse cds that are tucked away in the collections of many fans of electronic music. I am thinking instead of debating the merits of the more expansive sociological perspective Peter Bürger deploys in his Theory of the Avant Garde when he describes the characteristic refusal of avant garde formations to “submit to the constraints of the social order”. Without a social position and consequently any possibility of social action, Bürger argues, a void sets the limits of creativity. Perhaps this understanding and experience of the avant garde’s historical function has become widely disseminated and accepted as somewhat conventional? There may be the hint of such a confirmatory authority in Mr Fielding’s identification of a somewhat obsessive examination in his [post Severed Heads] work of the related themes of nostalgia, memory and redundancy. It is the relationship between this ennui, if you will, and the metaphor of the severed head (which has a very long lineage discernible in the work of Bataille, Musil and many others), which particularly interests me. In cybernetic terms, (and one does hear an awful lot about “tape loops” in relation to electronic music), this amounts to a desire to become autopoietic, by defining itself in relation to a “mass”. Whilst the latter is thereby assigned the status of the allopoietic, the flipside, as Hayles has shown in her book, How We Became Posthuman, is that the subject may in turn come to experience itself in terms comparable to Bürger’s description. With reference to the science fiction of Philip K.Dick, Hayles accordingly foregrounds the significance of the “tombworld”. What becomes discernible across the board in these instances is some trace of the serialist dynamic I examine in this thesis, although I would be careful to speak in terms of a continuum irreducible to neoconservative critiques of the culture of modernism. Accordingly I’ve thought about bringing the interesting work done by Collins and de Carvalho together along some of these lines, but this remains a project for another day perhaps…

For general inspiration as I tried to make my way in the world, I wish to thank Estelle & Carol Lazer, Joanne Roddis, Carol Wolfe, Michael Weiss, Thay Soeng, Curtis Jaques, Bill Bowe, Tundi Albrecht, Geoff Speer, Greg Shadbolt, Michael Egan & most especially Susan. Without the generosity of Ron and Peg I could never have reached submission stage. Most of all to my parents, Peter and Shirley, thank you for all of your support. I know you must have wondered whether your at times seemingly wayward son would ever be able to submit a PhD. Maybe this time it really will all be over (?). To my brothers, Mark and Adam, I thank you for your patience and indulgence in helping in so many ways see through an at times rather trying experience [for all of us]. Don’t worry Adam; I openly acknowledge that this extends to your expertise in the historiography of Nazism, which you passed onto me.

Alluding here to difficulty leads me finally to consideration of the folks to whom I wish to dedicate this thesis. Those who, like myself, find themselves in the position of undertaking such a large project without the support of a scholarship will probably have to think particularly long and hard about whether they are both willing and able to proceed. Individual circumstances can differ quite a lot of course, so I hesitate to offer any advice. I can, however, offer a few theoretical pointers that I have found helpful in coping with my own situation, and ultimately leave it to others to decide for themselves whether they are of any assistance in making the required commitment. I recommend those prospective candidates not only (re) read Weber’s “Science As Vocation”, but also Adorno’s Minima Moralia (pp 26-30) and Raymond Williams’s Communications (Revised Edition 1966, Chatto & Windus, London, pp 119-123). You’ll possibly find in these texts some useful means of contextualizing your relationship to the university, and much else besides. I’ll say nothing further about such weighty matters here though, other than register my general agreement with Williams’s related observation that Blake is able to cut through “a world of fashionable cant”. Here then, finally, are Blake’s words:

Some People & not a few Artists have asserted that the Painter of this Picture would not have done so well if he [sic] had been properly Encourag’d. Let those who think so, reflect on the State of Nations under Poverty & their incapability of Art; tho’Art is above either, the Argument is better for Affluence than Poverty; & tho’he would not have been a greater Artist, yet he would have produced Greater works of Art in proportion to his means.


0.1 Fin-de-sie`cle sociology: whose crisis?

Of those working in the social sciences today, few would probably dispute the observation that awareness of the fin-de-sie`cle has renewed the urge to rethink, or even abandon, older modes of thought. A great deal of this activity is taking place around three problematiques in particular: the relation of empirical sociology to social theory, the growing importance of globalization and ultimately, the public role of sociology and social theory in the emergent configuration.

With the qualifier that this need not immediately involve any minimization of the considerable divergence in the approaches and the consequent answers this entails, it becomes legitimate to identify a necessary starting point across this spectrum via the pondering of one key issue: how can the possible novelty or otherwise of these related developments be assessed in any useful way? Any sensible attempt to answer this question would seem to require that the classical heritage of sociology serve as some kind of critical benchmark. Indeed, read in this light it quickly becomes apparent why some qualification is necessary. Afterall, Max Weber is known to have remarked that the social sciences were destined to remain defined by “eternal youth” owing to the non-cumulative nature of its knowledge base (Weber 1949: 104). He believed that the primacy of interpretation (Verstehen) was thus befitting a discipline concerned with uncovering the nature of social transformation. By aligning himself somewhere between the idealist claim that sociology is not a representation of the world, and the opposite view that theories can only be determined by empirical means, Weber allowed for the coexistence of equally plausibly representations. Such are the consequences following on from the assumption that theories are “undetermined” by facts (Manning 1998: 160-161).

One is free of course to accept Weber’s characterization of social knowledge as an interpretive endeavour whilst choosing to reject his value relativism with respect to universal knowledge claims. It may equally be the case that appeals to the patrilineal authority of a supposed “founding father” rests upon erroneous assumptions of a “monogenetic theory of procreation” (Strydom 2000: 32). But if these criticisms go some way towards convincing sociologists that they might be better served by following Strydom’s prescriptions for a more pluralistic discourse theoretical approach, [when accounting for the production and reproduction of sociology and modernity], it still seems prudent not to exaggerate the novelty of the current situation too much. For instance, in general terms the grounding of Hepden’s criticism that any characterization of “a new modernity”, is tautologous, bears comparison with Weber’s earlier characterization of the nature of sociological knowledge. The point she wishes to make is that sociology by definition studies the development of modernity, consequently it has always, most obviously perhaps in its more Marxist incarnations, foregrounded a dynamic potential for, if not always the realization of, change. Although Hepden perhaps somewhat harshly overstates her case, there is still a kernel of truth in its basic premise that any insufficient acknowledgement of this heritage will forever mean that theories of a new modernity are doomed to remain “mutton dressed as lamb,” irrespective of how suggestive they may otherwise be in discerning the “new” factors propelling social change (Hepden 1999).

Other sociologists have sought to dismiss proclamations of the arrival of a “postmodern age” in comparable terms for essentially the same reason. More subtly though, some have argued that there are features of postmodern analysis that can offer indicators of both continuity and the heightening of pre-existing tendencies to the point of rupture in modernity. This is something that Delanty became attentive to in his Modernity and Postmodernity, where he attempts to highlight the sceptical heritage of modernity (Delanty 2000b). He accordingly sets about correcting the exclusive appropriation of this heritage by self-consciously postmodern accounts. In another reconstructive vein, Crook endeavours to mediate between the two extremes of a sociology of postmodernism (cf. Bauman 1992b), where a “business as usual” attitude basically assumes that the sociological tools of analysis will not be affected by the postmodern critiques of representation, and a postmodern sociology (cf. Game1991), that, while attentive to matters of representation, ironically does not escape a creeping nominalism whereby “the body” is substituted for the “foundationalist” epistemological objects of modern sociology (Crook 2001a: 312).

It follows that one possible symptom of a wider recognition of continuity and rupture with the project of modernity is discernible in how postmodernists, along with social theorists who refuse to identify with the postmodern, strive to negotiate the various sciences of complexity (McLennan 2002b; McLennan 2003b). Herein can be found the many paradoxes surrounding characterization of the social as a network (Fuller 2005c). Casting another backwards glance at Weber’s characterization of sociological knowledge, it might be said that he did not appreciate, nor could he have anticipated, the full extent of the dynamics of modernity, given that the contemporary interest in complexity implies that a strong demarcation between the social and natural sciences in the sense he implied is no longer feasible. Perhaps in Hepden’s terms much of this story would not really be all that new, at least in any obviously interesting way. But to assess matters in these terms alone is to immediately strike a chord of pessimism, and it is the associated air of cognitive resignation that may be generalizable across sectarian disputes, the responses to which have taken some clearly identifiable forms. It is not my intention then to offer a comprehensive overview of all of the assorted theories of the social, which have attained prominence at the present time. Rather I am only interested in doing so to the extent that such an undertaking may assist in localizing a related problem of the disciplinary identity, or coherence of the sociological project. The recent appearance of two edited collections are suggestive to the extent that they have attempted to respond through compromise by refusing in any simple or direct way to rely on the authority of “the classics” of sociology’s founding heritage. Both have chosen instead to retrieve and rework the considerable legacy of two more recent figures, namely Alvin Gouldner and Donald N.Levine, as the basis for their reflections (cf respectively Eldridge, MacInnes, Scott, Warhurst, Witz [eds.] 2000; Camic and Joas [eds.] 2004).

I choose to follow Stanley here in avoiding use of the term “meta-reflexivity” because it too easily suggests a hierarchy, with one form of reflexivity exerting epistemological superordinancy over the others (Stanley 2000: 73). For such a possibility is what is in dispute, as the varying degrees of emphasis placed on each of the three problematiques in the essays of the contributors attests. They are generally more inclined to ascribe a communicative, interdependent ordering of relations, to the extent that such a term as “ordering”is still permissible. In this situation, the third of the (above) problematiques, the public role of sociology, is defined by how it interacts with the other two. Sociology, and by extension social theory, are then isomorphic to these problematiques. Throughout the course of this thesis I intend to break down even further these problematiques into the component parts of a theory of modernity, as an interpretive lens for bringing into view some more specific contemporary issues. Before introducing these components, it should be acknowledged that there are many valuable insights in each of these collections, so that my intentions do not boil down to an exegesis of the respective projects of Gouldner and/or Levine per say.

With this qualification, the appropriate entry point is noting how the contributors to For Sociology: Legacies and Prospects attempt to assess the relevance of Gouldner’s elaboration and critique of the crisis of Western sociology in light of present day concerns (Gouldner 1970). In its original formulation, Gouldner entertained the notion that sociology should amount to politics by other means. In terms no doubt influenced by the prominence of Parsonian functionalism, he sought to alert sociologists to the danger of their discipline degenerating into a technocratic science that merely reproduced the status quo, through preoccupation with methodological questions devoid of ethical or political import. His call for reflexivity was intended to circumvent this tendency through the application of sociological methods to the social and institutional conditions of the discipline’s production. The sense of crisis of the discipline engendered by this reflexivity was, for Gouldner, one of perception for those who had previously benefitted from their occupation of the discipline’s centre. For him, true irony consisted in the conflation of a perception of crisis with what was “ordinary change”, bringing to mind the commentaries of Weber and Hepden. It could be said then that the perception of crisis is premised upon an internalist angle of vision. This qualification by reflexivity of claims to hold “objective” or “scientific” knowledge appears to be further magnified by the uncertainty of academic careers because of structural shifts. Stanley is therefore careful to clarify how “normal change” in this situation may have been increasingly recognized as such through “reflexivity”, with the result that there have been subtle adjustments in the way in which it is managed. She accordingly views the politics of organizational life in terms of a process of “cloning” designed to ensure self-reproduction (Stanley 2000: 65).

Stanley does acknowledge however that in the later stages of his career Gouldner laid more emphasis on the responsibility, albeit difficult, of the sociologist to remain “Janusfaced”, by engaging with “the times” by being both critical and evaluative, without involvement becoming partisan (Stanley 2000: 67). It is clear that this dual responsibility and its associated tensions are as pertinent now for the social scientist as they were at the time of their original pronouncement. As shall be discussed, Haraway’s more recent call for “situated knowledges” basically recapitulates the same concerns. Strangely though, in many cases there is such a rush to proclaim the novelty of Haraway’s identification of this dual optic as the product of a more reflexively and politically informed “cultural studies”, that any indebtedness to a long-standing, (and, by implication, irrelevant), sociological legacy simply does not occur at all.[1] Clearly then it remains the case that the dual optic of Gouldner is not always acknowledged, as further attestified by Goldfarb’s contribution to a volume appreciative of the legacy of Levine. According to Goldfarb, his attendance of a seminar conducted by Levine in the sociology department at the University of Chicago followed the publication of Visions of the Sociological Tradition (Levine 1995). His claim is that in this seminar Levine offered a detailed analysis of many canonical texts, works by Smith, Durkheim, Weber, Marx, and Simmel among them. By this means, Levine established his opposition to what he regarded as the implicit political reductionism of Gouldner’s thesis (Goldfarb 2004: 74). Levine’s declared reasons for doing so are less my concern here however, for what is surely more interesting are the lines of convergence in these two edited collections that bedevil any attempt at making categorical distinctions. Crucially, the shared suggestion of Fuller (Fuller 2000; also Fuller 2006) and Tiryakian (Tiryakian 2004) in these respective volumes is that the survival of sociology hinges on its ability to cultivate awareness of other disciplines, and to find productive ways of working both with and against them. In each case, the suggestion is that the present conjunction calls for biology to attract this kind of attention. In broader terms, it is reasonable to assume principled agreement among these two theorists that this is in large part because of the situation of “supercomplexity” that the university currently finds itself in.

In order to elaborate on the nature of this supercomplexity it is worth inquiring into what a call for disciplinary dialogue might entail. Levine is more obviously valuable here than Gouldner, in that his Visions of the Sociological Tradition have helped spur reflection on a “dialogical turn” in a “postdisciplinary age”. In other words, if Gouldner qualifies the sense of crisis attending the proliferation of conceptual approaches within sociology as threatening to its coherency, Levine offers constructive suggestions for how to proceed from this point. He does so, however, in a way suggesting that the internalist perception of a centre holding within the discipline was never the case, (as Goldfarb also hints), but many of the canonical authors he lists were nevertheless still striving toward the imparting of greater unity upon the diversity of approaches. For example, responding to Comte’s edict of the 1830’s for sociology to arraign the anarchy he perceived in Europe’s intellectual system, Herbert Spencer laid the groundwork for conceptualising the differentiation of social systems. By the start of the twentieth century, this was in turn met with “at least sixty other conceptions of the nature and purpose of sociology” from his fellow countrymen alone (Camic and Joas 2004: 1). Nor was this example from England an isolated case from the formative years of sociology, as numerous other cases cited in Camic and Joas’s broad historical overview make abundantly clear.

It might be suggested that responding to this situation by valuing dialogue can find many philosophical antecedents, Buber, Bakhtin, the pragmatists, and Habermas among them. But Camic and Joas are more interested in the way the dialogical turn has surfaced within sociology inter alia only in the course of the last decade, citing, among others, select works by Bauman, Calhoun and Mouzelis as evidence of this (Camic and Joas 2004: 5). Localizing a response in this way is useful for my purpose too, as it can return discussion to a possible comparison or augmentation of Gouldner. So, if Gouldner enjoins sociologists to be both critical and evaluative, Levine implies that this is conditional upon a studied avoidance of the epistemological anarchism or pluralism one might otherwise trace back to the intellectual anomie that originally concerned Comte. Without wishing to minimize the agonistic forms that this has often taken, Levine argues that intellectual progress in sociology has been predicated upon “supradisciplinary and transgenerational conversations” spanning national intellectual traditions. For him, three constructive benefits accrue from any attempt to grasp “truly alternative points of view”:

• “We learn more about the character and value of the positions we ourselves espouse.”

• “We learn to respect the position of the other.”

• “We learn of other resources for our respective projects.” (Camic and Joas 2004: 9)

There is the additional benefit in the final clause that partial syntheses or at least a “reciprocal refinement” of diverse perspectives becomes possible, that may in turn be alternated when a particular phenomena is under consideration. In other words, Levine strives to avoid endorsement of pluralist approaches that are unable to account for productive interplay, as well as programs of grand synthesis seeking to minimize intellectual differences (Camic and Joas 2004: 9). But how might this work? The following case read as a combination of Gouldner’s reflexivity and Levine’s dialogical approach might go some way toward answering this question, as well as foregrounding the object of research in this thesis.

0.2 Sociology’s choices: the dialogical turn or the consilience of sociobiology?

I will demonstrate in the closing section of this Introduction that some observers have viewed the sciences of complexity as marking a universal entry point into social science. In that sense what I have said about the possible wider applicability of Weber’s characterization of social science’s non-cumulative knowledge base seems plausible. But it is also the case that acknowledgement of this vies with one particular strand of science that will attempt to justify its existence in terms of making progress, as having a cumulative knowledge base. It is this conception that evinces the least enthusiasm in sociology, threatening as it does to upstage its explanatory power by forming knowledge coalitions across disciplinary boundaries. In this situation one has a strong example of a “dialogical turn” with enormous implications for the future of the social sciences.

In his contribution to the Levine compendium entitled, “Is There a Future for Sociology in the Bioglobal Age?”, Edward Tiryakian offers compelling evidence of this competing dialogical turn, which the sociobiologist Edward O.Wilson has called “consilience” (Wilson 1998). As a means of explaining why reference to Wilson’s term is important in this context, elements of Tiryakian’s argument can be sketched out that point to the existence of a cumulative knowledge base. In his view, the interdisciplinary progress attained by cognitive neurobiology, cellular and molecular biology is so momentous as to bear comparison with the defining achievements of “the long sixteenth century.” Common to both eras were revolutionary breakthroughs in cartography. In the earlier period this involved the radicalization of external vision, with the discovery and mapping of a “New World”, and eventually a new cosmology of the solar system and beyond. The breakthroughs of the last decade or so have occurred through exploration of the hitherto opaque inner world or basic constituents of life itself, which are now increasingly rendered visible and are starting to be mapped by the scientific gaze: in cognitive neurobiology brain functions are been mapped by powerful imaging technologies, whereas in genomics the race is on to map the sequential arrangement of genes (Tiryakian 2004: 226).

Tiryakian would therefore appear to be in principled agreement with Deleuze, inasfar as the latter made a convincing argument that Foucault’s conclusion of The Order of Things was misplaced. For Deleuze, the figure of Man has not been washed away like a drawing in the sand by a new episteme opened up by the anthropological triad of life, labor and language. Foucault in effect conceded as much by eventually critically qualifying the “relentless theorization of writing” (Foucault 1984b: 127), thereby accommodating Deleuze’s claim that, while language was not irrelevant, more significant developments were taking place in the domains of labor and life. Deleuze’s claim is that the anthropological triad premised upon finitude as empiricity, is giving way to the “unlimitedfinite” (Deleuze 1988); the best example of which, according to Rabinow, are the emerging forms of knowledge/power he calls “biosociality”, whose function it is to capitalize on recombinant DNA (Rabinow 1992: 236). Without wanting to imply that their analysis was insincere or completely misguided, Vandenberghe likewise reads Deleuze and Guattari’s Capitalism and Schizophrenia as ironically prescient of the radical biological mutations contemporary capitalism is undergoing, to such a degree that their model of schizoanalysis almost equates to the disturbing likeness of “Thatcher on LSD” (Vandenberghe 2000).

Seemingly rendered transparent, thus potentially stripped of our metaphysical or socio-cultural layerings by the techniques Tiryakian describes[2], biology now enjoys a greater opportunity to become constitutive of our very selves. In this scenario, it is not only sociology as Tiryakian fears, but also religion, ethics, and philosophy that face a process of colonization whereby they may [metaphorically] become mere host bodies for biological discourses to reproduce themselves. The range of these explanations has seemingly expanded, in spite of a historical legacy that has attracted much criticism for having helped legitimate eugenic programs and various other forms of oppression[3].

While this much may appear self-explanatory, it leaves begging some important questions. Not least among them, how can this success of biology be explained and responded to? If technological determinism is to be avoided, an explanatory account must discern wider contextual factors that are propitious for a bioglobal age. Clearly sociology must follow Gouldner then by aiming to be both a critical and evaluative enterprise if it is to adequately respond to this challenge. As the first tentative steps toward this objective, it might be suggested that the entente cordiale between sociobiology and economics bears the closest critical examination. While few sociologists have welcomed Wilson’s invitation to sociobiology, Tiryakian notes that it is interesting how the rational choice economics of Gary Becker claim that economic models have more explanatory power than genes in explaining the occurrence of altruism toward non-kin. And yet Becker also leaves the door open, arguing that:

Both economics and sociobiology would gain from combining the analytical techniques of economists with the techniques in population genetics, entomology, and other biological foundations of sociobiology. The preferences taken as given by economists and vaguely attributed to ‘human nature’ or something similar…may be largely explained by the selection over time of traits having greater survival value (Becker 1976: 294 cited in Tiryakian 2004: 230).

What Becker seeks here is a prime example of what Wilson calls “consilience”: an interdisciplinary scientific synthesis, involving “separately derived, yet concordant sets of laws” (cf Wilson 1998). The remaining balance of Tiryakian’s piece amounts to a response to the entente cordiale Becker urges into being. Tiryakian therefore offers some practical suggestions for sociologists to practice their own more critical forms of consilience through interdisciplinary dialogue, citing his own formative training experience at Harvard’s Department of Social Relations; a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary structure that eventually disbanded in 1970, but proved most effective in galvanizing a new generation of sociologists who kept in touch with leading-edge developments in science (Parsons, Homans and Merton among them) (Tiryakian 2004: 240).

While there is much validity in what Tiryakian has to say, for all of his reference to the “bioglobal age” he is rather thin on detail with regard to the institutional issues raised by the growing significance of globalization; primarily a vulnerability to widescale changes that are not as amenable to localized forms of planning and control. Therefore I think it incumbent upon development of adequate explanation to situate itself in relation to the status of disciplines and the role of the university. However, any prospects of a “dialogical turn” in sociology have also to be read alongside a wider and more complex rubric of communication that crosscuts the bioglobal age. It is no longer adequate to leave things merely at the level of disciplines talking to and learning from each other. In order to clearly set out this point, the “nature” of the bioglobal age must be determined.

0.3 Supercomplexity: the university in the bioglobal age

The features of the bioglobal age Tiryakian describes are complex because globalization suggests growing interdependence, and yet it is now increasingly recognized by many social theorists that there is no uniformity to this process. Indeed, descriptors such as “the bioglobal age” must be used with caution, lest they become unintentionally supportive of the legitimation of biotechnology in terms of its promised delivery of a limitless frontier for neoliberal forms of globalization. In such a scenario, the logic of commodification presupposed by neoliberalism seeks to move beyond government regulation because its mobility is premised upon individual responsibility.

Certainly there are some activities suggestive of the reality of such logics at work. To begin with, it is the case that 90% of the world’s biodiversity, the raw material needed for genetic engineering, drugs and food crops, is to be found in the developing countries of the South. Somewhat predictably, this has presented an attractive prospect to the more prosperous North, who are comparatively “gene poor” but “gene-technology” rich. In this situation, commentators have been able to discern the occurrence of opportunism or exploitation in the guise of “bio-colonialism,” “bio-prospecting,” or even “bio-piracy,” where a “gene bank” of endangered indigenous peoples can be purchased for usage in therapies and diagnostic tests. To the degree that such gene pools are “pure” in the sense of been isolated, their market value is considered to be high (McNally and Wheale 2000: 172).

There are however also some grounds for cautious optimism. McNally and Wheale for example argue that these trends are ultimately not sustainable because the monopolies established through the purchasing of patents act as a disincentive for new researchers and corporate investors to enter a field, thus stifling innovation (McNally and Wheale 2000: 176). Indeed, this is most obvious in the industry practice known as “evergreening”, where pharmaceutical companies are content to tinker in minor ways with their existing products to maintain their patents, thereby preventing the appearance of newer drugs, particularly in the form of cheaper generic competitors. Just as importantly though, these authors are also able to record some notable successes by assorted groups who have mobilized in opposition to the claiming of intellectual property rights over organisms, species and genes. In particular, they cite the opposition of more than 200 groups who filed at the European Patent Office 17 formal legal oppositions to the patenting of the oncomouse, which was genetically engineered for susceptibility to cancer. Their morality clause was successfully extended to be inclusive for the engineering of any mammal for similar purposes (McNally and Wheale 2000: 182). The actions of these social movements might then be understood as confirmation of what Giddens describes as “life politics,” in that they concern, “disputes and struggles about how (as individuals and as collective humanity) we should live in a world where what used to be fixed either by nature or tradition is now subject to human decisions” (Giddens 1994: 15).

And yet it is equally clear that the effects of the bioglobal revolution are deep and will continue to be felt long into the future. That their power may be qualified in some way though should substantiate the earlier point that there is no clear uniformity between the uptake of a neoliberal form of globalization and its effect on democratization. Therefore it cannot be assumed that globalization is a singular developmental process. Recognition of this complication of matters has sparked greater interest in Eisenstadt’s notion of “multiple modernities” (Eisenstadt 2000: 1-29). The negative overadaptation of sociology to the model of the industrial nation state, diagnosed and responded to by Tiryakian and Eisenstadt, is further evidenced by Habermas’s concession that his theory of communicative action was inherently limited by its focus on such internal developmental processes (Habermas and Arnason 2000: 1-10). I would like to use this example as a lead in to describe in greater detail the situation of supercomplexity that characterizes the bioglobal age, prior to further consideration of the challenges it presents to the social sciences.

In this context, one finds Habermas moving closer to a postmodern theory of discourse, as his conception of the public sphere transmutes into a much wider, “decentred” “network” of public communication. The upshot of all this for Habermas is that it is no longer plausible to regard the public sphere as a category of bourgeois society between state and private domain. As a deterritorialized “space of flows”, the public sphere represents, as he describes it, “a highly complex network that branches out into a multitude of overlapping international, national, regional, local, and subcultural areas” (Habermas 1998: 373). If communication is assuming greater significance in more areas of life, the “dialogical turn” in sociology can be seen as responding to the imperative of a self-critical society to become discursive rather than self-organizing, as befits a situation of supercomplexity (Delanty 2000: 42). Supercomplexity then is the condition in which not merely our theories, institutions, and so forth are contestable, but also our metatheories, or 'large ideas' for understanding the world. “It is a higher order form of complexity” (Barnett 2000: 75).

For Barnett, the university is crucially implicated, since it has a vested interest in subjecting frameworks of understanding to critical scrutiny. Furthermore, and later discussion of “ontological security” and scepticism should be able to ratify this connection, reflexive knowledge practices may play a part in the inculcation of psychological structures enabling their beneficiaries to live at peace with others and themselves amid supercomplexity (Barnett 2000: 76).

In this way, sociology’s dialogical turn recognizes the expansion of the university into new spaces in a global era. The university in a communication society is distributed to the point that it has no centre and no boundaries, but is global, and linked to society (Barnett 2000: 17). Perhaps it is these features that can assist by further situating Tiryakian’s thesis of bioglobality?

0.4 Creativity in the bioglobal age

To allude to the “recognition of criticism” as a component of supercomplexity is to already offer some indicator of the intersubjective modes of perception, which the social sciences have traditionally used to distinguish themselves from the reductionism of the explanations to be found in the natural sciences. The example concentrated on here, the biology/culture discussion, is just one chapter then in a more general debate, begun after World War II, concerning the place of science in society. Throughout the course of this thesis, this important debate will be read through a variant of Gouldner’s dual optic: a conjunction of a constructivist and realist perspective. The reason for this, it will be argued, has to do with how contemporary scientific development problematizes the earlier (social science) models of positivism or post-positivism, with the latter tradition in particular tending to presume the radical separation of the sciences and their subject matter. As Delanty has argued, constructivism can more usefully address the emergence of new “realities” based on knowledge because it does not involve the dualisms of these older models. For example, Habermas’s influential Knowledge and Human Interests (Habermas 1971) could be categorised in these dualistic terms because he retains the myth of positivism, as demonstrated by the separation drawn in the book between the social and natural sciences. In so doing, it would seem that Habermas failed to fully apply a postpositivistic mode to the content of science itself; thereby underplaying agency (Delanty 2002: 281).

The novelty of our current situation might be better understood as involving the freeing of science from its legitimate institutional boundaries. Thus the laboratory no longer contains hypotheses and experiments in the thesis of the “experimenting knowledge society” propounded by writers such as Strydom. It is instead more the case that risks and research penetrate deeply into society itself as science is no longer able to present fully tested and developed knowledge. There are many possible examples of this tendency, as is clear from a consideration of the introduction of medicines or toxic chemicals, the operation of a nuclear power station, or the creation of genetically modified organisms (Strydom 2002: 102).

The kinds of concerns raised by Tiryakian clearly come into play here through consideration of what is commonly referred to as “technoscience”. Indeed, its prominence may be largely owing to its utility as a generator of academic captitalism. Technoscience can be classified as a kind of postindustrial science in which the distinction between knowledge and commodity dissolves, as is particularly the case with biotechnology. Biotechnology emerged in universities, and became a prime candidate for commodification because the divisions between applied/basic and theoretically/commericially driven research were highly malleable. I will go on to argue that there are clear trends supporting this assessment. Most noticeably in the United States, it became the norm for biology departments to have an affiliation with a corporate sponsor by 1980 (Delanty 2001b: 123).

But if complex communication networks increasingly imbricate technoscience and biotechnology in particular, there must be some other significant institutional and economic causal factor instrumental to the transformation. Indeed, a current situation of heightened contingency, complemented with its various [techno] sciences of complexity, can only mean that the earlier stances of select critical theorists against a centrally planned economy with its authoritarian state, industrial discipline and mass media, corresponded to an earlier epoch of an “organized modernity” (Wagner 1994). In such circumstances it made sense that Sartre, for example, had dissected “serialized man” (Sartre 1968), Marcuse “one dimensional man” (Marcuse 1964), whilst Whyte had earlier published his study of “organization man” (Whyte 1956).

So then, what happened? In a way with which I hope to generally familiarize the reader, in their compelling study The New Spirit of Capitalism, Boltanski and Chiapello (Boltanski and Chiapello 2005), present the (anti) systematic features of contemporary capitalism in terms of a regime of flexible accumulation able to absorb critique and hence attain higher degrees of network complexity. According to these authors, this is accomplished by recuperating the critiques of the preceeding era. Whereas the critique of exploitation is traditionally associated with the worker’s movement, a more “artistic critique” came to prominence with the mass cultural education provided by state universities. Concentrating then on the major social groups in France following the turmoil of May 1968, Boltanski and Chiapello demonstrate how the labour force became beneficiaries of hitherto unseen economic gains, while at the same time production was gradually reorganized so that it would take place outside union control and state regulation. Meanwhile, an aspiring managerial class proved receptive to the artistic critique, which had targeted large-scale organized systems for producing alienation (Boltanski and Chiapello 2005: 208-85; Holmes 2001).

Granting full due process to the details of Boltanski and Chiapello’s research is not my intention, however, suffice it to establish here that the influence of the artistic critique on the managerial reorganization of work practices, on this account, have proven insidiously pervasive.[4] Assent can thus be granted to the general details of their proposals as pertains to the fate of creativity within the circuitry of the network. In order to more thoroughly explore this issue, one of my guiding figures will be Raymond Williams, who in some ways anticipated these developments by noting the recuperation of much of the culture of modernism by the advertising industry. He therefore regarded postmodernists as reifying one element of a complex formation through their emphasis on alienation. But it would seem that Boltanski and Chiapello are going much further in this regard than Williams. For their point rather appears to be that alienation, or “fragmentation” in postmodern terms, is no longer reified as a dominant “structure of feeling”, once the new flexible organization of work blurs with the experience of leisure activities. Fluidity, mobility, reflexivity, absence of direct supervision and control: Boltanski and Chiapello suggest that these imperatives are more subtly coercive than their opposite predecessors, because they strive to transform work from a mode of alienation into a creative activity, as the worker learns to self-manage. But rather than proving that Williams somehow completely missed the mark, his concept of a “selective tradition” could be used to demonstrate instead how the recuperation of the aesthetic critique of alienation aided the culture of the networked enterprise, by legitimating exclusion of the workers’ movement and the destruction of many social programs (Williams 1994).

It might still not be going too far out on a limb to suggest that there remains a considerable challenge associated with the reality of these developments for the viability of the social sciences. For what if the clearing away/recuperation of the critical functions of alienation and creativity by the processes Boltanski and Chiapello describe are the sufficient conditions to promote the consilience of the disciplines? Were this proved to be the case, a holistic, organic growth model would seem fitting and perhaps even inevitable in these circumstances. According to Edward O.Wilson, as was shown, the appropriate model for such self-organizing disciplinary complexity would be sociobiology. Further to this, it was demonstrated how sociologists such as Tiryakian and Fuller in effect do not wish to accept Wilson’s invitation to the dance; in their hands it presgages nothing less than a compromise of the normative integrity of the discipline. But if the traditional dialectic of alienation, (and, as shall be demonstrated, its cognates, such as ‘the everyday’), and creativity can perhaps no longer secure the realm of ‘the social’ quite as easily as they once did, then on what ground(s) can sociology identify and promote points of difference, and sometimes even resistance, in a manner that would fulfill the minimal conditions of being both evaluative and critical? Diken and Bagge Lausten almost directly speak to this very concern when they write:

The emerging question is whether and in what ways the critique of capitalism, based on the idea of subversion, nomadism and so on, still can hold in network society. What if micro-fascism itself constitutes a subversive line of flight, a question which preoccupied Bataille and Deleuze? What happens to the idea/project of subversion when power goes nomadic in the network society? And what if the idea of subversion is accommodated by the “new spirit of capitalism” that thrives well in aesthetic forms of justification based on inspiration and creativity (Boltanski & Chiapello 1999)? Is it, still, possible and feasible to say “More perversion!” (Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 321), when perversion has already become a big business? (emphasis mine) (Diken and Bagge Lausten 2001)

But where these authors reference Deleuze and Guattari’s “micro-fascism” as one possible symptom of the network form[5], Fuller has described actor network theory as “flexible fascism”. He traces its emergence, and by extension the very origin of the term “technoscience”, to a socioeconomic context comparable to Boltanski and Chiapello’s analysis of the managerial revolution that took place in France (Fuller 2000: 376). What I am looking for then in this thesis is some kind of object to test these propositions about micro/flexible fascism as a symptom of a networked, bioglobal society. Serving essentially as a heuristic device, such a figure would also have to be taken as read as having fully assented to Deleuze and Guattari’s commandment, “More perversion!” Were such a figure to be associated with violence, this would partly fulfill the latter criteria, as well as providing a befitting characterization of a form of “fascism” in some of the senses suggested by the aforementioned authors. Furthermore, such violence would invite debate about primordialism as an essential feature of a bioglobal age. Although the chosen heuristic device may seem colourful and even excessive in many of these regards, recourse to such a form of inquiry is intended to be nothing more than a way of distinguishing the identity of sociology as not colluding with, or as being reducible to, any form of flexible fascism. My hope is that if this thesis is able to achieve such a critical distance, this will in turn speak to the future survival of sociology as predicated in part upon its ability to take up this activity as a public role.

According to Jenkins then, the deployment of seriality as monstrosity in the form of the serial killer can function strategically by warning us of what we must not become, “[I] f the monster exemplifies seriality, we must exercise choice and control, and respect those forces when they are imposed on us” (Jenkins 2002: 14). From such a more critical attempt at contextualization, and for all of the reasons offered above, an evaluation of the serialist’s existence may become a means of critically interrogating the continuance or otherwise of “alienation” in the bioglobal era, which may have flourished in the wake of Boltanski and Chiapello’s dystopia. To quote Vandenberghe again:

[O]verdramatizing a bit, we could say that the end of alienation coincides asymptotically with the end of Man [sic]. Indeed, when enslavement by the machine is no longer opposed to the machinic, but both tend to coincide with the “becoming-machine” of a man, subjection becomes the mode of alienation (Vandenberghe 2002).

For what is indeed at stake in the present context is precisely the need to settle the degrees of exaggeration, or overdramatization, oftentimes ascribed to such developments. In which case, much remains to be said on either the possible “extinction” or “flourishing” of serialized man in a bioglobal age as a social barometer of the imposition of choice and control. However, when read as a prolegomenon, what still appears to be missing here is the relation of creativity to not only alienation, but also the specifically biotechnological features that are of presumed importance for the overall context of bioglobal sociality. Although there will be varying degrees of explicitness or specificity in the treatment of biotechnology per se in much of what follows, some explanation is warranted in the next section regarding its facilitation of a society of culture, predicated upon social constructionism. It is in relation then to a wider “cultural turn” that these technologies - particularly as described by Tiryakian [above] and cognate work - may be articulated to the dilemmas of the creativity theme.

0.5 Why “seriality?”

As Diken and Bagge Lausten would have it, our current situation places the transgressor in a paradoxical position with respect to the Law. The former somehow has to define their acts as contravening the latter, and yet the latter is now increasingly confirmed by the actions of the former. Their claim is thus that this theme of the line between transgression and the Law becoming more graphically diffuse is finding expression in various forms in the work of many social theorists, inclusive of not only Boltanski and Chiapello, but also the deterritorialized flows of the “network society” (Castells 1996) or the detraditionalized, reflexive “risk society” (Beck 1993). Consequently, their most farreaching argument is that:

We are witnessing the demise of symbolic efficiency, or, the fall of the father (Žižek 1999: 322-334). Socially produced risks are unpredictable, and since there is now no master in charge, which can reduce complexity, social spheres are increasingly colonized by reflexivity. Things are to be decided upon without a symbolic authority, without somebody who really knows and can bear the burden of choosing (Diken and Bagge Lausten 2001).

Given the presumed existence of this logic, it is no small wonder that its social theorists feel emboldened to rapidly change gears, accelerating up and down the theoretical moebius strip. Hyper-aphoristic concentrations accordingly become suggestive of the structure of the arguments mimicking the torsional movement of the objects of analysis. As for many of the bystanders, their heads may be left spinning.

To push these metaphors a little further in the interest of minimizing some of the associated danger of accidents, my intention firstly is to survey some of the territories relevant here, and then provide some billboards or maps in an attempt to clarify which directions this thesis will be developing. Having already spoken of disciplines, there is at least the implicit sense that a greater supercomplexity can direct the flow of traffic to a considerable extent. Afterall, posing questions should presuppose the availability of some means of answering them. Perhaps much of the exhilaration and confusion surrounding this intense intellectual ferment is itself a reflexive byproduct of the characteristic shifting of analysis into a contextualization of the cultural prominence of [as above, with reference to Žižek] post-Oedipal Lacanian psychoanalysis - no more prohibition, only the obligation to “obey” your desires (!). In other words, this could hold as much for the pressuring of sound academic standards of rigor of argument and a great deal else associated with the dual optic which emerged in the [above] discussion of Gouldner and Levine. However, while this articulation is essential, a closer examination of the objects of reflexivity themselves is required.

As a means of getting at this, a series of articles by Knorr Cettina may prove instructive, in as much as she has endeavoured to specify some of the most telling tensions in the present social conjunction on the level of the creativity of social actors (1997, 2000, and 2001). According to her, these tensions are between, in a Meadian idiom, the innercensor model of the self and the by now familiar Lacanian one [courtesy of Diken and Bagge Lausten] oriented by lacks and perpetual wanting. In accordance then with more evanescent social relations assuming their characteristic network forms, her assumption too is that there are no fixed objects of desire; hence the structural affinity with post-oediepal forms of subjectivity coalesces around perpetual lacks and wantings. From this analysis can thus be derived a buttressing of the seriality theme, given that for Knorr Cettina:

[A] subject that develops an intrinsic connection to a consumer object like a car, a computer or a fashionable outfit will be lured into more attractive pursuits by the referential nexus of objects and their continuous transmutation into more attractive successor versions. In that sense objects not only attract a person’s desire, they also allow wanting to continue, given its “serial”, chain-like structure (Knorr Cetina 2001: 530).

Knorr Cetina then argues through reference to Goffman’s work that physical assault marks the “stopping point” for all symbolic exchanges, which could obviously have considerable bearing on the violence associated with seriality as a possible symptom of the network society. As per Diken and Bagge Lausten, she illustrates her arguments through reference to the [film] text Fight Club (1999). The problem though breached by serial iteration is that “the cure” itself in turn can transform into an addictive pattern, a new form of authority. Hence the effort to establish a simple economy of finite need under the control of determinative imperialism gives over to a more radical economy of desire; no longer thematizable as subjective lack, interiority or sameness (Nealon 1995; Derrida 1997). The horrifying suggestion here therefore may be that the ideological function of the serialist as a routinized and alienated “psycho”, unable to revel in the freedom to make choices, is very much disguising the truth of the matter. For seriality may in actuality epitomize the logical paradoxical extreme of increasing individualization as the new form of subjection and identity crisis. This would be commensurate with its chains of desire and identification stretching increasingly further across time and space. The paradox therefore, according to this perspective, is that if these social developments facilitate the identification of everything as an object of one’s desire, there cannot be any stabilization and hence no real sense of personal identity is possible. It follows that one of the most disturbing things about serial violence is the absence of a clear motive, especially in light of how the “monster” is otherwise for the most part indistinguishable from any other “average” person.

Unlike Diken and Bagge Lausten though, Knorr Cetina is also attentive to the related issue of how these objects should be accounted for by the theorist. She is not content to merely substitute quotations from Lacan and Deleuze and Guattari for arguments. Thus she also acknowledges how the growing imbrication of individuals in dense technological networks of post-social relationships cannot speak only to the intensification of individual experience, especially once it is shown that solidarity with objects can also take place. In such instances she refers to experiences of solidarity with nature, and studies of how experts figure out their objects of knowledge in terms of needs or dispositions, by attempting to put themselves in the place of the object. In other words, she implies that lacking will oftentimes evoke role-taking in order for such relationships to continue (Knorr Cetina 2001: 531). What is fascinating to consider here is the possibility of thinking through the study of seriality in such conjoined terms in an appropriate manner for a sociology of knowledge. Which is to say, what is the relationship of the knowledge user to the object of knowledge - in this case, seriality? (Knorr Cetina 2001: 533).

In light of Knorr Cetina’s awareness of these related problems I will attempt to salvage some material to build a bridge between the two most important aspects of concern to this thesis. Very simply stated then, this thesis necessarily enquires as to whether "everything is becoming integrated into one code?” - a code which I will be referring to as “seriality”. This, or so I shall attempt to argue, is the threat of biological consilience, network theory, and the sciences of complexity, for the social sciences. Moreover this may particularly prove to be the case to the extent that socio-epistemic change is propelled by the [capitalist] logic of bioglobality, many of the related problems of which were famously identified by Donna Haraway in her essay, A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s:

Communications technologies and biotechnologies are the crucial tools recrafting our bodies…Furthermore, communications sciences and modern biologies are constructed by a common move - the translation of the world into a problem of coding, a search for a common language in which all resistance to instrumental control disappears and all heterogeneity can be submitted to dissassembly, reassembly, investment and exchange (Haraway 1985 [1991]: 164).

Where some of Knorr Cetina’s concerns come into this picture has to do with how these problems about knowledge users become mirror images of the classic sociological debates about agency/structure, subject/object: is it one/many or part/whole? (cf Fuller 2001) How do/should we, as social scientists, continue to draw these kinds of distinctions? As far as the serial killer is concerned, my questions revolve around whether such violence parallels some of these aforementioned dualistic tensions, inasmuch as it too may be symptomatic of an attempt to make a mark of difference, to draw or transgress some kind of limit. Indeed, for what limits can there be when the creativity of social actors is radicalized by the self-making ethos of a biotechnological culture? As I imply in the Conclusion, there would be some grounds here for wondering, to borrow from Fukuyama's fears about the consequences of biotechnology, whether the serial killer is a disatisfied variant of Nietzsche's "last men". Once "perfection" becomes programmable, violence may become indicative of an attempt to recover a primordial and transgressive frontier mentality (Fukuyama 2001: 300-312). Of particular interest in this context is the relationship of this form of resistance to nostalgia as a characteristically modern, and yet residual, structure of feeling (cf Wagner 2001a: 81-93; Iwabuchi 2003). For in each case, encompassing both individual and collective levels, what is really at stake is the credibility of the ideal of an autonomous identity. In other words, the intra and interpersonal anxieties surrounding the so-called posthumanist turn which Fukuyama describes ultimately stem from a melancholic recognition of two “competing”, but simultaneously “present”, desires: the human race is dethroned as the sovereign of a natural order by its own enhanced power to reinterpret and reshape the world (cf Halliwell and Mousley 2003).

It can be seen from this discussion how modernity provokes its own resistance. Violence is therefore, almost in spite of itself at times it would seem, a symptom of a widespread capacity for reinvention. Logically this also entails that “tradition” cannot claim exemption from the more self-consciously critical, (read “reflexive”), modern attitude (Giddens 1985, 1991, 1992). If violence registers by definition in a modern idiom as a transformative capacity, a potential disturbance of an extant equilibrium, then its presence cannot always be anticipated. Therefore it must also have an irreducibly denotative character unable to be conflated with a more connotative one. In this thesis, the former will be indicated through reference to contingency.[6] As such, it is intended merely to be suggestive of the required structural condition for the emergence of supercomplexity - or higher order complexity - because it can help problematize and remake the limits or frames of an existing system. This is the source of the creativity of contingency. Any attempt to come to terms with it as such would seem to require the development of an action theory. At the level of the creativity of social actors, Mead developed something like this complementarity principle with his pragmatist perspective on the relation between the context of discovery and the context of justification. Neither pole is separable from or reducible to the other. Contingency is therefore something of an empty, potential mediatory space in so far as it can never be fully occupied. Thus there is always a remainder that facilitates the further creative evolution of complexity.

However, when the context of discovery is hived off from the context of justification, the individualist perspective on the creativity of actors paradoxically ends up becoming oversocialized or normotic, in accordance with its remaining dependence upon others for the confirmation of its identity. As Mead sought to demonstrate, the Gordian knot of the I and the me cannot be neatly severed in one fell swoop, in the manner attempted by romantic individualism. In such instances, the missing other is more compulsive than articulate in form, as its presence becomes known only as a disturbance, a kind of return of the repressed. In this sense, as shall be argued, Winnicott’s writings, based on his clinical work, are also helpful in demonstrating the importance of the mediatory “third area” as the vital component of a theory of creativity (in keeping with Meadian insights). But when this Meadian/Winnicottian baby is thrown out with the bathwater, all that remains are variants of Knorr-Cetina’s Lacanian conception, where violence, understood as the non-symbolic, by default becomes the measure for the transcendence, as opposed to the [creative] transformation, of the social.

Generalizing some of these insights, membership of a scholarly community amounts to something approximating a Meadian collective mind, given the interaction of the contexts of discovery and justification (Fuller 2001a). The thesis will argue that Raymond Williams reworked this creativity theme to the extent that the cultural itself could be thought in comparable terms to a collective mind, in that it was not the exclusive property of self-conscious elites. His considerable achievement was the development of a cultural materialist approach presupposing an integrated form of creativity penultimately articulated to the conception of democracy as a common culture. Thus in his many writings Williams consistently held that culture, properly understood, was irreducible to either structure or agency. Culture was instead based upon the communication between discovery and justification, a space that can never be simply closed, but rather continually rewoven in a process of social learning he referred to as ‘the long revolution’ (Williams 1975).

My own argument is that in the promotion of a comparable integrated creativity, the social sciences can play an important public role in their reshaping, through a synthesis of realism/constructivism, of biotechnological and criminological discourses. This is nothing less than the cognitive function of the social sciences: raising questions of consistency and impact from a dialogical standpoint.

What is starting to become clear then in this brief presentation is some sense that “boundaries” are not the exclusive preserve of any new fangled complexity science or provocative deconstructive manoeuvring, but are also, to quote Alan Wolfe, “the stuff of sociology” (Wolfe 1997: 187; cf Zerubavel 1991 and Lamont and Fournier [eds.] 1992).[7] Perhaps a more telling difference though has to do with Habermas’s clarification, regarding how ideally the ethical role of the social sciences is indissociable from the public sphere (Habermas 1989). In this context, the contestation of discursive boundaries implies acting as an alternative to connotative violence. It is through these means that sociology performs the dual optic of being critical and evaluative. As a consequence though, when reference is made in this thesis to the development of an integrated model of creativity, this should not necessarily be read as a promise to deliver a theory of the scope and scale associated with Habermas, or Giddens, for that matter. Indeed, a structuring principle of contingency is suggestive that something as grand as all that is perhaps not only unnecessary, but also undesirable and perhaps even potentially damaging to the disciplinary identity of sociology. Thus although I attempt to follow many of the paths laid down by the cultural materialism of Raymond Williams, this is done less in the interest of lionizing a “golden boy” who could “do no wrong” through a sytematization of the sociological tradition. I prefer instead to praise the consistency in which a creativity theme was integrated into his work in various ways that can assist in formulating some ethical alternatives to both violence and sociobiology; the articulation of which, by way of contrast, can take form as something I have labelled “seriality”.

So, if cultural materialism, object relations theory, and pragmatism are read to some extent through a deconstructive lens, (although the ramifications of the latter kind of “boundary stuff” of course can, and will be, qualified), the level of integration across divergent traditions is portrayed as legitimate only to the extent that the possibility of divergence/integration on a theoretical level - and living with the tensions inbetween - is itself reflective of the violence associated with the objects of analysis, and the need in turn to constructively respond to them as such. Of all these couplings and tensions between divergence/integration, the Conclusion will most forcefully suggest how the one between democracy/socialism is the most significant, in accordance with its overdetermination of the other oppositions which will be presented. In this context, a more telling comparison and contrast between cultural materialism and deconstruction can finally take place. It is then the potential for sociology to critically prioritize, draw and redraw distinctions that secures its critical role as the alternative to violence and perhaps also its ultimate survival in something other than a bioglobal age - an age of contingency articulated to a common culture.

0.6 Seriality in the bioglobal age

Perhaps why this role is particularly important becomes even clearer when seriality as I have defined it becomes more clearly articulated to the conception of bioglobality. In the context of an historical sociology, seriality reads as an especially evocative term because it almost immediately connotes a linear temporal sequencing that could be articulated to the increasing rationalization of a developmental process such as globalization: one action is done after another, which brings to mind performative modes such as routines, narratives, rituals and timelines (Rotman 2000: 57).

What space then can contingency claim to differentiate itself from seriality? One possible component might be referred to as parallelism. The emphasis here would be on a constrast drawn in terms of simultaneity or co-presence. However, when phrased this way, what is immediately obfuscated is the structural complementarity of these terms, as Rotman is able to suggest, when thinking through the dimensions of action:

In natural language, the opposition of serial/parallel is basic; an intrinsic and constitutive binary. It appears, according to the Glossary of Semiotics, as a very general linguistic distinction--as the opposition of syntagmatic ("relationships ... of linear, temporal sequence") and associative or paradigmatic ("relationships [that] do not as such occur in time [but] make up an array of possibilities"). Or again, according to Roman Jakobson, in Fundamentals of Language, it appears as a completely abstract and general feature operative at all levels of speech: "The concurrence of simultaneous entities and the concatenation of successive entities are the two ways speakers combine linguistic constituents" (Jakobson and Halle 1973: 73)... Evidently, the serial/parallel duo functions at all levels of speech: phoneme as simultaneous bundle of distinctive features, syllable as succession of phonemes, the inherent parallelism of intonation/gesture, the combined linearity and simultaneous unity of utterances, and so on (emphasis mine) (Rotman 2000: 68).

With all of this evident harmony, why worry then about seriality as some kind of overarching code, threatening to not only the disciplinary identity of sociology, but the very future of “the social” as well? Examining some of the literature on the technosciences and the associated possibilities of violence, where the difficulties start to accrue has to do with the very first distinction Rotman attempts to make in the above passage; “natural language” with its “intrinsic and constitutive binary”. He seemingly proceeds cautiously as he is concerned to point out that, ‘[T]hese binary divisions, however fundamental and selfcontained they appear within their particular domains, are not absolute; each is relative to a given level or practice or context or medium’ (emphasis mine). Once the references to “natural language” is read alongside the importance Rotman attributes to the “medium” as determining the degree of the “constitutive binary”, it very quickly becomes apparent how the cultural significance of technoscience will be read in terms of seriality (Rotman 2000: 57). Afterall, in the exposition of his piece, he has discussed how Langer’s:

discursive/presentational opposition embeds that opposition between words and pictures within a general theory of symbolic forms that explicitly foregrounds the duo of serialism and parallelism considered here. Thus the discursive form of communication, typified by language and the use of numbers, shares the character of words in having "a linear, discrete, successive order, ... strung together like beads in a rosary; beyond the very limited meanings of inflections, which can indeed be incorporated in the words themselves, we cannot talk in simultaneous bunches of names" (Langer 1951: 76). Counterposed to this is the presentational mode, typified by pictures, which are precisely not discursive: "They do not present their constituents successively, but simultaneously, so the relations determining a visual structure are grasped in one act of vision" (Langer 1951: 86). It is this capacity to handle more than one item at once, to be able to cognize an idea, say, with internal parts, one which has relations inside relations, which "cannot be 'projected' into discursive form," that constitutes what is peculiar to presentational communication (emphasis mine) (Rotman 2000: 58).

Consistent with this view, Rotman then attempts to present a cultural shift attributable to the research methodology of the technosciences - from cognitive models of problem solving based on individuals, to parallel computing as an ethnographic model of problem solving - as a gain, because it has to take into account all of the socio-cultural factors that influence the decision-making process. Given this complexity, the rise of parallel computing in tandem with a more visual paradigm on a general cultural level, is associated by Rotman, and like minded thinkers such as Negroponte, with the educational shift away from, “compulsive serialist children…our future adult population will be simultaneously more mathematically able and more visually literate” (Negroponte 1995: 220). Lest there be any misundertanding though, Rotman et al are not implying that this socio-cultural shift toward parallelism is somehow doing away with seriality. On the contrary, while they are claiming that the protocols of a print culture are being heavily pressured by parallelist developments, seriality has not so much disappeared as it has transmuted into the underwriting of parallelism, given that the digitization of culture must imply the transformation of visuality at base into sequences of numbered code. The process is therefore a recursive one. Hence one also finds Levy equating the emergence of a collective subject with an eco-technological model of autopoiesis, whereby the Net is a metaphor of humans as neurons forming a hypercortex (Levy 2005). Rotman attempts to leave little room for entertaining doubts regarding the future implications of Levy’s illustration of this “paradigm shift”, concluding:

At the same time as this parallel subject replaces the old individual, a new collective seriality, a new unitary construct, vast and as yet unnamed and unseen is being created--is

emerging, as the current vocabulary has it --at the level of the planet (Rotman 2000: 78).

The difficulty presented here for the sociologist wishing to maintain some semblance of their evaluative and critical impulses, is in sorting out the layers of hyperbole from that which may actually be speaking to any actual tensions within the culture they are studying. To avoid merely paying lip service though to the significance that is being claimed for these developments, my discussion of Rotman will benefit from some further unpacking of the implications of his arguments. This need not be too daunting a task, for despite some fancy window dressing, things are not as complicated in Rotman’s world as his strange vocabulary would perhaps otherwise lead one to believe. For if I understand his argument correctly, Rotman is anticipating the next evolutionary stage of the reflexive capacity of human beings. It follows for him therefore that “going parallel” amounts to an augmented processing power that subjects will realize by acting in concert at greater speeds and thereby solving problems through the incorporation of information from their environments back into their activities. Such feedback mechanisms and their associated adaptive behaviours are probably familiar enough to anyone already versed in the basics of the various complexity sciences. Where Rotman attempts to distinguish himself though has to do with his identification of a new visual culture as facilitating this greater reflexivity: hence his insistence that visuality is a parallel process because in contrast to an ordered linear sequence, it facilitates the simultaneous occurrence of many activities, independent but connected.

If there remains a lack of clarity in this description of Rotman’s position this can itself be partly attributed to a concession he is willing to make, and it is here that a more critical sociological perspective may be brought to bear. On the one hand he is reticent to attribute self-consciousness to this new unitary construct as would befit the emergence of an acting macro subject. However he almost immediately concedes on the other hand that such caution is itself incoherent, but this may be necessarily the case, “particularly so, if such an It/They is seen from some transcendental point outside the human object--the you/me/us subjectivity--bearing witness and giving birth to it” (Rotman 2000: 78). The danger then from a more sociological perspective is that Rotman’s emergent unitary construct [springing from serialist/parallelist developments], does not appear compatible with the sense of a Meadian collective mind which I have already introduced. What by definition remains radically underspecified therefore in Rotman’s formulation are the realist/constructivist elements of a cognitive approach. Were it to be broadly construed in the terms of a sociology of representation, a Meadian collective mind would remain conscious of not moving too carelessly between the political and semiotic (linguistic/pictorial) aspects of representation. Although its constructivism would acknowledge how reality is apprehended by our cognitive structures, this more Meadian model would also wish to draw a distinction between the sense of another’s interests being represented and, ‘the interpretive conventions that enable scientists to find certain models and visual displays so “realistic” that they no longer feel the need to deal with the realities that such pictures, graphs and simulations represent’ (Fuller 1989b: 11).

Building on Fuller’s important distinction, I wish in turn to contextualize Rotman and comparable work in terms of a more expansive sense of “going parallel”. I will argue that a certain parallelist/serialist strategy is underwriting the present convergence between neoliberalism and autopoietic constructivism; consistent with a shared assumption that all differentiated systems reproduce themselves independently of social agency. The aforementioned “entente cordiale” between Wilson’s sociobiology and Becker’s radical free market economics is one of the clearest indicators of this. Delanty is approximating both this characterization and Fuller’s remarks regarding “interpretive conventions” when he notes the absence of a hermeneutic relationship to reality, understood as something outside science, in autopoietic constructivism. In this case, as Delanty points out, reflexivity remains conventional in accordance with its self-referential function (Delanty 1997: 112). Although I shall have more to say about this necessary “hermeneutic” movement when I discuss Feenberg’s instrumentalization theory in relation to Raymond Williams in Chapter One, my wider reasons for doing so with respect to the parallelism between autopoeisis and neoliberalism have being set out in the Epilogue. The rationale behind my resorting to this form of presentation is also clarified somewhat in 0.7 [below].

There should be enough criteria already available here to competently speak directly to Haraway’s aforementioned fears regarding codification. Evidently they are of less concern for Rotman, who is content to move effortlessly between assertions of “parallel computing as the machinic idealization of collaborative rather than individual intelligence” and a welcoming of conceptual incoherence as an indicator of latent possibilities (Rotman 2000: 62). If one chooses to break with Rotman’s optimism too forcefully though, the simultaneity of parallelism can end up replicating the paranoia of other theorists, such as Virilio, regarding the potential for technology’s logistics of speed to evacuate the contemplative moments required to sustain ethical reflection and conduct (cf Virilio 2000). Given over to infinite dispersal, “going parallel” thereby can do little other than act as ballast for dystopian characterizations of bioglobality as an uncontrollable juggernaut. I shall take up some of the implications of Virilio’s style of reasoning in the final part of this section. Finally, and not the least of such concerns, Mark Seltzer has attributed the occurrence of serial murder to the emergence of a techno-visual culture in a manner that interestingly runs “parallel” to Rotman’s more sunny outlook. Indeed, that the new cartographies of “inner-space” have helped facilitate a bioglobal culture, is an argument treated with varying degrees of explicitness in many current critiques of representation, ranging for example from the aforementioned Tiryakian (2004) to Waldby’s (2000) analysis of the so-called “visible human project” (cf. Van Dijck 2000; Diprose and Ferrell [eds.] 1991; Whitehead 1993). However, it is in Seltzer’s case particularly, and as I shall demonstrate in Chapter Five, that there are technophobic points of comparison and contrast with regard to aspects of the emergent technological “superbrain” or “hypercortex” evoked by the technophile Rotman.

As Seltzer is the only writer to be considered for linking the growth of a bio-technovisual culture to serial violence per se, consider in advance one possible mode of interpretation and objection to my attempt to articulate his concerns to the discourse of globalization: on the sole basis of the available statistical evidence, serial murder is a comparatively trivial crime.[8] In the United States, for example, an independent investigation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s official figures found that after missing cases were factored into the missing data and duplicated ones were removed, the total number of serialists was 191 with a confirmed 1,007 victims. However, it had been the prior citation of the erroneous figures which had done most to secure their level of funding and foster in the media the serialist as folkdevil: i.e. from 1977-1993, 331 serial murderers and 2,000 confirmed victims (CNN 1993). It might be suggested thus that the hegemonic influence of American media culture had a large part to play in public fascination with seriality as a global cultural phenomenon, and that this fascination was based upon fraudulent premises. It is therefore grandiose to tie its scale and rate of dissemination to the more profound transformations associated with the seriality/simultaneity nexus, which are sweeping across the globe.

While there may be several possible lines of objection to this style of critique, for the sake of manageability I shall highlight only two of them here. Firstly, it would make no more sense to restrict criminological discourse to quantitative analysis then it would for mass communication studies to likewise be restricted to a narrow definition of content analysis, as if each could function without the benefit of a qualitative approach. Simply counting the frequency of occurrences/representations of serial murder in each case would push the analysis towards a positivist notion of objectivity, with all of its lack of a theory of meaning arising from the fragmentation of textual wholes. But left to their own devices, the qualitative approaches (discourse analysis, semiotics etc) can struggle with important issues of systematicity, not the least of these being methodological rigour and prescriptions for use (Hansen, Cottle, Negrine and Newbold 1998: 91). This potential weakness can be demonstrated in Chapter One with reference to cultural studies analysis of the significance of technology, in an argument that will then be further developed in Chapter Five. As already hinted at, the alternative to be presented here is a synthesis of realist and constructivist modes of analysis.

With the benefit of this [hopefully] more sophisticated mode of analysis, and here are the grounds for the second objection to the [above] critique, a means becomes available for pinpointing the logics by which serial violence could be articulated to a conception of bioglobalism. Afterall, a somewhat dated “paradigm” remains within mass communications research whereby the social psychology of media influence is tied to concerns about the imitation of representations of violence. Halloran for example attempts to adduce some sound reasons for limiting the scope of this model in his treatise entitled ‘Mass Communications Research: Asking the Right Questions’. Such approaches, he suggests, have:

…tended to confine the notion of influence (not consistently defined) to something that could be measured at the individual level in terms of imitation or changes in values…This approach is not only inadequate - it is misleading…Imitation, modelling and attitude change need not be discarded, but there is much more to influence than such concepts and processes can possibly cover. We need to recognise that the media operate at several levels, although influence at these levels is not as susceptible to measurement as with attitudes and opinions- and this matters…Of course, people select from what is provided, and these selections reflect, among other things, non-media experiences as well as the deep social divisions with regard to experience...The questions we ask in research should reflect this complexity (Halloran 1998: 17-18).

Although the intellectual respectability of the influencing model may have waned somewhat for many researchers for the reasons Halloran specifies, this is less the case for those who study serial murder, at least to the degree that such violence is still regarded as the “copycat” crime par excellence. The problems therefore which such researchers would have with Halloran’s principles is that they simply evade too many of the questions they wish to ask. Their view might accordingly be that Halloran’s model works by reducing rather than reflecting the complexity of how media influence can be theorized and researched: hence one might find them replying, ‘isn’t it rather silly to attempt to denote any experiences as “not” mediated, for is not the operation of media at “several levels” reflective precisely of the expansiveness in the forms of media, and perhaps more generally of a “society of culture”? And what of the claim that the influencing model is necessarily restricted to an individual level? What instead if of greater relevance was how the lack of susceptibility to measurement was itself somehow reflective of the difficulty of isolating, in any last determinate instance, a level of influence or identification between the individual and “the mass?” In other words, what of “the mass in person”, as Seltzer reminds us?’ (cf Seltzer 1998) Although this trope of the masses will be shown to be resilient in the “influence” model of analysis, a more general question is extractable in light of Rotman’s global projections: what of the seriality in simultaneity?

Such a caricature of Halloran’s carefully reasoned approach is, of course, manifestly unfair. If anything, the conflation of a mass audience with the technologies of mass communication presumes to argue at crosspurposes with his more refined sociological methodology. But the point of painting Halloran in such broad brushstrokes was precisely to demonstrate how, once the potential mimetic disorders of identification are factored into account by these more programmatic proponents of the influencing model, seriality can be conceptually unfettered; thereby becoming the synecdoche for violence. More sceptical observers such as Halloran, or the Birmingham media studies group for example, may be inclined to read such effects as a bad case of deviance amplification through a process of convergence. From these perspectives one would highlight the process by which the “signification spiral” of serial violence conceptually interlocks with other forms of violence. Hence the consequent creation of criminal folkdevils is exploited to further the conservative agendas of opportunistic social elites (cf Hall, Crichter, Jefferson, Clarke and Roberts 1978). Reasonable as this critical approach sounds, their opponents can only regard the convergence thesis as further evidence of a more promiscuous logic of substitution at work. This is where the critically important issue of adequate prescriptions of conceptual use can be fissured thanks to a one-sided reliance on qualitative methods. In the absence then of such a precautionary principle, the argument follows that once the globalization of media and technocultures is theoretically reduced to [or radicalized by] the perceived difficulty of how to maintain the correct distance with respect to representation, seriality is diffused commensurate with an expected increase in mimetic disorders.

What would the serialistic model of bioglobalism look like then in light of the influencing model of a general media operating at every level? It is clear why for sociologists, concerned as they are with boundary issues, its inevitability or accommodation through theoretical resignation should be challenged. As the development of an historical sociology able to challenge dystopian future forecasting is a major subtheme of this thesis, one can perhaps imagine the dystopian alternative of bioglobalism as a more extreme version of Rene Girard’s anthropological theory of mimetic triangulation (Girard 1986). What Girard attempted to develop was a universal theory of appropriative violence, the sufficient conditions of which for him were that mimesis is a universal characteristic of the human mind. Tirelessly demonstrated in his texts thus was the idea that we imitate each other’s actions in being drawn toward the same objects, and that because of this we eventually come into conflict. At this point, the common object allegedly fades from view, and reciprocal imitation takes place at the level of the hostility and inevitable violence we project onto each other. According to Girard then, violence is contagious, it is centripetal, rather than centrifugal, because it is essentially based on the double bind stemming from the symmetry of desires. Matters are complicated further though because Girard also assumes mimesis emerged at some point in humanity’s evolution from animalhood to humanity, so the patterns of instinctual dominance associated with the animal kingdom cannot act to curb the inherent excesses of mimesis. He suggests in addition that the continual existence of mimesis should be ultimately explained by its emergence before the existence of cultural institutions. So, while he recognizes that the spread of this violence is potentially threatening to the survival of any social order, he proposes that the only means to avoid an apocalypse is to ensure the, “expansion and evolution of the very process of mimetic violence that creates the problem” (Dumouchel 1961: 13). Thus the role of the “scapegoat” is to serve as a projection screen to symbolically reunite rivalrous identifications in their hatred for a common enemy. This is the primary role Girard is able to envisage for cultural institutions (Girard 1986; Whitmer 1997: 129).

As is generally well known, many anthropologists now regard Girard’s theory as impossible, “on grounds of the non-substitutability of categories for cross-cultural comparative studies” (Whitmer 1997: 126). But the point of this exercise was not an exegesis of the corpus of his work for its own sake, for what is of more importance is how much his style of reasoning is coming back into vogue in light of the kinds of transformations which could be associated with bioglobalism. Demonstrating this would involve taking further the kind of research agenda that Blok outlines, for example, in what amounts to an acknowledgement of the significance of centripetal violence:

This essay explores the theoretical implications of Freud’s notion of ‘the narcissism of minor differences’- the idea that it is precisely the minor differences between people who are otherwise alike that form the basis of feelings of strangeness and hostility between them. A comparative survey shows that minor differences underline a wide range of conflicts: from relatively benign forms of campanilismo to bloody civil wars. Freud’s tentative statements link up with the insights of Simmel, Durkheim, Levi-Strauss, Dumont, Elias, and Girard. Especially helpful is what Bourdieu writes in Distinction: social identity lies in difference, and difference is asserted against what is closest, which represents the greatest threat. An outline of a general theory of power and violence should include consideration of the narcissism of minor differences, also because its counterpart - hierarchy and great differences - makes for relative stability and peace (Blok 1998: 33).

These are quite ambitious claims, and it shall become clearer how there would be scope for inclusion here as well for how Left Realist criminologists have theorized “relative deprivation” in a comparable sense (cf Young 1999). As for myself, I am less sure than Blok that the intransigence of social hierarchies is any kind of a panacea for mimetic violence. One of the major reasons for my scepticism is Blok’s omission of what is otherwise most distinctive about the more recent Girardian spirits that have infiltrated the bioglobalist debate: the distinctiveness of the human as premised upon their dependence upon technology. Girard himself claims that animals can engage in rival combat which is moderated by instincts, hence their use of natural weapons such as teeth and claws need not result in a fight to the death. The use of tools as weapons only became problematical when hominids started to use them:

[T] he violence that goes unchecked by instinctual inhibitions because it represents no threat to disarmed adversaries will become fatal the moment these same adversaries become armed with rocks (Girard 1987: 27 cited in Whitmer 1997: 129).

A convenient touchstone here is of course the famous opening sequence of Clarke and Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Once the chimpanzee Moonwatcher has learned to master the thighbone as a weapon thanks to the celestial presence of the monolith, a hierarchical pattern of domination could be put into place. However, in accordance with the [above] excerpt from Girard’s writings, the effects upon the chimpanzee society are most profound if Moonwatcher’s rivals learn to respond in kind.

Either the group would wipe itself out, or it would have to establish some form of prohibition in order to survive and develop further[9] (Whitmer 1997: 129).

But in the specific context of bioglobality, the suggestion would be that the mass media, in combination with biotechnologies such as cloning, deepen the propensities for imitative violence and consequently hasten the need in such a culture to always be uncovering a substitute. In the ultimate dystopia, when the cultural institution of the scapegoat is finally traversed by the speed of these emergent lines of flight, the armed rivals would face off against each other. Our current knowledge of small-scale serial murder would therefore only be a foretaste - one possible indicator - of the future global outbreak of the “clone” wars. Unlike Seltzer, however, Paul Virilio is one thinker who has explicitly attempted to emphasize the moral and empathetic function of Girard’s scapegoat. Although Virilio treats the scapegoat as a means of slowing the unintentional side effects of a processs comparable to Rotman’s global seriality/simultaneity, he forecasts a dystopian scenario whereby the threat of nuclear apocalypse is displaced by an armada of genetic and information bombs in an era of subliminal eugenics: technological “copycat” violence indeed[10].

0.7 Problems to be identified & how to engage with them

While much of this breathless description of a serialistic bioglobal scenario may read as implausible science fiction, and correspondingly as having a potentially corrosive effect upon even vaguely emancipatory social projects, this implicit sense of non-critical regenerative dystopia accruing around it is a resurgent problem in need of further addressing[11]. I will be closing this thesis with a specific example of one non-critical form the preparations for opting out of some of these disaster scenarios are taking.

However, there is an obvious need for further unpacking of the procedures involved in reaching this point throughout the course of the thesis. Given the supercomplexity theme that has been described, an important characteristic that has been identified is a certain expansiveness in forms of communication. What I intend to demonstrate is how in this respect, along with Knorr Cetina, a defining feature of the social sciences is an insistence that communication involves role taking. But if technosciences assume more importance, what limitations can or should be placed on the extent of such role taking? Afterall, if in some sense this involves increasing contact with the “artefactual”, there is an attendant risk of obscuring how role taking could be prevented in either principle or practice from devolving into an infinite regress - i.e. a general logic of substitution, which might be called seriality. As I shall demonstrate, this is the essence of the dilemma as formulated in general terms [above] in the intermeshing of Rotman, Girard and Virilio, but even more specifically by Mark Seltzer’s new historicism: more communication results in more serial killers, because everything is increasingly communicating with everything else.

Ultimately I choose to be more attentive to writers such as Williams and Joas by insisting on the articulation of rationality and action as the preconditions for an integrated form of creativity, able to fulfill the most urgent task identified in this thesis: not so much where, but how to locate the line of demarcation between technology and human action (Suchman 2002). For the sake of convenience, I shall christen this form of integrated creativity as a realism/constructivism nexus. When this integration is not fostered, one of the grim options left available to the theorist is that of social constructionism: in this situation, the tragedy of culture thesis (i.e. "the aestheticization of the social"), dovetails with the bioliberal focus on creative self-fashioning. Eventually, in the chapter of this title, (i.e. “Corporate Fiction: New Historicist Naturalism & Its Tragedy of Culture”), some affinities should become discernible between new historicism and the thesis of an intensification of individualization, to the paradoxical point at which not only is the social bond threatened, but selfhood itself evaporates as a direct consequence. It can be pointed out in advance that Seltzer’s contribution is the most explicit and forceful attempt to synthesize an analysis of serial violence in relation to the ascendancy of a biotechnological culture. Irrespective though of variance in degrees of accentuation, bioglobalists can generally be shown to subscribe to an infinite regress model of seriality. The salient point of variance, from my more sociological point of view, is reference to modes of alienation as a means of assessing the extent to which the pathological symptoms of modernity may have somehow become predominant.

On the basis of this evidence then, the consensus is dispiriting. As a consequence it connives with the strong version of the bioglobal thesis which Tiryakian instinctively recoils from in abject terror. In its presumed inevitability though, the associated time/spatial compression of “social construction as social psychosis” (Craib 1997a) does not so much blackbox the ground which situates its critique, as it settles instead for a mournful nostalgia for loss of an irretrievable ground. I will be developing this theme in the first chapter ‘Technological Mediation: Whither “the Social?” in relation to the threats posed to the everyday as the authentic ground of the social, as described by Habermas and Giddens. This resilient fear of objectification is also then a thread connecting the anxieties for the loss of community expressed, albeit in different forms, by neoconservatives and communitarians. Seltzer, however, distinguishes himself by refusing to play along with any nostalgia for the transcendence of sociotechnical relations. To his functionalist way of thinking, such anxieties are only productive in the recursive sense that they are complicit with the productive tensions between agency and structure required to reproduce a technological “supersystem”.

If so much potential alienation exists, or indeed if it is a constitutive part of modernity itself, then serial violence may be expressive of some kind of protest. In existential terms, it would be creative in its attempt to secure the grounds of authentic activity. One is apparently left confronting some difficult choices. Or so it would seem. Reviewing them, the possibility starts to arise of navigating a middle path between the Scylla and Charybdis of selfishness and altruism, thereby “breaking the circuit”, so to speak. Tiryakian is obviously ahead of the game in this respect because he recognizes how important it is to contextualize the grounds of critique with respect to the organization of knowledge. While it may be true that he is somewhat nostalgic in the manner by which he lifts his blueprint for avoiding consilience from the halcyon days of his youth as a student, this is not sufficient warrant in itself to prevent reintroduction of a more obviously progressive fellow traveller. I would like to foreground the importance of Williams therefore by pushing the issue of the structural conditions of knowledge a bit further than Tiryakian does by drawing a contrast between seriality and contingency. While this will only fully come into view in the Conclusion of this thesis, it is my contention that structures of feeling, as theorized by Williams, are a necessary supplement to the creative powers of the realist/constructivist nexus. What is to be found here is a means of challenging the objectivistic conception of time associated with seriality (i.e. the reproduction of the same inheritance ad infinitum into the future). Once contingency is taken on board, it becomes possible to no longer have to think of serial violence as somehow constitutive of modernity.

A further word is in order though about the sporadic appearance and disappearance of the serial killer per se above and below the threshhold of consciousness in successive chapters. This issue is important in as far as it is closely related to the overall structure of my argument. For if one were to skip forward to the chapter on “Knowledge Integration” for example, it would seem to be the case that the serial killer has dipped off the radar altogether. But rather than implying here having completely lost track, what takes place in this instance instead is the recording of the structural homologies or formal correspondences that are able to migrate from one context to another. However, in the course of this movement they are transformed to such an extent that their afterlife survives only in the form of a ghostly demarcation. What I reference here with “structural homologies” and “formal correspondences” therefore has to do with any of the loose analogies that may be drawn between knowledge users and their object of knowledge. One is free to extrapolate them from my chapter “The Continuity of the Acting Person & the Certainty of Knowledge” as involving dilemmas for agency such as scepticism and omniscience. One is equally free to trace this correspondence from the general point made at the close of that chapter about the contingency of selfhood, through to the discussion in “Knowledge Integration & the Problems of Complexity” of the potentially pathological side effects of Alexander Rosenberg’s description of supervenience. With reference to Rosenberg, the serialist characteristic of oversocialization impacts upon another contingency of [feminine] selfhood. This argument is illustrated by using the example of reproductive technologies as premised upon a gift economy, whereby interventions into a woman’s body are made on behalf of the “greater” interest [sic] of a couple’s fertility. In this context, violence, or even “altruistic suicide”, (to employ Durkheim’s category; Durkheim [1897]: 217-240), becomes a symptom of the reduction of the creativity/reproduction of social actors to a macro-level. Indeed, some feminist critics would wish to emphasize the sliding scale or high degree of flexible continuity and correlation between these “different” levels as embodying the general process of violence upon which the “network power” of patriarchal social organization is ultimately dependent for its reproduction. In these terms, what the oversocialized serial killer does on one level merely mimics the macro-reduction reinforced by the knowledge integrator on another level. The “objects” [sic] of interest to these respective parties would therefore be the same, with difference registered only by the degrees of consent or force by which such “gifts” are either given or taken.[12]

And yet in spite of this staircase logic, its adherents would still have to concede something like the modulation or ghostly demarcation of its effects as a warrant for their own critiques. Afterall, the structural homologies or formal correspondences could only be taken so far before no oppositional space would be left remaining. So a relative absence of serial killers per se in Chapter Six is, I hope, not so much symptomatic of an inconsistent weakness in the structuring of my arguments, as it is of the strength of a sociological perspective in demonstrating, or rather performing, as an alternative to this particular form of violence. For it would be the apotheosis of irresponsibility to not offer a critical containment of the contagious nature of violence facilitated by the thinking of other writers such as Girard, Virilio, Rotman and Seltzer. For surely sometime it must be said that a serial killer really is just a serial killer and nothing else? There is a relation here as well to some feminist responses to this dilemma. In the writings of Donna J.Haraway for example, which will be touched upon at various points, this response takes the form of an argument for the necessity of maintaining what she calls a “double vision”. She reads questions of bodily boundaries as closely bound to possibilities of violent transgression. As shall be demonstrated, and especially in light of the dangers flowing from macro-reduction, her double vision wishes to retain a conception of the singular bounded subject, but only on the condition that it is understood as a contingent resource.

Generalizing from this insight, I will make a case for the retention of seriality as a double heuristic in like terms. What does Williams then have to do though with all of this concern with how knowledge is organized? Quite a lot actually, I would answer. Consider for example the potentially serialistic epistemological problem of the sociologist and the object of knowledge that has just been discussed: if I am studying the serialist, does this require, pace Knorr Cetina [above], that I must somehow take the role of/substitute for the knowledge object? Or is it rather, [more plausibly] the case that others socially mediate my activities? Although the latter sounds somewhat simplistic, this was, I shall be arguing, the entire ethical basis of Williams's sophisticated conception of a “common culture”, and it may credibly be defended as being as relevant today as it was when originally formulated. His general point, to be expanded on, was that “individual” creativity - the breaking with established forms - was a necessary component of social learning. Therefore in his “double vision” of a common culture, a collective distribution of responsibility is made available to absorb the risks, impacts and benefits accruing from this creative novelty. Is this any different from the traditional role of universitas among communities of scholars? At least, such is the basis of my closing chapter, (i.e. Chapter Six), a theme that continues on into the Conclusion. Like Tiryakian sometime after him, Williams was not averse to incorporating reflections upon his own experiences of the educational system, if only to note the disparity between the ideal and the reality. More generally then, the ethos of universitas in his writings translates into the socialist ideals of equality and cooperation; thereby seeking to move beyond the more limited ambitions of liberal traditions, which afford guarantees of civil rights and social protections transcending the gain and loss of local circumstances (Ross 1994: 256).

So, from Williams I propose this ideal of a common culture as a yardstick to measure and curb the extent of the kinds of serialistic problems many have laid at the door of an objectified culture. More specifically, in his writings it was the absence of a common culture that led to the experience of tragedy. What I propose then is incorporating elements from pragmatism and object relations theory, in order to develop a creative theory of action compatible with the ethical intentions of Williams. This model will be defined as autonomous to the extent it can be distinguished from forms of tragic seriality, which will be defined by their [normotic] oversocialization. In this instance, it will be important to sort out the means by which a sociality with objects can be distinguished from the infinite regress form of role taking (read “seriality”). The psychoanalytical significance of the fetish will be developed for this express purpose in the chapter “The Continuity of the Acting Person & the Certainty of Knowledge”. In addition, I will suggest that tragedy for Wiliams was not merely a negative or connotative violent prohibition, as he also regarded it as potentially a democratic sensitizing device, comparable to the manner in which Heller later came to regard “shame” as the only inborn moral feeling we have.

One of the most interesting things in the work of Williams and Heller, I will argue, is that these attributes of tragedy and shame are valuable for a communicative, autonomous model of the self, because they can assist by coping with the scepticism that is a byproduct of contingency; thereby challenging omniscience, without in turn necessarily proposing the market as the solution or discovery procedure for coping with the limits of knowledge. Allow me to take a few moments to elaborate by placing this discussion within a wider framework. If one considers this market response, what is to found here is a recapitulation of the classic epistemological error of igorance of ignorance: i.e. ignorance squared. According to this method, the existence of doubts can be acknowledged, but these doubts are in turn soluble. Now, where this perspective may be contrasted with the ethical perspective of Williams has to do with the extent that it tends to whitewash its dependence upon a further distinction drawn between the categories of accident and tragedy. Without explicating in advance of later discussion of the alienation Williams detected in the ordering of these categories, a mere preview of his rationale for doing so can be offered here. Suffice it to say that his ethical perspective foregrounded the existence of limits as in part the result of choices and priorities that were reflective of the asymmetrical distribution of values and power. The experience of tragedy was therefore the facilitator of movement from the context of discovery to justification in as much as the limitations of knowledge could now be thought less exclusively in the sceptical terms of problems of objectivity. Ignorance therefore transmutes from questions of truth to questions of quality. Quality, once thereby situated more in terms of a “social epistemology”, can encompass functional issues of how information will be put to work, the recursive question of ‘who guards the guardians?’ (Ravetz 1971 and 1990) and the ethical foundation of quality (i.e. Williams’s ‘common culture’; cf Jones 1995). Both the final chapter and the Conclusion of the thesis will attempt to demonstrate the relevance of this quality across the board for the scientific and criminological discourses falling under the rubric of inquiry, with particular reference to the need for development of technological forms of citizenship.

For the sake of this argument, I will associate scepticism more with constructionist reflections upon the truth or objectivity of knowledge in order to secure the distinctiveness and value of an alternative realism/constructivist nexus. This would have the additional benefit of fulfilling one of Barnett’s [above] identified cognitive tasks for universities as assisting social actors in psychologically coping with the condition of supercomplexity. To summarize then with brisk acuity: all of this may read as a rather long winded way of basically strategizing a means by which the serialist problem identified by Knorr Cetina, the conflation of knowledge user with their object of study, can be critically qualified. Once this is admitted, and differing rates and scales of violence can thus be identified, it is reasonable to conclude with an affirmative flourish by returning to Tiryakian’s original question, “is there a future for sociology in the bioglobal age?”

These kinds of distinctions can further assist by helping to carefully read the ideal of a common culture in a differentiated light, because autonomy need not entail under present circumstances any equivalence between human projects and that of hybrids and other animals. Indeed, in Chapter Three I cite some empirical sociological research into human/animal relations as evidence as to why the human dimensions of socialism should be prioritized. To my mind, this will point also toward a criterion in the Conclusion for some retention of a distinct sociological identity amid all the talk of consilience that may be regarded as a byproduct of increased complexity; namely the consolidation of the realist/constructivist nexus in the form of the aforementioned ideal of technological citizenship.

By way of a final summation: my argument evolves towards an integrated model of creativity by placing each successive chapter in a relationship of dialectical tension. The chapter structure of the thesis will therefore assume the following form:

• The first chapter undermines a classic ordering premise of the sociological tradition with respect to the contextualization of human action.

• The second responds by agreeing that this premise is problematical - but calls for a reinvention of the originating point of action, rather than settling for the substitution of network characteristics.

• The third counters with the suggestion that the historical narrative of violent contingency has deconstructed human agency and hence the privileging of humanist ideals presupposed by the theory of action.

• The fourth responds by reconstructing agency and its narrative of autonomy as a qualified ethical problematique.

• The fifth charges that this narrative cannot be reconstructed [even in a qualified form] as autonomous because it has been co-opted by market/technological power relations into increasingly pathological forms of individualization.

• The sixth suggests that this critique presupposes the impossible omniscient perspective of the critic. The more realist[ic] and constructiv [ist]e option is therefore to promote a form of knowledge integration whereby these discourses ultimately become accountable to the ethical imperatives of citizenship.

The Conclusion concurs that [technological] citizenship is very important - but attempts to offer a reasoned argument which holds that any expectations regarding such an integration of sociological knowledge will have to be tempered by learning to live with the productive tensions between democracy’s [deconstructive] critique of representation and the collective holism of socialism. In any case, this sense of “a common culture” is to be regarded as preferable to resigning oneself to the alternative [i.e. the form of holism or “complexity” associated with the dystopia of bioglobalism].

In other words, my ultimate objectives may be legitimately regarded as fully conversant with the [aforementioned] characteristic efforts by a varied sociological tradition to impart a greater unity upon the diversity of approaches, whilst still remaining able to incorporate and learn from the insights of other disciplines. My ultimate hope thus is that there is enough substance in the thesis on this level that some acknowledgement might be plausible across the board, inclusive of scholars influenced by the varied work of Gouldner, Levine, Williams and other prominent social theorists referred to, such as Joas, Sennett, Fuller, Strydom, Delanty and Mouzelis. Meanwhile I seek to leave the door open for further dialogue with those falling outside these parameters in a form other than meaningless pluralism or sociobiological consilience. In other words, what might be said to hold together the relations I construct between these theorists is their general compatibility with the recurring problematiques, which Wagner has acknowledged as constitutive of the project of modernity. If this much is clear by the Conclusion, there may be sufficient justification for making the claim that this thesis has obtained a degree of supercomplexity.

To be sure, some of these theoretical “networks” may at times prove too dense for some tastes, but conversely no one could sensibly claim that supercomplexity either could or should be a simple objective. This is especially so if there are compelling reasons for not surrendering to the alternative seriality/parallelism nexus, the adherents of which remain determined to convince sociologists otherwise.

If the latter kind of compromise is not attractive, perhaps a more suitable concession is my provision of an Epilogue as a navigation tool. Primarily through the use of tables this Epilogue endeavours to set out the metaphysical presuppositions distinguishing my work from the strategy of “going parallel” I have shown to be underwriting seriality. In the interest though of minimizing some possible semantic confusion, the decision was made to confine reference to the term “parallelism” to this Epilogue. Remaining mindful of this potential difficulty, the tables therefore follow very closely those that Clifford Hooker (Hooker 1987: 212) has earlier distilled from his reading of Roberto Unger’s Knowledge and Politics (Unger 1975). What I find attractive in this case is that what Hooker has to say about Unger can quite conveniently be mapped to a lot of what I will myself be discussing in relation to Williams. Most especially, Hooker discerns a consistent interest in how creativity necessarily involves the antinomy of understanding and experience. As he notes, this is, “itself a case of the antinomy of the universal and the particular, Unger goes on to apply the three remaining antinomies to the specific development of persons and their relations to communities” (Hooker 1987: 247). Hooker performs the additional service of sketching an epistemological model reflective of Unger’s progressive political stance (cf Fuller 1998: 97). In the Epilogue I attempt to demonstrate the compatibility of this model to the sense of the long revolution and its cognate common culture derived from Williams. My reading of Williams will also speak to the legitimate sense of a cumulative knowledge base that sociologists can draw upon to distinguish their work from other less desirable alternatives. In other words, the reader is free, should they so desire of course, to move back and forth between the outline [above] of the chapter structure and the Epilogue: this may prove useful given that in the latter can be found a schematic presentation of both the underlying basis of the liberal alternative, and the more fully realized integrated theory of creativity that a cultural materialist approach can make available.

0.8 Complexity: a universal entry point into social science?

So, with the provision of this map for navigating the territory and a tactical brief on how it may best be approached, now is an opportune moment for a thumbnail sketch of one of the more optimistic portrayals of the complexity revolution. I present it here, and discuss it further in my final chapter on “Knowledge Integration & the Problems of Complexity”, partly in the interest of balance. For in this case, the traffic is coming from the other direction. Sociologists are not been press-ganged into joining the rank of sociobiology, rather complexity is viewed as a belated recognition by other disciplines of the very territory of social science. In my view though, there is risk here that all of this optimism may merely disguise a pyrhhic victory. If one really wished to contrast the sum total of effects with Wilson’s position, one would need to, as I attempt to do in “Knowledge Integration”, specify the different kinds of “openness” at stake when drawing such an analogy.

When this is not done, a serialistic effect can easily manifest itself, as paradoxically complexity is reduced to a flat ontology. If there is any need for supercomplexity, this is it. For is it not the case, by way of contrast, that for the Gulbenkian Commission and later separate writings by Wallerstein for example, the epistemological divide of science and philosophy has been directly challenged by the science(s) of complexity, and this is to be welcomed without any apparent qualification? In part the basis for this thinking is the hope that not only the objects of knowledge of the respective disciplines will increasingly be understood in such terms, but that also the very organizational form of the university itself may become a Complex System. This would occur to the extent that the interaction between the "parts" or "subsystems" allows the emergence of global behaviour that would not be anticipated from the behaviour of components in isolation. Emergent behaviour of this kind is thus viewed as dependent upon the nature of the interactions as much as it does upon the character of the parts and changes when these interactions change. The associated paradigm shift then is from pure structure or foundations, properties immutably fixed in time, to a dynamic emphasis on process and the interdependence of parts and wholes. The modelling of the network in systems theory has therefore gradually risen to prominence because the structure of the relationships between the components of a network is deemed important, “because it affects either individual behaviour or the behaviour of the system as a whole”. Furthermore, these dynamics are not simply owing to occurrences within networked systems, as the activities or decisions of its components drive the evolution of networks. The network facilitates what and when things happen, just as the network depends on what has previously happened. It is this capacity for self-action that distinguishes complexity theory as a holistic approach (Watts 2004: 28-29). In other words, complex patterns of behaviour emerge from contingent circumstances. For Wallerstein, the implicit deconstruction of the humanism/science opposition opens up some belated recognition of the social sciences:

So here we are today, on the verge of a major epistemological restructuring, a reunification of the methods of enquiry across the fields of knowledge, and one in which the terrain of social science will now be central, if not all-encompassing. Social science is after all the study of the most complex systems that exist, and therefore the most difficult to translate into systematic analysis. It is also the inevitable, if often unacknowledged, underpinning of what we have historically called humanistic studies. It is in fact everybody's necessary activity, from physicists to literary scholars. Far from being a call for social science imperialism, this is a call for universal entry into social science (Wallerstein 1997).

In a comparable spirit, Hofkirchner reconfigures the central issue of agency and structure within the terms of complexity science, namely dialectic, emergence and selforganization. For him, the application of complexity theory makes it possible to integrate those important ideas and insights of recent attempts to overcome the dichotomy in social theory, “which (with the exception of Artigiani, 1991) do not explicitly refer to an evolutionary systems theory of society (e.g. Giddens, 1984; Alexander, 1995; Mouzelis, 1995)” (Hofkirchner 1998: 30). Likewise, Strydom notes Darwinism becoming more cultural and culturalism becoming more Darwinian, citing as evidence the German Darwinian school, the Habermas school and the Uppsala school:

In each case, a selectionist or situationalist theory is formulated that articulates the Darwinian threefold model of variation, selection and stabilization or reproduction with interactionism, communication and discourse theory or constructivism. Burns and Dietz for instance, speak of the combination of “environmental constraint and selectivity (physical as well as social) with bounded constructivism (through human agency)” (Burns and Dietz 1997: 2 cited in Strydom 2002: 152).

Strydom and Hofkirchner therefore basically agree with Wallerstein’s position that the social sciences have always distinguished themselves by finding creative ways to engage, within the object domain of science, the problem of indeterminacy or contingency. Hofkirchner summarizes the affirmative nature of these developments when he concludes, “one could almost state that it is the natural sciences which may learn from the social sciences rather than vice versa” (Hofkirchner 1998: 30).

The potential problem though with this holism has to do with the kind of complex circular causality that features prominently in network sciences. As a foretaste of the difficulties this can present for the important kinds of distinctions I have sketched and wish to retain, an examination of Actor Network Theory can prove illuminating. At the same time it must also be conceded that the ideal of a common culture may more easily be situated in relation to theories of modernity than Actor Network Theory, but the relevant point here is that its basis is not the same presuppositional everydayness that practitioners of ANT can sight as a legitimate target [especially when they turn their attention to the work of other social theorists such as Habermas and Giddens]. Already then, between Hofkirchner and Strydom, one has Habermas and Giddens appearing under the rubric of complexity science, thanks to aspects of their work approximating ideas of emergence/evolution, whilst from another offshoot of complexity thought comes the suggestion that network theorists could critically reproach Habermas et al.[13] Given these apparent contradictions, complexity must be very complex (!).

What kind of trade off is possible then to sort out the different forms of complexity typified by the tensions in this example? I shall attempt to engage this question in the first chapter by delineating the ground of “the social” from which sociologists can legitimately speak through identification of alienation/disenchantment, and its possibly violent side effects. This is done in the interest only of then rearticulating these in a creative direction with the guidance of ethical epistemological sensors.


1.1 Theories of modernity and science and technology studies: mutual neglect?

In light of the final comments in the Introduction, a more adequate means of understanding the relation of modernity, science and technology is required. This must particularly be the case if the defining features of a bioglobal age are to be identified. What then are some of the entrenched assumptions that hinder a possible understanding of these matters?

Some indicators have been given that a good example of the potential division is the contested legacy of Raymond Williams, sometimes rather unhappily referred to as one of the “founding fathers” of cultural studies. This divided opinion on Williams attests perhaps to the difficult characterization of his thought in terms of, as befitting the title of one study, The Alien Mind of Raymond Williams (Gorak 1988). Working perhaps on the assumption that those who “found’ anything must eventually become obviously dated and irrelevant, some authors have claimed that there is a resounding silence about science and technology in the work of Williams, E. P. Thompson, and the New Left Review (The Radical Science Journal Collective 1981). Williams had a great deal to say about “Ideas of Nature” and then about “Social Darwinism”, areas of clear concern to this thesis, but these critics claim he somehow missed out science in the middle. He also wrote on Television (Williams 1973) but, according to the Radical Science Collective, “has not entered deeply into the social relations embodied in its technology.” His one analysis of science, entitled “Problems of Materialism”, is a review of Sebastiano Timpanaro's On Materialism, where Williams points out that, “for a generation, now, there has been an unusual uneasiness between Marxism and the natural sciences” (Williams 1978: 5 cited in The Radical Science Journal Collective 1981 [2005]).

As shall be demonstrated in what is to follow, a more comprehensive account would have acknowledged that Williams also wrote on science fiction (Williams 1980d; 1988), future forecasting (i.e. “Plan X”; Williams 1983b), social darwinism (Williams 1980b) and the tendency toward technological determinism in research on modern communications, as demonstrated by his critical appraisal of the popular writings of Marshall McLuhan (Williams 1973). On the basis of this available evidence, Freedman can argue with some justification that Williams was no “technological idiot” (Freedman 2002). Indeed, as even Reinel concedes, before proceeding in a more critical tone:

McNeil and Franklin note that the only “founding father” of British cultural studies [sic] who explicitly addressed questions of science and technology was Raymond Williams.

However, they rightly consider his thoughts on these issues as rather disappointing, especially in comparison to his sophisticated reflections on other cultural products such as literature or theory (Reinel 1999: 163-189).

Moving then from Reinel’s overview to the specific details of McNeil and Franklin’s critique, these authors take him to task for both failing to read gender in relation to ideas of nature, and in turn not interrogating the latter category with respect to natural science. It follows for them that Williams “has little sense that opposition to new communications technologies can be anything but conservative” (Franklin, McNeil 1991: 132)

Because Franklin and McNeil indulge a more preferential treatment for Haraway’s situated knowledge practices, a more detailed comparison and contrast with cultural materialism is clearly called for (and is reserved for a later chapter). What can be noted at this stage, however, is that Franklin and McNeil themselves apparently fail to account for the method of cultural materialism, and so their critique is left only to take the classic cultural studies form of performativity, whence inclusion of the other is almost automatically evoked as a radical gesture. The problem then perhaps with these characteristically cultural studies critiques is that, in their overeagerness to be politically informed and relevant, they can develop a tendency to conflate the worth of the continuity of problematique with the attainability of the “answers”. This categorical confusion was surely not what Weber would have had in mind either when he commented on sociology’s non-cumulative knowledge base. But without Weber’s form of clarification, theories can only wax and wane at an astonishing rate, in a manner that can easily foster incoherence. That cultural studies has already sanctioned and in turn dispensed with a bewildering array of critical reading strategies might in itself attest to this[14]. Indeed, perhaps the popularization of postmodernism as both topic and performative within cultural studies is the one “firm” indicator of this tendency.

There is thus an element of predictability in how, after reserving another performative critique for the legacy bequeathed by the Birmingham school of cultural studies, Reinel finally showers some plaudits upon critical theory, on the basis of its having provided an early systematic critique of technoscience. As described by Hilary Rose, Reinel notes, the Frankfurt School was unique in the western Marxist tradition in seeing “science as a social problem.” In choosing to emphasize “instrumental reason” their writings demonstrated the linkages between technoscience and domination, while simultaneously questioning the association of technoscience with rationality, and myth with irrationality. Technoscientific practices are therefore understood by the Frankfurt School to be inherently political in character (Rose 1994: 9 cited in Reinel 1999: 167). Habermas is the inheritor of this critical tradition, even to the extent that in spite of many innovative points of departure, he remains quite pessimistic with regard to the social implications of technoscience (e.g. Habermas 2003).

Taking leave of Reinel’s narrative, it is logical that the strand of science and technology studies hitherto accorded the greatest attention within cultural studies has been Actor Network Theory. In no small part this may well be because it attempts to define itself against the durability of the problematiques associated with modernity theory (not the least of them being its normative accounting for rationalization). Most notably for Latour, the problem becomes locating the social practices that export this contingent rationality outside the context of its original application in the laboratory (Latour 1987: 249ff). Such a strong social constructionist program implies the relativization of cultural phenomena and institutional identity, as theory devolves into case studies amounting to a concatenation of episodes. In contrast then to Strydom’s thesis of the radically “experimenting society” already referred to, ANT adopts what Martin has called the “citadel model”, which assumes knowledge is generated within the “citadel” of science, and then leaks out among the “untutored” public (Martin 1998: 30).

If ANT offers the citadel as the leakage point, many theorists of modernity do not diverge radically on this point, at least to the degree that they read situated everydayness as the last bastion against such contagion. Here may be found a level at which the style of cultural studies critique can gain an intuitive foothold on modernity theory. This might occur when it detects something intrinsic to the logic of a theory that would prevent it in principle from foregrounding the significance of science and technology. This dilemma starts to make its presence felt when one pauses to consider the inherent difficulty of relating the significance of science and technology to the sense of “the everyday” as developed in the work of Habermas and Giddens. Unlike ANT, a thesis of radical contagion becomes possible owing to a belief in an apriori state that sanctions nostalgia for something irretrievably lost.

Firstly then, this aspect of modernity theory will be outlined and critically discussed, and only then can consideration be given as to ANT’s suitability as either supplement or replacement of the more problematical aspects of the “everyday” perspective.

1.2 Sociology & the “authenticity” of the everyday

Andrew Feenberg has made the challenging claim that:

[M]odernity theory on the whole either continues to ignore technology or acknowledges it in an outmoded deterministic framework. This certainly requires explanation in the case of Habermas, since he is strongly influenced by Marx for whom technology is of central importance (Feenberg 2003)

Before passing any judgement on this characterization, the nature of the determinism that might be attributed to Habermas and related theorists of modernity must be clarified. Afterall, if he is being accused by his critics such as Feenberg of neglecting the importance of technology, it hardly seems logical to label Habermas a technological determinist. Here then are some of the distinctions required to situate Feenberg’s critique in an appropriate manner. In general terms, the operating assumption of technological determinists is that, albeit to varying degrees, technological developments have an automatic logic not readily amenable to human control (Williams 1973: 9-31). In his sceptical assessment of the thesis of The Information Society, May (May 2002), identifies three strands of technological determinism, with the qualification that it is not unusual to find an intermixture of these elements within a single account. For the sake of argument though, May usefully identifies normative critique, an emphasis on unintended consequences, and nomological features, as generally bracketing off most varieties of determinism from each other (although he qualifies, as I shall demonstrate, the determinism inherent in the second category). Common to a normative approach, certain technologies, such as biotechnology for Habermas (Habermas 2003), embody and tend to promote specific norms such as the “efficiency” favoured by the market[15]. In keeping with this view, I shall demonstrate that his earlier writings on the colonization of the lifeworld by a process of rationalization also assume a technocratic characterization. However, it would not be appropriate to regard Habermas as adopting a fully deterministic approach even here, as his work foregrounds the mediation and modification of technological norms through non-technological norms that are rooted in society. The conception of the lifeworld, in particular, strives to maintain a delicate balance, given that he regards its colonization as an almost unintentional outcome of the gradual differentiation of modern societies.

Applying May to this example, it could be said that “accounts which stress unintended consequences while accepting some sort of technological momentum really cannot be deterministic, because to be deterministic the outcomes would have had to have been foreseeable” (May 2002: 26). The problem as I see it though, and intend to argue at some length, is that the lifeworld presumes a degree of autonomy from technology that is no more conceptually credible than Habermas’s later attempt to separate biology from technology (Habermas 2003). Some fear of determinism, Feenberg’s “outmoded deterministic framework”, must exist; otherwise there would be little reason behind Habermas’s defence of the autonomy of the lifeworld. For other critics such as Crook (Crook 1998), the concept of “the everyday” has functioned as the privileged anchoring point of the social for theorists such as Habermas and Giddens. In his view its outmoded status renders it a mythological creature. The everyday is therefore a Minotaur; pale and only half-formed.

In the terms used by May though, it is only the so-called nomological approaches that may be properly regarded as fully technologically determinist, in that they argue that society has no choice but to adapt to the natural or autonomous logic of technological innovation. Habermas’s position can be largely understood as defining itself against this assumption. This becomes more obvious when it is understood that his project is in essence a critical reconstruction of Weber’s rationalization theory. Habermas therefore follows Weber in characterizing modernity in terms of the differentiation of the various “value spheres.” The state, the market, religion, law, art, science, technology; each becomes a distinct social domain with their own logic and institutional identity. Under these conditions, science and technology take on their familiar post-traditional form as independent disciplines. Scientific-technical rationality is purified of religious and customary elements. Similarly, markets and administrations are liberated from the admixture of religious prejudices and family ties that bound them in the past. They emerge as what Habermas calls “systems” governed by an internal logic of equivalent exchange. Such systems organize an ever-increasing share of daily life in modern societies (Habermas 1984; 1987).

For Habermas the critical issue is the growth of self-critical rationality in different ways. To the extent that social rationalization occurs, Habermas suggests it should be seen through the perspective of cultural rationalization. Habermas thereby parts company with Weber’s analysis of the loss of meaning and freedom in the modern world in three related ways. Firstly, he argues that the individual can come to terms with modernity’s differentiated spheres of meaning to the extent that they contain a universal structure of consciousness, capable of “translating” between ordinary language and technical control, in order to bring about democratic participation in technical decision-making. In other words, some legitimacy may be accorded technical rationality on the proviso it cannot unduly affect wider political and social life. Secondly, any loss of meaning presents the challenge of reordering society in ways other than purposive rationality. Thirdly, this motivates him to explore possibilites of social relationships, rather than focus on notions of essential humanity (Sedgwick 1999: 20-21).

In the reflexive modernization thesis, as developed by Giddens, considerable attention is also given to the transformation of everyday experience. Whereas for Beck global risk consciousness cannot be dirempted by everyday routinization, Giddens attempts to mobilize Heidegger’s question of Being to argue that the inclusion of moral and existential questions in the public sphere is due to the functioning of the Unwelt. Borrowing the latter term from Goffman, Giddens describes it as “a moving world of normalcy” (Giddens 1997: 128). For Giddens, this means that the reflexive project of the self would not be possible without the “ontological security” generated by a basic level of trust in the expert systems that keep late modern social relations in play. It is debateable though just how legitimate it is for Giddens to draw on Heidegger in this way, given how for Heidegger “the question of technology” meant truth was disclosed in moments of exposure to the transcendence of Being. Heidegger’s recourse was ultimately to art, not (life) politics, as revealing the loss of authenticity brought about by technology. In contrast, the danger and unforeseeability inhering in Heidegger’s question of Dasein is significantly modulated by Giddens (Abbinnett 2003: 176). For Giddens then, setting limits to the potentially infinite dispersal of danger, or rather risk, falls back on a conception of the “everyday”, thus rendering legitimate further comparison with Habermas.

Cognizant of this presumed importance of the everyday across many forms of sociological writing, Crook operates from the premise that its prominence can be challenged on two related levels. First, as a pre-articulate and “taken-for-granted” solidarity that is the defining characteristic of the everyday world. Secondly, that the contemporary form of this everyday world is a direct link to the pre-modern social totality. The plausibility or otherwise of these claims depends upon the ways in which the theorists of the everyday align the supposed (formal) presuppositions of all social life with a sub-class of (substantive) social life (Crook 1998: 524).

In this vein, Habermas argues that the lifeworld is, “represented by a culturally transmitted and linguistically organized stock of interpretive patterns.” The bases upon which all life experiences are conceived and interpreted are these cultural experiences and communicative interactions which take the form of everyday narratives. For Habermas though, it is simply not credible to proceed on the assumption that the perspective of participants could demarcate an object domain of social science. Therefore he attempts to distinguish the concept of the everyday from phenomenological perspectives. Quoted approvingly by Habermas after their phenomenological approach has undergone his reconstructive critique, Schutz and Luckman typify the main features of the lifeworld as “the unquestioned ground of everything given in my experience and the unquestionable frame in which all the problems I have to deal with are located” (cited in Habermas 1987: 131). According to Habermas, if any matter arises in the everyday that requires explicit thematization it ceases, by definition, to be part of the lifeworld: “as soon as one of its elements is taken out and criticized, made accessible to discussion, that element no longer belongs to the lifeworld” (Habermas 1992: 110 cited in Crook 1998: 527).

Crook detects how the quest for clear boundaries, of keeping everything in its proper place, comes under strain at points such as these in Habermas’s argument. Almost furtively admitting the possibility of communicative spaces existing outside the realm of the everyday implicitly calls into question the concept of the lifeworld. In what follows, the full details of Habermas’s attempt to adapt Kohlberg’s theory of the stages of moral development can safely be disregarded. I am only concerned with the extent to which they fit with Crook’s critique of the everyday as having a distinctive character. What is of most consequence in this aspect of Habermas’ work then is that in the highest evolutionary stage of the individual, the post-conventional, the adult has adapted to discourse, thereby moving beyond both the pre-conventional stage of the child who is oriented to authority, and the orientation toward roles said to characterize the conventional stage. Indeed, to attain the “post-conventional” stage, implies nothing less than “the adult rises above the naivete of everyday social practice” (Habermas 1990:160). In this “moralization of society” social life is “uncoupled from the stream of cultural givens” (Habermas 1990:162 cited in Crook 1998: 527).

Habermas does not in any straightforward way ground his theory in the ontology of the everyday. But much more remains to be said about its stubborn reappearance in other guises. He adapts Kohlberg by tying morality to the unavoidable reciprocity of action oriented to mutual understanding. Thus, “morality as grounded by discourse ethics is based on a pattern inherent in mutual understanding in language from the beginning” (Habermas 1990:163). The combined effect of this is that the everyday lifeworld is both the individual’s source of post-conventionalism, and the principle of universal reciprocity defining post-conventionalism. However, the postulated lines of demarcation quickly break down, and here is Crook’s point, “because after distinguishing between a formal (communication-theoretic) and a substantive (everyday) conception of the lifeworld, he (Habermas) effectively elides the two. The analytic distinguishing marks of the former (taken-for-grantedness) become the empirical criteria of the latter” (Crook 1998: 527)

For Crook, Giddens's work on trust and ontological security are also problematic for the comparable fashion in which the theorist loosely mixes the issue of the experience of the everyday as a substantive question with more formal questions about “the natural attitude”. Crook notes that it is by drawing upon Garfinkel’s “trust experiments”, that Giddens is able to argue for the existence of a natural attitude which facilitates the ability to respond to “the simplest everyday query”. Ultimately, however, this conception is dependent upon “a shared - but unproven and unprovable - framework of reality” (Giddens 1991: 36 cited in Crook 1998: 528).

The danger then which critics such as Crook are highlighting is that accounts of the everyday which draw on phenomenology risk setting themselves an unlimited project. Especially when the only criteria for inclusion is a presuppositional taken for grantedness, it becomes difficult to ascertain what specificity the everyday could reserve for itself, given that it can easily become equivalent to social life as such. Afterall, Crook argues, presuppositional taken for grantedness has being demonstrated by the microsociological ethnomethodological and symbolic interactionist traditions as a necessary component of even the most highly mediated social interactions, including scientific inquiry, court hearings and television interviews. In other words, this diversity of settings of possible interactions implies a heterogeneity that becomes irreducible to one understanding of taken for grantedness, given the complexity of negotiating or moving between the different “frames”[16] of an everyday life (Crook 1998: 528).

These are then some of the crucial identifiable points at which the conception of “the everyday” and its cognates, such as the colonization thesis, revert to nostalgia. Habermas forces himself to play out such a tricky juggling act because he sees value in some rationalization of the lifeworld. In this respect it is not appropriate to lump his work together with the protestations of conservative critics of modernity. On the other hand though, he wishes to acknowledge how rationalization can cause problems for the lifeworld (Crook 1998: 531).

Although Giddens in seeking to establish the distinctiveness of his theory of reflexive modernization has polemicized against Habermas’s system/lifeworld distinction, there are points of convergence that have to do with the shared nostalgic assumption of an erosion of the unity of tradition and experience. In the case of Giddens, this prejudice becomes apparent in his fear that mediated experience threatens to supplant everyday life through further sequestration (Giddens 1991:168, 169 cited in Crook 1998: 533). Habermas at first glance differs in this respect as he evokes the status of the human as a “tool using animal”. But this attention is quickly redirected to focus on markets and administration. The explanation for this cognitive shift seems to lie with Habermas’ basic framing assumption, which holds that the relation obtaining between science and technology and the natural world are of a nonsocial “objectivating attitude” (Habermas, 1984, 1987: I, 238). As Feenberg argues, the methodological dualism of Habermas’s lifeworld/system distinction can offer no means of studying the interactions between the oppositions, thereby effectively excluding the social dimension of science and technology from the rubric of critical theory’s inquiries. The effect of this approach is to substitute an emphasis upon differentiated rationality operating at a high level of philosophical abstraction to the detriment of an historical sociology of actual instances of rationality; the results of which may have called the rationalization thesis into question (Feenberg 1999).[17]

1.3 Overcoming modernity?

The limitations Crook and Feenberg identify have damaging ramifications for the sociological approaches adopted by both Giddens and Habermas. But how are these problems to be related to the areas explored in this thesis? Answering this question involves bringing to centre stage some of the resources for avoiding the theoretical limitations of the everyday. An alternative approach might begin, taking its lead from the work of Michel Serres for example, from the premise that the “purely social” relationships thought to constitute “the everyday” are a logical impossibility, and so it would seek instead to explicate the role of objects as the stabilizers of sociality (Albertsen and Diken 2003). Material heterogeneity is thereby introduced into sociological enquiry (Serres 1995: 87-88). In this vein, the action dynamics of Mead’s pragmatism are not truly consistent with the telos of consensus that Habermas describes in the same breath, because pragmatism’s communicative model of the self was stabilized by objects. For Mead this meant that the self had to be thought of in terms of its embodiment, corporeality, and materiality (cf Mead 1934)[18]. Something of this character might also be isolated and extracted from Luhmann’s debate with Habermas, inasfar as the former adopted a contrary position by arguing that communicative conflicts and disorders can be endured because there are common objects to debate (cf Luhmann 1995: 80, 125 and 1997: 29 cited in Albertsen and Diken 2003). As shall become apparent, this in itself need not imply a complete endorsement of Luhmann’s systems program via the jettisoning of the critical distinctions Habermas attempts to make (in response) between instrumental action directed towards objects, and communicative action directed towards fellow subjects. Rather it is the case that, as Joas has more persuasively argued, characteristics common to all kinds of action ‘must exist if the subsumption of both types under the common genus “action” is to have any meaning at all’ (Joas 1996: 105). Once this logic is fully incorporated, the contingency of creative action reinforces a central problematic of this thesis.

Further to this, the problematical weighting accorded Habermas’s treatment of pragmatism has a comparable bearing on Giddens’s recourse to the object-relations school of psychoanalysis, which he attempts to mobilize as the armature for his conception of selfidentity. True to form though, the nature of these objects is inherently limited by his mode of theorizing, given the Minotaur-like presupposition of everydayness, which is chiefly derived from Goffman’s microsociology. This in turn makes it more difficult to convincingly identify reflexivity as an exclusive property of individuals living in a late modern social order. Consider how Latour and Strum have demonstrated in their study of the sociality of baboons[19], the existence of, in Goffmanesque terms, “a paradise of interactionism”, whereby the recognizable enactment of “testing procedures” ensures that no stable relation of dominance or social structure comes about; the outcome of “extreme complexity” is thus a direct consequence of having to always start from scratch in light of every event, given an absence of objects that fosters sole reliance on the somatic properties of their own bodies to negotiate all attendant difficulties. In other words, this example derives its distinctiveness as, in Latour’s words, a “social society” (Latour 1996 cited in Albertsen and Diken 2003).

Latour and Strum’s research suggests therefore that Goffman’s theory is in principle lacking the necessary illocutionary force to convince readers that the negotiation of complexity is a distinctive attribute of human sociality. Given the importance of Goffman and Garfinkel for his structuration theory, there are serious implications as well for Giddens’s comparable claims that trust relations suppress possible occurrences of ontological anxiety by rendering manageable the risk profile of late-modernity. In other words, if Crook’s critique, itself heavily influenced by Latour’s work, remains persuasive, then the respective projects of both Goffman and Giddens are compromised to some degree. With particular reference to Giddens, this vulnerability arises because the trust mechanism intended to reduce risk/complexity is based upon the chimerical entity of situated everydayness.

Integrating Latour, pragmatism, Luhmann et al into some kind of unified field theory of object sociality however is not my primary concern here. Gratifying, as it undoubtedly would be to achieve such a result with a mere quick flick of the wrist, such a tantalizing prospect regrettably remains beyond the horizon of possibilities. Still, it may well be that a convergence of pragmatism and object-relations theory could in principle make up for the absence of the everyday as an anchoring point, and indeed this notion shall be taken up again and further developed in the later chapter “The Continuity of the Acting Person and the Certainty of Knowledge”. But at present the outstanding question to be answered is how does Crook respond to this problem of deciding which research procedure will replace the everyday? It can be said in advance that what he has to say on this matter has scant regard for either pragmatism or object-relations theory. Not the least of the difficulties here is that Crook’s choice of Actor Network Theory in principle cannot be hospitable to the supercomplexity theme because it assumes a reduction of complexity. Furthermore, ANT implies that the creativity of action cannot be productively thought as the conversion of potentiality into actuality in a manner discernible in pragmatism or object-relations theory, given that ANT regards action instead as constantly in circulation and thus always mediatory to something else. Hence Latour maintains that, “action cannot be the point of origin except at the price of stopping the circulation” (Latour 1996: 237 cited in Albertsen and Diken 2003).

Building on this impetus, Crook suggests that the perspective for immanent critique must not be derived from the nostalgia of a prelapsian pure culture that is now irretrievably lost. Rather his starting point would be, for example, that television is part of sociotechnical networks, so that the task becomes trying to sort out how it differs from other sociotechnical networks, such as the Internet:

To generalize the point, if what we term 'the social' is comprised of heterogeneous programmes and networks, no outcomes are guaranteed in advance and the study of the social must be relentlessly empirical, dissolving the peculiarity of the 'everyday' (as it ranges across the many institutionalized settings of talk). The power of unity, life and resistance as myths of the everyday is dissipated when their defining terms are recognized as the occasional, contingent outcomes of the play of programme and counter-programme (Crook 1998: 538).

In the table below is a summation of the kind of relentlessly empirical research program endorsed by Crook, which seeks an erosion of the distinction between the formal and the substantive, primarily by contrasting the approaches of the ethnomethodologist Garfinkel with Habermas:

Table I: Contrasts between Empirical Pragmatics & Critical Theory regarding analysis of presuppositional everydayness
Theoretical Tradition Empirical Pragmatics (ethnomethodology & conversation analysis/Actor Network Theory) Habermas’s Critical Theory
Treatment of the 'seen but unnoticed backgrounds of everyday activities' Empirically: 'the actual methods whereby members of society, doing sociology, lay or professional, make the social structures of everyday activities observable' (Garfinkel 1967:75). Epistemologically: 'everyday activities' visible only through meta-analytic transcendental reflection.
View of presuppositional taken for grantedness 'common understandings cannot possibly consist of a measured amount of shared agreement among persons on certain topics' (Garfinkel 1967:38). 'a reservoir of taken-forgranteds, of unshaken convictions' (1987:124)

An even closer look at Actor Network Theory, particularly Latour’s work might then demonstrate some counterbalancing of aspects of modernity theory.[20] But it is not necessarily credible to extrapolate from this that modernity theory is in need of replacement to the extent Latour implies in his work, We Have Never Been Modern (Latour 1993). In Latour’s hands, the contrasts with modernity theory are strikingly obvious, as the analysis of contingent contests for power within specific networks suffices, and the introduction of terms such as culture, society, or nature would simply mask the activities that establish these categories in the first place. Hybrids are the product of previously separate and identifiable elements, whereas ANT is designed to deny any initial privileging (although it must start somewhere). As recognized by Strathern:

The more hybrids are suppressed – the more categorical divisions are made – the more they secretly breed … the capacity of hybrids to proliferate is also contained within them. For the very concept of the hybrid lends itself to endless narratives of (about, containing), mixture (Strathern 1996: 522 cited in Fine 2005: 95).

Thus the hybrid metaphor sets itself a potentially unlimited analytical programme involving a critique of all dualisms. Once this is understood though, it is not clear that the displacement of “the everyday” as anchoring the logic of the social by ANT is advantageous; the critique of all dualisms ends up matching, and possibly outdoing, any excessiveness warranted by the tying of heterogenous activities to the social logic of the everyday. In the final analysis it therefore becomes debateable how capable ANT really is of following through on its own program, as at some point certain factors must be privileged to justify its analytical program, and critics have observed that this is indeed the case. For Laurier and Philo, although Latour claims to be opposed to “big theorizing”, all he is doing in actuality is, “telling stories and providing weak explanations’ (Laurier and Philo 1999: 1048 cited in Fine 2005: 96). In a similar vein, Hudson suggests that, “While helpful in describing relations within networks, it tends to fluctuate between minute descriptions of the particular and rather abstract generalizations about the characteristics of all networks” (Hudson 2001: 34 cited in Fine 2005: 96). What this would seem to imply is that descriptions will tend to be endless in ANT. Castree regards Latour’s response as disingenuous at best, “the explanation emerges once the description is saturated” (Latour 1991: 129 cited in Castree 2002: 119 cited in Fine 2005: 96). For how is this point to be determined? In the absence of such criteria, it becomes difficult, and perhaps even impossible, to ascertain if [and in what sense] ANT is “correct” - letalone what it could mean for it to be so. As suggested by Fine:

In raising and putatively abolishing the dualism between society and nature, ANT offers a salutary reminder of certain factors that might otherwise be overlooked (especially those concerning the social connections between agents and feedback mechanisms between social and material worlds). These are, however, arbitrary in the sense of being subject to analytical choice because they are unguided by socially and historically rooted theory, not least the nature of capital and capitalism for the contemporary world (Fine 2002: 216).

The political implications of such a stance would therefore seem to tend toward the conservative side, because there can be no appeal to transcendent principles of justice if the forces which organize and dominate society also provide its meaning. For example, an understanding of socialism as an active utopia (Bauman 1976), perpetually calling for the critical reconstruction of current social arrangements, makes no sense at all from a Latourian perspective. For Feenberg, (who also remains unconvinced by Latour’s responses to such critiques), the absence of a global social theory in ANT inhibits understanding of what he calls the "symmetry of program and anti-program"; i.e., the equal analytic value of the principal actors’ intentions, more or less successfully realized in the structure of the network, and those of the weaker parties they dominate. In this respect he draws a more definite line in the sand than is implied by Crook’s seemingly comparable “play of programme and counter-programme”. Afterall, his point is that a stronger commitment to modernity theory is necessary if one is to properly understand in an even handed way the conflicts inhering in the extension of technical control from nature to humans (Feenberg 2003). In order to satisfy Feenberg’s requirements, Crook would therefore have to offer some consistency regarding the relation of “contingency” to his conjoined term of “occasional”. If a fuller explanation of contingency is in order, it is incumbent on the next chapter of this thesis to attend to this task.

1.4 Reconciling modernity theory and science and technology studies

In distancing themselves from ANT, critics such as Feenberg are placing greater faith in hermeneutics to provide an interpretative understanding of society. To clarify this further one may reconsider Weber’s central insight about science: it (science) may be ethical in that it involves relations that the knower has with themselves, as well as with the world, but unlike religion these relations are ethically meaningless in their more general consequences. This prompts Weber to write, “Who - aside from certain big children who are indeed found in the natural sciences - still believes that the findings of astronomy, biology, physics, or chemistry could teach us anything about the meaning of the world?” (Weber 1919 [1991]: 142-3).

To claim though that such a hermeneutic approach need not involve aspects of both modernity theory and STS is to follow Habermas by subscribing to a hierarchical tradition that ranks science as the producer of new knowledge, with technology merely the underlabourer working through the implications of scientific knowledge. Assumptions of this kind are easily refuted once consideration is given to how many forms of science are simply not possible without the prior existence of technologies such as computers or electron microscopes. Furthermore, there are empirical studies which suggest that much new technology builds on its older forms, meaning that the culture of technology can on occasion exert greater influence than new science (Crook 1994: 204). It could be argued then that technology reminds science that it is a thoroughly material practice, both with respect to its consumption of time and space as well as the costs involved. The cognitive frameworks of science and engineering in turn drive technology. The term “technoscience” attempts to capture this duality (Sassower 1995: 6).

Feenberg is important then in these respects because he proposes an “instrumentalization theory” to bring about what amounts to a synthesis between modernity theory and STS. Introducing him at this point is valuable for two reasons of relevance to qualifying the relation between technology and violence: 1). Feenberg’s theory is not premised upon a nostalgic theory of the everyday as the measure of authentic social relations, which are fatally impacted by the “exterior” violence of technological interventions. 2). Feenberg’s theory does not leave one with having to choose between Girard’s theory (as per discussion in 0.6 [above]) which holds that, unlike chimpanzees, our tool use is inextricably linked to violence. It deserves mentioning here that this linkage to violence cannot in principle be challenged by Latour and Strum’s ANT study of baboons. The problem has to do with how they distinguish human society on the basis of its interaction with objects from a “social society”. So while it may be the case that ANT can free sociological analysis from its dependence upon the everyday, as Feenberg has argued [above], it is of more limited use when it comes to trying to understand unequal distributions of power as a factor in the genesis of conflict. Again, this may be construed as confirming the notion that those studying violence would be better served by recruiting other theoretical allies to make up for this lacuna in ANT.

Preparatory and supplemental then to my own situating of occurrences of violence in terms of an age of contingency, Feenberg’s theory maintains that technical action involves complementary moments of “disclosing new worlds” and “de-worlding”. For him, the latter is a process of functionalization whereby humans and objects are torn from the fabric of their original context and become subject to calculation and distanced managerial control mechanisms. Disclosing orients said subjects and objects to new worlds with the potential to qualify technical functionalization. As Feenberg aptly summarizes this relation, “The two processes are analytically distinguishable but essentially joined in practice ...The problems of our society are not due to de-worlding as such but to the flaws and limitations of the disclosure it supports under the social limitations of the existing form of modernity” (Feenberg 2003).

Jones in turn extrapolates a sympathetic comparison between Feenberg and Raymond Williams on the basis of a shared concern to leave ‘open the determinate possibility of social intervention “between” what Williams distinguishes as a technical invention and socially instituted technology; amounting to a refusal of technological determinism’ (Jones 2004: 178). Disabusing Habermas and other social theorists of their “Weberian pessimism” regarding science and technology might easily be read in these terms, but only for an associated problem in need of further clarification. I will confine myself here to some preliminary comments, as a more exploratory treatment will be afforded in Chapter Five’s discussion of new historicism (and what may lie beyond). Briefly stated then, to hinge the “social” study of technology on the question of “determinism” alone is to make a claim that the position or role of knowledge can be fixed. Let it be made clear though that for Williams, and arguably for Jones as well (see discussion in Epilogue), such critical premises, mistaken because simplistic, were not sufficient condition in and of themselves for cultural materialism. But for any analysis without such qualification the inherent risk is run of moving some way toward anti-realism and therefore relativism, because the concomitant operating assumption must be that knowledge cannot transcend a particular society or culture. The same holds for the reverse argument that societies or cultures cannot transcend their particular technologies. By way of contrast, an “anti-foundational realism” can make no apriori assumptions about which part of the world is affected by either science’s interplay of representing and intervening, or which part of a technological object is refined and what it manipulates (Schroeder 1997: 129). Foundations are not a realist prerequisite when the only assumption is that the world is separable from ideas. Antifoundational realism consequently maintains that enquiry seeks to impose order upon the world, and the necessary correlate of this activity is that enquiry’s objects are continually subjected to redefinition and reshaping by science and technology. So that while realism is indispensable for coming to terms with the social consequences of scientific and technological developments, this holds only inasmuch as it is somehow still necessary to impose order in society, and/or it remains legitimate to measure such consequences by, for example, the “sociological significance of disenchantment” (Schroeder 1997: 130).

As the critical perspective at work here holds that to dispense with these conjoined imperatives would be tantamount to dispensing with sociology tout court, an antifoundational realism must be further developed in relation to constructivism. Intriguingly, Vandenberghe’s critique of ANT gestures in this direction, by enlisting Bhaskar’s realism to argue that a “dialectical sociology of translation” cannot remain content with a “flat ontology” that is unable to distinguish between “the overlapping domains of the real, the actual, and the empirical” (Vandenberghe 2002: 62). In other words, once no distinctions can be made, all that remains possible is monism of the type I have named “seriality”. From a cultural materialist perspective such an option is precluded through emphasis instead upon the contingency of creativity as presupposing a constructivist realism. Indeed, in The Long Revolution Williams suggests that any adequate thinking of the productivity of “the creative mind” should bypass a more immature duality:

The new facts about perception make it impossible for us to assume that there is any reality experienced by man [sic] into which man’s own observations and interpretations do not enter. Thus the assumptions of naïve realism…become impossible. Yet equally, the facts of perception in no way lead us to a late form of idealism; they do not require us to suppose that there is no kind of reality outside the human mind; they point rather to the insistence that all human experience is an interpretation of the non-human reality (Williams 1961: 36).

Qualification of the central significance of disenchantment might therefore be situated by a historical sociology in terms of an age of contingency. If there is a way forward from this point, examination of this contingency may be the first step. It will be demonstrated through such a discussion that disenchantment has been linked to nihilism and consequently to occurrences of violence. Both Habermas and Giddens, despite varying degrees of emphasis, have measured this disenchantment by means of the classic sociological tension between system and social integration.[21] As Crook demonstrated, in these cases the struggle and nostalgia for the everyday as the anchoring point of the social is pitted against the disembedding thought to arise from the binding of time and space by the abstract logic of technological systems. Indeed, in many cases the fate of the concept of reification is instructive in precisely this regard, as it can be observed from Lukacs, the Frankfurt School, through to Debord, Baudrillard and onward, to have gradually reinstated the division of idealism and materialism in the form of ideology, by modelling human activity “as a modality of consciousness rather than as material labour or practice”. Violence has oftentimes registered as expressivity and even resistance in these terms, which are themselves symptomatic of a much broader cultural turn in which material entities were overdetermined as social carriers of meaning by discursive processes. (Pels, Hetherington and Vandenberghe 2002: 5).[22]

In keeping with the imperatives of Feenberg’s instrumentalization theory, an age of contingency can be shown as more ably illuminating such occurrences of violence. Another way of putting this is to describe this contingency as a form of disenchantment commensurate with its approximating a kind of, to use Williams’s description, “non-human reality.” This would be the realist aspect of my integrated model of creativity. The constructivist aspect will then have to move on in subsequent chapters to explain a creative response in terms of a communicative model of agency. Having escaped the cul de sac of situated everydayness, a space is thereby opened up to contest seriality as a contingent phenomenon. In other words, the replacement of situated everydayness in this first chapter has provided a template for everything else that will now follow.


2.1 What is “contingency”?

As demonstrated in the previous chapter, both Crook and Feenberg, although in slightly differing ways, advanced the argument that if de-worlding, (or more broadly, disenchantment), occurred, this would best be understood as the contingent outcome of the play of program and anti-program. Accordingly, Feenberg in effect proposes replacing the perspective of the everyday with his instrumentalization theory. In this chapter, what has thus far been adduced from these writers can be shown to be compatible with a particular type of historical sociology, one that would hold that de-worlding, when it occurs, is not an outcome of one form of [technological] action in and of itself, but as has more to do with these being directed in certain ways in the context of a particular historical process.

However, there are further correlates with aspects of Feenberg’s project at work here. Rather than merely thinking of violence as an undesirable external impingement upon some sacred realm such as the everyday, what if instead it could be thought of as constitutive of the play of anti-program or disenchantment, and that here might lay the necessary grounds for the emergence of creativity? In this case, the suggestion would be that violence deserves to be thought through in terms of its possible multivalency or irreducibility.[23] What initially comes to mind in this context is the work of Hans Joas, who for some time now has been developing an action theory of the genesis of our values. His basic thesis is that an understanding of our commitments requires reference to the context of their discovery as well as the context of their justification, and he maintains that such discoveries are made as part of a creative process that is facilitated by experiences of self-transcendence (Joas 2000). In the aftermath of such occurrences, Joas adjures, a disjuncture may register between experience and the available foil of interpretation (comparable to Feenberg’s hermeneutic moment). In my preferred terms, a rearticulation between the two requires an evolution in the degree of complexity. Without it, de-worlding or disenchantment simply remains as just that and nothing more, because the context of discovery is not in turn articulated to a wider context of justification. In other words, “breakdowns” are ideally moments in response to which new orientations emerge, from “relaxed contentment to concern and readiness to action” (Varela 1991: 438).

It is also worth pointing out that a general paucity of technological references per se in Joas’s portfolio does not prevent his work from providing a serviceable contextualization of the play of program and anti-program in the form of an historical sociology predicated upon contingency. That in principle he is able to encompass both aspects can be regarded as valuable for essentially four reasons: firstly, he assists by providing the philosophical infrastructure of this play of programs. Secondly, his historical vision sweeps back to a much earlier period from which it can be demonstrated that seriality can be relativized because the violence oftentimes associated with it has in fact been tied to the contingent experience of not only war, but the contingent manner in which scientists have attempted to account for causality [not the least of them Darwin and the shift to acausality among many physicists]. Thirdly, if such contingencies are in part reflective of the contested nature of some early ‘technocultures’, this opens up space for consideration of the foil of interpretation as playing a role in how causality can be framed in debates about seriality, even today. Fourthly, the combined weight of each of these elements can foster a greater appreciation for many of the developmental trends in social theory over the last thirty years or so. Once this much is clear by the end of this chapter, the cultural materialism of Williams can re-enter the picture and accordingly be read in a more differentiated light with respect to the aforementioned realism/constructivism nexus.

At the end of a quite extended meditation on these issues, some principles responsive to Feenberg’s demand for understanding conflict in an even-handed way shall start to become available. The implicit suggestion will be that contingency in principle provides ontological grounds as to why the network form of bioglobalism need not be hypostatized.

As matters currently stand, particulary given the preliminary comments on “supercomplexity” in the Introduction, the sociologist would here seize on a vital resource for retaining discursive contestation as a matter of principle. It would be important here to argue, along with Delanty, that modernity is still ultimately more about the culture of the voice than the culture of the eye (Delanty 2000b: 157-158). Although a definition of contingency is about to be offered in the next section of this chapter, it could be said that the need for qualification of the trope of occularity extends to Luhmann’s work as well. Therefore, even as I draw upon his definition of contingency to enframe my own arguments, reading him along with aspects of deconstruction may help to balance out his conceptual reliance on the position of the observer. In any case, this specific aspect of his work is in turn subjected to some critical reconstruction in Chapter Five.

So, given its centrality and that some use of the term has already been made up to this point, it is time for a more clear definition of contingency to be introduced. Luhmann is valuable for precisely this reason. For him, to identify a fact as contingent is to highlight its seemingly paradoxical qualities, inasfar as it implies something is neither necessary nor impossible (Luhmann 1992: 104). In other words, to speak of contingency is to reference something that can be contrasted with what would otherwise be understood as necessity (Joas 2002).

To be consistent with expansion of this point in relation to the contingency of communication, it becomes easier to understand by building on the critiques that have up until this point been made of some key aspects of Habermas’s theory of modernity. As I will also [i.e. following Joas] be calling for a deconstruction of modernization theory, reference to Derrida’s accounting for contingency within a discussion of Luhmann and Habermas becomes justifiable as well. In this context, what is important to understand is how Derrida’s concern is less with the indeterminate per se, and more the issue of structural necessity; ‘Différance…renders determinacy both possible and necessary’ (Derrida and Graff 1988: 148-149). Characteristically though, one encounters a greater emphasis in his work on undecidability as determining différance. In this case, undecidability cannot be reduced to the missing rule between two equally possible options: rather it is, for Derrida, the undecidability at work within each pole, which contaminates clear undecidability. In other words, for undecidability to be a possibility, it requires nonidentity with one-self. At most it could be said thus that indeterminacy complements undecidability, on the proviso it is not conceptually reduced to polysemy. What is at stake rather is how systems tend to formalize the production of meaning. In these situations, undecidability is not coming along “naturally”, but fulfilling demanding pre-conditions, inasmuch as it introduces indeterminacy into the system by broaching its failure to achieve full meaning (Stäheli 2003). Deconstruction therefore operationalizes what is otherwise paradoxical in Luhmann’s definition of contingency, in that structural necessity makes something possible, and makes its formulation impossible. For Derrida this means that Habermas does not appreciate how language games are irreducible to a normative concept of modernity where differentiation presupposes the categorical distinctiveness of types of rationality, because language is susceptible to accidental effects; inclusive of Freudian slips, metaphors and chance associations (Knodt 1994: 89-93). It should be clear already though that Derrida’s concern here is not to foreground the possibility of the accident in any trivial sense, but more obliquely, to arrive at a means of grasping the heterogeneous character of violence:

All that a deconstructive point of view tries to show, is that since convention, institutions and consensus are stabilizations (sometimes stabilizations of great duration, sometimes micro-stabilizations), this means that they are stabilizations of something essentially unstable and chaotic (Derrida 1996: 84).

If there is a point of convergence between deconstruction and systems theory then it has to do with an insistence upon the structural limitations at work in an ideal of rationality that problematizes the acceptance by Habermas of it as simply given. Rationality is contingent because curiously this limitation will always be operative even as it is never fully operating. Thus contingency is the missing information that facilitates the evolution of further complexity (Knodt 1994: 89-93).

Given the assumption that complexity cannot therefore be reduced to simplicity in any straightforward way, it also becomes more difficult to disagree with Bohman’s related charge that the work of Habermas can make for frustrating reading as the drive toward simplicity in his sociological critiques of modernity sits uncomfortably with his own practical perception of the multivalent character of social science inquiry. Bohman has argued with considerable acumen that this pertains to both Habermas’s conception of social complexity and his theory of ideology (Bohman 1999: 473). His later acknowledgement of a general flow of communication operating at many levels contrasts thus with his earlier work by opening up a vector within the theory of communicative action. If read in more deconstructive/Lumanesque terms, it might be said that Habermas’s theoretical fine-tuning obliges contingency and complexity to undergo multiplication by a scalar being distributive and associative once this logic is pushed to its structural limit. His decision to take Luhmann’s systems approach seriously has therefore meant making an increasing allowance for contingency, without surrendering a means for society to critically reflect upon itself.

In principle though the latter is an impossibility for Luhmann, for whom the university, for example, is merely another organization that serves no moral function (Delanty 2001: 67). The legitimation of such limited functionalization suggests that systems theory is potentially a cabinet of horrors. Perhaps this is also why Derrida conceded the “interminable self-critique” of deconstruction as potentially its fatal weakness (Derrida 1994: 89). Although in a strictly deconstructive sense it is illogical to portray “the countersignature” of “Derrida” as exerting any sovereign authority over deconstruction, it is less clear in other permutations how conducive to circumspection its practitioners could be. Thus the critical comments that have been reserved for ANT suggest in these terms how it might be construed as a form of “deconstruction gone mad”. Furthermore, this can hold as well across the board for the attentiveness paid to the significance of biotechnological imbroglios, as exemplified by Haraway’s conception of “the cyborg”.

In considering such difficulties I will respond by drawing on deconstruction in a more careful manner to show the necessary interplay between realism and constructivism, pace Williams, as the structural element required to displace “godlike” views of knowledge (Fuller 2001a). Those immediately concerned to further unpack the delineations involved in this procedure may wish to consult some of the resources documented in Endnote Five of Chapter Six. The general implication of such contextualization is that structural necessity is an integral operative principle of all forms of textuality. It is my view that any attempt to refute deconstruction in this expansive sense cannot amount to a convincing philosophical critique. But more pointedly, here too is a level at which a desideratum for empirical sociological research can be identified. What I ask be kept in mind is the significance of irreducible violence for subsequent development of any such program. As has been seen, Derrida suggests that stabilization cannot simply be identified as primary, with the implication that as a form of restricted economy, it in some sense marks a limiting response to the dynamics of a more general economy (Derrida 1980a). Now while much of this initially sounds highly abstract, the only request is that it be later factored into a comparison with Friese and Wagner’s account of Thevenot’s research on routinization, with particular attention paid to their claim that analytically there are “two situations” in social life. Such taxonomies may prove useful in efforts to clarify the duality by which deconstruction remains a potentially dangerous but necessary supplement to positivities, (by always already being at work within them). The suggestion stemming from this is that its “presence” need not be misconstrued as somehow automatically nullifying all substantive content once the analytical logic of complementarity is retained (McLennan 2000: 18; Norris 1998).

With contingency admitted in these ways, some other useful possibilities can begin to avail themselves for the development of a philosophically informed historical sociology. Not the least of these, it becomes more legitimate to acknowledge, true to the overtones of a “cabinet of horrors”, that the cybernetic lineage of general systems theory may well be useless for identifying and theorizing (super) complex social systems. This is chiefly owing to the absence among individuals and subgroups of any interdependent goal seeking that could be understood through simple feedback mechanisms. But in more sophisticated forms, the importance systems theory and deconstruction attach to contingency is better able to theorize the mechanisms of stable replication versus the emergence of new social forms. This is significant if sociology wishes to retain the concept of modernity as a means of assessing both the scale and rate of change. It can also be noted at present how Archer’s critique of Giddens’s structuration theory functions almost identically in terms of the contrast she draws between structuration and morphogenesis, with the former regarded as incomplete because it is unable to unpack the two connotations of “reproduction”. Of greatest importance in this context are the fields of application reserved for her favoured morphogenetic approach, encompassing, “the socio-cultural system in its own right, identifying and explaining the real and variegated structures which have emerged historically and theorizing about their concrete elaboration in the future” (emphasis mine) (Archer 1997: 47).

I shall speculate further about some of the future implications of Archer’s arguments as regards the development of a theory of action, at the end of this chapter. But firstly, by way of demonstration, it should be possible to read Hans Joas as pursuing some of these imperatives in his attempt to articulate violence and contingency to an historical sociology. Although Joas’s offering is only a rather short unpublished monograph, many of the implications of which I have had to tease out and elaborate, what is of value in this instance is how Joas offers a comparable periodization to select features of Boltanski and Chiapello’s detection of the new spirit of creativity, in addition to the provision of a means of further critically qualifying their novelty and overall importance.

2.2 An early history of contingency & violence

Having offered a definition of contingency, the task now at hand is to attempt to put the concept to work in the form of an historical sociology. According to Joas then, the early history of contingency was provided by Ernst Troeltsch, and was intended to contrast with the concept of a well-ordered cosmos, hence, “it could refer to the incompleteness and imperfection of the merely sensual and material world on one hand, but also to the liberty and creativity of God's undetermined will on the other.” Joas describes the consequences of the popularization of the world view introduced by the scientific revolution, namely a rationalist conception of the universe which was causally determined, as far reaching in their implications: metaphysical certainty in the divine will of the Creator was opened to challenge by an understanding of contingency consisting of nothing more than free will or blind chance. Consequently the desire for complete certainty transferred to the epistemological level. Accordingly Joas reads the methodological proceduralism of the Cartesian cogito as one of the clearest indicators of this move away from an ontological grounding of certainty (Joas 2002).

Picking up on this point by Joas, it is clear that thinkers such as Hans Blumenberg (Blumenberg 1983), Peter Sloterdijk (Sloterdijk 1988) and Steven Toulmin (Toulmin 1990) have argued in comparable terms that science [for many] has offered the promise of deliverance from anxiety about survival in a dangerous world. Indeed, the main source for a strong desire to control nature and life, according to Toulmin, stems from such uncertainty. Toward the end of the 19th century, Weber’s (Weber 1904-5) study of the early writings of the Calvinists identified a similar anxiety over salvation or possible condemnation for failing to fulfil the will of God. Salvation through the protestant ethic of an “inner worldly asceticism ” were also readily apparent for Weber in the ascetic attitudes of the “pure scientist” seeking “truth” through cognitive control of his environment: such a quest entails nothing less than the suppression of worldly drives and desires. If there is any nostalgia at work here, it is for the passing of the popular representation of the self-conscious autonomous individual of the Renaissance (List 2002).

Attempts to problematize such a search for certainty arguably began to arise with more frequency in the late 19th and early 20th century, and Darwinism may be counted as one such prominent example. Eternal change replaces eternal fixity, and of course attempts to think through the implications of evolutionary theory outside a determinist framework did materialize outside the realm of biologists. Perhaps most notably for Nietzsche, evolution is the correct explanation for organic history, but it results in a disastrous picture of reality, since evolution (as he saw it) has far-reaching truths for both scientific cosmology and philosophical anthropology. By claiming that “God is dead”, Nietzsche in effect removed objective meaning and spiritual purpose from both the formation of the universe and the emergence of the human species from prehistoric animals (Birx 2002).

In other words, Darwinian evolution presaged for Nietzsche nothing less than the collapse of certain morality or traditional values, and the bankruptcy of previous philosophical systems from Plato and Aristotle to Kant and Hegel. Nietzsche’s response was to offer an interpretation of reality as becoming that accepted the fluidity of nature, species, values, ideas, and beliefs. A belief in anything as eternal or spiritual was no longer tenable for him, meaning that there was no sense in which evolution can ever be taught as if it were a religion. As Birx suggests, it is therefore not too difficult to imagine that there would be little sympathy from Nietzsche for the creationism oftentimes regarded by its opponents as undermining science and reason, as demonstrated [in the United States] by resistance to the teaching of evolution in public schools. Also, to be consistent, his atheism would have skewered the ontological dualism of Stephen J. Gould for holding to both the natural world of the scientist and the transcendent realm of the theologian. The strictly naturalistic framework of Richard Dawkins and Daniel C. Dennett would have been more in accordance with Nietzsche’s monist sympathies (Birx 2002).

As shall become clearer, the implications of Darwinism for Nietzsche have proven influential for subsequent misunderstandings of moral individualism. This is especially clear in attempts to theorize, or rather valorize, the positioning of the individual in relation to a “mass”. Seltzer’s engagement with the conception of “biopower” as developed by the French Nietzschean thinker, Foucault, is illustrative of some of these attendant difficulties (which I discuss in greater detail in Chapter Five).[24] The only significant difference of course is that some commentators have detected a reversal in the French reception of Nietzschean vitalism. The following cautionary note sounded by Fuller could in this respect serve as a guide for my characterization of Seltzer as the inheritor of this French tradition, given the portrayal of the disciplinary effects of biopower in terms of the mechanical imposition of form on matter. Seltzer however would refuse to impute any sense to terms such as reversal or opposition in order to understand the manner by which the Nietzschean vocabulary has been redeployed. Such are the complications inherent to Seltzer’s depiction of the body machine complex (which I describe in both Chapters Three and Five). But understood in keeping with my more favoured method of an historical sociology/sociology of knowledge, Fuller offers a powerful tonic of revitalization against this epistemological memory loss, which I will later associate with new historicism:

…social theorists who take their marching orders from Paris should learn that the fixation on the body nowadays associated with Foucault belongs to the tradition of reductionism that vitalism was designed to oppose, not support (Fuller 2006: 92).

Be this as it may, Nietzsche’s primary concern, and what he sought to overcome in his philosophy, was evolution’s accounting for life-forms only in numerical terms, in a way he believed only emphasized the success of the inferior masses, as demonstrated by the ubiquitous bacteria, viruses, fishes and insects. This species struggle had to be put to one side if the struggle for creativity of a select few exceptional individuals was to be acknowledged across the realms of philosophy, science and art. For Nietzsche, natural selection was a vitalistic life force, exponentially increasing the quality of life forms, irreducible to an organic history concerned only with the quantity of species. More is at stake than the struggle for existence Darwin and his acolytes such as Spencer focused on, as for Nietzsche nature was the will to power pushing evolving life toward ever-greater complexity, multiplicity diversity, and creativity. The tradition of lebensphilosophie, [or “life philosophy”], which followed in his wake, never relinquished this substitution of creative power for adaptive fitness, as is evident in the writings of many adherents, including, but not restricted to, Lamarck, Henri Bergson, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Evolution moves toward no final state as time is understood by Nietzsche as a process of becoming; rather the future noble overman who will rise above other species is understood by him as the meaning and purpose of the earth (Nietzsche 1967: 365; Birx 2002).

Returning to The Genealogy of Morals then, Darwin’s influence helped ensure that Nietzsche became arguably the first thinker to discern the contingent nature of our understandings of good and evil. It was in particular in his essay on ressentiment in The Genealogy of Morals, that Nietzsche identified nihilism as a failure of creative response according with the inability of Christian metaphysics to provide a meaningful interpretation of the world (Nietzsche 1989: 96). However, those already acquainted with Joas will not be surprised to learn that the central focus of his attention is more upon the legacy of American pragmatism. His earlier study of the reception of pragmatism in European intellectual circles revealed a consistent bias, which tended toward downright hostility and misunderstanding. Indeed, the predominant attention to Nietzsche’s considerable legacy is in need of some counterbalancing here, especially in light of Simmel’s alleged throwaway remark that pragmatism is “the part of Nietzsche which the Americans adopted” (cited in Joas 1993: 99). Therefore Joas is most concerned to make the case that pragmatism developed a sophisticated interest in contingency that was utterly central to its concerns. Indeed, an “anti-necessitarian” thinker were the terms Charles Sanders Peirce used to describe himself, which sits well with Luhmann’s aforementioned definition of contingency, whilst William James offered his book A Pluralist Universe as a corrective to the marginalization of human creativity in more deterministic accounts of action. For John Dewey, such determinism was the sin ne qua of the Western intellectual project he called the "Quest for Certainty". In distancing himself from this, Dewey sought to put contingency to work through furtherance of a practical security drawing its impetus from democratic politics, technology and science. Of course, by raising Luhmann in this context, is to almost automatically prompt a reminder that he would have taken a less sanguine view of such “practical” security than Dewey, (meaning he would regard the selected mechanisms as further increasing contingency), but this should not make us lose sight of the larger point Joas makes by his comparison: these examples of Nietzsche, Bergson, and the pragmatists suggest that around 1900 some thinkers had urged awareness of different ways of conceptualizing temporality. A wider dissemination of this awareness is something Joas attributes to the traumatic effects of violence brought about by the First World War (Joas 2002).

To argue in this way is to presume the prior hegemony of social co-ordinates that sought to avoid contingency, ably assisted by the myth of progress evidenced by attitudes toward the state and economic behavior. Such are the characteristics of what Wagner has called an “organized modernity” (cf Wagner 1994), albeit one that never sufficiently problematized formation of such a simplistic self-consciousness in relation to its nonEuropean Other(s). Rather it may have more often been the case that awareness of the “internal” Other of youth, city, and sexuality had to be suppressed. Joas suggests that it was both the outbreak and the course of the First World War that called forth, by sheer virtue of their seemingly incalculable magnitude, a “desperate need of interpretation”. The need for reassurance through simplification thereby becomes understandable, however much it remains the case in contemporary historiography that this is open to challenge (Joas 2002).

Some of the repercussions can be further thought through in relation to the suggestive historical data uncovered in studies by Forman (Forman 1980). What he discovered to be overwhelmingly the case in the decade following Germany’s defeat in the First World War was that German physicists consciously moved away from causality. What is significant for Forman is that this development was not of an entirely endogenous nature. In making these claims, he ratifies the conclusions of many historians who have discerned a millenarian and dissonant public opinion in Weimar Germany. For example, Tartar has recorded an historically unprecedented, intensive occurrence of, and public fascination with, the (seemingly inexplicable) relentless “madness” of lüstmord, or what I have called seriality, in this period (Tartar 1995).[25]

Of great significance for this stage of my argument is how the growing irrationalist backlash evidenced by the popularity of Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West (191822) counted among its adherents many scientists. Smith basically agrees with Forman’s [above] position by arguing that this fact attestifies to the power exerted upon even the scientific community by popular opinion (Smith 2001: 166). In this case, it is not only Spengler’s anticipation of Heisenberg’s later uncertainty principle[26], that is worthy of comment. What is more significant is that his cultural relativism remains a touchstone for all later strong forms of social constructionism seeking the denial of objective knowledge.

For his epistemological nihilism aimed for nothing less than:

[T]he re-treatment of theoretical physics, of chemistry, of mathematics as a sum of (culturally determined) symbols - this will be the definitive conquest of the mechanical world view by an intuitive, once-more religious world outlook, a last master-effort of physiognomic to break down even systematic and to absorb it, as expression and symbol, into its own domain (Spengler 1918-22 [1991]: 222).

Prior to a more direct critical engagement with Spengler, Weber, writing in “Science As a Vocation”, had forewarned of the appeal of “redemption from the intellectualism of science…Today, such conduct is a crowd phenomenon” (Weber 1919 [1991]: 137 cited in Smith 2001: 156). In light of Weber’s critique, Adorno in 1954 could assess Spengler’s legacy in terms of, “how completely the German mind had collapsed when confronted with an opponent” of this outlook and caliber (Adorno 1954 [1994]: 54 cited in Smith 2001: 162).

Indeed, much of the culture of modernism, as attestified by the legacy of the Expressionists in Tartar’s study, laid the blame upon the modes of expression of pre-war culture, and so a complete break became for them a common cause. However, there are compelling reasons for resisting the rhetorical appeal of terms such as “complete break.” Joas is very clear on this point. Expectations of pre-industrial heroism certainly clashed heavily with the reality of the war of attrition fought out in the trenches and here it is proper to speak of the novelty of the contingency this entailed. But it is also the case, Joas argues, that all battles involve the struggle of strategy, discipline and bonding with the occurrence of unpredictable events:

I say that because I think we have to see the interplay between the experience of contingency brought about by the war –and the foil of interpretation used when the war experience was articulated. The important point is that there was such an interplay (emphasis mine) (Joas 2002).

The importance of this “foil of interpretation” cannot be underestimated given what remains to be said about the discursive self-consciousness of “communication societies”. In these terms, the experience of the participants in this war may be understood as highly variable. If one follows Joas in comparing the interplay between the experience of contingency and the foil of interpretation obtaining in revolutionary Russia, it seems reasonable to surmise that an interpretive framework existed on a collective level that could both comprehend and welcome the circumvention of any teleological philosophy of history, in a manner that may not have been afforded by the experiences of France and Germany in the Great War. Despite the scale of American involvement in the Great War, the resolution of the conflict may not have threatened epochal consciousness. Rather the unforseeable catastrophe of the Great Depression may have delivered a more damaging blow in this respect (Joas 2002). For example, when Dewey wrote in The Quest for Certainty that, “[M]an [sic] who lives in a world of hazards is compelled to seek for security” (Dewey 1929: 3), the publication date of the book two days before the Wall Street crash could perhaps itself be counted as a contingent phenomena (Wagner 2001: 15). If any of this holds, then the beginnings of the 20th century are heavily marked by an awareness of contingency.

With some notable exceptions, up until the arrival of postmodernism, Joas argues that thinkers during the so-called Thirty Golden Years after the end of the Second World War appear to have downplayed this awareness of contingency. Of these notable exceptions, he nominates Parsons’ evolutionary move away from the evolutionist premises underpinning modernization theory, and Merleau Ponty’s version of Western Marxism (Joas 2002).[27]

True to form though, until the interruption of postmodernism, modernization theory was tailored to the characteristics of the so-called “thirty glorious years”, with their features of lifelong (male) employment neatly balanced by a suburban life organized around consumption and genital sexuality. As already noted, these social arrangements could be understood in terms of an “organized modernity”. The backcloth of its successful operation was commonly thought to be reliant on a monoculture formed by moral certainty and absolute values. Of course, no doubt this conception may have functioned chiefly as an ideology, and it follows that it is still very controversial to debate the issue of whether, or to what degree, a new nexus of social change is upon us. What is easy to find however are characterizations of “our current situation” very much in terms of Hobsbawm’s shopworn imagery of “an age of extremes” marching in time, if not ideologically, to the neoconservative tune about postmodernism[28]:

While the Slump of the early 1980’s had already brought insecurity back into the lives of workers in manufacturing industries, it was not until the slump of the early 1990’s that large sections of the white-collar and professional classes in countries like Great Britain felt that neither their jobs nor their futures were safe: almost half of all people in the most prosperous parts of the country thought they might lose theirs. These were times when people, their old ways of life already undermined and crumbling in any case, were likely to lose their bearing. Was it an accident that of the ten largest mass murders in American history…eight have occurred since 1980, typically the acts of middle-aged white men in their thirties and forties, after a prolonged period of being lonely, frustrated and full of rage, and often precipitated by a catastrophe in their lives such as losing their jobs or divorce? (Hobsbawm 1999: 416)

As I have already suggested, Hobsbawn is hardly a lone voice in the wilderness here (cf. Ames 2005). For the Left Realist criminologist Jock Young for example, the changes Hobsbawm describes are indeed far-reaching in their implications, presaging nothing less than a dramatic increase in crime and disorder, and indeed the emergence of what he calls “the exclusive society”, premised upon the moral valuing of individualism. Without going into the full details here, for Young this moment signals both new problems and opportunities for social justice, given the exclusive society’s tolerance toward diversity/difference, albeit at some variance with an alleged intolerance toward difficulty. For the Left Realist, the pathological side-effects of this strategy stand fully revealed by “the narcissism of minor differences”.[29] What creates anxiety in such cases is the drawing of comparisons with those who are closest to the self; those who uncannily exist within the same universe of possibility, and yet differ in some small way. Such comparisons will ultimately invite consideration in Chapter Five of the “individualization” thesis as taken up by Seltzer and Bauman.

In this respect then, to the extent that the Left Realist tool of “relative deprivation” frames Young’s work, he is also very attentive to Bauman’s musings on the effects on social justice issues of the “postmodern” condition. A recurrent motif in Bauman’s writings is that postmodernity involves a very unequal distribution of “freedom” as a social resource. His focus is therefore the insecurity he believes results from “the widening gap between the condition of “individuality de jure” and the task of acquiring “individuality de facto.” Postmodern conditions for Bauman ensure that strangers are experienced as “slimy”, to borrow Sartre’s (Sartre 1956: 765-783) term, for those with the least social capital. Identity boundaries come under threat and social relations are perceived as evanescent when lacking the freedom of the cosmopolitan, transnational elites. The latter’s experience of strangerhood as “purveyors of pleasures” is predicated upon a conception of the world as an “adventure park” as opposed to “a trap”; a “tourist” as opposed to a “vagabond” (Bauman 1998: 97 cited in James 2001: 79). In short, the injustice associated with the disparity between these two realities is a fertile ground for the breeding of crime generally and, more particularly, for violence.

The primary objective in this bringing together of Bauman and Young has been to demonstrate their shared premises regarding the temporal (dis) ordering of the social. However, such periodizations must remain open to challenge with respect to their central tenets. This principled opposition must be fully in keeping with the anti-necessitarian principles of a contingency oriented analysis of violence introduced by way of Joas. Furthermore, this must hold both as regards the sharp conceptual contours said to separate modernity from postmodernity, as well as the ordering of historical occurrences it presumes. While clearly inseparable, of these two components, the first will more explicitly occupy more attention in the overall scheme of this thesis. However, at present it is necessary to say enough about the second, particularly as this helps facilitate a point of generalization for the periodization of serial violence.

Indeed, Bauman is really an ideal point of reference as much of his postmodern stance has functioned as a kind of extended meditation on violence. Hence the importance, for him, of the close intertwining of the modern state’s monopoly upon its people and territory with the claims to universal truth made by social science and philosophy. In Bauman’s historical narrative then, the Enlightenment discourse of liberty flourished with the decline of the old feudal order. However, this discourse in turn, he argues, tended to promote an absence of structure, provoking a counter-reaction from rulers concerned to establish an order of things by design. For Bauman, the consequences of this repression run all the way up to the excesses of control practiced under Nazism and Stalinism. Indeed, Adorno’s (Adorno 1973) war on representation, which itself emerged from the shadow of Germany’s resurgent past, was taken further by Bauman in his Modernity and the Holocaust, wherein he replaced Weber’s iron cage with the gas chamber as the metaphor for modernity (Bauman 1989). He views the emergence of postmodernity, as signalling the liberation and further radicalization of relativity, diversity and liberty long kept dormant. While Bauman is certainly attentive to the new difficulties as regards the sustaining of social consensus and social solidarity postmodernity entails, this state of affairs is clearly preferable for him to the modern alternative. However, this preference is bought at the price of some historical distortion. Following Wagner, it might be suggested that it is misleading to claim that “fear of freedom followed on the post-revolutionary experience of uncertainty and led to the turn towards order” (Wagner 1994: 44).

The modern discourses of control, order and reason existed in the pre-Revolutionary period, on this alternative reading, and so the effects of the Terror in the French Revolution should not receive a disproportionate emphasis. Wagner therefore offers a qualified account that, while acknowledging the need for boundaries raised by the Revolution, suggests it did not completely usurp the rules of pre-revolutionary states, which in large part underwent an adaptive transformation:

The Enlightenment discourse should not be mistaken for the social practices of the bourgeois revolutionaries. Very soon, the latter were willing to enter into factual coalitions with the more moderate and enlightened of their opponents. Conservative warnings of an inappropriately egalitarian homogenization of society and bourgeois concerns about a containment of the processes set in motion often went hand in hand, in the reasoning of political actors and in the actual reforms and their limitations (Wagner 1994: 44).

It is not possible to elaborate here the full details of Wagner’s critical interrogation of Bauman, especially given the need for further exploration in Chapter Five of the latter’s articulation of ambivalence and individualization. What is of more pressing importance is the generation of a critical awareness of how some accounts of temporal trauma are too simplistic. Such comparisons can be extended further: returning to Young, it is evident that for him strange contradictions are at work as “ontological insecurity” is bred by the paradoxical attraction toward essentialist forms of identity as a “refuge” from the unpredictable appropriations of the market, running the full gamut from identity politics to the revival of biological explanations of human behaviour (Young 1999: 99).

At a conceptual level however, the basis of such arguments in a postmodern declaration of the end of all metanarratives risks inconsistency to the extent that it also becomes a metanarrative. In his reading of Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition (Lyotard 1979), Joas is concerned to avoid this potential problem. Therefore, rather than abdicating the responsibility of contextualizing the origin and fate of our ideals, he argues for a “historically reflective relationship”. His point is that this implies a qualified justification for teleological and evolutionist interpretations of history that comes across as more expansive than Crook’s model of contingency:

Having broken with the idea of a unitary process of modernization, we still hold on to the notion of one history which is not being dissolved into a mere concatenation of episodes. In the third volume of his wonderful work "Time and Narrative" Paul Ricœur protests against the assumption that the future is completely open and contingent whereas the past is definitely closed and necessary. Against this assumption, he says, we have to make our expectations more definite, but also to leave our experiences more open for constant rearticulation: Such a "deconstruction" of modernization theory in the sense of an increasing awareness of contingency seems to me to be the necessary conclusion from the experiences of the history of violence in the 20th century (Joas 2002).

2.3 Towards a theory of creative morphogenesis

It is not too difficult to see aspects of Joas’s conclusion as sitting quite well with Feenberg’s [instrumentalization theory] attempted reconciliation between modernity theory and STS. Both emphasize contingency in the interest of jettisoning theories that presuppose historical certainties, among which may be included orthodox Marxist teleology and modernization theory. To be theoretically consistent, any assumption of passage into a new age must likewise be regarded with a sceptical eye, and this must include certain theories which have attained familiarity and widespread currency among many social theorists today: neither a “reflexive”, nor a “postmodern age” can pass muster as readymade explanatory devices. This must be the case as well in regard to Lash‘s more recent formulation of “another modernity”, which he intended as a distancing device from reflexive modernization theory (Lash 1999). The possible theoretical reward to come out of a separation from these other theories is an appreciation of how violence need not be necessarily construed as the underlying principle of modernity, nor its antithesis. Freed of these burdens, Joas suggests it may become possible instead to imagine the overcoming of violence through a civilizing process, given that modernity may become aware of its potential for violence. The argument advanced here is therefore a modest one: remaining hypervigilante about the permanent possibility of danger still implies less than the promise of always being able to control things by anticipating new forms of violence. For it is often the case that the latter kind of assumption has framed the social theorization of a new epoch of reflexivity (Joas 2002).

One of the things that can be taken from Joas in this context is some directions for thinking through the consequences of the critique of Enlightenment for liberal thought: under conditions of historical and cultural contingency there can no longer be an appeal to natural law or divine right for a sense of certainty, as a consequence of which violence is closely related to reflection upon, “the possibilities of subjective freedom in dealing with the problem of contingency” (Delanty 2000: 72). Delanty’s stated view is reflective of many of the developmental trends in social theory over the last thirty years or so that may be correlated with aspects of Joas’s historical narrative.

Indeed, according to Strydom, the sum total of all this theoretical development has been a widespread renouncement of the thinking of society as a self-organizing macrosubject orchestrating history, whether through privileged agents such as the proleteriat, or even the new social movements. Holding to this standard, Strydom views the systems theory of Luhmann as rendering indeterminate the identification of societal crisis through critique, because “the social” is thought to be a differentiated system with no centre. Identification of this limitation is in keeping with my own cautious appraisal of complexity theory, given the “cabinet of horrors” it was earlier argued Luhmann’s theory can easily revert to. Following Strydom in these respects also means that any engagement with action theories, such as that of Joas, must be carefully handled to avoid reducing society to an individual level. In the alternative, Luhmann in particular could only argue that nostalgia for a macro-subject is, “an unfounded metaphysical notion serving as a repository of securalised messianic hopes” (Strydom 2000: 54).

Wary of these dangers, Strydom endeavours to steer a middle path between systems theory and action theoretical approaches. The upshot of his approach is that the possibility remains open of locating the self-understanding and reflexive knowledge on the part of society existing as a whole in a "virtual centre”, the real effects of which are discernible in the sphere of public communication. The advantage of this perspective lies with its implicit suggestion that it is unnecessary to adopt a totalizing perspective in the form of either a “postmodern” break with history, or the specification of a meta-subject and its associated fixed determinants of social order. In other words, it need not be the case that “the social” could only exist in either one of two states, with temporal traumatization occurring periodically for the latter, while a permanent state of emergency is positively celebrated in works of the former kind.

It should emerge that this qualified contingency perspective can be partially understood as arising as an alternative explanation to both “structural” and “cultural” modes of analysis (Friese, Wagner 1999: 102). The challenge is to avoid the hypostatization frequently evident in these aforementioned conceptual approaches, without going too far in the opposite direction. While this most certainly entails running the risk of remaining vulnerable to accusations of a (“postmodern”) retreat into an “ideology of the present”, as Wagner and Friese have amply demonstrated in some of the critical responses to their own work, it is not clear that this need always be the case. Drawing on Arendt’s work then, they are able to argue along lines suggestive of Joas‘ engagement with the writings of Paul Ricouer:

It is not least in the situated interpretation of their own past experiences that human beings create “a gap between past and future” (Arendt 1961: 3) which enables them to make a distinction between reality and possibility which neither presentist empiricism nor structural or cultural determinism can grasp. The present world is neither just there nor predetermined in the past; it is the creation out of a plurality of possibilities which existed at the moment before (Friese and Wagner 1999: 112).

What this is getting at, or can in principle be derived from it, is nothing as extreme as a whole hearted endorsement of a postmodern sociology, with all of its associated relativistic overtones, in which all that is solid has melted into air. And yet it seems such a perspective contains in essence the necessary resources to acknowledge two important, conjoined countertendencies, which might indicate some of the senses in which it could be argued that heuristically there are two situations in social life (Friese and Wagner 1999: 109). It follows that some effort is to be expended in this thesis to underline the significance of a suitable creative sociological action theory adequate to the task of accounting for the differing ways in which individuals who share common material constraints and ideas, can behave in differing ways in the face of uncertainty and doubt (what has been referred to here as contingency). So that while (1) principled agreement on social norms, objective constraints and so forth is possible, they contend with (2) moments of critical doubt. Relating these insights to Thevenot’s research on routinization, Wagner and Friese conclude that the latter make for the analytically more general case (i.e. in principle this bears comparison with the irreducibility deconstruction accords to restricted and general economies respectively; Derrida 1980a). The former then, emerges through “creative human action.” Hardly naturally bound by a common history or the force of “functional exigencies”, such a perspective maintains that there is a world that has to be actively made to mean through demanding historical labour. Analytically then, one of the key tasks for the sociologist to perform also comes equipped with a criteria by which to sort out “the kind of social linkages that may be stable, extended and create collectivities as compared to others that tend to remain fluid, narrowly confined and changing between persons” (Friese and Wagner 1999: 113).

It follows that the interrelation of multiple collectivities in co-operative and competitive relations with one another suggests a fragile network rather than a stable core. For this to take place is to presuppose the prior existence of communication, with identity formation and more spontaneous forms of self-understanding based in bodily centres emerging among a plurality of collectivities. Local discourse is thereby able to take place around what resembles a public sphere. Following Strydom’s sociological theory of discourse, these collectivities are then enabled to articulate public communication around themes endowed with their own social and cultural specificities. A manifold complication of relations ensues as the network of public spheres becomes highly differentiated; thereby fostering awareness of a macro-level whereby society attains reflexive knowledge of itself through discourse. There is no idealized model of social order at work here premised on power, interests or values. I can only reiterate the importance of the knowledge, meanings, definitions and collectively shared interpretations which are generated. Some sense of “contingency” matters as these processes must be characterized in terms of a “unity of dissensus”. In short, society is constituted and reconstituted through order and disorder, continuity and change. None of the cultural traumas which Bauman and Young refer to go without interpretation, thereby confirming that, “change does not simply affect the form of society but at the same time also the knowledge that society has of itself, of its principal problem and its ability to organize itself and to autonomously determine itself” (Strydom 2000: 56). The unavoidable problem of social co-ordination suggests the inadequacy of postmodern approaches when collectively shared interpretations are required for engaging a problem, no matter how ephemeral such sharing may be. As I read Joas, his action approach is valuable in these respects, as rather than suggesting an individualized perspective, the limitations of which only a systems approach can surmount, his work demonstrates that it is through the perspective of the actors that the sharing of interpretations takes place. The simplest way then of putting this is to say that “coordination” is invariably a problem of action.[30]

It should not contradict understanding then by noting that there is a structured nature to this process. By extension, there could be warrant here for identifying and explaining differing degrees of cultural trauma as leading to either “the constructive morphogenesis of culture” or “the destructive cycle of cultural decay” (Sztompka 2000). In effect, Sztompka may be regarded as responding to Archer’s demand that structuration must be distinguished from morphogenesis through his trauma typologies. It would seem that when a theorist does not make such distinctions the consequence is monism. As I shall argue, new historicist thinking on seriality may be one of the clearest demonstrations of this theoretical weakness, with the assertion that culture is tantamount to trauma as such.[31]

To refer to morphogenesis in this context, however, also recalls Archer’s [cited] attempt to distinguish her approach from structuration theory in a way helpful for further thinking through some of the issues I have just introduced. She notes how for Giddens [1979: 78] it is only at the level of social systems that, “unintended consequences of action stretch beyond the recursive effects of the duality of structure”. Archer observes further to this point how for the sciences of complexity these effects would produce “emergent properties”, but Giddens prefers instead to call them “self-regulating properties”. For Giddens, their facilitating effects are what are important, as he wishes to associate system contradiction with social conflict. Hence in his writings deroutinization is characteristically stimulated by external events such as war or cultural contact, amounting to “critical situations” or “critical phases”- the challenge of which can promote forms of integration intended to resist further change through the “spot welding” of institutions [Giddens 1979: 229].

It is worth recording that there are two levels here at which Archer wishes to challenge structuration theory. Firstly, she claims that more questions are begged rather than answered:

What makes a phase “critical”- are structural factors not always germane? What produces a particular crisis-do specific systemic features not generate specific crises? What produces subsequent resistance? Logically this cannot be attributed to the long-term sedimentation of habits (Archer 1982 [1997]: 34).

More generally, Archer is critical of the suggestion that conflict/contradictions are anything other than one of many “deviation-amplifying mechanisms” (Archer 1982 [1997]: 33). In some respects this may be compatible with the sociological theory of discourse developed by Strydom, Friese and Wagner, given their unwillingness to privilege the effects of external crisis. Rather than taking the argument further by debating along with Stones [Stones 2001] the extent to which morphogenesis can clearly be differentiated from structuration by opposing duality to dualism respectively,[32] and given a more frequent discussion of Raymond Williams in this thesis, what is of particular interest is Archer’s noting of Williams’s differentiated reading of amplifying mechanisms. However, such reference is also suitable because the aspects of Williams’s project which Archer highlights fit neatly into the trends of those forms of social theory that Strydom [above] sees as having emerged in the last thirty years or so. Williams therefore proved himself highly adept in mediating between structure and agency, without falling into the trap of restricting the scope of deviance amplifying mechanisms arising from such interactions (as is more the case for Giddens’s structuration theory). But if this example of Williams is also referred back to Joas’s earlier cited comments, it is clear that Williams fits into the confounding of the conventional Marxist teleology, no less than Joas’s example of Merleau Ponty. If this is in fact the case, then there is no simple way of characterizing his cultural materialism in the terms used by Strydom - “secularized messianic hope” - but considerably more justification in reading the effects of deviance amplifying mechanisms in both Strydom and Joas’s terms, as part of a historically contingent process. Or, as Archer acknowledges:

Moreover, as Raymond Williams comments “the historical process…includes both residual and emergent forms of thought and belief, which can in practice enter into very complex relations with the more specifically and locally dominant. In any developed social order, we can expect to find not only interaction but also actual conflict between residual, dominant, and emergent forms of thought, in general as well as in special areas. Moreover there is often conflict, related to this complexity, between different versions of the dominant, which is by no means always a ready translation of a singular material class interest” (Williams 1983a: 51 cited in Archer 1988 [1996]: 322).

What one apparently finds in common then in the work of Archer (Archer 1996), Williams, and Mouzelis (Mouzelis 1995) is the basis for a sociology of culture in which agency and structure are explicable through social interaction, the power resources and objects, (technologies, economic, cultural, institutional and political capital), available to actors. Whilst concentration of these resources reproduces hierarchies of micro and macro actors, they have the potential also for redistribution and redefinition through the process of social interaction (Arthur, Keenoy, Smith, Scott Cato, Anthony: 2005). Curiously though, Archer refrains from any specific discussion of Williams’s writings as a manifestation of morphogenesis, in spite of his obvious foregrounding of complexity and emergence as constitutive of creativity.

It is therefore incumbent upon me to develop this connection further [particularly in the Conclusion of this thesis], by demonstrating how this facet of Williams’ project is able to problematize bioglobal projections of seriality, in tandem with a selection from Mouzelis. In that particular instance, technological citizenship can be theorized in the aforementioned terms of the social relationships between power resources and objects in a manner presupposing instrumentalization theory’s treatment of social conflict in an even handed way. What should have been accomplished then in this chapter are the first steps towards this objective: ANT’s emphasis upon contingency has been made over as a means of escaping the associated weaknesses of its approach as diagnosed by Feenberg and others. At the same time, this incorporation of contingency has unfettered creativity from the more familiar and comparatively inadequate, situated everydayness of social actors.


3.1 The aporias of sociology and the double imaginary signification of modernity

Emerging from the previous discussion is the twofold way in which a contingent modernity can be characterized as consisting of a double imaginary signification. In chorus with Wagner, it could be said that a certain tension crosscuts these two components, which are the autonomy of the human being as the knowing and acting subject, and the principled intelligibility or rationality of the world. In such a context, the assumption of autonomy and the quest for mastery/freedom become associated with a refusal of external guarantors, save for the ones accepted by individuals, as pertains to the certainty of their knowledge, the continuity of their selves, or the viability of their political order. Setting “your own rules” becomes indissociable from principled contestation, and both the heritage of scepticism and the basis of discursivity in the communicative structures of the public sphere bequeathed to us by modernity are demonstratively important in this context (Wagner 2001: 4).

The aspects to be discussed here have more to do with what Wagner describes as the “special commitment of the social sciences to modernity,” where the operating assumption generally holds that the aforementioned double signification is attainable through the very mode of social science inquiry itself (Wagner 2001: 4). As Wagner cleverly describes this creative tension, such a focus can illuminate the inescapability of the questions, or problematiques opened up by the social sciences, whilst a certain attainability characterizes the answers, which in some sense presumes their placement beyond the reach of sociology (Wagner 2001: 77, Game 1991). To argue otherwise in terms of the answers been comparable to timeless snapshots, is to repress consideration of temporality; as argued above, there is at least a temporary institutionalization of the answers because of the unavoidable problem of the co-ordination of social action.

Through discussion of contingency, this problem of co-ordination was itself shown to be an outcome of the absence of an absolute standpoint, which problematizes any quest to determine how valid knowledge and action are possible (Joas 2000: 14) Shorn of the connotations of a “metaphysics of presence” a deconstructive intervention might associate with this as a search for a founding origin, of more immediate concern are the persistence of the problematique of “the continuity of selfhood” such a focus can illuminate.

But drawing this kind of distinction is no easy task, at least to the extent that it can be argued that the relation between violence and contingency has radicalized a deconstructive interrogation of the normative privileging of human agency. If there is at present much concern and debate about serial violence as symptomatic of a runaway bioglobal world, an argument could be made that this violence is somehow reflective of the historical deconstruction of modernization theory, in a manner not accounted for by Joas’s narrative. Afterall, it may be all well and good to read the clash between violence and the foil of interpretation as a creative prompter to remake or resituate action, but where and how can this perspective, even with the assistance of Friese, Wagner, Strydom and the rest, draw an ethical line to situate their politics? Certainly, it should be clear that raising all of these writers in the context of the previous chapter marks a considerable advance over the lacunaes of “presuppositional everydayness” introduced in Chapter One, given the articulation of action to the materiality of object worlds, not the least of them a “plurality of bodily centres” (to quote Strydom’s phrase once more). So, if drawing this ethical line is fraught with tensions, this is because of a close proximity to the question of “whose bodily centres?” are at stake, when the contingent violence that may be a feature of bioglobality is also to be called into question.

Allow me to elaborate on the depth of this problem by returning to Joas’s periodization in the previous chapter. Once this has been clarified, an attempt can be made to present a constructive response. To begin with, and stated as simply as possible, what does it mean in the context of this thesis to make a claim [above] regarding the nature of a difficulty “not accounted for by Joas”? The “nature” of the difficulty, as I see it, has to do with the recurrence of the kinds of problematiques Wagner identifies as characteristic of a contingent modernity, with the necessary correlate that there are no secure anchoring points for the continuity of the answers (the aforementioned ‘timeless snapshots’ Wagner references). If one recalls from the Introduction the related critical imperative of not exaggerating too much the novelty of current developments, then anything ascribed to bioglobality will really amount to little more than a recurrence or possible intensification of tensions accruing around earlier problematiques.

Raising deconstruction in this context is therefore apposite because the significance of the earliest intimations detected in the Great War by Joas of the connectedness between violence and contingency have elsewhere been extended to encompass a radical discontinuity on every level of consciousness, inclusive of “a disintegration of identity” and “a permanent transgression of the normal boundaries between life/death, man/animal, man/machine” (Leed 1979: 3-19). Once this is admitted, the generally Darwinian character of the contingent historical evolution that serves as the background to Joas’s argument can begin to more ruthlessly assert its own prerogatives. So where Joas notes a clash between the foil of interpretation and the expectations of pre-industrial heroism, [only to then qualify their novelty by noting the contingency associated with all battles given the recurrency of “the fog of war”], other commentators read this clash between pre-industrial heroism and the new reality of war as in effect deconstructing a modernity which had previously been “logocentric” in its presumed articulation of self, sign and world. In such a context, violence acts as a primordialism to the extent that the agency of soldiers is reduced to living on their “survival instincts”, and yet this violence simultaneously and paradoxically intimates something more as the logistical scope of its operation is enlarged beyond the boundaries of subjective perception. This is the paradoxical sense of the aforementioned “radical discontinuity” or permanent suspension on a substratum of transgression, between life/death, man/animal, man/machine, which is oftentimes said to conflict with the expectations of pre-industrial heroism (King 1999: 46). Indeed, the clash between this experience and the foil of interpretation signalled nothing less for Benjamin than the curtailment of “stories”, understood as the creation and sharing of meaning:

With the (First) World War a process began to become apparent which has not halted since then. Was it not noticeable that men returned from the battlefield grown silent- not richer, but poorer in communicable experience? …For never has experience been contradicted more thoroughly than strategic experience by tactical warfare, economic experience by inflation, bodily experience by mechanical warfare, moral experience by those in power. A generation that had gone to school on a horse-drawn streetcar now stood under the open sky in a countryside in which nothing remained unchanged but the clouds, and beneath those clouds, in a field of force of destructive torrents and explosions, was the tiny, fragile human body (Benjamin 1973a: 84).

From this point a resurgent serialism can begin to make its presence felt in accordance with its implicitly anti-humanist strains drowning out the pathos evinced in Benjamin’s account. Paralleling many of the spatio-temporal co-ordinates of Joas’s narrative then, Haraway has documented a sharp transformation in the 1940s and 1950s in the metaphors that organized research and its interpretation in several fields of biology-notably evolutionary theory, genetics, developmental biology, and immunology. She describes the change as, "a transformation from a discourse on physiological systems, ordered by the hierarchical sexual division of labor and the principle of homeostasis, to a discourse on cybernetic technological systems, ordered by communications engineering principles” (Haraway 1981-82: 245). In light of the commentary on Virilio in the Introduction[33], it almost goes without saying how it is a popular perception that among the chief beneficiaries or fields of application for the transformations Haraway describes have been the military. But these writers are also ascribing a much wider resonance to these developments: a cultural matrix of militarization/capitalization, indeed the product of a military/industrial complex, whose logics have effectively colonized not only the conducting of “postmodern war”, but also the very fabric of the social itself: an all encompassing logic that Virilio refers to as “pure war” (Virilio 1983). The agency of the soldier, and perhaps that of the general citizen as well, thereby becomes a mere nodal point in a distributed system of communications. Were this at all plausible, the end of alienation affected through a new emphasis on creativity that situates Boltanski and Chiapello’s dystopia could also be read in a more differentiated light, given deeper roots able to be traced back to the transmutations of violence in an age of contingency (0.4: 14-15).

If the supposed existence of this logic lends itself to an ascription of seriality, it has much to do then with the alleged prominence of communication sciences that neutralize the significance of the [above] question: whose bodily centres are at stake? Read through the interpretive lens of a Haraway or Virilio, Benjamin’s description would be predicated upon the earlier experience of a radical discontinuity of bodily centres that was yet to be augmented by a new communications based management of agency: thereby heralding less the interruption or suspension on the substratum between life/death, man/animal, man/machine, than their continuous transgression, or radical involution in an endless feedback loop. So, if the potential for trauma/alienation/shame/tragedy arising from the clash between experience and the foil of interpretation paradoxically, (and all of these elements will feature as related elements in my integrated model of creativity), attested to the continuity of the human, the developments foregrounded by Haraway, Virilio, and, (as will be discussed in Chapter Five), Seltzer, speak more directly to a logic of incorporation that reinforces the expressed [above] fears of other commentators such as Vandenberghe, that the end of alienation, through incorporation into the machine, marks “the end of Man” [sic] (Vandenberghe 2002a).

To reach this point then, discussion has passed in the previous chapter through Joas’s discussion of violence and contingency, with the clash between experience and the foil of interpretation opening up a space irreducible to the presuppositional everydayness that was shown to be problematical in Chapter One. But having come out the other side of Chapter Two into this chapter, the argument would have apparently come full circle once more by reconnecting to an ANT perspective. Afterall, these man/animal, man/machine involutions are starting to sound a lot like the hybrids that fascinate Latour et al. If the introduction of Joas was intended to “break the network”, as it were, by strengthening Feenberg’s instrumentalization theory in order to gain a more even handed understanding of social conflict, then where can things go from here? Notwithstanding appearances to the contrary, (i.e. the inescapability of serially extending the network), it remains possible to continue the project of renovating instrumentalization theory into a realist/constructivist nexus. Reference to some of the tools useful for the accomplishment of this project have already been made in this chapter, inclusive of aspects of the respective approaches of Joas and Williams, with concentration in this chapter on one phase in the form of a problematique highlighted by Wagner: the continuity of selfhood.

However, I am unable to return to this sociological toolkit with Wagner’s schematic in hand, without spending some time explaining where the serial killer fits into this picture. For as things currently stand, there has thus far been greater discussion of violence occurring at a macro level. Of course this may well be the most apt means of setting an appropriate context to the extent that, as a direct consequence, it becomes considerably more difficult to think of the serial murderer as anything other than an [unintentional] side effect of the general deconstruction of a logocentric modernity. But this need not imply simply noting this point as fact and then resigning oneself to its seeming inevitability. Indeed, when the problematique of the continuity of selfhood is taken up in earnest, the basic [constructivist] argument can instead be extended: every failure or limitation can signal a new creative possibility.

And here then is to be found the basic demarcation point marking the realist/constructivist nexus off from actor network theorists, new historicists and others harbouring comparable sympathies, who hit a conceptual brickwall when this further opening up of possibilities eventually leads to the problem of settling two related questions: how to acknowledge and in turn respond to the existence of the bad hybrid? While there are in actuality two relevant aspects to bad hybridity which have either separately or in combination been detected and responded to in varying ways, for the sake of manageability I shall adopt the former approach by partitioning them off into separate chapters. In the first of these, which shall be dealt with directly, the violence of the serial killer is equated to a peculiar, because seemingly paradoxical, “aesthetic primordialism”, stemming from the miscegenation of human and animal characteristics. In the second scenario, described in Chapter Five, the actions of the serial killer have to do with the increasing hybridity of creative agency modelled on technological processes of reproduction.[34] The shared assumption in each case is that the violence associated with these figures is somehow expressive of their status as cultural category mistakes. In other words, their status as hybrids. On a more general level, the situational deployment of self-making across the board speaks to the significance of agency and thus ultimately the problematique of the continuity of selfhood: the varying degrees of violence hampering its realization are therefore related to either the heightening or diminishment of what Williams called tragedy.

This chapter will itself accordingly be divided into three parts. The first of these will outline the basis of the argument for the serialist as animal hybrid ‘gone bad’. Beginning with a careful exposition of its proponents’s views on how the prejudice of humanist discourse toward speciesism is constitutive of a nominalist postmodern capitalism, and of which the serialist is regarded less as an aberration than its fullest realization, the social implications of their critique are then detailed. In the second part of the chapter, the “nature” of these problems is shown to be problematical for the humanist premises of sociological critique. In the third and final part of the chapter, these implications are in turn responded to by evoking a different sense of tragedy; one that involves retrieval of the aforementioned sociological toolkit and schematic, with the work of Raymond Williams providing a leverage point on Wagner’s problematiques.

3.2 The Silence of the Lambs: the serialistic speciesist effects of humanism?

What kind of category mistake is identified as constitutive of the monstrous hybridity that ultimately manifests itself as serial violence? What is its relation to speciesism? These questions lay at the heart of Wolfe and Elmer’s qualitative cultural studies style analysis of the popular [film] text The Silence of the Lambs (1991), itself based upon a bestselling novel written by Thomas Harris (Harris 1988). If their choice of material is related to many of the themes surrounding this thesis, these multiply at an exponential rate once consideration is also given to how much of the debate surrounding the film has focused on its portrayal of an emergent post-gendered subject. Further details are forthcoming, but it can firstly be noted on a more general level that they attestify to how easy it is for the phenomenon of serial killing to permeate the posthumanist discourses oftentimes associated with a (bio) technoculture, given critical reservations that the latter equate to social constructionism run amok.

In other words, it is the representative nature of Wolfe and Elmer’s approach that leads me to utilize it in the present context. But their choice of material is also instructive for another more readily apparent reason. Given the conventions identified in the Introduction of this thesis, which have been further elaborated in the opening part of this chapter, it quickly becomes apparent how these authors align themselves with particular textual strategies, in as much as one assumes they regard the protocols of the visual medium as more ‘influential’ than their print counterparts, which must have thereby ultimately explain their decision to concentrate upon the filmic text. This may only become more apparent however once their account of “aestheticization” is read in light of Seltzer’s more explicitly technologically driven version in Chapter Five. At present what is most familiar is how and why Wolfe and Elmer follow the comparable paths set down by the philosophical anthropology of Rene Girard and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. In so doing they attempt to frame the representation of the serial killer as “the mass cultural heir of Greek tragic drama” in terms of “the irreducible intrication of aesthetic representation and mimesis within sacrificial sociality” (Wolfe and Elmer 1995:164). As is to be expected, Wolfe and Elmer remain convinced that the tension underpinning the relationship between representation and mimesis can never be resolved in any final instance, given how the antidote to representation - i.e. the scapegoating and subsequent sacrifice of the mimos (i.e. the subject of mimetic confusion; the hybrid) - is always representation itself.

This is where Wolfe and Elmer proffer an answer to the question of how the category mistake is identified and sacrificed. In such instances, they argue that the mimos will be sacrificed in order to reinstate the primacy of the symbolic law of culture upon which humanism is premised. Here then is their explanation of the “nature” of the transgression committed by the serial killer character called Buffalo Bill:

Bill skins his victims as a way of retaining a “trophy” of the kill. But Bill is not so respectful of the law of symbolic substitution. He becomes far more a threat…when it becomes clear that the skins are not mere trophies but are being put to use as pure means in the construction of his woman suit…Bill’s goal of having a woman suit is affronting not merely because it expresses an illicit desire to be another sex but also because it reveals a confusion about the function of the symbolic nature of “skins” in the law of culture. The problem with Bill is that he does not understand the skins as mere “trophies,” that is, as reminders of a law of symbolic substitution and hence of the primacy of the symbolic under humanism. The overt artificiality of the trophy, or ornament, its self-advertisement as symbolic, assures that the continuity between the animal and the human need not be seriously entertained. Unlike the wearer of the fur coat, who “plays” at animality by symbolizing it from a safe distance, as it were, Bill thinks his skins will make him a woman (Wolfe and Elmer 1995: 148).

But of course, given the assumption that the “antidote” to representation is always representation, these authors must also be able, (in order to remain consistent), to insist on the existence of some available means to differentiate the degrees of symbolic substitution consistent with the maintenance of humanism. Thus it follows for them that while this inherent speciesism serves as the most sacred cultural taboo, this only remains possible in accordance with the unevenness of other social discourses such as gender and class: i.e. the deployment and rearticulation of these other discourses are ideologically productive of humanism. With these other elements factored into consideration, it becomes clearer how these authors can explain the asymmetrical distribution of mimetic confusion: representation may be inescapable but it is only those who, unlike Buffalo Bill, can enframe it “aesthetically” as artifice - i.e. a distancing device that Lacoue-Labarthe refers to as “theatricalization” - that are then able to substitute/scapegoat others as sacrificial objects.

No doubt the logic of Wolfe and Elmer’s argument thus far is starting to sound a little convoluted or fanciful, and perhaps even pregnant with reactionary overtones to boot. Afterall, their suggestion would seem to be that pitiable figures such as Buffalo Bill are placed at a double disadvantage by a hegemonic speciesism that perpetuates itself by rearticulating gender and class. Hence Bill’s lack of cultural capital plays a part in the reduction of his ontological status to the level of an animal, an unfortunate situation that simultaneously expands his mimetic faculty to the point at which the “objectification” of his female victims becomes a caricature of symbolization; only in turn to be himself identified by his actions as deserving of sacrificial sociality. Understood thus as a monstrous hybrid, Buffalo Bill does not have the makings of a neonate or Arcadian primitive that would apriori make the challenging of speciesist discourse an attractive option. For surely such a blanket temptation must be resisted if in any case the symbolic laws of culture are the only available means of protection against primordial violence?

Wolfe and Elmer are aware of these difficulties, and since they wish to challenge humanist discourse in terms of its enshrinement of privilege, they are forced into making something approximating an acknowledgement of the violence associated with the deconstruction of a logocentric modernity and its cognates such as humanism, in a manner none too disimilar to aspects of my own description at the beginning of this chapter. More precisely, they develop this part of their argument by sticking fairly closely to the Lacanian repertoire already familiar from [see Introduction] discussion of the work of Diken, Bagge Lausten and Knorr-Cetina. As was also shown to be the case for these aforementioned social theorists, the turn to Lacan by Wolfe and Elmer is made in the interest of capturing the dynamism of a new spirit of capitalism, unfettered from the prohibitionary authority of symbolic “fathers”. But in accordance with this implicit “deconstruction” of logocentric authority, the distinction between the Symbolic and the Thing, (i.e. between meaning/law and enjoyment; i.e. the object which gives body to it), collapses. Symptomatic of or embodying this shift therefore are pre-symbolic Others. In short, animals (Wolfe and Elmer 1995: 163). This certainly reads as a novel spin on Strydom’s [above] cited claim that Darwinism is becoming more cultural whilst the cultural is also becoming more Darwinian (!). In other words, it becomes more difficult to identify the mimetic confusion typified by Buffalo Bill once the aesthetic is subject to bifurcation. Wolfe and Elmer are thus inclined to regard the character of Hannibal Lecter, the brilliant psychoanalyst and cannibalistic serial killer (and seemingly in their eyes the enactor par excellence to the Letter of the laws of Lacanian cultural theory), as existing in disturbing proximity to the mores of a middle class consumerism now increasingly defined by a bifurcation verging upon complementarity between animal and aesthete. It follows that the “nature” of this “postmodern” bifurcation is presented as falling between:

…the aesthetic mode of affirmative culture, with all the familiar features of class distinction and the promise of freedom and autonomy, and the nominalistic aesthetic mode of cannibalism, which revels in “reduction to the body” and refuses to surrender the object and enjoyment to the Other and the law. Our most obscured, and yet profound, level of identification with Lecter is in this nominalism, and not only in our shared meat –eating, which the discourse of speciesism, unmasked by Lecter’s cannibalism, would enable us to disavow. For it is this postmodern aesthetic of nominalism…generalized in commodity fetishism and consumer culture, that is unreadable by the modernist separation of the aesthetic and the animalistic, and that links us to Lecter at a deeper level than the modernist disguises of class discourse and the aestheticism of affirmative culture. By this double movement, the film sets up a strategic misrecognition that shows us ourselves reflected in Lecter precisely where we are not…the better to allow us not to see (and thereby enable us to “live with”) the structure of desire that surely binds us to Hannibal the Cannibal (Wolfe and Elmer 1995: 170).

3.3 A ‘modernist’ response to Wolfe & Elmer

As this quotation marks the conclusion of Wolfe and Elmer’s piece, here is an opportune moment to review the problems they have presented for the successful prosecution of the project I announced at the end of Chapter Two, namely “the basis for a sociology of culture in which agency and structure are explicable through social interaction, the power resources and objects (economic, cultural, institutional and political capital, technologies) available to actors”. What would be the nature of the difficulty their thinking would have with my outlined program? What form could a response to their criticisms take?

In my view, the initial reference to this proposed sociology of culture in Chapter Two’s discussion of contingency was apposite, as it breaks with the conventional wisdom on the social interaction of actors with power resources and objects in a manner that simultaneously anticipates and transcends the form of critique offered by Wolfe and Elmer. To demonstrate this, allow me to firstly illustrate the nature of the more “conventional thinking” on these matters, thereafter highlighting a point where Wolfe and Elmer’s critique can gain some analytical purchase. Following this, the promised materialization of Wagner’s schematic in relation to Williams can be finally introduced to consolidate my own position.

On initial inspection at least, more conventional social theoretic perspectives would be able to take heart from Wolfe and Elmer’s outlining of modernist bifurcations between the animal and the aesthetic. By paying close attention to this descriptive level, a prescriptive guide to the prioritization of political projects could in turn be derived. On this latter descriptive level then, a series of hierarchical relations could be identified:

(i) Animalized animals: subsumed under the category of “speciesism”, and like its analogues of sexism, racism, classism, objectification here is the product of logical or linguistic structures, themselves dependent upon materialized institutions for their legitimation.

(ii) Humanized animals: companions (pets), objects of sentimental affection and/or pity.

(iii) Animalized humans: struggles for full personhood by minority groups have often meant resistance to their equation with the “lower” forms of animals. Here the brutality of cultural prescriptions reduces human existence to a corporeal level. Violence perpetuated by members of this category serves ruling interests by securing the primordialism of subordinates; hence the pathological characterization of the hybridity of serialists such as “Buffalo Bill”.

(iv) Humanized humans: Sovereign (autonomous), rational, defined by action (not behaviour) (Wolfe and Elmer 1995: 147).

Given the contingent ordering that comes with the politicization of such relations, it consequently becomes important to try to account for the differing rates and scales of human and animal movement up and down the various rungs of the hierarchy identified by Wolfe and Elmer. A conception of empathy would thus not so much concern itself with the behaviour of kinds of beings, but would be solely concerned instead with our own behaviour toward them. To the extent that caring relationships are facilitated by representation and social interaction there might be reason to believe that in time other animals too will be accorded moral consideration; a process further advanced for example by primatologists questioning language and tool use as distinctive attributes of the human (Goodall 1993: 12). However, given the humanist premises Elmer and Wolfe seem to regard as overdetermining the social sciences, a more predictable response from a conventional perspective in their eyes would be a criticism of this theory of sentiment as itself begging the question of, “which rights and protections should one kind of being enjoy in relation to another?” (Sher 1999)

Hypothetically then, Wolfe and Elmer could seek confirmation of their suspicions by citing the conventional agenda of research on this very question. In such cases, postmodernism, where it is mentioned at all, quickly becomes subordinated to other more classically modernist materialist categories. As a result, while it may be possible by extension for such research to account for Buffalo Bill, the “humanist” nominalism upon which Hannibal’s continual existence is predicated is blithely ignored and thereby rendered able to proceed unchecked. Wolfe and Elmer might for example cite in support of their position a study conducted by Franklin, Tranter and White, entitled, “Explaining Support for Animal Rights: A Comparison of Two Recent Approaches to Humans, Nonhuman Animals, and Postmodernity”. With Wolfe and Elmer’s perspective in mind, I therefore offer a reading of this study as indicative of the modernist prejudice of concentrating on the status of the “animalized human”.

Franklin, Tranter and White proceed by attempting to utilize survey data collected by the 1993 Social Science Programme Survey in response to two related statements; “Animals should have the same moral rights that humans do” and “[I]t is right to use animals for medical testing if it might save human lives” (Zentralarchiv für empirische sozialforschung cited in Franklin, Tranter, and White 2001: 133). Although the original research solicited feedback from 21 countries, Franklin et al decided to restrict their focus to only 6 of them in a way that would contrast the United States, Japan, (then West) Germany with Bulgaria and the Philippines. Australia was factored into the first grouping on the basis of a separate but comparable study exploring human/animal relations. Their reason for doing so was that they wished to test the thesis that “animal rights” could be understood in terms of Inglehart’s much cited study of “postmaterial” values as the product of richer countries where existential security or socialization in the post World War II period was not overdetermined by scarcity. Hence it could be understood that “the fundamental difference between growing up with an awareness that survival is precarious, and growing up with the feeling that one’s survival can be taken for granted” (Franklin, Tranter, and White 2001: 129).

In other words, “value-orientations” for Inglehart could not be strictly correlated with class “interests”, and the tendency in his work thus is to closely read “post-materialism” ipso facto with “postmodernism” in both its historical and conceptual senses. That much of what postmaterialism denotes also captures the forms of “life politics” Giddens has referenced, it is fitting then that Franklin et al draw on the latter’s conception of “ontological insecurity”. Now, as ontological insecurity will be a template for later examination of the problematique of continuity of selfhood, all that need be said here is that for Franklin et al the evanescence which can be an effect of more reflexive social relationships problematizes Inglehart’s association of postmaterialism with existential security. It is however the contribution of companionate animals to human families and health that provides the most telling contrast with Inglehart’s thesis (Franklin, Tranter, and White 2001: 133).

With respect to the two questions in the 1993 survey then, an affirmative answer to the first would for Franklin et al be expected to buttress a postmaterial characterization, whereas for the second this would be more in keeping with the instrumental rationality of materialism. While stressing that the cumulative results of their study are indicative rather than definitive, their conclusions offer some compelling reasons as to why the human prioritization of political projects retains it primacy. After contextualizing the misanthropy of zoocentric forms of environmentalism to ontological insecurity as, “a perceived crisis of morality and disorder in late modernity”, Franklin et al record that it tends to be associated with less, rather than more education. It was this educational pattern that their research found to be consistent with such analyses of income as were possible. Bearing in mind that Inglehart’s thesis is too well supported on other issues to be discredited by Franklin et al, it is the animal/human nexus that for them proves itself the exception to the rule. After controlling for other independent variables, it follows that in the “postmaterial” countries surveyed, responses to the first question were consistently negative amongst higher income earners. With respect to the second question regarding the desirability of animal testing for human benefit, the higher income earners consistently answered in the affirmative. In other words, there was a linear association between income and dependent variables in both cases, which was not discernible in data from the two less affluent countries (Franklin, Tranter, and White 2001: 142).

Given the uneven distribution of animal empathy apparent in this critical survey, adherents of a likeminded modernist perspective might consider it worthwhile to inquire into who exactly stands to gain the greater benefit from not challenging the social implications of zoocentric ontological insecurity. Over a decade ago, Ross noted the emergence of neoliberal ideologies that were precisely expressed in terms of a morality of low expectation, under the prohibitionary slogan of “just say no”. Of course, in common with an earlier generation of neoconservatives, such puritanism gave little consideration to how cultural modernism may have been less to blame for social problems such as crime, than the occurrence of structural unemployment and institutionalized racism. He records how these pressure points were in turn further exacerbated by increasing cutbacks to government assistance programs formerly accessible in periods of greater social spending. For Ross, the danger inherent in the “greening” of the Left then is that it may reinforce “natural” limitations to social growth, in turn furthering adaptation to the status of an animalized human on behalf of society’s most vulnerable members (Ross 1994: 268).

Suggestive as this articulation of Franklin, Tranter, White and Ross may be, it still faces the immediate problem of having all of its conceptual contours reshaped or translated into the terms of Wolfe and Elmer’s approach. Afterall, the evident asymmetrical distribution of a prohibition on surplus enjoyment is in keeping with their Lacanian diagnosis of an absence of such strictures for the animalized human’s more postmodern and privileged counterparts such as Hannibal. Thus far then, if my own earlier characterization of Wolfe and Elmer’s work contained an implicit criticism of its purely qualitative cultural studies methodology, the citing of quantitative social research has done little in itself to undercut their central premises.

Even worse, consider how many of the attempts to develop something comparable to a conception of empathy predicated on the articulation of social interaction and representation as the basis of their ethics, do so in a manner that risks falling victim to the critiques of “situated everydayness” broached in Chapter One. Wolfe and Elmer’s work might lend substance to this critique as well, as they are expressing reservations about a capacity to symbolize from a “safe distance”, given the effects of a postmodern nominalism which fosters, “a strategic misrecognition that shows us ourselves reflected…precisely where we are not…the better to allow us not to see.” In other words, such critical positions point to the radical underspecification of analogies between ethical or moral proximity and the maintenance of an appropriate distance with respect to representation.

In this context, numerous examples could be related with varying degrees of explicitness to the problem of how to ethically situate violence in terms of its perpetuators/institutional locus, /victims/objects, scale, duration, and other pertinent factors – in the face of serialistic sacrificial sociality. Perhaps most notably in this vein, the Holocaust marked for Bauman a decisive turning point by demonstrating how moral factors are to be found in the social sphere of coexistence rather than the societal context of supraindividual agencies (Bauman 1989: 178-9). But the problem with this anchoring point is that it leads Bauman to in effect recapitulate many of the classic deficiencies Crook associated with Habermas’s and Giddens’s work, by opposing this transcendent ethical commandment to the adiaphorizing power of a technological modernity (Abbinnett 2003: 63; Abbinnett 1998). From Wolfe and Elmer’s perspective though one can imagine that further reservations about Bauman’s projected means of overcoming adiaphorization would be forthcoming, given the latter’s reliance upon Levinas’s anthropocentric ethics wherein, although the Other escapes any universalization, “the face of the other expresses itself only in the eyes of the other human being” (Benso 2000: 42). In this context they may prefer to consider Derrida in as much as it might be observed that although he is not directly addressing Bauman’s work, his perspective offers a valuable corrective through its emphasis on how it is incumbent upon any adequate thinking of violence to question anthropologistic approximations. Derrida’s argument is that to suggest otherwise is implausible as, "no one can seriously deny the disavowal that this involves…in order to organize on a global scale the forgetting or misunderstanding of this violence that some would compare to the worst cases of genocide”, before continuing in one of the most arresting passages to be found in his writings on “the question of the animal”:

[I]t is occurring through the organization and exploitation of an artificial, infernal, virtually interminable survival, in conditions that previous generations would have judged monstrous, outside of every supposed norm of a life proper to animals that are thus exterminated by means of their continued existence or even their overpopulation. As if, for example, instead of throwing people into ovens or gas chambers, (let's say Nazi) doctors and geneticists had decided to organize the overproduction and overgeneration of Jews, gypsies and homosexuals by means of artifical insemination, so that, being more numerous and better fed, they could be destined in always increasing numbers for the same hell, that of the imposition of genetic experimentation, or extermination by gas or by fire. In the same abattoirs (Derrida 2002a: 395).

However, it is the presence of the final two social theoretical examples that are most troubling in light of the position contrary to Wolfe and Elmer that I wish to adopt here. This is particularly the case where Williams is evoked, given that his work has thus far been identified as an important component of the integrated model of creativity, a realist/constructivist nexus of the contexts of discovery and justification that I am building towards. Notwithstanding surface impressions, assessment of a failure to move beyond Wolfe and Elmer’s and challenge is not assured from a more recognizably social theoretical perspective.

3.4 Are we still creative?

In his assessment of the significance of tragedy in our [neoliberal] times, Sweet Violence: the Idea of the Tragic, Eagleton returns with (mostly) approval to Raymond Williams's study (Eagleton 2002). He endorses the central points of Modern Tragedy (Williams 1966), the pathos of which centrally consists of the observation that the real tragedy is how much of it could have been avoided. Additionally, he agrees that many theories of tragedy have functioned as an ideology obfuscating its presence as suffering and death in the lives of ordinary people in modern life. In so doing, Eagleton is essentially charging a (neoliberal) generation as been destructively taken by a belief in self-fashioning, a “dogmatic American voluntarism” which presumes the world is “perpetually open” (Eagleton 2002: 63; Simpson 2003). To flag one possible direction here with regard to the nominalism of Lecter’s “theatricalization”, Eagleton virtually equates social constructionism with social psychosis (in the process thereby capturing its symptomology in the terms of the oversocialization I will be demonstrating in later chapters to be characteristic of seriality). Thus one finds Lasch describing a comparable situation whereby too much self-making can actually result in shrinkage of selfhood to a minimalist, survivalist core. The constructionist will thereby:

…reduce personal identity to the sexual and social roles imposed on people by conventions that can be subverted, presumably, by the simple act of assuming a new identity or lifestyle…a conception of endlessly adaptable and interchangeable identity can help to free men and women from outworn social conventions, but it can also encourage defensive maneuvers and protective mimicry. A stable identity stands among other things as a reminder of the limits of one’s adaptability. Limits imply vulnerability, wheras the survivalist seeks to become invulnerable, to protect himself against pain and loss. Emotional disengagement serves as still another survival mechanism (emphasis mine) (Lasch 1984: 98).

The unhappy alternative, as Eagleton sees it, is a sense of inertia deriving from a relativistic “culturalist or historicist hubris”, resulting in the disavowal of any “idea of social progress” (Eagleton 2002: 244). Wary of these dangers, Eagleton endeavours to remain true to the insight of his mentor Williams that tragedy is “ordinary”, irrespective of “rank”. This ethical precept is therefore ultimately inseparable from his Marxist orientation, even as he claims that Williams is insufficiently attentive to the incompatibility between its ordinariness and the scope of a future struggle able to resolve it (Eagleton 2002: 96). However, it could be argued that the dilemmas Eagleton addresses are also Kantian to the extent that autonomy can only envisage identity as a matter of moral choice. This is clear for example in the way in which Kant distinguishes humans from animals in terms of increasing rationalization. He claims that only humans have intrinsic worth because, unlike animals, they exist as “ends in themselves”, owing to their autonomy or free will. Animal cruelty is therefore objectionable to him only to the extent that it may negatively influence the treatment of one human by another (Kant 1991: 195).

Because Eagleton wishes to emphasize the moral nature of identity he thus wishes to retain the Kantian idea of a “species-being” that cannot be wished away via comparison with other beings. This in turn raises questions about the duration of any particular trait given the kind of postmodern aestheticism Wolfe and Elmer have identified. In this respect Eagleton can be seen as straying into similar territory to Habermas’s recent critical enquiry, which proclaims the rational self-understanding of a “species-ethics” for language using beings (Habermas 2003). But whereas Habermas adopts a more liberal tone, Eagleton’s concern with a common humanity to overcome indifference to the sufferings of ordinary lives is intended to ground his socialism so that it is “earth-bound and realistic”. It is these qualities he sees as lacking in relativistic historicists, who in denying human nature, feed the individualist fantasy of unconstrained self-fashioning. Of course, at the same time he maintains a commitment to a minimization of tragedy, if not its elimination, given that he believes there can at times be dignity in suffering. The tension in these twin goals is evident in Eagleton’s portrayal of our relatively unchanging species being, a “recalcitrant otherness” as animals who “straddle two domains”; the product of creation not amenable to change, and yet imbued with a capacity for creativity, a duality expressive of “finitude and frailty” (Eagleton 2002: 287).

Studies of reflexive modernization may be convincing therefore in as far as they ratify Eagleton’s basic point by describing certain risks associated with the development of technoscience, such as nuclear annihilation, as so potentially comprehensive in scope that they may urge awareness of a commonality, or ordinariness, of tragedy (Simpson 2003). However, at the same time this need not always be the case with respect to the aspects of species-being Eagleton is concerned with, as is clear from the affluence required to become, as Wolfe and Elmer remind us, a postmodern nominalist. The problem therefore with Eagleton’s humanist ethics from their kind of perspective has much to do with his failure to take mimetic creativity seriously enough. For if this creativity is the source of the “recalcitrant otherness” Eagleton discerns, it has to follow that the suppositions of his humanism must be premised on sacrificial sociality. As the symbolic law of culture is dependent upon representation, there is consequently nothing in principle able to contain or prevent some from using it to scapegoat and ultimately sacrifice those they regard as being to varying degrees pre-symbolic others. Rhetorical appeals to hybridity therefore are impelled to draw their appeal from a sense that partial connectedness is the only means of confounding the violence oftentimes associated with those more orthodox taxonomies[35]. Thus one finds Halberstam for example using her discussion of serial murder as a forum for enthusiastically reconnecting Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto (Haraway 1985) and its cognate “promise of monsters” to the possibilities of a “post-gender subject,” whereby as a consequence the ontological status of white heterosexual men no longer becomes normative (it should be obvious that the specificity here is understood as constitutive of the privileges of humanism that Halberstam wishes to challenge; Halberstam 1995: 188).

Once again, hybridity, understood as a species of postmodern nominalism, assumes the form of a spiral, forever circling back in on itself. Alas, my promise to shoehorn the bad hybrid into a critically more differentiated sociological analysis has seemingly not yet come to fruition. What I shall do next therefore is offer one final example, complete with some more estimates as to how it could be critiqued by the hybridists, before then regrouping and extracting some elements able to push my own perspective beyond this point.

In a series of articles refracted through a fear of the bioliberalism that may be regarded as a possible outcome of the developments that Ross earlier described, the social epistemologist Steve Fuller has in recent years staged a critical assault upon the so-called Darwinian Left by taking animal rights philosopher Peter Singer to task for his valorization of the reproductive fitness of animals at the expense of the welfare of certain sentient disabled and deranged humans. Fuller has also polemicized against ANT, [as referenced above], for its tendency to remain oblivious to the nature of social science enquiry as a moral project (e.g. Fuller 2001; 2003; 2004a; 2004b). As Fuller’s work attests, resistance in this context opens up space for the existence of a spirit of “critical sympathy”, which defines itself in terms comparable to Eagleton’s tragedy, where creativity is the marker of a “recalcitrant otherness” - a form of social commitment comparable to T.H.Huxley’s faith in “the power of the human will to confront and alter nature” (Paradis 1978: 162). Like Huxley before him, Fuller places a greater premium in the expansion of social interventions such as education, and the harbouring of optimism that “cosmic nature” could be shaped by artificial means (Hale 2003: 260). Although a Darwinian by training, Huxley decided to break with the expectations of his peers, such as Herbert Spencer, by insisting that a place should not be reserved for natural selection in ethical and political matters. In essays such as “Administrative Nihilism” he opposed Spencer’s support for minimal government, especially given the “naturalistic fallacy” structuring Spencer’s claim that poverty was not a significant problem in England. For the naturalistic fallacy, Huxley substituted artificial means, including provision for the moral obligation to pay for social services to become a legal one as well (Tivey 1998: 172).

Better known however is his lecture “Evolution and Ethics”, which incisively sets out the parameters of his subsequent work. Having dismissed the predictive ability of eugenicists as tantamount to that of “pigeon fanciers”,[36] Huxley goes on to remark that ethical conduct is directed “not so much to the survival of the fittest, as to the fitting of as many as possible to survive”:

It strikes me that men who are accustomed to contemplate the active or passive extirpation of the weak, the unfortunate, and the superfluous; who justify that conduct on the ground that it has the sanction of the cosmic process, and is the only way of ensuring the progress of the race; who, if [37] they are consistent, must rank medicine among the black arts and count the physician a mischievous preserver of the unfit; on whose matrimonial undertakings the principles of the stud have the chief influence; whose whole lives, therefore, are an education in the noble art of suppressing natural affection and sympathy, are not likely to have any large stock of these commodities left. But, without them, there is no conscience, nor any restraint on the conduct of men, except the calculation of self-interest, the balancing of certain present gratifications against doubtful future pains; and experience tells us how much that is worth (T.H. Huxley, 'Evolution and Ethics' (1893) Romanes Lectures, 1893: 82). .

Fuller’s principled opposition to Singer’s social Darwinism on the basis of a recalcitrant creativity is thereby easily understood. What is less clear again however are the grounds on which either he or Eagleton could critically respond to the challenge of Wolfe and Elmer’s postmodern nominalism. To clarify further the “nature” of the difficulty, this nominalism can be granted a more expansive sense through reference to Seltzer’s comparable approach. The effort to complicate any recourse to the humanist appeal of creativity in Eagleton and Fuller’s work takes place in Seltzer’s case especially with reference to what he describes as biopower. Although my intention is to unpack the Foucauldian resonances of this concept in Chapter Five via discussion of Seltzer’s analysis of serial violence, it is worth mentioning at this stage how a certain globalizing expansiveness has been accorded its usage equal to that of the developmental logic of seriality pinpointed by Rotman (e.g. Agamben 1998, Hardt and Negri 2000). Which is to say, the bioglobal articulation, or rather the convergence, of these two concepts can easily portray itself as more inevitable than contingent, and certainly new historicism offers precious few resources for slowing down the consolidation of this conceptual network.

So, to anticipate an obvious need for additional explanation of the mechanisms of this biopower with respect to the structuring of Seltzer’s argument, it can be noted here that he is in effect complicating, or rather attempting to problematize, the moment of choice associated with the exercising of this agency as an empty notion, tantamount to the idea of the self, to use the old adage, “pulling itself up by its own bootstraps”. Consequently what Seltzer claims to have encountered in many instances is a general rule of thumb: when confronted with the nature/culture binary, one is obliged, for politically expedient reasons, to choose the cultural side. But in paying obeisance to this imperative, Seltzer argues, what tends to be ignored is precisely the investment of those forms of power that operate by way of the relays between such binaries: according to him, following Foucault, they are thereby better understood as being concomitant rather than alternatives. As a result, there is a consistent thread running through Seltzer’s earliest research into the nineteenth century ‘body/machine complex’ as foregrounding today’s advanced technoculture in terms of its maladies of self-making. The perceived extension of this complex has culminated in Seltzer’s more recent interest in the phenomenon of serial killing. One of the most provocative implications of his approach then has to do with its implicit complication of the kinds of distinctions social theorists such as Hetherington, Pels and Vandenberghe were shown to be setting out at the conclusion of Chapter One. Initially at least, Seltzer is in basic agreement that the discursive framing of material relations is inadequate. In these terms one might perhaps credibly imagine Hetherington et al in turn asssenting to Seltzer’s critique of the periodizing that situates representative examples, such as the work of Daniel Bell and Christopher Lasch. As Seltzer argues:

Stated simply, the move to “periodize” the fall into consumer culture takes the form of a standard, and remarkably portable, story of a fall from production to consumption (or from industry to luxury, or from use to exchange, etc) that at times seems as crude as the claim that people grew things in the first half of the nineteenth century and ate them in the second half. The recalcitrance of such crude periodisations intimates that another sort of anxiety or appeal is perhaps being staged here and played out by way of the uncertainties about the natural or artefactual status of bodies and persons (Seltzer 1992a: 60).

Another necessary implication here though for Seltzer is that no “fall” can be postulated of a replacement of “real things” by images, given their recursive exchange in the network of biopower. Here one can imagine the breakdown of intellectual solidarity taking place, as such a nominalistic model of communicative exchange between antinomies can offer no basis for securing the normative grounding of a gift economy of central importance to Hetherington et al. Not only that, but the recalcitrant creativity claimed by Williams/Eagleton, Huxley/Fuller[37] to be generative of sociality are also implicitly cast into a conceptual bonfire by Seltzer, much, one imagines, to the approval of onlookers such as Wolfe and Elmer. But if this does not in actuality amount to a licence for creative destruction whereby a more desirable phoenix will rise from the ashes, some remnants must be quickly salvaged before the flames have time to burn themselves out.

3.5 Neither individuals nor masses: beyond the discrete qualities of subjects/objects

By way of a rejoinder some emergency measures can be undertaken to articulate the strengths of these more social theoretic positions to the possibilities raised in Chapter Two. To begin with, one can note a significant degree of convergence between Huxley and Williams as pertains to their temporal framing of sociality. In each case, considerable scepticism was expressed about “the balancing of certain present gratifications against doubtful future pains” (to requote Huxley). Indeed, Williams was insistent that something approximating an awareness of contingency constituted the essence of tragedy:

Fate or Providence had been beyond man’s [sic] understanding, so that what he saw as accident was in fact design, or was a specifically limited kind of event outside this design. The design in any case was embodied in institutions, through which man could hope to come to terms with it. But when there is an idea of design, without specific institutions at once metaphysical or social, the alienation is such that the category of accident is stressed and enlarged until it comes to include almost all actual suffering, and especially the effects of the existing and non-metaphysical social order. This is then either newly generalized as a blind fate, accident taking over from design as a plan of the universe, and becoming objective rather than subjective; or significant suffering, and therefore tragedy is pushed back in time to periods when fully connected meanings were available, and contemporary tragedy is seen as impossible because there are now no such meanings. The living tragedies of our own world can then not be negotiated at all. They cannot be seen in the light of those former meanings, or they are, however regrettable, accidents (Williams 1966: 51).

Now given this situation, it does not have to follow that a response will take form as some kind of indutiable metaphysical foundation, but rather as a prospective ideal; the responsibility for which lies with those who attempt to realize them (Fuller 2004c). This is where Wagner can come to the rescue, as the continuity of selfhood is utilized in his writings more as a recurrent problematique than as an attainable “answer” that will hold forever as a timeless snapshot. At the same time, and here is something following on from Joas’s historical sociology, deploying this problematique as an orientation point does free the sociologist to strive toward making the articulations of this problematique more definite. Understood as an age of contingency, modernity can thus afford to rekindle a legitimate conception of progress that is less the meaning of history, and more the narrative of autonomy I will be exploring. Referring to “self-assertion” in comparable (albeit androcentric) terms to Wagner’s recurrency of selfhood as a problematique, Blumenberg for example asserts that this charges “man” [sic] with the responsibility of acting when there is no guaranteed outcome of projects, so that he “indicates to himself how he is going to deal with the reality surrounding him, and how he will make use of the possibilities that are open to him” (Blumenberg 1983: 138 cited in Crook 1991: 217).

Hardly incidental then to social practices that can facilitate self-improvement and social responsibility, personal autonomy is foregrounded by the demands of conscience in accordance with the ethical roles of tragedy and critical sympathy. The resolve stemming from this can then be hardened by a public ethics striving for the ethicalization and democratization of technoscience. Articulating contexts of discovery and justification in a theory of creativity therefore presupposes communicative action with others in the context of normatively informed social environments. Both reflexive subjects and a critical public sphere must therefore be theorized as constitutive of the normative and democratic practice of science and technology. As a foretaste of what is to come in descriptions of normotic or oversocialized agency in the next chapter, I reference here again the subjective dimensions of ethical conduct, which are irreducible to societal considerations. But nor are the differentiation of value spheres readily amenable to individual resolution. Such a complicated and even paradoxical state of affairs could conceivably foster over-reliance upon guardians of morality. Accepting the burden of responsibility therefore implies that however apparent a democratic politics of technoscience and its associated public ethics, it is ultimately incumbent upon the reflexive subject to practice their autonomy (Kurasawa 2004: 162).

In other words, as these subjective dimensions of ethical conduct are irreducible to societal considerations, the outstanding task is explaining how this context of discovery becomes articulated to a context of justification. Williams and Joas accordingly trace this transition to a clash between experience and the foil of interpretation. Of the two, Williams is the more emphatic that the reduction of creative action to an individual level could lead to dystopian scenarios, among which bioglobalism could be counted as an example. Hence his insistence that doomsday fictions were about the relationship of an isolated intellectual to brutal masses. His position was that the associated “structure of feeling” mirrored the defence of minority culture against barbarism.[38] It followed for Williams then that dystopian fictions were “less warnings about the future” than about a type of contemporary feeling, for ‘to think, feel, or even speak of people in terms of “masses” is to make the burning of the books and the destroying of the cities just that much more possible’ (Williams 1988: 358).

Accordingly in Modern Tragedy the central contentions were that “liberal” tragedy warranted this ascription because it emphasized the “surpassing individual,” a bourgeois ethic that was tragic because defeat by society or the universe demonstrated it could not provide a “positive” conception of society (Williams 1966: 87). For Williams, Ibsen had railed against “false relationships, a false society, a false condition of man.” Ibsen’s liberal martyrs presaged awareness of the need to redirect perception toward the “ethical control” and “human agency” of the socialist revolution of “common” desire and aspiration (Williams 1966: 96-102). The social function of tragic theory therefore ultimately involved answering death and suffering “with a human voice” (Williams 1966: 204).[39]

But what is this, “a human voice” as the measure of tragedy? Does this not contradict the contingent imperative to disregard indutiable metaphysical foundations? If so, does it not thereby play into the hands of Wolfe and Elmer’s nominalism? The answer to all of these questions, so it appears to me, is “no.” For if my assessment is valid, Williams is already starting to make the prioritization of the human forms and projects of Franklin, Tranter, White and Ross look more plausible and attractive (cf Fuller 2004a). The added benefit here is that in so doing these forms can be articulated to a sociology of culture tied to questions of social interaction and the distribution of resources, which was tentatively raised at the conclusion of Chapter Two: i.e. the promotion of technological citizenship. Indeed, once this problem is subject to further review in the Conclusion via discussion of the possible relation between hybridity and socialism, (with reference to the work of Donna Haraway), my hope is that this impression will be solidified.

In the next paragraph or so though, more will be said in relation to Joas than Williams per se, but it should be remembered that the [above] references to “structures of feeling” can be shown to perform a similar role to this aspect of Joas’s work, in accordance with a more comprehensive examination in the Conclusion of this thesis. In the alternative, if one wished to travel down the nominalist path the operating assumption would have to be that the starting point is representation. But once this decision is made, paradoxically what is implied is the evacuation of the 'contingency' of its contingency" (Butler 1993: 195-6). In marked contrast, the model of the creativity of action Joas has developed in accordance with his conception of an age of contingency, (and as befitting the problematique of selfhood), is the cognitive starting point of modes of behaviour; how a child confronts in a practical way and interacts with the world. To privilege representation in a nominalistic manner by contrast is to risk devolving into the kind of “mentalistic psychology” of consciousness that Joas regards as problematic in the essaying of creativity by Castoriadis (Joas 1993: 168).[40]

In the alternative then, it is not necessarily reductive to argue that “creative intelligence” has its basis in adaptation to its environment. If such relations are mediated by cultural definitions/categories, this need not imply a causal relationship between an action problem and its solution. To suggest otherwise on the basis of a wholesale principled opposition to “normotic” social explanations, a refusal of a falsely deterministic relationship, is of little value if bought at the cost of “an unaccounted for conception, an ungroundable project” (Joas 1993: 169). It strikes me that on this basis a more general defence of some of the major streams of contemporary social theory could also be mounted. In other words, reflexivity, (a category of irreducible mediation between self and other), is itself a product of individualism as a cultural legacy of modernity, whilst individuation is the process of constructing a reflexive self (Delanty 2000: 161). But it is the confusion of any possible relationships between these very categories that nominalism characteristically tends to promote, by claiming in a totalizing fashion that the logic of the social is somehow overdetermined by technologies of representation.

If these are only some preliminary pointers for later discussion, I raise them here in anticipation of a contrary position to be critically engaged with in Chapter Five. Particularly from Seltzer’s perspective, it becomes quite difficult to trace creativity (read ‘social learning’: Williams 1975) in terms of a theory of action because he implodes these relations to such an extent that the acting subject remains caught at the level of traumatic experience. As a consequence, what is not facilitated is any developmental logic that could explain the adaptive evolution of foils of interpretation in response to their contingent environment as less an evolutionist accounting for history than the product of agency (Delanty 1999: 66). It follows that Chapter Five is a bridge to the final stages of the thesis in as much as the facilitation of a more contingent evolutionary model of social learning and an aligned politics of technological citizenship is precisely one of the objectives of my variant on Feenberg’s instrumentalization theory; i.e. the realist/constructivist nexus and the public and institutional role of sociological discourse. As I regard Fuller’s social epistemology as generally cultural materialist in spirit, these final stages are an appropriate venue to reintroduce his work.[41] Not the least of the advantages in doing so is that Fuller offers some powerful arguments regarding knowledge integration and contingency of selfhood that can assist by laying to rest the view that my own [contingent] privileging of a distinctly “human voice” is a contradiction in terms.[42]

The next chapter may be regarded as building toward this objective as it foregrounds some of the key elements on the more subjective side of action. When something goes “wrong” in the attempted transition to a more integrated form of creativity, one is free to speculate whether serial characteristics may as a consequence manifest themselves. But rather than furnish some kind of “psychologistic” forensic model, my interest here is more in demonstrating the ethical valences of the problematique of the continuity of selfhood as indispensable if nominalism is to be avoided. Two points should be kept in mind regarding my wariness of such forensic models and my response in terms of an action model of seriality. Firstly, consistent with the contingency theme, if these forensic models do not provide a consistently useful explanatory model for understanding the “behaviours” [sic] they attempt to describe, then it might be argued with some justification that they are dispensable. I will demonstrate this through reference to some of the accounts of the socalled criminal personality “profilers”. Secondly, a very real blindspot in such work is the absence of any reflexive dimension; to the extent it strikes me that anything even vaguely resembling a sociology of knowledge from a profiling perspective has so far never been written, and probably in principle never could be. Afterall, where my own discussion presumes the importance of accounting for how the knowledge user can be distinguished from their object of knowledge, profilers on the other hand seem quite content to speak in the language of ventriloquism or shamanism. Consider for example how two of the autobiographical accounts written by one of the most highly publicized profilers, Robert Ressler, are entitled Whoever Fights Monsters (Ressler 1993), (with this title vaguely evoking Nietzsche’s aphorism regarding the danger of looking into the abyss, lest the abyss looks back into the gazer), and I Have Lived in the Monster (Ressler 1999). Fittingly perhaps (as even a cursory inspection of the book’s dust jacket will confirm), and without any irony, Ressler seems content to have Whoever Fights Monsters marketed on the basis that his career inspired Harris to write his novel The Silence of the Lambs.

As I regard Ressler et al as here passing over the depths of the nominalist problem, I am myself in turn obliged to bite the bullet by sketching an ideal type of the developmental action dynamics of a serialist. The rationale here in the greater scheme of things is that in order to grasp what the knowledge user is, one must have a means of identifying what they are not. It would simply be a tautology though to leave matters at the point of saying action in the form of violence adequately defines the difference of one against the other, particularly when I am able to frame this possible relation in terms of omniscience and oversocialization as two possible symptoms of “a life of the mind” that can influence recourse to violence [as a failed form of creativity]. This would mean, as Joas was attempting to point out in his discussion of violence and contingency, that what ultimately determines differences of degree rather than kind is the setting of action within particular contexts. The additional suggestion though at the level of subjective conduct, which is where Kurasawa’s discussion is helpful in the next chapter, is that it is equally ill advised to quickly read off formal homologies with wider institutional orders, except to the extent that they preserve a positive sense of the creative tension between self/other relations.[43]

Furthermore, this can help ratify the case for communicative interaction with object worlds as a vital component of this creativity. In short then, the following chapter is the first stepping stone toward the conceptualization [in my theory of creativity] of subjective action tied to an axial rotation into more altruistic forms. While it may be true that Williams never developed a social learning model that encompassed the orientation of the child toward communicative action with others in exactly the same terms as Joas, both could be said to share a developmental logic that presupposed maturation in the service of a distinct ethical goal.[44] Both would in principle then be united in their opposition to all comparatively non-integrated forms of creativity. Therefore it follows that in the final part of the next chapter I will draw the point of difference in terms of an example of liberal tragedy.

In other words, the comparison is basically possible because social thinkers of all stripes would agree that the actions of any given individual are ultimately dependent upon the license of others. Bringing Williams into the orbit of Joas on such an understanding can therefore strengthen the ranks against what could be logically identified as another serialistic effect (inasfar as the latter actively works to undermine the former i.e. a central, and indeed, inescapable premise of social science). The trick then is to maintain a delicate balancing act whereby the double imaginary signification of social thought is retained without collapsing it into an omniscient/oversocialized form. In this sense, a more psychoanalytically orientated investigation of the double imaginary signification is actually a mirror effect of the duality Williams captured in his conception of a “common culture” (i.e. as per the opening quotation of this thesis [above]).

Perhaps an even better way of putting it though is to say that if contingency is constitutive of each of these epistemologies and their related practices, then the conjoining of the double imaginary signification with the ethical problematique of a common culture reinforces - once again - the [deconstructive] complementarity principle of the realist/constructivist nexus. As befitting the inescapability of the problematique of the continuity of selfhood that I have started to discuss in this chapter, the more psychoanalytical component of the nexus is now duty bound to expose the potential breakdown of this problematique - but only in the interest of serving the more constructivist purpose of realigning the autonomy of the human being as the knowing and acting subject, with the principled intelligibility or rationality of the world. It is to this task that I will now turn with the assistance of the object relations school of psychoanalysis.


4.1 The hidden injuries of sociology

If seriality is somehow a tragic manifestation of frustrated creativity, also required is an assessment of the extent to which this may be compounded by certain ways in which some sociologists have theorized the experience of social identity. The theoretical allies here include Castoriadis and Winnicott, who, in accordance with emphasis upon the ethical value of an autonomous identity, may be compared and contrasted with a “shame” based identity. In this section and the chapter to follow therefore, shame can demonstrably function as a negative prohibition in the tragic sense, but may equally facilitate creative action in other circumstances. Given that tragedy for Williams was also ordinary inasmuch as it was everywhere, it necessarily served as a spur to creative solutions for, if not its complete and definitive overcoming, (revolutionary) forms of reworking. His argument was thus consistent and not paradoxical, and the intention here is for shame to function analogously to tragedy.

Therefore I would like to open up a broader and more central discussion of the dynamics of space and subjectivity to figure the relation between the distancing of “reality” and fantasy. Choosing to focus on the importance of space and subjectivity to a discussion of the problem of serial violence suggests itself in interesting ways when comparison is made with a source which does not directly address this problem. To be specific, one of the things which makes for such fascinating reading of a work written by Richard Sennett and Jonathan Cobb, The Hidden Injuries of Class, (1973), is that it encompasses much of what will be examined in this chapter, with particular reference to the writings of R.D. Laing. Although Laing was to eventually pass out of academic fashion to the extent that he is not often discussed these days, his work remains worthy of closer examination inasmuch as it can illuminate the relation of space and subjectivity to autonomous identity. Cobb and

Sennett’s title conveys the tragic problem of subjection to personal indignity along with the related challenge of how to find an adequate coping mechanism. What this suggests ultimately however in spite of all the sophistication of their argument, is how the book can serve as a working example of the aspects of normative critique encountered in sociology which are less attentive to matters of creative autonomy than they otherwise could be through a theory of action. It is none too difficult to discern from the title alone that relative deprivation is the theme of The Hidden Injuries of Class. “Passivity” is more their preoccupation than violence, but they at least foreground one particular dimension not available elsewhere.

Most notably, I am thinking here of the work of anthropologist Elliott Leyton. Leyton has been credited with bringing the study of serial violence into the mainstream of academia with his book Compulsive Killers (Leyton 1986). He too employs a normative critique of relative deprivation to explain seriality, although it is now widely recognized that a serious weakness of his research is its absence of any kind of psychological dimension.[45] This may be a characteristically sociological vice because the discipline’s underscoring of people’s shared characteristics can inhibit appreciation of individual variation.[46] With Sennett and Cobb though, this is less readily apparent because of their reference to thinkers such as Laing. Their title resonates strongly with the possibilities of a framing in the terms of the aforementioned Nietzschean ressentiment; a paying back in (violent) kind for injuries sustained. This would suggest that familiar sense of disappointment arising when fixed normative ideas about meritocracy go unrewarded because of the inequities stemming from entrenched privilege. The temporal dimension of the passivity they discuss also bears some comparison with the work of Giddens, though this is not something reducible to class in his conception of late modernity. In an almost Sartre-like[47] fashion he employs that intriguing term “seriality” to describe encounters as “sequenced phenomena, interpolated within, yet giving form to, the seriality of day to day life” (Giddens 1984: 73). In the work of Giddens, this temporal dimension is important for the maintainance of social interaction, “to sustain front”, to the avoidance of the “loss of front”, a phenomena which generates shame or embarrassment:

It is especially interesting, in the light of Goffman’s preoccupation with like happenings, to note that Erikon links shame in the infant…to bodily posture and to “front” and “back” regions of the body. Here we can see a mode in which Freud’s theory of anal retention can be expressed in a much more socialized form. The “front” and “back regions” in which encounters occur, and in the context of which social occasions are staged, perhaps relate directly to the more primal experience of the front/back regionalization of the body (Giddens 1984: 56).

From this it might be concluded that all of these authors would at least agree that what matters most is that shame is something more difficult to move beyond than guilt. The distinction between the two is vital: whereas symbolic closure through punishment can help overcome the guilt of breaking a law, shame is harder to get rid of because, Sennett and Cobb argue, it concerns “doing poorly rather than doing wrong.” Therefore it is likely to be experienced without the relief afforded in some other cultures in which “a failure to perform the ritual tests well can be closed off simply as the individual grows older” (Sennett and Cobb 1973: 127). The key theoretical chapter of most concern here is entitled “The Divided Self”, forming a major component of the book’s second part which is called “Dreams and Defenses.” The Divided Self was of course also the title of a major work by Laing, in which he too described the process of dreams and defence by which certain patients experiencing intense forms of hysteria and schizophrenia tried to survive through an elaborate “face saving” presentation of self (Laing 1959). Eventually this threatened to totally destroy the coherence of their personalities because it led to a psychotic breakdown. Indeed, Sennett and Cobb are interested to note some similarities between Laing’s clinical description and their own research into the lives of blue-collar workers. Apparently the workers had found a way to withhold some vital part of themselves, so that in their work they felt they were only playing a role.

Unlike the “role distancing” of sociological role theory, (and the thunderous tone of many postmodern proclamations), it is important to Sennett and Cobb that this assumes the existence of some kind of deeper inner life.[48] For them, this inner life is irreducible to spontaneous impulses or the different contexts of action between which the individual moves. Rather, the maintenance of this double requirement in role playing is motivated by awareness of a social contradiction, a repatterning of the information fed into consciousness and therefore not a loss of consciousness of “society.” A Nietzschean aphorism expresses the effect of the overcoming of social contradiction, “join power and love, then you can never be hurt”, something not enjoyed by the workers who are the object of study in The Hidden Injuries of Class. The social contradiction leads to the adaptation of the passive “alienation” Sennett and Cobb observed which “shields the person from a wound contained in a seemingly flattering state” (Sennett and Cobb 1974: 196).

Having drawn Laing into discussion however, these two sociologists quickly part company with him in the interest of avoiding any overtly simplistic explanation. They argue that given the necessity for the workers to find ways of living with unavoidable social contradiction, Laing’s prescription for “ontological security” as involving the strength to be vulnerable via receptiveness to disruptive, painful experience becomes untenable. It is therefore wrong in their view to describe their subjects as enacting a “schizophrenic” process when the process of division they observed has a calming effect not discernible in Laing’s patients. Finally, Sennett and Cobb reject as reductive Laing’s structural equation of schizophrenia with a type of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde split, (“a rare phenomenon medically”; Sennett and Cobb 1974: 208), which they argue also ignores the “much richer historical dimensions” of self splitting in religious and political conversion, and more generally the “moral dreaming” which occurs outside of a psychiatric context. While stating a preference for Bateson’s “double bind” explanation of schizophrenia in which the individual cannot leave the contradictory field of commands, they go on to suggest that this too is inapplicable to the relation toward authority in their book. Afterall, the instructions to work are straightforward as it is he “who makes the situation more complex by measuring that command-reward relationship against his own feelings of fraternity and sensitivity to others” (Sennett and Cobb 1974: 209).

The critiques of Laing’s work in this book are insightful and penetrating. Given their effectivity, any engagement with Laing’s legacy must opt more for a reconstructive critique, which is what must be attempted here. If there is space to do so, as was hinted at earlier, it involves less any taking Sennett in particular to task for views he would in any case later moderate by arguing for the need for exposure to discomfort and pain. For Sennett never really relinquished the importance of many of the problems raised in The Hidden Injuries of Class, revisiting many of his interviewee’s years later in the follow up study The Corrosion of Character (Sennett 1998). By this time, in an illustration of the consequences of the new capitalism’s liquidation of stability, less sense could be made of the sacrifice the workers were willing to make for the sake of their children’s futures in order to validate their own value systems, when precisely the possibility of a shared value system had become more difficult. The line of continuity can be traced back to the critique of Laing’s conception offered by Sennett and Cobb, “perhaps it is because, as sociologists, we look at people from the outside in, rather than the inside out, that this idea seems to us to miss something” (Sennett and Cobb 1974: 201).

The problem may be that such passing over the depths of the problem Laing identified can have profound consequences. I suggest it can even result in this form of sociological analysis mimicking a character disorder. We might refer to this category mistake as involving what can be called a normotic interpretation of personal identity (i.e. presupposing no inner life). To be in a position then to speculate on where “things can go wrong,” there is no alternative but to move beyond conceptions imprisoned by the inside/outside binary by gradually introducing elements of Winnicott’s work. I suggest that The Hidden Injuries of Class develops too limited a perspective which arises in part, ironically enough, from failure to take up the significance of the heightened states such as the “religious conversions” which these authors document and desist, only to then quickly move on. For if they had chosen to linger just a little bit longer, the opportunity might have arisen to theorize them as forms of action related to a creative discovery procedure. On such a reading, the control exercised over the body can be used to combat alienation, by mediating the naked materiality of commodified objects. Much of this can only be properly explored through object relations theory, which will be a major focus of this chapter. Once this has been clarified, I can eventually return to The Hidden Injuries of Class, empowered to read it in a more differentiated light.

4.2 A closer look at some key features of object relations theory

One can begin by noting a commonality among commentators regarding the object relations theory school of psychoanalysis, to which Laing is classified as belonging; hence his emphasis on receptiveness to the kind of stimuli noted by Sennett and Cobb was not unusual. In Guntrip’s interpretation, the ontologically insecure individual can be contrasted as been preoccupied with:

[T]he pattern of conformity or adaptation to, or else rebellion against, the unsatisfactory environment. Its aim is survival in minimum discomfort, not full vigorous spontaneous creative selfhood. The result is either tame goodness or criminality (Chodorow 1978: 60).

Although I have often wondered about and will eventually go on to argue that the oppositions which frame Guntrip’s passage (conformity or rebellion, tame goodness or criminality), can and often do break down (as indeed Winnicott and Laing can be seen to have demonstrated in their work), this quotation still seems useful in urging awareness of what may be at stake in such instances. It is not necessary therefore to assume this simply means counterposing a “true” self to a false one.

It might be closer to the mark to point out that what is more important in each case is the relation between an I and a me. The necessity of both and what happens when identity becomes reified into one or the other form, is the central concern of The Divided Self. Although in principle certainly not impossible, it is by no means a risk free thing to attempt to rework these insights into say, a (pragmatic) Meadian sociological action theory. The theorist must remain all too well aware of the danger of collapsing the experience of identity into a social identity or role per se, at the expense of any consideration of the dynamics of a subjective life. The consequence of doing otherwise can be detouring the poetics of experience, substituting a normotic or “false self” conception of identity. Although hardly posed in exactly these terms, consider an instructive case in point, namely Joas’s rebuttal of Habermas’s claim that Castoriadis has an inadequate conception of the “mediation of individual and society.” For Joas it follows that:

Castoriadis does regard individuation as the result of socialization. He refuses only to derive the unconscious motivations and mental images of the individual from the social conditions of this socialization. If we consider that in his category of the “I” Mead, too, counterposed a biological root of spontaneity to the socially produced agencies of the “me” and the “generalized other”, then there is no perceptible difference between Mead and Castoriadis on this point (Joas 1993: 167).

What Joas shows to be at stake in the pragmatist accounts of creativity is an understanding of selfhood as an interweaving of inclusion and exclusion; a struggle for recognition as Honneth would have it (Honneth 1996). Additionally, Joas argues convincingly that the subtleties at work here are also lost when (postmodern) critics conflate personality structure and the self. While the former term may indeed reference a compulsive social ascription of identity, (the specific qualities the individual personality exhibits are then read in terms of dichotomous oppositions such as male/female, heterosexual/homosexual and so forth), this has little bearing on the communicative relation of the person and self as understood by Mead and further developed by Joas (Joas 1998: 11). It is only once these distinctions are made clear that pragmatism’s point of departure from those other sociological writings which presume, to employ the terminology of psychoanalysis, that the Id may be controlled by a triumphant Ego, can be properly appreciated. Critique of this assumption situates the firm and polemical way in which Craib argues that the discipline is often the province of the normotic personality (meaning not only someone who manically avoids entertaining a subjective life, but a kind of shorthand description in general for the antithesis of an autonomous self). Indeed, Giddens has frequently featured as Craib’s favourite example to substantiate this challenging claim because structuration theory portrays the agent as oriented toward social structure. Craib suggests there is an attendant risk of the agent becoming the prisoner of reflexive monitoring by its hyper-vigilant (self) consciousness, a kind of manic fantasy whereby people work only to keep an interaction going (Craib 1992: 171).

If such criticisms hold, they are another variant of Dennis Wrong’s pejorative term, “oversocialized,” originally applied to Parsons for his somewhat reductive references to Freud (Wrong 1961). A sociology of knowledge might also point to the pervasiveness of “other directed” character types, as facilitating uncritical acceptance by many sociologists of these aspects of Giddens’s work. Such would require, “the effort of the other directed person to achieve a political and personal style of tolerance, drained of emotion, temper, and moodiness. But, obviously, this can go so far that deadness of feeling comes to resemble a clinical symptom” (Riesman 1961 [1950]: 244-245 cited in Mestrovic 1997: 205). Along more postmodern lines, although in a similar vein, Lash and Urry are adamant that:

Giddens is…associated with a certain strand of positivism, namely that associated with ego-psychologists such as Erikson. It is also shown in his particular use of objectrelations theory. Whereas for example Deleuze and French feminists influenced by Melanie Klein use object-relations to show the plurality and play of an heterogenious unconscious in face of the homogenizing forces of the ego and “the Oedipus”, Giddens uses them to explore ontological security and the formation of the ego…. What they positively value as the heterogeneous play of an unconscious structured by “complexity” and “difference”, he sees as a threat to ontological security (Lash and Urry 1994: 42).

They continue along these lines by arguing that Giddens reduces the body to something to be monitored, as if it were not part of the experience of what does the monitoring (Lash and Urry 1994: 42)[49]. However, it should be pointed out that the labelling of Erikson in these terms of positivistic ego psychology is not altogether accurate. Erikson’s analysis of the difficulties faced by returning soldiers and Native Americans show that he was well aware of the permanent threats to the ego’s coherence (Erikson 1959; Joas 2000: 153). Mestrovoic more usefully extends the general tone of the critique advanced by Lash and Urry by suggesting that megalomania and criminal activity through a skillful manipulation of social structure are distinct and logical possible outcomes of the Giddens universe (Mestrovic 1998: 198).

I unreservedly make no pretence to having fully excavated the rich theoretical issues broached in this somewhat dense material. This hardly seems possible in such an attenuated discussion. I raise them here only to complicate and qualify the discussion to follow of the importance of fantasy in understanding the violent consequences of seriality. What could be taken from such thinking through these issues is a means of framing any possible tensions between creativity and normativity.[50] The implication according to Joas is that a whole series of related questions can and must be in turn explored and charted: what is the relationship between individual autonomy and social autonomy? What bearing does or can psychoanalysis have on conceptions of individual autonomy, and by what means can this be attained? (Joas 1993: 164) As far as the present and following chapter is concerned, discussion of the fetish, in combination with what I call “the belljar”, can be shown to assume an almost ritualitic importance to serial behaviour. Furthermore, this also has some bearing on the importance of routine to theorists such as Giddens and Left Realist conceptions of ontological (in) security.

And yet as it stands one cannot help feeling a little uneasy at the needs based implications of a term such as ontological security. If one considers the following comments about Winnicott by Kotowicz it is almost impossible to suppress disappointment upon encountering needs based developmental models which underplay the importance of space, including the frustrating inconsistency one sometimes encounters in the more “sociological” writings on delinquency by Winnicott himself (Winnicott 1968: 227-231). Hardly predictable, how the elements come together in any circumstance will be very much like the potential space. Not allowing sufficient engagement with this facet of his work seems destined to remain among my keenest regrets, although I attempt to redress them to some extent in my later citing of Eigen’s work on omniscience and play. Still, for the purposes of sociological comprehension it may be unavoidable that I will be forced to read Winnicott somewhat against the grain.

Some of this ambivalence can be briefly illustrated through comparison of the use of the “false self” term by Laing and Winnicott. In The Divided Self, as has already been briefly discussed, Laing contrasted the true self and the false self system. His project was motivated at base by the attempt to discover a “science of persons” through analysis of the ways in which people interrelate. In his later work, such as Knots, he highlighted distortions in communicative patterns roughly compatible with the double bind research at Palo Alto California into the origins of schizophrenia.[51] Reviewing the corpus of his work, one would have to conclude that from the beginning to the end of his career, Laing was never deterred from his guiding belief that all that “went wrong” happened in the space between people. For this reason he held onto an “escape clause”, which in highlighting a basic inconsistency in his work, may partially explain why he has today, for the most part, fallen out of fashion. The “authentic” or true self resides, Laing believed, in the “inner” self, which expands into the transcendental realm. As he came to increasingly denigrate “normal” existence, it seems that the experience of the “psychotic” exerted a stronger fascination upon him, serving as a kind of refusal or working through of the damage others may have inflicted upon an authentic identity.

Critical studies by Kotowicz have most effectively highlighted the cul de sac reached by Laing at the end of his life. He claims that Winnicott was able to, “formulate some of the most original thinking within the psychoanalytical idiom”, which eventually moved beyond the terms of the true self and false self system and therefore the unresolved problems which Laing wrestled with. Considerable elaboration took place on the original conception of failure of the facilitating environment to hold the infant’s anxieties, in which the unfortunate child is disallowed momentary omnipotence by having to reassure an anxious parent. By these means a compliant or false self is developed. Winnicott in effect escaped the inside/outside dialectic by developing the “third area”, the space of playing, which he associated with creativity and sought to free from any causality such as the unconscious or so called “external reality.” (Kotowicz 1997: 68) In this respect he is not too dissimilar to Castoriadis[52] as he sought to develop the importance of the imagination in allowing autonomy from internal impulses and external reality by describing its processing of the relation between the two: “An autonomous subject is one that knows itself to be justified in concluding: this is true indeed and: this is indeed my desire” (Castoriadis 1987: 273). Returning to Winnicott, the popular example in his writings of a child’s attachment to its “transitional objects”, such as a cuddly toy or a piece of blanket, can be read in the terms Kotowicz uses:

Thus one finds in Winnicott’s writings two trends, two lines of thought. One is the psychoanalytical and most of what that entails, and the other evolves from the concept of play. The difficulty is that these two are at odds with each other. Their respective starting points are so different, one being the celebration of death, the other of being alive, that they cannot possibly co-exist (Kotowicz 1993: 148).

Described in such mutually exclusive terms, the first reaction may be that it is possible that Kotowicz overstates his case in making these kinds of distinctions. Be this as it may, the features of Winnicott’s thought which Kotowicz has highlighted here open up the discussion to questions of potential space and play in ways which seem to displace the hard and fast distinctions of the inside/out kind, of “where the subject is coming from.” The description of a “transitional object” existing in “third space” would seem to problematize the conclusions reached in various other studies of the dilemmas faced in maintaining a sense of self.[53] My own somewhat guilty ambivalence with regard to these matters means I cannot simply dismiss Kotowicz’s separations out of hand. In part hesitancy must arise from the ways in which the legacy of object relations theory has been critically received and rendered to many theorists persona non-gratae. This is in no small part due to the intimidating legacy of that (in) famous concept, “good enough mothering.” If one can somehow qualify the more psychoanalytical dimensions of Winnicott’s work this might supply some means of suggesting that such oppositions need not invalidate my overall argument. I feel reassured in making this statement given the fact that it is possible to discover a representative sampling of my theme of omniscience across quite a broad spectrum of the various schools of psychoanalysis, encompassing for example, such prominent figures as Lacan, Bion and Kohut.

Wide scale enthusiasm for Lacan’s work is itself however one of the major reasons for the closure of dialogue with object relations theory (Macey 1991). Chapter Five’s examination of the cultural studies fascination with Lacan would appear to confirm Macey’s assessment that this has meant that there has been much “navigating by fixed stars”. In any case, what is really at stake in psychoanalysis, and here is the reason for its potential linkage to the radical imagination, is the way in which it can change attitudes to reality, as opposed to merely looking for objective causes within reality. The “psychical reality” which is the object of psychoanalysis unsettles the positivist dichotomy associated with pre-critical discourses such as sexology and psychologism between fantasy and reality, uncovering the effect of fantasy in all of our actions, beliefs and perceptions. Reservations as to whether it is capable of living up to these demands are one of the reasons object relations theory remains shrouded in controversy (Burgin and Kaplan 1986:


The standard reasoning holds that, before a falling out of academic fashion, Winnicott and others from this school have been useful to sociologists seeking an alternative account of personality formation. The availability of this resource has precluded sole reliance on either the alleged instinctual determinism of Freud and Klein and the ego psychologists, as well as the unmediated determinism of the cultural school, evident in the writings of psychoanalysts such as Fromm and Horney. In this view, the cultural school significantly underplays the mediation of the outside world on the inside through fantasy, conflict, projection, introjection, repression and so forth. With respect to so called instinctual determinism, object relations theory can be seen to differ (with the possible exception of the “oral stage”) in regarding attainment as a result of social interactions. Chodorow, a well known sociological exponent of object relations theory, offers a neat capsule summary:

People have innate erotic and aggresive energies. Infants, as psychoanalysis shows, are sexual. But people do not naturally seek release of tension from physiological drives or use their object-relations in the search for this release. Rather, they manipulate and transform drives in the course of attaining and retaining relationships (Chodorow 1978: 48).

The child’s development in object relations theory is therefore closely tied to intersubjective perception and recognition in a manner which could prove sympathetic to some feminist critiques, such as (Jessica) Benjamin’s, of the acquisition of autonomy and the learning of the gender role as portrayed in orthodox psychoanalysis. One can further appreciate the implications of this when considering socialization outside this narrower bandwith of the formative stages of personality development. Briefly setting aside polemical tirades against “normotic” sociologists, one may prefer to discern the compelling reasons as to why the project of a sociological action theory remains valuable.

From this perspective it matters less that some critics are inclined to be dismissive of the treatment of fantasy in object relations theory as a form of post-Freudianism which lapses into sentimental pre-Freudian positivism for its presumption of a pre-existing mother/child dyad. Afterall, those wishing to salvage object relations theory, and Winnicott in particular, could respond to such criticisms by following Lorenzer and Orban argument that, “this criticism should not diminish the worth of Winnicott’s discoveries, so long as the influence of the criticized assumptions are carefully teased out” (Lorenzer and Orban 1987: 473). In order to do this, they argue that the sequence can be reversed, away from an untenable separation between “the self and the outer world before the formation of the transitional objects and transitional phenomena.” By this means the transitional objects can be understood as part of the development of a subjective structure. Winnicott however is apparently unclear about how it is that the self arises from undifferentiated experiences, referring to “an intermediate area of experiencing, to which inner reality and external life both contribute”. Lorenzer and Orban are therefore arguing the converse: “the inner and outer do not make up this intermediate area; instead they differentiate themselves out of it…into transitional objects and phenomena” (Lorenzer and Orban 1987: 475). The object is therefore permanently transitional, its boundaries can be contested and it can be subjective and variable. From this perspective it becomes the product of a historically contingent process and not an ahistorical dyad (Wright 1984: 97).

Inevitably in spite of the qualification that has been attempted here to minimize this component of the theory, there will be those who will continually return to the legacy of maternal deprivation, “the good enough mother.” Had qualification of the importance of this concept not been undertaken, it still seems that Winnicott need not be interpreted as necessarily making a strong case for a woman as carrying out the duties of the primary caretaker (as he did indeed argue in his work). But this is not really an answer to the critics. Alternatives abound. Reid and McLachlan (Reid and McLachlan 1994: 61) have highlighted Deborah Tannen’s works such as You Just Don’t Understand (1991) and That’s Not What I Meant! (1992) which draws on the work of Bateson and Goffman among others to help explain inequities in modern relationships. Bittman and Pixley (Bittman and Pixley 1997: 83) have done something similar, with their articulation of Tannen’s work to Bateson’s “double bind” theory and Wynne’s research on “pseudomutuality” to Habermas’s “systematic communicative distortions” concept. In the work of these two sociologists, strong conclusions have been drawn regarding not only failure to account for a frequency of absent fathers in research on schizoghenic mothers, the consequences of mothers being given no other outlet such as a career to develop their identity, but also to understand that the “natural bonding” used to support this theory of maternal deprivation is a historical variable rather than a biological necessity. Were there a complete absence of historical contingency in my own argument, a concession would have to made that perhaps the best that could be done in such a situation would be to substitute the Left Realist concern with relative deprivation for a preoccupation with maternal deprivation. Drawing on the critical positions of Framing and Interpretation and The Double Life of the Family would result in a complementary sense of inequities of outcome in a context of formal equality in meta-communication patterns and a Left Realist study such as The Exclusionary Society.[54]

However, Doubt has expressed his reservations on the comprehensive applicability of double bind theory to schizophrenia along the critical line that “some can metacommunicate, some cannot” (cf Doubt 1996). The kind of objections raised in Doubt’s work provide part of the rationale for a shying away here from complete endorsement of the tantalizing prospects offered by an investment in the double bind research. Moreover, hesitancy arises because of the earlier stated disatisfaction regarding a Habermas influenced method of understanding the most important dynamics in the context of this research, mostly especially fantasy and the use of objects as constitutive of action. (Wright 1984: 92) In other words, the objective remains the uncovering of a modified form of object-relations theory to introduce the main components of the dilemma of omniscience/omnipotence.

The next aim is to demonstrate the relevance of the transitional object to this exercise.

It is dependent upon understanding how:

[T]he transitional object is a form of defence against separation…the capacity to play with illusion is what distinguishes this experience from the fixed delusion whch may later turn a transitional object into that permanent security prop, the fetish, both in the Freudian sense (it disguises the actuality of the lack) and in the Marxian sense (it functions as a commodity that supplies human want). Winnicott is ultimately concerned with the child’s ability to use objects in what one could describe as a non- exploitative way (Eigen 1989: 266).

What is exciting then about reading Winnicott as an action theorist is that his work can help shortcircuit the absence of materiality in the more discursive approaches of both Giddens and Habermas, in which the body is conspicuous only by its absence. Indeed, the performative, corporeal aspects of bodily materiality seem capable of mediating between the extremes of situated “everydayness” and the more “naked” materialism of things themselves, as presented by ANT.[55] There are thus fantasies involving movement, a transitional play that could be thought of as the creative imagination at work. Opposed to these are static fantasies personifying deathlike anxieties. It would follow that monism from either side could be identified and countered by mapping the structural affinity between both kinds of fantasy to Vandenberghe’s distinction between gift economy (i.e. personalizing objects), and commodity economy respectively.[56] None of this appears logically incompatible with either the double sense in which Eigen reads Winnicott, or the ethical accounting for the tragic failures of creativity in the work of Williams, Sennett and Cobb (some further sociological ramifications of the affective component I will examine in the next subsection, are convincingly explored by Lyman 2004).

In other words, the forms of fantasy which must be understood are those which are not permanently transitional (i.e. the intermediate area between “reality” and “fantasy”). Winnicott sometimes distinguished between “dreaming” and “fantasy” respectively to make this distinction clearer. As already indicated, in psychopathology significant evidence of this is available through study of fetishism and perversion. They offer testimony of Freud’s claim, with which Winnicott would have been in agreement, that “there is a splitting of the ego in fetishism: the patient knows and does not know that the fetish object is not (the woman’s penis)” (Eigen 1989: 266). Moreover, the sum effect of such work is a ratification of Joas’ intution that an integrated experience of creativity is required. For without it, an exclusive reliance on violence can act only to temporarily stabilize, as opposed to being formative of, the perpetrator’s identity (Joas 2003: 111-121). This is the kind of problem in need of further elaboration to enhance the bare descriptive overview of what the psychodynamic characteristics of seriality may be. If this can be accomplished through an (re) imaginative augmentation of thinkers familiar to Joas, such as Winnicott and Mead, along with other cognate work, I can then return to Joas at the conclusion of this chapter (thereby logging my own progress toward a model of integrated creativity).

4.3 Keppel’s model of the signature pattern & clinical rage

Read in terms of the fetishism I have referenced, anger may also be linked to Winnicott’s insight that rage may help to create a fresh sense of self and other. But this is only possible, Winnicott argues, once this attempt at omniscience and omnipotence has failed. It is this point which bears particular emphasis because it may help to clarify which force may be driving the evolution of a signature pattern. More importantly, such discussion will help play out a wider concern with the importance of scepticism as one of the most important aspects of the double signification of modernity.

But firstly, in keeping with the framing of a critical approach in terms of an action theory, some reservations may conceivably be expressed regarding Keppel’s choice of term, “clinical anger”. In spite of such wary appraisals, there is scope for treating his work with some seriousness as a theoretical attempt to think through what the signature patterns of these crimes might mean for the psychological development, or lack thereof, of the individual who is a serial murderer. Although I would argue that the excitation response model adumbrated by him is suggestive in many regards, what demands acknowledgement is that Keppel’s work retains a core deficit stemming from insufficient appreciation of this paradox: the escalation of the serial pattern is not indicative of the success of the offender having attained “more control” by incorporating a growing number of victims into the fantasy structure of their lives. Keppel grants some recognition to this by describing it as a form of magical thinking for people who feel totally powerless and bewildered by the world. But this essentially does nothing to dissuade him from arguing that the method works in accomplishing its main goal of establishing the desired for comfort zone. Desperately entombed, or rather as Keppel seems to suggest, lovingly enthralled, to and by their fantasy world, the signature offender eventually attains an apotheosis of lunacy, if you will. In this state, violence is said to result only when an intrusive “reality” creates conflict and discomfort. But this seems to suggest a somewhat simplistic binary view of fetishism with which there has been earlier call to criticize. In too clearly delineating a diaphasic personality, purportedly involving a self split between the selfish refuge of a “fantasy life” and something else, “reality”, Keppel’s work risks downplaying the “stagnation effect” of a collapse of potential space which could be regarded as more telling (Keppel 1997: 320). Keppel, in common with all profilers who attempt to discuss fantasy, seems to have taken on board the conservative lessons of positivistic American ego psychology regarding the desirability of adaptation to the environment. Although not specifically addressing Keppel, it is from a similar position that Sass is able to offer some logical hatchet work regarding the oppositions in Keppel’s argument:

…these assumptions are clearly not independent of each other; the very awareness of fantasy as such would, for example, seem to imply a degree or kind of reflexive awareness, for it implies recognition of the occurrence of an inner or merely subjective event; therefore, given the master assumption of diminished self awareness … it is hardly likely that the purported confusion would be assumed to involve a reduction of reality to fantasy rather than the reverse (Sass 1992: 511).

From this reverse angle then, what remains most valuable in Keppel’s work is how the changes in a signature pattern may attestify to the important role of anger as a motivational force. I would like to suggest the possible conjunction of this aspect of his developmental model with a (slightly modified) insight of Laing which holds that these forms of extreme violence are doomed to fail in securing their ultimate objective. That this may be so is partly attributable to a cumulative effect which can be shown to be the opposite of that which was intended. That is to say, the last resort of murder cannot be formative of personal identity, providing [as it does] only temporary stabilization. The result of this is that the violence serves only to more radically potentiate the perceived threat to the self, thereby increasing ontological insecurity. This in turn fosters development of an addictive process gradually spiralling out of control as the signature evolves, with the brittle structure labouring under the imminent danger of implosion. At the point of critical mass in which nothing less than one’s very survival may be felt to be at stake, it becomes imperative for the besieged self to execute an increasingly violent and desperate negation of the source of the “threat”.

It is my contention that this process might contain in outline the beginnings of an explanation for the escalation of a signature pattern of violence. This may be some advancement over the otherwise seemingly implicit generality or wilful obscurity of the analogy that argues more intense thrills will be sought after in such instances, “[L] ike drug users after a bigger and bigger thrill, signature killers can seek to experiment with activities which allow them to vent their rage” (Keppel 1998: 338). The resilience and adaptability of Keppel’s overall schemata is still retained in the face of such critique, albeit having undergone some modification for the purpose of this thesis. One of the levels at which Keppel’s case studies are most convincing, as I have sought to gradually introduce this dimension of his work, relates to the tireless demonstration of what the author calls “clinical anger.” As Keppel conveniently summarizes his findings, it may be useful to reproduce the elements of “clinical anger” of the most importance to the ensuing discussion of Winnicott. For Keppel, clinical anger is anger that is:

• Constant rather than transient (remaining “situational” only inasfar as it is further potentiated by a “triggering event”)

• The child, and ultimately the adult, perceives as beyond his control or bigger than him, as in Theodore Bundy’s “entity” (some of the activities of this notorious serialist pertinent to the building of Keppel’s model are discussed in greater detail below)

• The child or adult never really understands

• Increases progressively or exponentially as the child matures through adolescence and into adulthood

• Cannot be compensated for except by the performance of defiant or violent acts upon surrogate representatives of that anger which provides only a temporary release

• Even at low ebb requires medication by alcohol, drugs, other chemical or physical abuses, and/or outlets such as deviant fantasy

• Becomes imprinted psychologically in such a way that the child or adult develops a pattern of signature behaviours throughout the rest of his life, right through the performance of his crimes (Keppel 1998: 298)

Not the least of the advantages to be derived from understanding signature patterns in these terms, it has been suggested, is to highlight how in such cases the violence inflicted upon a victim is often times above and beyond that sufficient to cause death. One uses the qualification “often times” here without necessarily invalidating the applicability of the model (given that the absence of these telltale “overkill” signs may be due to the crime occurring in an earlier stage of an evolving signature pattern). The most disturbing implication of this may be that other crimes, such as serial rape, may also be evolving in this direction. Keppel suggests that the serial murderers Theodore Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer typify “the black hole at the end of the continuum”, as they were both ineradicably moving beyond the outer limits into the most extreme, although perversely logical, extensions of signature behaviour. Keppel includes in this subcategory necrophilia, cannibalism and the harvesting of human body parts in the residence of the signature killer (Keppel 1997: 263-290).

Consider the following documented evidence in support of these claims of a strong fetishistic component to these kinds of crimes. At the time of his arrest, Dahmer was in the process of decorating a “shrine” in his apartment with the painted skulls and skeletons of some of his victims, while other assorted body parts were conveniently stored elsewhere for sexual purposes and later consumption. Similarly, in a series of interviews conducted whilst awaiting execution, Bundy confessed his ultimate fantasy to Keppel of having his own crematorium, so that he could freely dispose of his victim’s remains at his leisure once they were of no further use to him[57] (Keppel 1997: 287).

Bundy and Dahmer are among the most important cases to consider, for one can easily see how their significance is contested. The chief virtue of Keppel’s work would seem to reside in the manner in which, by citing numerous case studies as evidence, he is able to stress the continuities (if one recalls his reference to “the black holes at the end of the continuum”), between signature killers. This places his work at some remove from the operating assumptions of other (self-proclaimed) “criminal personality profilers” such as Ressler, the taxonomies of which are more strictly dependent upon the maintenance of distinctions between “organized” and “disorganized” offenders. As with attempts to apply the concept of the “psychopath” to explanations of serial and mass murder, profiling in toto accepts the working asumptions of positivist methodology that one may simply record and present certain features without any need for meaningful interpretation. One consequence of this may be that this distinction between “organized” and “disorganized” is inherently limited by its reliance on assumed differences between the crime scenes of the non psychotic and psychotic offender respectively.[58] Without sufficient attention to the underlying dynamic of the patterns one is studying, it becomes difficult to account for apparent troubling anomalies. Ressler’s concession in this respect to Dahmer is therefore quite revealing, ‘[I]n our terminology, then, Dahmer was a “mixed” offender. In fact, he encompasses so many unrelated dynamics that we may have to make him the prime example of an entirely new category of serial killer’ (Ressler 1992: 392).

At this point, some may be willing to accept, at least in part, Keppel’s work as somehow applicable to the understanding of many serialists. Conversely, acknowledgement of this might open up a possible line of objection along the following lines, “as Keppel does not specifically evoke the phenomenon of mass murder in his book, it is probably fanciful to associate it with signature patterns”. Although there is no real attention to scholarly detail by which to judge the veracity or otherwise of her statement, the laudatory introduction to Signature Killers - Interpreting the Calling Cards of the Serial Killer, by the ubitquitous (in seemingly all discussions of serial murder) true crime writer Anne Rule, clearly identifies her as an advocate of such a view. She merely asserts that the signature, killer is completely different social character to the mass murderer, “a paranoid schizophrenic [sic] who goes berserk in the workplace or the shopping mall” (Rule 1997: xv). But equally, and from perhaps the opposite direction, Rule could be said in this example to be upholding only the Letter, and not the Spirit, of the Law. For surely there must be a very real difference between an argument which may not offer any pretence to being exhaustive, but leaves open enough interesting space for further dialogue into areas it may not have covered in much, if any detail at all, (without thereby implying a not very useful abdication to abstraction or a stalling in generality), but seem worth pursuing within a comparable framework of reference - and another kind which marks some kind of refusal? As I have argued, such totalizing demands are not uncommon; they are easily detectable in the “performativity” of cultural studies for example. One potential response then to the kind of objection raised by Rule is to review Keppel’s own checklist. Another is to recall Ressler’s difficulty in analytically separating organized and disorganized offenders. The rhetorical question here is, “could not a similar difficulty arise in trying to separate the serial and mass murderer?” In a manner somewhat similar to the criticized “aetiology of tidiness” of profiling, the much vaunted time separation, or “emotional cooling off period between murders”, and the more readily apparent sexual component of many serial crimes, has often served only to obscure any commonality with mass murder. Leyton’s approach is distinguished by suggesting the possibility of a comparison on the basis of both kinds of acts being personalized social protest irreducible to psychosis.[59]

My own attempt here at developing an integrated perspective may be suggestive for how the telling differences may be more of degree rather than of kind. Again, their complexity exceeds typological differentiation on the basis of an overtly “sexual” character and a related “emotional cooling off period” between murders. At the most basic level, both points are somewhat easily refuted on even their own terms through the citing of actual cases.[60]

So where exactly does this indicate the applicability of an evolving signature pattern in the prototypical mass murderer? This could be one way station detaining further analysis, at least for a short time, by arguing against too rigid a separation of the serial and mass murderer. Has the mass murderer also demonstrably worked at correcting and improving through experimentation with various highly personalized “trademarks” at a crime scene in order to discover what creates the greatest degree of satisfaction? In the strictest sense, “no”. However, it is sometimes certainly possible in the more detailed literature on mass murder to note obvious rehearsals for the final incident via provocations which have the effect of testing the boundaries of omnipotence as a basis on which to gradually build clinical anger. This too is not inconsistent with the development of a signature pattern in a serial killer, as per Keppel’s checklist.

More importantly though, on this basis one can also rise to Leyton’s challenge of developing an integrated perspective through the tracing of creativity as the connecting thread for both kinds of action. For example, one could reasonably characterize the period of time between the murder and the self’s recognition of the act in terms of “aesthetic suspension [which] is achieved by a decisive break with the ethical world” (Black 1991: 52). Indeed, such possibilities have been used to argue that contemporary interest in seriality is reflective of a broader transformation of the social into a “postmodern”, (or some variant thereof), simulatory form. According to Stratton, Black’s analysis has decisive ramifications in an era “where the moral order is itself experienced as an hypostasized representation, the aesthetic is the privileged mode of judgement. Here serial killing is experienced as simultaneously mundane and sublime” (Stratton 1996b: 95-96).

Theoretically more sophisticated than neoconservative critiques, the hasty transposition from action dynamics to cultural diagnosis here by Black and Stratton is fully deserving of a separate treatment.[61] However, because this tendency has itself become conventional, a critical analysis of it can proceed with reference instead to the thesis of the tragedy of culture as presented in both social postmodernism and the new historicism (in Chapter Five). It is only in the latter account though that the biotechnological roots of “selfmaking” can be contextualized in a way relevant to what this thesis is attempting to achieve.

4.4 Laing’s dilemma: compliance in the false self

Temporarily putting aside these broader socio-cultural implications, the outstanding problem at hand remains: how to account more for the similarities rather than the arguably superficial differences? I have attempted to expand on the implications of Masters’s comment that a murder, or murders, may be intended to prevent something “worse from happening”, such as the complete disintegration of the perpetrator’s personality.[62] I would argue that essentially the same process with remarkably similar goals is readily discernible in both instances, and that the decisive time differential is in regard to the following shared attribute, and not any “emotional cooling off” period between murders. What matters happens before such extreme violence takes place.

The crucial determining element here may involve the situation of the compliant, or false self as it has been referred to thus far, (a common feature in both instances), which has by this stage been long involved in a mortal struggle against the dangers of what Laing called engulfment. Not unusual in this scenario, Laing argues, is a developmental history which involves refinement of means intended to finesse two evidently incommensurable requirements: the need to be seen so as to mitigate an inner feeling of deadness and the fear of petrification, of being penetrated and “robbed” by this very same gaze. Laing cites examples from his own case histories of the “abnormally normal” presentation of false-self syndrome employed as a means for the ontologically insecure individual to accomplish these twin aims. It is not unusual in the study of such dilemmas then to encounter a person who presents only what they imagine to be merely extraneous trappings to others, whose sole purpose in social interaction is to be seen without ever reciprocating by way of revealing anything about themselves and blending into their surroundings for protection. Laing notes how by this stage “the self has become an invisible, transcendent entity, known only to itself.” Somewhere along this continuum to experience genuine intimacy with another becomes tantamount to committing suicide, not necessarily because of any real or even imagined slight, but simply by virtue of their very existence (Laing 1959: 114).

Laing suggests that failure to correctly interpret what has just been described often leads to incredulity among acquaintances when something abrupt, like a psychotic breakdown, seems to suddenly appear as if out of nowhere. Understood in terms of an action theory, there is added significance to Laing’s insight that the frequent occurrence of misapprehension at the breakdown of “the false self” is itself revealing. Prior assumptions may have been based upon review of a case history that has merely recorded the superficial characteristics of a false self-mode of presentation to the examining party. The “exterior” dimension gives no real indication of the secret process bubbling away beneath the surface, as this compulsive presentation of a compliant self has served only to potentiate ontological insecurity. It is this “breaking point” which garners attention in explicating the shared developmental process of the serial and mass murderer. The grim choices available to the false self of either isolation as an alternative to, or in combination with, camouflage, have by this time inevitably failed. The ontologically insecure individual is thus suddenly faced with the necessity of deciding to “be himself” despite everything, or murder himself (Laing 1959: 147).

Applied to the situation of the serial or mass murderer about to step across the threshhold from contemplation into violence, the telling difference here between the two, in degree rather than kind, may largely be dependent on the extent of development of the false self system. It might be justifiably argued on these grounds that it is the degree of vulnerability of the self, as it emerges from its hiding, which influences both its level of and ability to manage its volatility in the face of what was earlier characterized as a “perceived threat”. It may not be entirely speculative to suggest that the “suicide by proxy” which ends the rampages of some mass murderers are impelled, at least in part, by failure to cope with anxieties somewhat comparable to those discussed by Craib, when he argues that, “the paradox of many suicide attempts, and perhaps many suicides, is that they may be attempts to secure the self, to prevent it from been flooded by powerful emotions” (Craib 1998: 172). In so doing, this kind of mass murderer accelerates in one instance the development of their emergent signature pattern beyond “the black holes at the end of the continuum” which were typified (for Keppel) by the serial murderers Bundy and Dahmer. Other mass murderers, who do not intend to die in their assaults (cf Michel and Herbeck 2001), may be comparable to the serial murderer in that they manage to survive their initial exposure and are therefore concerned to find some ongoing means of managing regeneration of the self through repetition of similar activities in the future. This drama of breakout and renewal has only been touched upon here, and is in need of a firmer link to the major themes of this thesis; in particular the relation between omniscience and omnipotence. It is therefore toward a more precise description of the dynamic of “the belljar” that focus will now be turned.

4.5 Eigen’s Winnicott: omnipotence, the handmaiden of omniscience

Dwelling on Laing’s description in The Divided Self has served to introduce the dilemma of the false self. Its major problem inescapably involves the feeling of depersonalization, and Laing draws on Kafka’s description to illustrate this feeling which he frequently encountered amongst his patients, “There has never been a time in which I have been convinced from within myself that I am alive” (Laing 1959: 108).

This need to “feel real” is a shared concern of Winnicott, and a closer look at his work has some advantages over dwelling on Laing for the purposes of this thesis. That is to say, Winnicott more clearly provides some explanation of which factors may help the self to feel real in the first place, and also the particular events that can lead to failure of this vital sense of self. I have already noted that in no small part this involves a movement in his thinking away from the conception of a “false self.” Closely following a very suggestive paper by Eigen which really crystallized my own thinking on this matter, I would like to begin by saying enough about omnipotence as the more explicit theme in Winnicott’s writings, so as to be able to bring out his underlying concern with omniscience. One possible way of doing this is by noting the paradoxes which can be drawn from the following statement by Winnicott, “at the early stage the facilitating environment is giving the infant the EXPERIENCE OF OMNIPOTENCE; by this I mean more than magical control, I mean the creative aspect of experience” (Winnicott 1963: 180 cited in Eigen 1989: 605).

Such early omnipotence is paradoxical because it makes it difficult to clearly sort out whether it is both active and passive, or either of these. Winnicott implies that there must be both an adequate fit and non-fit between the mileu and the baby’s wishes or needs. This is the part of Winnicott’s work which ties in with the earlier discussion regarding the infant’s fury, and by extension, “clinical anger”, at the failure of omnipotence leading to creation of the sense of otherness. Eigen takes up Winnicott’s paper “The Use of an Object and Relating Through Identifications” (Winnicott 1969), in order to bolster his argument that it is possible to reread the entire corpus of his work in light of this paper. I am attempting to reread the meaning of “clinical rage” as related to this sense of creating a fresh perception of self and other. I have argued that the escalation of a signature pattern attests to a tormented intuition that an individual can “use objects” for “growth purposes only after discovering that the other survives one’s destructive attacks and fantasy control attempts.” It may be worth suggesting that it is a dawning awareness of such that precipitates psychological disintegration beyond “the black holes at the end of the continuum” of a signature pattern. Tragedy might consist here in attempting to find some means of suppressing this awareness, or equally, a kind of powerlessness to take appropriate steps to come to terms with this (unconscious) compulsion (Eigen 1989: 607).

Here then would be the kind of fantasy structure one could imagine trapping a person in such cases; a “projection-introjection machine” which takes over in an automatic way. Bringing about a kind of anaesthetic effect that soon becomes all pervasive, a self cannot for long enjoy the cocooning it has happened upon:

In this context a welling up of destructive feeling may try to burst the bubble. In destructive outbursts the subject tries to break his “bell jar” and let fresh air in…without guiding omniscience, omnipotence would be dumb” (Eigen 1989: 607-608).

One should not therefore mystify what is going on by holding too closely to an assumed distinction between omniscience as denoting unlimited mental power and omnipotence limitless physical power, given the mind/body split which is so fundamental to this condition. To speak of omnipotence becoming the handmaiden of omniscience is intended to indicate a perverse mastery of the physical, an “externalization” of the mind’s (newfound) “immateriality” which fosters the collapse of physicality in the face of mental power (Eigen 1989: 607-608).[63]

Failures of omniscience are therefore closely related to the state of what Winnicott called “unintegration”, a return to a period before psychic formations have congealed into forms of defence, as per the famous namesake of psychic doodling, “The Squiggle Foundation” which holds to the clinical importance of his work. Unintegration is a “between” state of drifting and dipping into creative formlessness or nothingness (Eigen 1992: 272). It is not simply non-purposive, yet such a moment is necessary before it becomes clear what form is been developed. Crucially, and in contrast to the compulsive seeking of intimacy highlighted as a component of an addictive signature pattern, unintegration also involves a capacity to be alone. Winnicott suggests a reality of “disintegration” as meaning failure of the ways tried to hold the self together, so that, as Eigen puts it, “the mess one is takes over” (Eigen 1992: 272).

But there is another surprising drawing together of Winnicott’s treatment of play that treats his slippage between the spatial and temporal components of the transitional space as comparable to Derrida’s conception of différance. Such possibilities also bring home the force of Craib’s earlier critique of the shallow notion of tact inhering in the appropriation of object-relations work by Giddens. This feature of Giddens’s project inhibits understanding of how continuous reflexivity or self-monitoring generates the kind of problems I have been tracing. Understood in these terms it is justifiable to draw Derrida into discussion, for différance breaks down any opposition between inside and outside, as by ordering meaning it is always identical to itself and other than itself. To risk meaning nothing is to start to play, and first to enter the play of différance (i.e. a potential that should by now be recognizable as a contingent resource):

Winnicott sees a fixation on the here-and-now as determining an inability to symbolize one’s experience and to engage in a therapeutic process; similarly, what Derrida demonstrates in his readings of the texts of Western philosophy is a persistent, uncritical privilege of the voice and of consciousness as self-presence by which discursive propositions are determined as self-evident ‘truths’ (Russell 2003: 524).

4.6 Scepticism and the limits of knowledge

Let it be made clear, when Winnicott wrote, “I think I interpret mainly to let the patient know the limits of my understanding” he was not feigning stupidity. Excavating the edges and limits of knowing does not translate into a collapse of the will to know, seeking instead a linkage with forms of experience other than omniscience (Winnicott 1969: 86-87 cited in Eigen 1989: 610). So, at the more local level of the present chapter, what might be taken from this is articulation of the “questioning attitude” of scepticism to the setting of limits. On the level of action theory dynamics what this involves is a deliberate distancing from the common equating of shame with anodyne notions of low self esteem, a conception which, as Lasch argues, seemed to have settled happily in much of the popular postFreudian therapeutic discourse. Drawing on his commentary, “The Abolition of Shame”, from his The Revolt of the Elites, Lasch’s huge influence on Craib’s trenchant critiques of the conceptions of autonomy and trust in Giddens’s work can easily be inferred. Furthermore, the imperative of reflexivity as a creative life project as presented by Giddens, can equate to the manic conversion of “social constructionism as social psychosis” as its inclination will be to disregard shame as one of the tragic components able to foster responsibility toward others (Craib 1997a). It will also be recalled that Eagleton, in his revival of Williams’s tragic theory, aligned himself against the individualistic self-fashioning which has appropriated the meaning of creativity. The upshot of this is that the ethical orientation of shame is not necessarily tantamount to a bourgeois theory only able to understand adjustment to the social as a series of negative prohibitions. In this context, a more differentiated conception of shame irreducible to its pathological forms is required. What may be called situational shame seems better suited to conveying the sense in which this emotion can play a positive role in self-protection and moral self-assessment.

With this objective in mind, Heller goes so far as to argue that “shame is the only inborn moral feeling in us” (Heller 1985: 53). How this intuition can be related to moral and psychological development though is very much bound up with whether one follows a popular strand of psychotherapeutic discourse in urging the elimination of shame. Given the preoccupation with “limits,” the “boundary of shame” is very much coextensive with action theory. This is not to argue then that Lasch’s critical interventions can never be compatible in any way with the normative/low self esteem view of shame. What it does suggest is that they are of little value if they do not address the action theoretical dimension. With this contextualization, it becomes clear how Lasch confirms many of the paradoxical features familiar from The Divided Self; the simultaneous need to penetrate all “secrets” possessed by others, while at the same time remaining inaccessible to their gaze. It is here that a connection may be drawn between omniscience and omnipotence, because what cannot be tolerated in this dilemma is the intractability of limits. The conflict between total symbiotic merging with the world and complete self-sufficiency is what gives rise to the most intense experiences of shame (and incidentally stands as one of the clearest signs of the influence of Melanie Klein’s research on Winnicott’s work). The terms Lasch uses in his summation resonate with present concerns, because they suggest that “the denial of everything that is not absolute” demonstrates:

…the baneful effects of the search for certainty. What …patients experience as shameful is the contingency and finitude of human life …The record of their suffering makes us see why shame is so closely associated with the body, which resists efforts to control it and therefore reminds us, vividly and painfully, of our inescapable limitations, the inescapability of death above everything (Lasch 1996: 201).

Notice how this reference to the body as something not easily lending itself to Giddens’s Goffmanesque control, is compatible with the tone of Bryan S.Turner’s critique (Turner 1997). Furthermore, evincing little awareness of these difficulties in his work, it is easy for Wilkinson to follow Giddens in spirit, by proclaiming that sociology can and should perform the “analytic function” of transforming anxiety, (the state of not knowing), into the more controllable symptoms of fear (knowledge of the source of your anxiety). Such is his attempted renewal of C.Wright Mill’s definition of “the sociological imagination” as articulating the “personal troubles” with the social mileu (Wilkinson 2001: 132). It is open to some dispute how much such an agenda plays into the hands of the critics who have taken Giddens to task for failing to grasp the subtle paradox that too much agency ultimately reduces the capacity to act (cf. Willmott 1986).

I have therefore tried to develop in this chapter the importance of Winnicott’s position on the necessity of “failure” which was reinforced by Lasch. The theoretical reward that comes out of this is an understanding that this capacity does not exist once and for all, but does indeed have to be continually “regrooved” (to recuperate Giddens’s choice expression; e.g. Giddens 1996). However, this is something that comes about, as Joas would have it, through the intermittent and rather more dramatic “retraction of the subject’s symbolic boundaries” in relation to their environment (Joas 1996: 190). The important qualifier for this discussion is to grasp that love, (understood here to encompass not only erotic relationships), retains a dual character. It is a type of recognition involving not merely a cognitive acceptance of the independence of the Other, as this must also be nurtured by an affective investment, (or cathexis as it would be described by a Freudian analyst), in a continuity of shared concern. Together, these qualities suggest that it could be (ambivalently) characterized as “symbiotic mutual individuation” (Honneth 1996: 107).

In order to facilitate this process, scepticism may well function as a democratic sensitizing device, instilling humility by acknowledging the contingent nature of one’s own viewpoints. If this is to be accepted though, action theory must concern itself with the genesis of these commitments and their articulation to independent orders of justification. It is partly in these terms then that Giddens makes the reasonable observation that, while passion/emotions are the motivators of action, they must still be evaluated if they are to serve as means of communication. Understood thus as a “life political” issue, they only become meaningful within an ethical framework which presupposes mutuality of response in a democratization of emotions:

Reason cuts away at ethics because of the difficulty of finding empirical arguments to justify moral convictions; it does so also, however, because moral judgements and emotional sentiments come to be regarded as antithetical. Madness and caprice - it needs little effort to see how alien these are to moral imperatives (Giddens 1995: 200).[64]

4.7 Good Will Hunting

The popular film Good Will Hunting (1997) is a very good illustration of the relationships between the subject matter set out in this chapter: scepticism, omniscience, The Hidden Injuries of Class and Modern Tragedy, all appropriately presented in the form of a love story. The major dramatic breakthroughs in the film take place during therapeutic sessions focusing on the eponymous childman genius who “knows it all”, and therefore poses a serious management problem for a professor of mathematics who wishes to mentor the youth. Actor Robin Williams, who seems for much of his acting career to have cultivated a somewhat dubious and disturbing screen persona based upon the calculated appeal of deriving pathos from a shame propelled dynamic of abjection and infantile regression, seems well suited to the role of the therapist called in to prevent Will’s self destruction.[65] It is the experience of the failure of his own omniscience which makes him such an empathetic therapist and this must imply that there is a shared quality of enhancement and recovery at work in the therapeutic dialogue. Crucially, the breakthrough involves a foregrounding of the shared background of both patient and therapist from a poor South Boston neighbourhood, and it is in this respect that one may wish to capitalize on the possible significance of the film’s title. Until Will can be challenged on a level which he had not associated with his previous existence, his furtive search for self- development remains unfulfilled.

It is certainly striking the way in which this example bears some comparison with the passivity of the workers in Sennett and Cobb’s study who were also living in South Boston; witness in particular their example of the “philosophically minded auto mechanic”. The authors argue that this man’s awareness of “the social contradiction” forces a refusal to “make anything” of his accomplishments, because then his abilities would belong to the unfair “unmeritocratic” system and he would therefore be “alienated” from his talents and his fellows. He cannot seriously accept his own intelligence “since to do so would drag in the status order of the outside society…Such fragmentation gets him by from day to day, but it keeps him a prisoner as well.” (Sennett and Cobb 1973: 216) Such a vital comparison could of course be supplemented by other vivid examples provided by these two sociologists:

More usual is the comment of a factory worker who has an encyclopedic knowledge of sports statistics, makes rapid calculations of batting averages and the like, but who gets upset when his wife points out his ability…There is something more here than embarrassment at being praised. The strengths “I” have are not admissible to the arena of ability where they are socially useful; for once admitted, “I”-my real self - would no longer have them (Sennett and Cobb 1973: 216).

Furthermore, this kind of response bears some comparison to Arendt’s conceptualization of The Life of the Mind (1971) inasfar as she regarded thinking and willing as autonomous and not instrumental. This is well worth pursuing in brief. A consequence of this separation is that “truth” comes to reside only in the problem solving of the professional world; it cannot reside in a political realm because truth, in such an autonomous conception, compels and thereby threatens liberty. The workers are in this way compromised in their ability to challenge power relations. Heller’s commentary on Arendt sees here a point to be deconstructed in the manner of other critics such as Gyorgy Markus, who regard this dichotomy as setting up “an absolute, unbridgeable line of division separating the “political” from “the social” (cited in Heller 1989: 153). Further to this, contra the “banality of evil” thesis, Heller suggests it does not suffice to claim that the pure thinker who withdraws into a dialogue of the “two in one” is prevented in principle from doing evil, on the pretext that no one wants to be the best friend of a murderer. This too is demonstrably aporetic in that a thinking through of matters of good and evil contradicts Arendt’s own criteria of “pure” thought. Thinking on such matters cannot be autonomous because, “one must have some preliminary knowledge about good and evil, there must be at least a single value or a single norm which compels (the truth of good), so that thinking can reject evil thoughts and evil deeds” (Heller 1989: 155).

In the film, Will Hunting is visibly torn by his rigorous adherence to this ethic of autonomy; his liveliness, as demonstrated by the rowdy streetfighting hijinks with his buddies, sits uncomfortably with his intellectual remoteness and immiseration as a casual cleaner employed by Ivy League Harvard University. Significantly, Will lives and studies alone. The significance of reading Heller, Sennett and Markus together in this respect is that their work is affirmative of Will’s dilemma in ways strengthening Williams’s characterization of liberal tragedy. As such, and with only ambivalent redemption for an ending, the film is disinclined to emphasize the relative deprivation aspects of Will’s predicament, in favour of a focus on his trust in the primary group of lifetime friendships. It therefore suggests that these relationships function as a substitute for a developmental “attachment disorder”,[66] stemming from childhood abuse at the hands of a brutal father.

But this is obviously only part of what these relationships may be substituting for. A balanced understanding of tragedy therefore demands that both apects be dealt with. In psychoanalytical terms this means that a response to such circumstances entails something more than the expected advice that “knowing” must mean coming to terms with these difficulties as a way of merely managing and renouncing the ambition of always overcoming them. If one could also demonstrate the relevance of serial killer Ted Kazynski’s plight to Will’s in these ways[67], the “fictional” analysis of the film can also be compared to Eigen’s example of his treatment of a fellow psychoanalyst. This colleague had previously acted as Eigen’s supervisee, and is referred to only in the article as Doctor Omnis (read “Doctor Omniscience”). For it seems that Doctor Omnis shared Will’s predicament in all essential respects, as he too in time began to experience how an “empty knowing or omniscience can substitute for the struggle to know,” and indeed the willingness of an autonomous personality to acknowledge shame and intimacy. It is on these grounds, the central conflict that provides the drama of the film, that the therapist challenges Will on his claim that he is hesitant to become involved with a woman who is romantically interested in him. Will’s fear is that that any commitment on his part would spoil the ideal of her he has in his mind. However, Will’s existence cannot ultimately be sustained because the relation to true and good norms is irreducible to the “innocent” faculty of the spectator. The intellectual is not the owl of Minerva (Heller 1989: 154). We see here the relevance of Honneth’s “struggle for recognition” being played out in an action dynamic. Only through these means can there be an effective engagement with the problem that emerges in the analysis: otherwise Will’s overweening sense of anticipation continually results in life receding as he approaches, a problem Laing also discerned among his patients. It is in these kinds of terms that Eigen explains in some detail how Omnis had extended this destructive attitude to his most fundamentally important interpersonalrelationships:

Dr. Omnis soon observed that a sense of “knowing better than” pervaded much of his life. It had been an element in the making and breaking of his marriage. Both he and his ex-wife had been attracted to the air of mental superiority each gave off. But the chronic contempt implicit in this attitude made living together impossible. Similarly, knowing better than his superiors had led to self-destructive difficulties in various job settings. In social life his all-knowing stance severely limited the kinds of people he could tolerate. An attitude which seemed to “work” with patients sabotaged his life as a whole. He previously had not considered his problems from this particular angle (Eigen 1989: 619).

4.8 Contingent selfhood?

It is now possible to accord such features a greater significance. There is however still room for further development if one is prepared to understand the logical extremes of such cases, and they are outside the early developmental plotlines of Good Will Hunting. It certainly is plausible to imagine the problems faced by Will and Dr. Omnis finding their limit case, or “logical extreme”, in the (omniscient) psychiatrist and serial killer, Dr. Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs, familiar from Chapter Three - conditional on the understanding that this example is here reworked in an action context severed from the nominalism of Wolfe and Elmer. Omniscience, normotic oversocialization, scepticism, liberal tragedy, it might be suggested that collectively these traits lead up to Hannibal, for without such contextualization it is more difficult to appreciate why a character whom was never convinced “from within”, (in the terms used by one of Laing’s patients), of “feeling alive”, might seek to “steal” this vitality from others. Witness the recurring regenerative themes of vampirism, cannibalism, and the imitation of “lifelikeness” recorded in many case studies of serial killers. This point marks the playing of a final hand from The Divided Self, an expansion upon what the “deliberate stranger” may in part seek to attain from their victim. Consider then Laing’s description of the experience of impoverishment that attends a kind of empty oral self, which seeks to fill itself up:

This emptiness, this sense of inner lack of richness, substantiality and value, if it overweighs…illusory omnipotence, is a powerful prompter to make contact…However, the longing of the self to escape from the tedium of its own company encounters generally two insurmountable obstacles in the anxiety and guilt that this longing arouses…attendant on losing identity by being engulfed. One way, of course, of getting what one wants from someone, while retaining control of the process of acquisition, is by theft (Laing 1959: 92).

Indeed, in an article entitled “The Historical Similarity of 20th Century Serial Sexual Homicide to Pre-20th Century Occurrences of Vampirism”, Brown develops a typology of paraphilias seemingly compatible with Keppel’s “black hole at the end of the continuum”. While much of Brown’s attempted cultural and historical contextualization of vampirism may be safely disregarded here, overall his piece still remains quite useful in capturing the commonality among extreme paraphilias as, “an attempt to retain some characteristic of the victim” (Brown 1991: 19).

The necessary emphasis from this for action theory is that (ontological) security is not the same thing as feeling safe. Routine can be a creative accomplishment/adaptation, or a pragmatist experimental method, for engagement with contingency. It risks hardening into omniscient seriality though when it is unable to make any allowances for the ephemerality which contingency can urge into awareness. However, the implied contingent sense of structural necessity equally suggests that some inner sense of consistency cannot be entirely dispensed with in thinking through the effects of violence. In contrast, Rorty for example insists on a contingent, ironic selfhood that cannot be logically compatible with his claim that the only minimal standard of justice required is that individuals are not subject to cruelty. In his explanation, cruelty is irreducible to the experience of pain per se, and can be more specifically defined as the “unmaking” of someone’s world by forcing him or her to do or say things of such a nature that they cannot reconstitute themselves. In milder forms, Rorty holds that this may involve cases of a “professional” intellectual patronizing someone by informing them that their most sacrosanct personal objects are of no real value; it may also involve instances of torture as an extreme limit case (Rorty 1989 [1999]: 177). The irony though, as Joas is concerned to point out, is that the forcefulness of Rorty’s disturbing analysis undercuts any consistent endorsement of liberal, ironic self-hood. Afterall, Joas reasons, why would it matter if such a “self“ experienced cruelty when it could presumably just “siphon” off those painful components so that they have no damaging effects? It seems difficult then to plausibly argue that ironic self-hood can have the last say on the question of the continuity of the self (in the face of traumatic memories) (Joas 2000: 159).[68]

The existence of the traumatized self here affords a glimpse of that which it repeats to itself in an attempt to restore coherent autonomous agency. After arguing against the hybrid diagnosis of sociality, this chapter has built on an action model of agency taking the form of a radical humanism premised on ethical imperatives. But if the logics of substitution generally evident in the occurrence of trauma and more specifically in the fetishistic character of paraphilias are discernible in not only this model, but also another which largely defines itself against it, it remains to be determined which theory is symptomatically disavowing elements of the other it is unable to account for. Although some earlier attempts have been made to defuse ANT’s undifferentiated arguments for the relationships between materiality and sociality, there was nothing specifically in that theory foreshadowing and inverting the positions broached in this chapter regarding the possible relations between individualization, contingency, and violence.

Therefore the next chapter must examine the logics of substitution at work in the theory of individualization offered by new historicists, with a particular focus on the work of Mark Seltzer. Rather than role-taking been conventional in the terms of Mead’s theories, Seltzer proceeds instead by in effect radicalising Knorr Cetina’s tying of role-taking to serial chains structured only by absence and wanting (0.5: 19-20). This is presented to such an extent that individual identity becomes unintelligible.

Of course, not everyone sees this as the serious problem presented by Seltzer. Luckhurst, for example, has interpreted the homicidal rages of American mass murderers, (in a description bordering on that of the “clinical rage” described in this chapter), as signifying protest against the evacuation of bourgeois selfhood by a technoculture driven by neoliberal capitalism. For him at least, there is ironically a source of hope in such a situation, as a space is cleared for the development of new, or previously suppressed, subjectivities. Unfortunately though, the uncertain status of either the new or the suppressed in Luckhurst’s account makes it difficult to assess the novelty of such a conflict. One detects no sense from him of recurring problematiques as a characteristic of modernity, and hence the inherent tensions involved in thinking through the continuity of selfhood. In contrast then to this chapter, Luckhurst gestures at, and if not exactly endorsing Rorty’s ironic selfhood, a violent tension between same and other. He portrays this struggle in terms of techno-dystopic science fiction and postmodern identity politics respectively (Luckhurst 2002).

But even were Luckhurst somehow proven correct, the question inevitably arises, what comes after the subject? Presumably his anticipation and reception of new forms of subjectivity requires a fairly broad church. Could the notion of new subjectivities encompass everything from a post-human isolated fragment, to perhaps a more collective abstraction of community “resistance”? If so, does this not beg another important related question: how is one to judge whether “the new”, is actually any more preferable to the dominant subject it is supposed to replace? Minimally, to address these issues in a sensible fashion requires one to be attentive to just how contested and differentiated an ideal “community” is at any given time in history. To make it the fulcrum of a politics therefore requires some understanding of how it can refer to some very different sorts of things (cf Delanty 2003). Hence to shape this desire in the manner of Luckhurst, without cognitively mapping hope to any sort of systematic destination, is to remain within the boundaries of heuristic utopia alone (Levitas and Sargisson 2003: 16). It is, in other words, to act irresponsibly by placing the cart in front of the horse.

Seltzer seems to be more aware of this problem, but in a manner implying his reply will make itself known only in a dystopian guise. In short, he brings attention to bear on the systematic difficulties involved in articulating hope. But this is done in such a way that not only Luckhurst’s more exclusively heuristic approach, but also my own [intended] evenhanded treatment of systematic issues, becomes imperilled. So, just as I was about to cross the bridge from an action theory of subjective creativity over to an integrated model of “community” involving wider institutional orders, the provocative counter-suggestion is made that this relationship is recuperated by techniques of power. Such a throwing down of the theoretical gauntlet makes it difficult to see how the dimensions of subjective conduct could lead to any more expansive communal response to contingency. Individuality is instead presented by Seltzer as an illusion - or nominalism if you prefer this term - and once this point is accepted there is seemingly no place left to go other than another presentation of oversocialization in a technological guise.

The next chapter is therefore chiefly about the removal of such impediments that in principle prevent me from consolidating my model of an integrated form of creativity to which I have been building in each successive chapter. Once this task is accomplished I should then be in a position to resume the more pressing task in earnest in Chapter Six.


5.1 An introduction to the critical methods of new historicism

The time has come to attend to some unfinished business from Chapter Three. This point marks the first decisive step towards a systematic utopia, and thus away from a more exclusively heuristic focus [i.e. as per Luckhurst’s effort featured at the close of the previous chapter]. Accordingly this chapter will function as an interregnum, reviewing some of the implications of the first two problematiques that have been introduced, and then in turn facilitating articulation of the contexts of justification and discovery in Chapter Six. Although Chapter Four seemed to go out of its way to define some of the serialistic “malfunctions” that can impede a harmonious relationship between these problematiques, what is now at stake are the prospects for normative reconstruction. Indeed, when I last touched base with Kurasawa in Chapter Three (3.5: 113-114) he was reflecting on this very possibility. The immediate effect of his considerable endeavours, at least in the context in which I placed him alongside Williams and Joas, was intended to be one of relief: effectively innoculating the social sciences from the nominalism of Wolfe and Elmer’s human/animal hybrids. However, notice was also served in Chapter Three that a postponing of any analysis of Mark Seltzer’s comparable hybrid perspective was called for, given his more intensive treatment of the relationship between serial violence and the technological features affecting human agency in texts such as his Serial Killers: Death and Life in America’s Wound Culture (3.4: 111-112; Seltzer 1998).

What is the novelty then of Seltzer’s critique that warrants this more exclusive engagement? Afterall, if he is about to be portrayed, as per Chapter One’s actor network theorists and Chapter Three’s animal hybridists, as yet another serialistic theorist, the end result of my critique of such writing risks appearing as an equally repetitive foregone conclusion. Notwithstanding these appearances to the contrary, the real story is more complicated given the fact that Seltzer is the only theorist in this group who explicitly takes it upon himself to diminish the value of the context of justification. As I have stated that this chapter provides an interregnum, Seltzer presents as a particularly suitable candidate for closer inspection, because his method presumes to distance itself from the cultural materialism and deconstruction underpinning my approach. It should prove beneficial therefore to reiterate their respective strengths by adopting Seltzer as a critical foil.

Not the least of the reasons though why new historicism needs to be separately addressed here is that, in the example I have chosen, it self-consciously presents itself as critical of sociology. Moreover, this is done in a manner that potentially mitigates the threats of bioglobal consilience, the rising threat of which Tiryakian has anticipated (as was shown in my discussion of Tiryakian’s work in the Introduction, 0.2: 7).

To be even more specific, one of the major reasons that a comparison between cultural materialism and new historicism fascinates me is because so much of the work produced by each focuses on the formative influence of the Industrial Revolution in an attempt to understand the kind of problems we face today. The conclusions drawn, however, are very different. This chapter is therefore in a way the centrepiece of my thesis, because in noting the important contrasts one can thereby attain the fullest statement about the possible relationships between technology and violence. Why bother though linking deconstruction to cultural materialism in order to refute new historicism? As was argued in Chapter Two, deconstruction is useful in helping to conceptualize contingency. It alerts one to the reality of that which the coordinates of an existing system cannot anticipate. In this chapter, deconstruction may be read as not simply the abandonment of any effort to adapt and accommodate to such forces. Thus one finds some authors making allowance for a sense of “triple contingency” that encompasses a political dimension. I shall demonstrate this point by drawing a contrast to the “double contingency” privileged by new historicists such as Seltzer. The theorization of triple contingency has meant making a closer tie between deconstruction and the pragmatism of Peirce, who was cognizant of the effects of contingency, and who advocated a social model comparable to an insurance company in order to minimize any potential harm. For him, it followed that there was a normative role for the utilization of statistical information (Peirce 1923). My argument holds that the cultural materialism of Williams was premised on a comparable logic; a point that becomes particularly clear from an examination of The Long Revolution.

For new historicists such as Mark Seltzer and Walter Benn Michaels though, the “taming of chance” associated with the utilization of statistical information has meant a deepening of corporate control of the modern populace. Seltzer argues in such terms that the serial killer must be understood as a subset of the categories of “statistical person” employed to negotiate the nominalistic exchange between “pathology” and “normality” (Seltzer 1998: 4). This conception differs markedly from the cultural materialist treatment of “corporate” entities as potentially facilitating a move from individualism toward what Williams called “a common culture” (Williams 1958 [1961]: 323). In this sense, as Brook Thomas has astutely noted, Alan Trachtenberg’s The Incorporation of America (Trachtenberg 1982), “remains arguably, the most successful product of [that] transatlantic exchange”, between the field of American Studies and cultural materialism (Thomas 2003: 734). Thomas and Trachtenberg alert one here to how in our current neoliberal times the signifier “corporation” could function as a new “keyword”, in the sense that its unrealized potential could be released through immanent critique. It seems though that much contemporary work calling itself “cultural studies”, even where it references cultural materialism, cannot lay claim to such a form of critical reconstruction. One need only consider how the attempted updating of Williams’s Keywords by Bennett, Grossberg, and Morris, excludes “corporation” in the sense that Thomas and Trachtenberg refer to it here (Bennett, Grossberg, and Morris 2005). In contrast, Trachtenberg self-consciously references Williams to the extent that his work could almost be acknowledged as the North American equivalent of Culture and Society (Thomas 2003: 733-734). As I have suggested, Trachtenberg historically traces the recuperation of the keyword “corporation” in a manner that anticipates its current function as a neoliberal ideology (Trachtenberg 1982: 5-7). But this kind of fate, he notes, has always conflicted with an earlier sense of “union”, and by extension, socialism, which leads him to conclude:

A wider diffusion of comfort and the goods of culture (as well as education) seems to have overshadowed the vista of a solidarity grounded not in consumption but in equality, the dignity of labor, and the sympathy of common need…In the conflict of perspectives…lay one of the deepest and most abiding issues accompanying the incorporation of America (Trachtenberg 1982: 234).

Some possible differences have just been recorded, but it still cannot be said that untangling cultural materialism from new historicism (and cultural studies) is a straightforward procedure. In order to properly grasp the “ wider diffusion of comfort…(as well as education)”, which Trachtenberg refers to, at least in the context of my discussion of disciplinary differences and their associated institutional histories, what eventually has to be understood is how new historicism initially developed from cultural materialism; and why it may have subsequently went through the oedipal crisis of putting its “father” to the disciplinary sword. What is inescapable, this disciplinary background should reaffirm, is the corporate, (or “institutional” if you prefer), aspect of new historicist reflexivity. On one level then, the new historicist practitioner has to stage what I shall be explaining as the “naturalist discourse” of “corporate fiction” that subjugates its targeted population. Here I am obliged to adopt the Hegelian imperative of entering into the strengths of an “enemy’s” position. For it will not suffice in this context to construct my argument as if it were an academic sport requiring little engagement with the actual texts produced by new historicists. What follows is therefore quite a detailed piecing together of their characteristic themes as they relate to the problem of seriality as I have been describing it. But for all the foregrounding of Foucault and Lacan that this requires, it is necessary for me to be able then to turn this corporate logic against itself in order to reconnect it to the institutional settings from which new historicists speak. That is to say, if the theory cannot really do what it claims to be able to do, the explanation must lie elsewhere as to why it has emerged at the present time, thereby raising the additional question of, “whose agenda is it really serving?” Gradually, by investigating new historicism in these terms, I am able to place its rhetoric about corporate naturalism and seriality on a second level, concluding that it is in actuality symptomatic of a deeper trauma experienced by cultural studies, more generally, in its attempt to reconcile poststructuralism and identity politics, during the period of America’s neoliberal incorporation. I will close this discussion through discussion of the cultural materialism of Brook Thomas, which I have already partly foregrounded through the high premium he places on Trachtenberg’s thesis.

There are thus a number of stages to go through in this chapter before the focus can be fully shifted onto the corporate identity of today’s universities in Chapter Six. They are presented for convenience here in a point form that can be directly mapped to their appearance in the corresponding consecutive subchapters:

• An introduction to Seltzer’s new historicist method, with particular emphasis on how it defines the problem of serial violence through an indictment of the operating assumptions of both sociology and psychoanalysis, using the examples of Simmel and Lacan respectively.

• A demonstration of how Foucault is utilized by the new historicist to diagnose the biopolitical function of naturalist discourse. Seltzer deploys Luhmann’s systems theory to demonstrate the general complicity of sociology and psychoanalysis in the reproduction of naturalist discourse. Of interest to him here is how each reproduces the “double contingency” between system and envirionment in the guise of “reflexivity”. I illustrate this aspect of Seltzer’s argument by applying his method to Bauman’s sociological account of the “functional love substitute”.

• The possibility is raised through discussion of Williams’s The Long Revolution that statistical analysis can be made to function as a component of immanent critique, rather than as a mere disciplinary reinforcement of nominalism. But rather than focus on ethical unsubstitutability in this way, Seltzer infers instead through Luhmann that we should become indifferent to the lack of foundation for our identities, and welcome the technological delivery of posthumanism.

• I highlight the importance of the third area that will set the stage for the appearance of “a triple contingency” in Chapter Six. Distinguishing the deconstructive connotations of contingency from Seltzer’s Luhmannesque conception exposes the new historicist contempt for democracy and its refusal to consider the family resemblance between this and its own emergence in the contemporary university.

• Expanding on this last point with reference to Williams’s immanent critique of avant-garde intellectual formations, the connection is shown between the postulation of cultural trauma and its institutional destiny. The crucial factor in this context is the tension between the investment in poststructuralism and the identity politics favoured by cultural studies. It is suggested that Seltzer’s work demonstrates how this tension has been managed through a technologically determinist position that accommodates itself to the changing face of the university.

Immanent critique is offered as an indispensable component of the membership to a “common culture” that was central to Williams’s cultural materialism. When I refer to immanent critique it is important to recall the foregrounding of Williams’s realist/constuctivist nexus in Chapter One (1.4: 66). On my reading of him, Williams makes use of given conceptual systems as a means of criticizing them. His sense of realism indicates the non-identity of concepts and objects. By highlighting the lack of correspondence between the two, hidden parts of the object are revealed that were previously hidden (i.e. when the object was assumed to be comprehended by the concept). Thus a purely conceptual understanding of an object represents a false totality. In this sense, Williams’s method also functions to some extent as a critique of ideology critique, because in extremis the latter’s exposure of “truth” as a product of power can itself become a totalizing system. Although I discuss this aspect of the cultural materialist’s method in greater detail in the Epilogue, (and in Endnote 14 I highlight some related work in cultural studies), it can be noted here that Williams was most likely motivated by an unwillingness to sacrifice the conjoined components that I have alluded to. He generally refers to the latter in terms of its creativity.[69] Spatial constraints have however partly contributed to my decision to refrain from making an attempt to draw any comparison and contrast between Williams and the form of immanent critique associated with Adorno’s major theoretical work, Negative Dialectics (Adorno 1973). Such an effort could probably have elucidated Williams’s accomplishments, and a more inclusive account along these lines might also have indicated why Habermas’s critique of Adorno (Habermas 1987a) bears a closer critical examination (cf. Molt 2002; Sherratt 1999). I have had to settle instead for a presentation of Williams’s method as an alternative to the resignation/accommodation of new historicists to the dominant tradition’s use of the keyword “corporation”. Drawing especially on Brook Thomas’s critique of Walter Benn Michaels’s contention that “the corporation is a man, a man is a corporation, and all fictions are corporate fictions”, a brief discussion of American legal history is used to point out some potentially emancipatory directions that could be taken. Foregrounding the significance of such a corporate entity prepares the ground for a qualified defense of a comparable form, the university, in Chapter Six.

In setting this background to a defence of sociology in this chapter, some leverage can be gained for an understanding of the critical reception of new historicism afforded in terms of a “facile associationism and an arbitrary connectedness” (cf. Pizer 1997). It could be argued that this reception has something to do with the extraordinarily rapid institutionalization of new historicism and cultural materialism in North American universities, which arose as a response to a widespread dissatisfaction with the “stringent textualist ideology,” thought to be upheld by many practitioners of deconstruction. In the case of the new historicism, this disatisfaction led to an analysis of the broad social field enabled by the work of Foucault; thereby moving away from the deconstruction of literary texts in order to buttress the claim that it was now reliant upon the “best of poststructuralist thought.” Pieters, in his overview of these developments, can therefore aptly quote a remark by one of its foremost practitioners, Stephen Greenblatt, that the deconstructive guise of poststructuralism was “not only the negative limit but the positive condition for the emergence of new historicism” (Greenblatt personal communication to Pieters 2000: 1).

Another related point can be made here as well. The Foucauldian turn of new historicism came to mean that historical texts would be treated as “positivities” that functioned as critical and political instruments at the time of their production. Brannigan draws a distinction thus with cultural materialism, as for him the latter is more concerned with whether or not texts in some sense articulate problems which contemporary readers could not have foreseen (Brannigan 1998: 109). Responding to Brannigan (Brannigan 1998: 64-66), the claim of Pieters that Greenblatt’s engagement with Foucault’s ouevre was not narrowly confined to a concentration on power seems an eminently fair one. It is possible that the new historicism, at least as practiced by Greenblatt, is more differentiated than Brannigan otherwise makes allowance for. Pieters even suggests some possible intersecting points of new historicist and cultural materialist criticism by citing the example of Catherine Belsey (Belsey 1980), whose cultural materialism has been somewhat influenced by the Althusserian critic Pierre Macherey (Macherey 1978). However, Seltzer confounds Pieters’ own characterization, as his work is both what Brannigan claims new historicism to be, and something much more as well that attempts, with varying degrees of explicitness, to distinguish itself from deconstruction and cultural materialism. This is where things will start to get a bit more complicated. I shall both define and demonstrate Seltzer’s critical reservations regarding the new historicist method of naturalism. The problem at this moment, from Seltzer’s perspective, is that he might have some legitimate grounds for objection, given that I persist in labelling him a new historicist, despite his protestations to the contrary. My response however is that the objection eventually becomes self-refuting in as much as the theorist of seriality is unable to extricate himself from the serialistic dilemma he is attributing to new historicism. Jameson foresaw this difficulty some time ago, when he diagnosed the new historicism as a response to the theoretical fallout of postmodernism:

But this dilemma is unavoidable, as Sartre showed long ago: a crucial component of my particular situation as a unique individual is always the general category to which I am also condemned by other people and which I must therefore come to terms with…in any way I like – shame, pride, avoidance behaviour – but which I cannot expect to have removed just because I’m somebody special. As with other targets of “discrimination”, so with New Historicists: a New Historicist, as Sartre might have said, is one whom other people consider a New Historicist. In our other terminology, this means, in effect, that individual immanence is here in tension with a certain transcendence, in the form of seemingly external, collective labels and identitities (Jameson 1991: 185).

As far as Seltzer’s potential relationship to cultural materialism and deconstruction are concerned, this is stymied somewhat by his decision to theorize power in keeping with the typologies Foucault sets out in both Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality (Foucault 1978a; Foucault 1978b). In this sense, as Brannigan would argue, Seltzer is not a cultural materialist. Additionally, Seltzer repudiates deconstruction inasfar as he attempts to align his new historicism with cultural studies in a specific way: paraphrasing Antony Easthope, the process of literary studies giving itself over to cultural studies has meant becoming increasingly connected to a substratum of “machinic modulations” (Armitage 1999).

The unintended consequence though for Seltzer’s dystopian account of the technoculture he believes gives rise to the phenomenon of serial violence, is that the reader becomes empowered to contextualize his new historicist method in a more critical fashion. Although it might sound like a terrible thing to say, the method in question can be understood to a certain extent as a repetition of the omniscient pathology described in Chapter Four. One of the most important things I shall attempt to do in this chapter therefore is introduce the related heuristic device of the “brainvat” to describe the contraction of systematic utopia entailed by the new historicist reading strategy. Gillespie references something comparable to the status of this brainvat when he is discussing the relationship between nihilism and modernity. If he is cited here then, it is on account of how logical it would be to imagine the deluded new historicist in the terms of Gillespie’s description, victoriously taking flight, “crowned with the leaves of the vine”, and gracefully passing over the extinct volcanoes of sociology and psychoanalysis, Seltzer’s vanquished twin foes:

At the end of modernity, among the twilit ruins of the citadel of Reason, the victor in the great battle for control of the Cartesian fortress sits atop a pile of rubble, crowned with the leaves of the vine, singing the song of primal unity and primal contradiction, looking with steely eyes toward the horizon and dreaming of new conquests. He bears a striking resemblance to the omnipotent God of Christianity, his supposed enemy and opponent. Like that God, he is beyond reason, beyond nature, and beyond good and evil. He calls into question all that is stable and certain. He is a god of terror and of joy. He is everything’s creator, everything’s destroyer, and everything’s redeemer (Gillespie: 1995: 255).

Herein can be found all of the elements required for a critical understanding of the new historicist method. As far as the extinct volcano of sociology is concerned, this is a state of affairs anticipated by the new historicist through his exposure of its complicity with a peculiarly modern form of biopower. Accordingly Seltzer takes Simmel at his word that the nominalistic tension between the opposing categories of the particular and the general govern the disciplinary identity of sociological analysis tout court (Simmel 1971: 294-323 cited in Seltzer 1992a: 187). Moreover, for Seltzer, this governing function encompasses the generalized management of three closely related modern developments: the proliferation of urban patterns of settlement, the Industrial Revolution, and the mediation of individual perception through the mass media. I will therefore read the themes in his earlier work as concordant with his more recent efforts, in order to show how he locates the sociohistorical mileu responsible for the emergence of serial violence.

Before taking up a more in depth critical analysis in the main body of this chapter, I shall firstly offer a thumbnail sketch of how Seltzer describes the strategic interaction of each of these three components. Once this has been done, I will put Gillespie to work again at the end of this chapter in order to evaluate the applicability of his description to new historicism’s assumption of the role as “everything’s creator, everything’s destroyer, and everything’s redeemer”. As already indicated, if this evaluation remains negative, some ground can then be cleared for an opening up of the next sociological problematique in this thesis: the context of justification.

With these explanatory pointers out of the way, further introduction to Seltzer’s approach is now possible. One way of orientating his critical portrayal of sociological nominalism is to explain how the new historicist’s work could be contrasted with Simmel’s classic interpretation of the modern urban experience, wherein a fragmentation of consciousness is brought about through abstracted, episodic encounters with strangers. Uniting Simmel’s lengthy study, The Philosophy of Money, and his essay “The Metropolis and Mental Life” was thus a critical sense that the economic imperatives of the city produce a radical split between the objective and subjective sides of human beings. Simmel describes how in this context the intellect becomes objectified and consequently dominates the subjective side of human beings. What his work foregrounds then is not only the reduction to value-added instances of communication, but also the conversion of the intellect into an ``indifferent mirror of reality'', solely dedicated to the relation of ends (i.e. money) and means (i.e. everything else) (Simmel 1990: 432). Although Simmel is attentive to the major effect of this indifference, a hollowing out of the core of things, (thereby flattening the distinctions between people and objects), his general overall assessment of the effects of the urban environment are more ambivalent. For example, he treated the inhabitant of the small town as, in the main, self-enclosed, whereas in the city, “the individual’s horizon is enlarged” (Simmel 1971: 334). Be this as it may, ultimately Simmel preferred to shy away from offering the comfort of any predictable reconcilation. Instead, he concluded that, “[I]t is the function of the metropolis to make a place for the conflict” (Simmel 1971: 339).

Firm promises of relief are not too high on Seltzer’s agenda either, but he wishes to make a stronger case than Simmel for how the possibility of an immanent experiential subject is compromised by this nominalistic tension between self-enclosure and expansion. As I will be explaining, this tension is not something he thinks can be spatially isolated in the modern metropolis, given the dispersed technological effects of the media, which he associates with the shock culture of modernism, or rather, as he prefers to call it, “the pathological public sphere” (Seltzer 1998: 253). It follows that this subjective impression may become magnified, in Seltzer’s estimate, by resentment towards another, (i.e. along with the stranger), growing category of artificial person: the corporation. In this case a relatively abstract entity, (an ontological status attributable to its irreducibility to a singular corporeal level), gradually comes to assume a comparatively transcendental position. It is able to do so on account of its development and harnessing of a new industrially based means of production organized in accordance with thermodynamic principles. A closer look at the naturalist discourse surrounding this development will clarify why Seltzer views Foucault’s model of biopower as an appropriate diagnostic tool (Seltzer 1992b). What can be noted in a preliminary manner is that it has to do with the modeling of the work process in such a way that it becomes more difficult to, as Thomas explains this facet of the new historicist project, “appeal to natural persons to oppose the rise of the artificial personality of corporations, because their very artificiality exposes the fictional nature of natural personhood” (Thomas 1991: 134). Subjective immanence is thereby qualified by awareness of an unattainable ideal.

And yet this diminishment vies, in Seltzer’s account, in a manner consistent with his reading of Simmel, with the so-called “prosthetic” effects of the media; a supplementary function familiar from McLuhan’s better known catchphrase, “the extensions of man” [sic] (McLuhan 1964). What is evoked here is the enlargement of subjective perception that emerges from an exchange between mobility and fluidity. To be more precise, the simultaneous development of technologically enhanced means for traversing the modern metropolis promulgates a situation where the pleasure of cinematic vision mirrors the transformation of railway travellers into spectators, converting proximate objects into distant panoramas, through the mediation, respectively, of a screen and a sheet of glass (Seltzer 1992a: 18; Bukatman 1997: 54). Hence the mass media, on this reading, serve something of a compensatory role on the subjective level of the individual consumer. In short, this medium for the cognitive mapping of desire offers the nostalgic promise of healing the aforementioned rifts in immanent consciousness (in much the same way as the reader of crime fiction may attempt to experience the cognitive power of the detective; cf. Jameson 1970). To the extent though that he is very cynical about the realization of such a self-actualizing ideal through these means, Seltzer can be regarded as turning Lacan’s writings against the more optimistic cultural studies model preoccupied by the empowering, or sometimes even “subversive”, effects of consumption practices (cf. Fiske 1989). He holds throughout to the sceptical line that actions are governed in such instances by a mechanism of biopower. On this basis he argues that individuals partake in a fruitless quest to turn everything outside of themselves into an object of their desire. In other words, to employ the well-known Lacanian metaphor, the pursuit of subjective immanence reactively becomes a mirroring effect of the transcendental position occupied by the corporate category of the artificial person.

A clearer way of putting it though is to say that the emphasis on the gaze in this account effectively means that Lacan’s analytical method is conscripted to mirror Foucault’s study of disciplinary surveillance. To be sure, there is a characteristically conventional, or rather formulaic quality, to the marrying of all of these theoretical perspectives in the scholarly work on seriality – albeit the case that Foucault was missing from the Lacanian perspectives of Knorr Cetina (0.5: 19-20) and Wolfe and Elmer (3.2: 99100) which I have already introduced. In the work of Stratton however, the articulation of Lacan and Foucault takes centre stage (Stratton 1996a). I raise Stratton in this context for the expository purpose of establishing the historically and culturally specific manner by which a new historicist is also supposed to read the comparatively abstract and universalizing narratives of psychoanalysis. After this demonstration, the same procedure can be applied to sociology as well. However, the problem in each of these cases has to do with how in Seltzer’s work the method does not deliver on this promise, consequently leaving the related charges of formalism and nominalism unchallenged.

By way of contrast, this is less apparent in Stratton’s vivid recreation of the mirroring effect between Lacan and Foucault. His approach is comparable to Seltzer’s, and therefore demonstates the conventional means of working with Lacan and Foucault in cultural studies. On this basis Stratton develops the significance of Lacan’s interpretation of the primal horde, as formerly described by Freud in Totem and Taboo. Like Freud and Lacan before him, Stratton’s interest in this story lies with its provision of a possible explanation for the origin of social organization. As befitting a foundation myth, its details are generally well known: a jealous father controls a primal horde by keeping all the females for himself and driving away the sons as they grow up. Eventually the sons respond by killing and devouring the father, thus putting an end to the patriarchal horde (Freud 1955: 141 cited in Stratton 1996a: 9). However, as Freud notes, the subsequent experience of remorse and guilt motivates the sons to place a taboo on endogamy, thereby forming the basis for “right” or “law” (Freud 1958: 101 cited in Stratton 1996a: 9). Lacan attributes the significance of this story to its demonstration of the symbolic power of the absent Father: Law is only effective on account of this absence. As he puts it, this peculiar status ensures, “a debt through which the subject binds himself for life to the Law” (Lacan 1977b: 199 cited in Stratton 1996a: 10). For Stratton, the combined insights of Freud and Lacan become suggestive of the experience of the state which, “like Lacan’s symbolic father, has no physical existence” (Stratton 1996a: 13). Desire thus has to situate itself in relation to, as described above, a corporate entity; something that is both real and ideal. If this gap between real and ideal clarifies why Lacan may have primarily described the structuring of desire in terms of the castration complex oriented by an awareness of lack, then it is not too difficult to understand Stratton’s intuition that Foucault offers a historicization of Lacan’s description of the gaze. To summarize: the panoptic surveillance of the state described by Foucault personifies the symbolic law of the absent father (omniscient, in that it is experienced as absent and yet all seeing and powerful at the same time). As subjectivity is formed, according to Lacan, by becoming the object of the other’s gaze, Stratton argues by homology that state surveillance is a relationship of power that castrates its object. The danger on a subjective level is that attempts are in turn stimulated to close this gap. This is the process of transforming objects into fetishes (Stratton 1996a: 19). In Seltzer’s Foucauldian vocabulary, the construction of the fetish on the individual level is equivalent to the continuous shaping of the self, characteristic of a society of control, and its mobilization of biopower, which I shall also be examining. This strategic combination is of great importance to naturalist discourse because it establishes how reflexivity is complementary to the panoptic function of the state described by Stratton (Seltzer 1992a: 199-201).

It is most likely that the comparative absence of detail on Lacan per se in Seltzer’s account has to do with how psychoanalysis is treated interchangeably with sociology as simply another symptom of the generalized naturalist discourse disseminated throughout society. For the moment, it would be safe to conclude hypothetically that Seltzer’s concern here would not lie in inquiring as to whether the basis of such discourses are apocryphal or not, but rather in understanding the social networks by which they travel, and the purposes such circulation serves. The culmination of Seltzer’s detective work is the chance to cast these discourses into terminological stone, having exposed their function as progenitors of the laws of a serialistic society. It follows that it is Foucault who receives a more evenhanded reception as the means for the eventual self-promotion of the new historicist to the position of redeemer – although, as I shall argue, ironically in a manner already anticipated, not so much by Stratton, but rather in Gillespie’s evaluation of the inheritors of the “Cartesian fortress”.

Thus the new historicist critic may be understood as not only turning Lacan against the cultural studies orthodoxy, in so far as he also presumes to turn Lacanian theory against itself. What I mean to indicate here is the route chosen by Seltzer to ask some reflexive questions, principally, how is the prominence of Lacan’s work to be explained at the present historical juncture? For these very same reasons, again conducting his analysis by way of homology, he critically questions the status of Simmel’s work as emblematic of the disciplinary identity of sociology. His major focus here is on the continuities existing up until the present time, with respect to how the capacity for creative agency is evaluated.

In this context Seltzer regards it as unfortunate that the means utilized by Simmel to differentiate the “genuine” from an “imitation”, shares some of the most disturbing logical prejudices that he has detected in the Lacanian conception of “the social symbolic order”. The related implication of Seltzer’s uncharitable assessment is that Simmel failed to discover a satisfactory method of coping with the nominalistic tensions described in “The Metropolis and Mental Life” and The Philosophy of Money. As Seltzer notes, Simmel regards the something beneath appearances as constituting “a synthesis of the individual’s having and being”. Illustrating this theme in his essay on the attraction of adornment, Simmel attributes the attractiveness of the genuine to its being more than the immediate appearance shared with its imitation. As pertains to the identification of the “genuine” individual, their quality of being more than appearance means that they will be reliable, even when they are out of one’s sight. Simmel continues in this vein, describing the value of a piece of jewelry as something that cannot be guessed at by looking at it, because the value of an object is added to its appearance (Simmel 1950: 338-344 cited in Seltzer 1996a: 215).

According to Seltzer, Lacan is operating from the same premises as Simmel when he offers the example of the puppet pulling its own strings, the trompe-l’oeil. In this example, the representation fascinates the viewer whilst simultaneously making visible its own mechanism in a discreet fashion (Seltzer 1992a: 141). Or as Lacan puts it, “if one wishes to deceive a man [sic], what one presents to him is the painting of a veil, that is to say, something that incites him to ask what is behind it” (Lacan 1977a: 112 cited in Seltzer 1992a: 214-215). In other words, the detection of the irreducibility of representation to the materials from which it is made ultimately mirrors the, “irreducibility of the gazer to the material from which he or she is made (minimally here, the irreducibility of the gaze to the eye)” (Seltzer 1992a: 142). Such is the appeal, or so Seltzer concludes, for both Simmel and Lacan, of taking possession of “the genuine” as the means of securing one’s identity as a subject (Seltzer 1992a: 215).

This latter point is nowhere clearer to the new historicist than in the Lacanian positing of “the Real”, as that which resists any reversal of metaphor and thing. My discussion of the new historicist fascination with naturalist discourse will set out its problematization of the axiomatic opposition between image/body presumed by the Lacanian account of the social-symbolic order (Seltzer 1998: 175-176). Suffice it to add here, the new historicist regards Lacan’s system as untenable because of the kind of technologically mediated culture he believes we are currently living in, and of which the serial killer is the pathological symptom. As for Simmel, Seltzer would obviously dispute any description of his writings as somehow typifying an inversion of Lacan’s privileging of the socialsymbolic order. For the new historicist this remains unnecessary, even in light of Simmel’s framing of the central conflict in modernity between life and the tragic objectification of subjectivity in the autonomous forms of culture. Afterall, Seltzer’s biopolitical focus treats Lacan and Simmel’s theoretical positions as concomitant rather than as alternatives. Moreover, with respect to the wider framework of this thesis as a whole, some alarming inconsistencies may have begun to surface with respect to Chapter Four’s psychoanalytical discussion of the immobility of the fetishistic “imagination”. However, in this respect at least, it too could accommodate the nuances of the new historicist reading method, in so far as what has become fetishisized is an ideal of a continually evolving individual identity existing in a state approximating what Riesman christened [that] “margin of freedom outside conformity” (Riesman 1954: 38 cited in Rapport 1999: 43). If this is so, or at least when the problem is taken at face value, there would appear no alternative but to agree with Edmund Leach that each of us are “criminals by instinct” inasmuch as our acts of creative reinterpretation infuse cultural vitality and lead to new social formations (Leach 1977: 1920 cited in Rapport 1999: 45). Additionally, one is reminded of the bitter aftertaste of Simmel’s [initial] welcoming of the advent of the Great War as the tonic of renewal for what he, along with many others of his generation, regarded as an exhausted German national culture (Harrington 2005: 64).

Any attempt to then distinguish between creativity and violence has to contend with this considerable legacy. And of course, there are other commentators on Simmel’s work, such as Rapport, who have sought to qualify the more tragic connotations, essentially by arguing that, “social structure does not inexorably give rise to homogeneity, stability, consistency…As a discursive idiom…it is always subject to creative reinterpretation” (Rapport 1999: 51). For Seltzer to assent to a more open view of social structure though, some minimal preconditions would have to be fulfilled. As his treatment of Simmel is intended to suggest, sociology is more a hindrance than a facilitator when it comes to this task because it simply reiterates the premises of naturalist discourse, which are ultimately ineffectual when it comes to grappling with the structure of internal difference. He would claim to have demonstrated this through a Foucauldian reading of Lacan and Simmel. In Gillespie’s terminology, changing metaphors somewhat, this amounts to the new historicist singing the song of primal unity and contradiction to a tone-deaf audience of sociologists and psychoanalysts. This skillful performance implicitly aims at the catapulting of Seltzer into the role of “everything’s destroyer”. But what of the other role Gillespie alludes to, that of “everything’s redeemer”, which the new historicist also tries to reserve for himself? For Seltzer, if Foucault diagnoses the problem, Luhmann offers the following promise of salvation:

Logically, actions are always unfounded actions and decisions are decisions exactly because they contain an unavoidable moment of arbitrariness and unpredictability. But this does not lead into lethal consequences…[acting] does not stop in the face of logical contradictions. It jumps, provided only that possibilities of further communications are close enough at hand (emphasis mine, Luhmann 1990: 8 cited in Seltzer 1992a: 135).

5.2 New historicism as destroyer

If Seltzer carries a torch for Luhmann, understanding and assessing this commitment necessitates establishing just how consistent his principles are with the brief introduction to the new historicist movement, that was offered at the beginning of this chapter. As was noted there, his critical distancing from the so-called naturalist discourse adhered to by his new historicist colleagues, has also entailed an unwillingness to closely follow the reading and writing habits of deconstructionists, cultural materialists, and non-systems theory varieties of sociology generally. In what remains of this chapter, I will gradually attempt to marshal the combined force of these latter positions against Seltzer by questioning the credibility of his separation from naturalist discourse via an endorsement of Luhmann. The difficulty for Seltzer is that conventional new historicism reproduces naturalist discourse, which may be regarded as post-oppositional criticism because it argues that the contextmade subject cannot transcend its culture. Naturalism can thereby be equated with nominalistic immanence, in accordance with its diminishment of agency. On the other hand, the stronger investment in agency associated with oppositional criticism is something he also wishes to question on account of its transcendental assumptions (Seltzer 1992a: 212). What then is left for Seltzer to play with? By the end of this section, it will be shown how Seltzer’s answer to this question takes him from Foucault to Luhmann.

It would be ill advised however in the rush to judgement to bypass Jameson’s excellent essay, “Immanence and Nominalism in Postmodern Theoretical Discourse”, which was drawn on in the introduction of this chapter. The sociology of knowledge at work therein pinpoints the dilemma the new historicist theorist of seriality will face in trying to distinguish themselves from their object of analysis. It is worth focusing on what is demonstrably useful in Jameson’s piece before formally defining the naturalist reading method. I have in mind specifically Jameson’s identification of the nominalistic parallels that may easily be extended in each direction. Consider in this dual sense how easily Seltzer’s self-identification as an “Americanist” scholar could logically slide into Sartre’s description of the dilemma of being an American. As shall become clearer in my overview of his writings, Seltzer’s work foregrounds perceptions of rationality subtended by identification with the machine. This type of identification has previously been described as a reaction against the contingency many (European) social theorists have regarded as a characteristic of America as a settler society. Sartre viewed the flight from history into settler communities as depriving settlers of the guidance of traditions, with the result that they could never be assured of having attained a sufficient degree of “Americanness”. The simultaneous desire of wanting to be similar and different at the same time hence became a Gordian knot, which could not be severed. Sartre referred to this condition as seriality. An identification with and reverence for machinic logics of invention, (e.g. Thomas Eddison, Alexander Graham Bell), along with the rational pursuit of the Almighty dollar were, in his view, its most conspicuous manifestations (Sartre 1968).

This significance inhering from the fact that Seltzer is writing as an “Americanist” can easily extend to consideration of how his work may be redeployed as evidence of a growing bioglobal management of the nominalistic tensions, in discourses of nationhood, between differentiation and integration[70]. When it comes then to extricating himself from the serialist dilemma he describes, Seltzer has to be able to explain how people who are subject to the same vast logic of internal difference, are able to respond to it in different ways. The problem though is that applying such a brake on the tendency to see naturalist logics at work everywhere is by no means a simple procedure. One of the clearest indicators is the disproportionate amount of time and space the new historicist will spend describing this difficulty, to the exclusion of actually theorizing any means of fixing the problem.

Indeed, if there is any irony in this situation it has to do with Pieter’s assessment that new historicists deliberately turned away from “textualist ideology” toward historical texts as an initial step toward overcoming the endless rewriting of the same essay in different contexts. The open question is whether they in turn have reproduced the same tendency on another level given their attentiveness to naturalist discourses? I shall develop an explicit answer to this question in a separate discussion of the tensions between new historicism, triple contingency, and deconstruction. But this later discussion is best served initially by actually explaining what naturalism is, and how it was originally cultivated from the soil of deconstruction. Walter Benn Michaels, Seltzer’s former teacher, and a prominent new historicist in his own right, has succinctly explained this deconstructive basis for naturalism’s logic of internal difference, “[F]or writing to be writing, it can neither transcend the marks it is made of nor be reduced to those marks. Writing is in this sense, intrinsically different from itself, neither material nor real.” Given the genesis of new historicism in literary departments, what followed in these circles was a repetitive demonstration of how every text was made up of marks struggling to attain the presence of meaning. These texts ultimately end up deconstructing themselves because the structure of writing prevents the embodiment of presence (Michaels 1987: 21 cited in Thomas 1991: 118-119).

It should be obvious however in light of Chapter Two’s articulation of deconstruction and an historical sociology sensitive to contingency, that further repetitive formal demonstration of this kind was not foremost on my agenda. Which is to say, the history lesson I offer differs in important respects from the curriculum of new historicists. The point of departure has to do with how one treats the deconstructive presentation of two possible modes of interpretation – namely, yearning for an absent center that will halt free play, or the Nietzschean affirmation of free play that revels in the absence of any anchoring point. It is common to read thinkers such as Derrida as arguing that there is no choice but to embrace the latter position. It follows that what new historicists do next is export this preferred mode of interpretation into an explanation of the economic system that produces infinite desire, power, communication, or some combination thereof. What this operation neglects though is any foregrounding of a system of intrinsic values that would remove the structure of internal difference. Without pausing for reflection on this alternative, and gradually lifted out of specific reference to deconstruction per se, the chosen method easily becomes translated instead into Lacanian, Foucauldian, or Luhmanneque idioms, (and sometimes all of three of these theorists simultaneously, as Seltzer’s work attestifies). As Thomas has persuasively argued, what this procedure tends to ignore are the subtleties of those deconstructive readings, which suggest that choosing the Nietzschean alternative actually risks halting the play of play, because it removes the difference between the two interpretations of interpretation. The Nietzschean perspective requires the nostalgia for presence, and the nostalgic desire to escape from capitalism’s structure of internal difference plays a generative role in the maintenance of this very structure. If there is space for development of a conception of triple contingency here, it involves reclaiming a structure of difference from a synchronic, which is to say, a logical, rather than a historical categorization. Without this benefit one is left in a situation whereby a critique of transcendental oppositional criticism leads to the serialistic reification of a transcendental category of its own, “a contradiction within consumer capitalism whereby an endless recurrence of novelty is produced; a sameness of difference making legitimate newness difficult to envisage” (Thomas 1991: 127).

These criticisms are not intended to discount the fact that the new historicist method can be suggestive of how the poststructuralist rallying cry, proclaiming the “death of the subject”, may be conventional for capitalism’s destabilization of the subject. Afterall, the philosophers cannot claim to have single handedly destroyed a bourgeois mystification, given the implicitness of this destabilization in the earlier writings of Adam Smith and David Ricardo (Thomas 1991: 121). Furthermore, although this tendency contradicts on one level today’s neoliberal association with the virtues of autonomous individualization, by the same token it may provide [the aforementioned] Luckhurst with sufficient cause to rethink his anticipation of the evacuation of the subject by a neoliberal technocapitalism. Nevertheless, the problem remains that the new historicist reduction of everything to materiality risks occupying the same position as the idealism it elsewhere criticizes. Seltzer rehearses this tendency through his demonstrations of naturalism’s obsession with internal difference, in which humans have to compete with non-human corporate forces. In the resultant feedback loop, any imagining of identity without difference provokes even stronger imaginings by way of difference.

In the more Foucauldian terms deployed by new historicists, this process suggests how the assumption that an externality or difference to power can be found, constitutes the essence of “the repressive hypothesis”. The exercise of power as the setting of a limit on freedom becomes tolerable to this hypothesis in accordance with its limitation as limit – that is, as censoring, negative, imprisoning. Most of Seltzer’s energy is thus channeled into revealing how the various manifestations of the repressive hypothesis mask the “productiveness” of modern forms of power. To anticipate somewhat, and as befitting Pieters’ cited contrast between cultural materialism and new historicism, it follows that Seltzer is not concerned with technological citizenship and immanent critique as an ethical problematique because his remit is instead technological subjectivation.[71] Through these combined resources of biopolitical analysis and systems theory he traces the relays between those elements of a system that otherwise appear to exist in a relationship of binary opposition. The most he is willing to concede when considering this relationship amounts to a restaging of Luhmann’s cited remark concerning the potentially “non lethal” consequences of action: although the “exit” from power is actually a revolving door, in as far as its movement is regulated by contradiction and difference, power should still not be read in any totalizing sense that preemptively regulates difference. Further to this, rather than settling in advance for a theoretical model of undecidability, or ambiguity, Seltzer insists on the necessity of scrupulous attention to historical specificity, as the only means of revealing the provisional nature of the “micropolitics” divulged by his new historicist method (Seltzer 1984: 194-195). At the conclusion of this section it can be shown that these are the grounds on which Seltzer attempts to differentiate his position from the more strictly “non-oppositional”, or “context made”, models of agency, associated with other new historicists.

He therefore follows the exegesis featured in Chapter Three’s introductory discussion (3.4: 111-112), by building on the implications of Foucault’s claim that biopower designates, “what brought life and its mechanism into the realm of explicit calculations and made knowledge-power an agent of transformation of human life.” In a series of genealogical studies, Foucault had attempted to demonstrate how the practices and discourses of biopower have revolved around, on the one hand, “the anatomopolitics of the human body,” the target and anchoring point of disciplinary technologies, and on the other, a population treated as a regulatory pole through strategies of welfare, knowledge and control (Foucault 1978b: 139 cited in Rabinow 1992: 234). Likewise, through the theoretical combination of biopower and Luhmann’s cybernetic systems theory, Seltzer attempts to draw structural homologies between Frederick Winslow Taylor’s application of the principles of scientific management and biologist Jacques Loeb’s application of the principles of scientific engineering to the life process (Seltzer 1992a: 159).

What specifically interests Seltzer in these cases is his identification of a common move: the generalization of a modern model of productivism. In this model, society and nature are united by the primacy of all productive activity, inclusive of laborers, machines, and natural forces. Crosscutting these relationships are the conversion and exchange of matter and force in keeping with the second law of thermodynamics, which states that matter and force may neither be created nor destroyed. He observes a paradoxical situation arising in this context, where the rewriting of production as conversion, and of creation as processing, decouples the linkage between work and the natural body, in which the products of labour were recognizable as the prosthetic extensions of the natural body (Seltzer 1992b: 174). For him, this countering of a male model of reproduction through labour to a female bodily modeling of creation and generation threatens to empty out, “the categories of production and agency” as such, thereby making “the melodramas of uncertain agency in machine culture...neither reducible to nor inseparable from such anxieties about the gender of production and reproduction” (Seltzer 1998: 77)

This somewhat compressed account may at least have the virtue of beginning to evoke some possible sense of the Lacanian “castration” I have earlier distilled from a reading of Stratton’s work. What I have not yet done, however, is clarify how these naturalist melodramas of agency are associated with the artificial “gaze” of a corporate body, which is a prerequisite for the new historicist mirroring of Lacan and Foucault. According to Seltzer, this connection materializes in two forms: Taylor’s model of systematic management (which Seltzer describes as “a science of artificial production”), and the growth of “a media dependent public sphere”. Turning to the first of these, and building upon the complementarity of its thermodynamic principles with Loeb’s biological engineering, Seltzer argues that what distinguished Taylor’s innovation from its eighteenth century predeccessors of the disciplinary society was its rewriting of supervision in the idiom of production. Taylor “rationalized rationalization” because his techniques incorporated the representation of the work process into the work process, “or better, the incorporation of representation of the work process as the work process itself” (Seltzer 1992b: 174).

This new modality of supervision by representation soon made its presence felt by the uneasy sense the men had that, “the eyes of the company were always on them through the books”. Seltzer uses Taylor’s own reference to the systematization of the largest bicycle ball bearing factory in the United States, as supporting evidence for his thesis of the body machine complex. He shows in this example how Taylor in effect attempted to make allowance for the second law of thermodynamics, (i.e. the entropy of usable energy in any closed system), by incorporating cigarette breaks into the working day. As for the employees responsible for inspecting and sorting the defective ball bearings from the perfect ones, they were themselves subject to inspection and classification by their employers (Seltzer 1992b: 176). A growing demand for recording instruments to facilitate this supervision of mass production, commensurate with the thermodynamic transformation of work as information processing, contributed to the subsequent development and distribution of new writing technologies, most notably the typewriter, around 1900 (Seltzer 1992b: 179).

Remaining faithful to Foucault’s critique of “the repressive hypethesis”, Seltzer is at pains to emphasize that he is not nostalgic for this earlier period, as if it would be any more possible to find there forms of creativity that were not already somehow “materialized”. It might be said though that his stance is symptomatic of the technicist formalist approach taken by the new historicism in general towards Williams’s original project of cultural materialism. In Williams’s words, it was of the utmost importance for any cultural materialism worthy of the name not to sever the relationship between “language use and human physical organization”. An insistence on this relationship was the basis of Williams’s objection to the lifting of the Lacanian system “into a theoretical pediment of literary semiotics” (Williams 1981a: 341). The differences in how this “human physical organization” is treated though by new historicists become clear when I turn in a moment to an explanation of how Seltzer articulates his panoptic model of production to the cultural role of the public sphere. In any case, the new historicist sense of materialism comes equipped with a rationale for refusing to classify the contemporary scene as somehow more image based and consequently “less” material than its early twentieth century predecessor, in spite of Lacanian insistence to the contrary (cf. Žižek. 1997).

But there is further mileage that Seltzer can extract from the example of Taylor’s biopolitical systematization of production. It relates to the point about gender identity been emptied out along with the category of “natural production”. The disciplinary need to manage the fatigue coefficients of workers through the introduction of the cigarette break, hints at the parallels between addiction and maladies of the will, that follow on from the imbrication of bodies and matter within a matrix of writing, technology, communication and representation (Seltzer 1992b: 176). Highlighting its urban emergence at the historical intersection of these formal equivalencies, Seltzer claims that “ripper-style” serial violence began functioning in part as the tearing open of another’s interior, as a substitute for viewing one’s own. To get to the next cultural framework for his productivist model of seriality, Seltzer is obliged to argue by the new historicist convention of homology. By this method he is able to extrapolate the importance of the spectacles of a “wound culture” that constitute what he describes as the “pathological public sphere.” In this situation, Seltzer adjures that the specific content of media spectacles is relativized by the openness of the public sphere. Thus torn and open bodies become indistinguishable from torn and open psyches, the bearing of private pain in public. Serial violence follows this logic to the letter, promising a “direct traumatic communication between inside and outside…between private desire and public acts” (Seltzer 1998: 146).

Habermas is therefore regarded as outdated because his public sphere thesis subscribes to the naturalist opposition between the symbolic and the real, which leads the critical theorist to posit the realm of public opinion as the alternative to the sphere of public violence (Habermas 1989; Seltzer 1998: 253-254). As previously indicated, Seltzer’s primary interest then is not in simply adopting the more conventional related arguments that private life has become exposed in public, or that the public sphere is dominated by images of violence that somehow replaces the experience of “real” bodies. His interest rather is in the commutation between the public sphere’s “statistical identity” of liberal abstract equality and equivalence and a mass print culture (Seltzer 1998: 253). Here then is the crux of his argument that the indistinguishability of word counts/body counts and personal identity/statistical identity defines the essence of serial pathology:

It is possible here to speak of a media-dependent public sphere, if one understands this in terms of the collateral emergence of the public sphere (what Poe calls “the public mind”) and mass print culture (the “public prints”). In systems theoretical terms we can describe this as the “double contingency” of print and publicness. And this is what makes it possible for the mass spectacle of death to be both general and intense, “anonymized” and individualized, generic and singular, at once: both sensational media and a media sensation (Seltzer 2004: 563).

The novelty distinguishing his critique then is the claim that such an attempt to preserve the unique sanctity of a self is actually nothing more than a failure to pass through identification to identity, resulting in a “mimetic identication without reserve” with everyone else, the mass, who is attempting to do the same thing. The irony is that, “[M]otiveless crime, which should signal the subject no longer answerable as a subject, thus becomes just the opposite: the last reserve of the subject, that is, the subject as such” (Seltzer 2004: 571). The greatest reaching after selfhood therefore results in no self at all. If a reflexive modernity is about the recursivity between social and self-observation, then it becomes clearer what Seltzer is driving at in his portrayal of the relationship between the generic and the singular in Luhmann’s terms of a double contingency (Seltzer 2004: 562). In short, the biopower described by Foucault and enacted by Lacanian theory has become rewritten by Seltzer in Luhmann’s terms as consisting purely of a system of communication. I have already argued [in Chapter Four] why a disappearance of the self in some postmodern accounts cannot be considered as anything other than a form of transcendental escape clause from such dilemmas. In addition, the problem that Seltzer’s reading method presents for sociology was demonstrated by way of his discussion of Simmel.

In reply, a sociologist might of course argue that by dwelling on a such a selective reading of what is in fact a very diverse tradition, Seltzer has failed to appreciate how Simmel cannot be portrayed in any sense as fully representative of the discipline. But Seltzer’s indictment is apparently more ambitous in scope than is suggested by this sociological counterargument, as is indicated by his more recent focus on the thesis of reflexive modernity. However, it may still be shown, as the first part of such a sociological reply to the new historicism that I am constructing in this chapter, that Simmel need not be dispensed with out of hand when considering this more recent reflexive turn. The makings of a compelling case can be found in a reading of Simmel alongside Seltzer's nominated saviour from nominalism, Luhmann. This systems theorist, with his characteristically cybernetic conception of intimacy and communication favoured by Seltzer, occupies a prominent position in contemporary sociological literature, a fact that would be conceded even by those who harbour serious misgivings about his influence. Bauman is thus a very interesting social theorist for me to consider in this context, because he is aware of some of the postmodern threats to selfhood that stem from the relationship between communication and intimacy, and he illustrates this theme with reference to both Luhmann and Simmel. I wish to adopt him here to demonstrate a pushing of Luhmann’s work to its breaking point, in order to force a subsequent reconsideration of Seltzer’s claim that Luhmann offers a model for creative action that is irreducible to “lethal consequences”.

With Bauman though it becomes more a case of seeing where the logic of his arguments could be taken for the analysis of similar problems, as he does not specifically address serial violence per se as the object of his analysis. His interest in the reflexivity thesis is apparent from his references to Giddens’s (Giddens 1992) The Transformation of Intimacy (Bauman 2003: 89). It is also not too difficult to imagine Giddens’s account of “plastic sexuality” undergoing a new historicist investigation for its possible naturalist premises, given the sociologist’s claim that the availability of contraception was one of the means by which sexuality became liberated from its ties to “natural cycles” and could now be more taylored to suit the individual’s biography. Moreover, the comparison can fruitfully be made in light of Giddens’s explanation of the singular importance of “relationships” today as expressive of how love can be regarded as “a communicative code” in the sense defined by Luhmann (Giddens 1991: 164). Indeed, Giddens speculates that the sexual violence perpetrated by some males may, to a large degree, be understood as an extreme form of communication breakdown (Giddens 1994: 242; Giddens 1992: 117118 and 121-123). In establishing the importance of “subjective re-embedding”, Bauman, Giddens and Seltzer are almost apiece in the way they turn to Luhmann’s work on intimacy, Love as Passion: the Codification of Intimacy (Luhmann 1986). There would most likely be a basic agreement between the sociological parties concerned that the central problem to try to understand is how love functions as a form of communication to win the trust of the other when trust “cannot be controlled by fixed normative codes (Giddens 1996: 121). Love is an important media of symbolic exchange between strangers because, as tidily summarized by Bertilsson, “while contemporary society extends the possibility of formal and impersonal relations for individuals, it simultaneously increases the need for intensified informal relations among them” (Bertilsson 1986: 27).

There is an interesting background to this discussion to be found in Luhmann’s magnum opus Social Systems, which relates to the problem of heightened contingency, which is a central component of the reflexivity thesis which all of these thinkers engage with to varying degrees. As Luhmann observes, “communication presupposes the difference between information and utterance and the contingency of both”. This insight informs the analysis of the problems he explores in Love as Passion: The Codification of Intimacy, as in its most modern forms intimacy is tempered by an awareness that any utterance about moods and intentions can only be presented as a context of information which could be otherwise. In Luhmann’s functional guise then, difference and selection orient communication, and these factors play a generative role in the kinds of problems and constraints faced in all attempts to communicate sincerity. Therefore the “insincerity of sincerity” becomes a leitmotiv of a differentiated social system no longer held together by natural society but by communication. (Luhmann 1995: 150)

My interest comes into play when one compares Luhmann’s thesis that one can be a person “for oneself and for others.” It is here that one can impute some similarity to Seltzer, witness Luhmann’s point that “the more expectations and the more different types of them that are individualized in this way, the more complex the person.” The inherent failure to obtain a firm path of knowledge into the depths of another person’s psychic system as a way of getting to know them can also explain then why one can copy personality models and gestures and still obtain unique results (Luhmann 1995: 271, 315).

As far as the topicality of Simmel’s work is concerned, Bauman’s key point is that Luhmann proceeds by “following the path long ago indicated by Simmel”, in which the individual is doomed to forever seek out a fixed point in the self as it cannot (any longer) be found outside. If general categories are insufficient for self identification, a reliance upon personal uniqueness brings to the fore the paradox described by Seltzer; individuality is dependant upon social conformity, as an imputed “difference” from the outside requires social affirmation and approval and therefore the strengthening of social bonds and dependence. This subjective world can only be validated through intersubjective exchange, which places considerable pressure upon a partner to affirm idiosyncratic selections when their own “inner experiences are highly individual”, often contradictory and also in need of acceptance and affirmation. For Bauman, as for Seltzer, it seems that there are only slim prospects of escaping this dialectic. In a kind of escalating process though, autonomy will reach after more rarefied threshholds of difference, only in turn to require a greater need for recognition. Here is how Bauman teases out these tensions:

Such attempts become all the more obsessive and feverish the more autonomous (i.e. unique), idiosyncratic (and hence bizarre from the point of view of the “norm”) the individual personality becomes. Self-reliance makes the need for love yet more overwhelming than it is in the case of a self-effacing, heteronomous and submissive personality. More individuality needs more love to sustain it. Since, however, with the growth of personal autonomy and idiosyncracy the probability of social approval diminishes, the greater the need the less probable is its satisfaction (Bauman 1991: 203).

Given these attendant difficulties involved in the attempted transformation of inner experience into the action of another, to this way of thinking it is little wonder that Luhmann himself concludes that in love talk we mostly talk to ourselves. More of the inner self is experienced than the other. Bauman suggests that the common failure to admit this, which is nothing less than the asymmetrical form of a relationship’s “reciprocity”, leads to an increasing reliance on “the constant and continuous supply of emotion, which makes it fickle and vulnerable” (Bauman 1991: 204). The asymmetry referred to means that there is a contingent dimension to relationships necessitating considerable skills of compromise, negotiation and an overall innate ability to withstand surprise and disappointment.

If read from Seltzer’s viewpoint, here is where the sociologist could be said to fall victim to naturalist prejudices. Bauman is in effect suggesting that an individual who is less than ontologically secure will not be able to tolerate the kinds of ambivalence/contingency this situation gives rise to. So it follows that “the functional love-substitute” is urged into being by a failure to obtain “the real thing.” Such a substitute would perform the function of love by absorbing full confession and supplying confirmation of inner experience, without – and this difference is crucial - taking on board reciprocity in exchange and all of the asymmetry this entails. Might it follow then that “the functional love-substitute” Bauman refers to also contains many of the essential elements for a sociological analysis of the kinds of fetishism described in the previous chapter? Might not my own analysis therefore prove vulnerable to a naturalist critique by association with Bauman? Afterall, my depiction of ontological insecurity seemingly guarantees a predisposition ill-equipped to deal with the “reciprocal contingency”, which can be such a banal part of intimate relationships. According to this logic, by removing this threat, the functional love-substitute in effect provides ample reason to appreciate the paradoxical duality inherent in Simmel’s definition of that modern archetype, the stranger, as the one who is “both near and far”. Indeed, Bauman can consistently go on to suggest that the guarantee of a lack of reciprocity goes some way toward explaining the popularity of therapy with its obligation free form of exit brought about by cancellation of payment to “the expert”. As a functional lovesubstitute, one has a means of understanding why “transference” can take place so frequently in the therapeutic session (Bauman 1991: 205-206).

The question resurfaces at this point: what might Seltzer have to say about “the repressive hypothesis” or “double contingency” at work in such instances? It is reasonable to conclude that he would be sceptical about the implied dual status of these sociological readings, because they appear to connive with the naturalist stratagem of the serialistic behaviour they describe, by identifying an exit point from power (and hence providing a further ratification of Simmel’s seizing of the “genuine”, in combination with Lacan’s pleasure in the trompe-l’oeil). Only by way of such a naïve sociological conceptual realism, the new historicist would argue, does it become feasible to see parallels between what the lethal “deliberate stranger” (Larsen 1980) can obtain from their victim acting as a functional love-substitute, and even thereby serving as a form of “therapy session.” But given this implied conventionality of the more sociological account, Seltzer would also not be surprised at the extent of its dissemination. This fact would thereby also explain the conjunction of the so-called “paraphilias” with earlier discussion of the fetish. The same might be said of other variants of this theme, such as Arendt’s treatise On Violence, wherein a discussion of the significance of rage could act as a supplement to Chapter Four’s reference to Keppel’s “clinical rage” in his signature pattern model:

Absence of emotions neither causes nor promotes rationality…In order to respond reasonably one must first of all be “moved”, and the opposite of emotional is not “rational”, whatever that may mean, but either the inability to be moved, usually a pathological phenomenon, or sentimentality, which is a perversion of feeling. Rage and violence turn irrational only when they are directed at substitutes, and this, I am afraid, is precisely what the psychiatrists and polemologists concerned with human aggressiveness recommend, and what corresponds, alas, to certain moods and unreflecting attitudes in society at large (emphasis mine) (Arendt 1970: 64).

And what, Seltzer might inquire, of yet one final naturalist nail in the proverbial sociological coffin? In this context he could cite Hirschman’s Exit, Voice, Loyalty (1990), given its comparable emphasis on the importance of intimate “face work” to counteract the easy exit of expertise mediated by what Hirschman has elsewhere described as “the passions and the interests” of the marketplace. For if reflexivity concerns the recursivity of social and self-observation, it becomes more difficult to frame passions and interests in terms of “the persistent noncommercial and specifically sexual senses” of commerce (Hirschman 1977: 61-63 cited in Seltzer 1992: 192). As should be clear by now, the demonstration of the intractability of such framing issues is the whole point of Seltzer’s focus on the naturalist discourse of force that is mobilized in corporate form. Or as he elsewhere puts it, “the society that makes itself from itself demands individuals who make themselves from themselves, which means that the social imperative of self-making is experienced in reverse: as an unremitting war between two abstractions, self and society” (Seltzer 2004: 570).

5.3 New historicism as redeemer?

This prospect of an unremitting war derived from a reading of Luhmann’s thesis of reflexive “double contingency” appears completely unrelated to the aforementioned promise of deliverance from “lethal consequences”. Even so, it is indicative of some kind of conclusion, and so this may be the best place to evaluate how successfully these two aspects of the new historicist project are tied together. Perhaps the best way of approaching the more recent conclusion is by revisiting Seltzer’s earlier work, which does offer some clarification as to what he believes salvation to consist of. Essentially, he is convinced that only the promotion of a mixed model of agency can loosen the reflexive grip of naturalist discourse. Hence it is not sufficient, in his view, to exclusively opt for either transcendental or immanent contextualizations of the subject. Now, it might immediately be said that this suggestion is not specific enough to be either right or wrong. However, its implications run far deeper than this initial assessment suggests. Which is to say, a concentrated critique of this new historicist work would be merely a gratuitous exercise in organized swearing, if it did not serve as a platform for contemplation of the more expansive worldview Seltzer’s approach actually entails. There is added significance for my purposes then in the manner by which he intimates that his critique is intended to dispute the melodramatic consequences imputed by naturalist discourses to the logical “unfoundedness of actions”. Seltzer’s aim is to challenge how such a characterization is designed to provoke a counterreaction, which will ratify the market criteria of possessive individualism. The problem here, for this particular new historicist at least, is that an awareness of this temporal disruption, (or contingency if you prefer), sets the preconditions for a ‘resolutely abstract “politics” of signification’, thereby guaranteeing further rehearsal of the “impossibility” of action that mirrors the naturalist melodrama of uncertain agency (Seltzer 1992: 212). Seltzer deliberately sets his sights here on how an insistence on the arbitrariness of persons and things can be construed as indicating the impossibility of claiming to act in principle, especially once a deconstruction of the nature/culture binary is treated as having simply prioritized the former over the latter (Seltzer 1992: 210-211).

The more avowedly postmodern identity politics favored by new historicism’s cultural studies fellow travelers may well have created such a dilemma for itself. I have myself elsewhere criticized the equivalent logic of social constructionism as “social psychosis”. So this is not the place where the broader implications of Seltzer’s argument trouble my sociological point of view. What concerns me rather is the manner by which the logic of his position apriori cannot countenance the value of immanent critique as a means of ordering principles and preferences, on the simplistic basis that it does not, by definition, presuppose the “mixed” version of agency which he favours. The gravity of this problem is reason enough in itself for a separate section in this chapter dedicated to debating the new historicist method by way of cultural materialism. Suffice it to add here, with especial reference to my engagement with Hooker in the Epilogue, it is more apposite to speak of a mixture of immanence and transcendence in explaining how norms evolve to cope with contingent circumstances. This however is not a continuous process, with all that is solid melting into air, which is why it remains important to retain immanent critique. I will say more about this as well in the conclusion of this section when explaining how Seltzer ironically ends up importing his own version of naturalism, which seems to replicate many of the cardinal sins he is attempting to attribute to the more orthodox new historicist version. With respect though to my own “mixed” version of agency set out in Chapter Four, it too can clearly be related to this point about Hooker and the evolution of norms. A contingent situation of the “unfoundedness of actions” is not something confronted by agents at every moment of their lives. A more detailed explanation on my part would expand upon this point by linking it to not only Chapter Two’s account of the micro and meso hierarchies structuring social interaction (2.3: 90), but also Simmel’s conception of the intersection of social circles that explains not only the individualization process, but also extends to consideration of the recombination of memberships in different structural patterns (Diani 2000: 389).

The conjunction of these contexts, of discovery and justification, must complicate understanding of the process by which normative critique is conducted. The implications for Seltzer’s argument have to do with the less than evenhanded treatment meted out to Simmel’s sociological legacy, which proceeds by airbrushing out of the picture his position on contingency and value. Seltzer is actually arguing at crosspurposes with the sociologist. For Simmel argued that the essence of individuality lies in an ethical unsubstitutability and not in any kind of numerical uniqueness[72]. As some confirmation of this position, I will be offering some comparisons and contrasts regarding the idea of “the masses” in the work of Williams, which are sympathetic with this aspect of Simmel’s project. Moreover, a consultation of Joas’s theory of the creativity of action may lead one to conclude that Seltzer has never gained full access to Simmel’s master key, which could have opened up the possibility to him of relating commitment to an individual law to a universal law, by means of an “axial rotation” into altruistic/social forms (Joas 2000: 82). This is the process of transition from Chapter Four’s emphasis on the context of discovery to Chapter Six’s context of justification, that I am charting. Were this possible for the new historicist, what would thereby stand revealed to him is the alternative of an autonomous, individual creative “remoralization” of social life, a form freed from assumptions of inevitable anomie.

Without these kinds of distinctions though, one is simply left in the position of being asked not to react melodramatically to the discovery that there is no secure anchoring point for one’s beliefs, at least outside perhaps what Latour, for example, has called “the parliament of things” (cf. Latour 1993). Or, as Luhmann would have it, there are no “lethal consequences” to double contingency as long as further communication is allowed to take its course by producing further differentiation/complexity. The contingent “jump” in temporal logic here would then seem to require, in a manner not inconsistent with the advice proffered by Seltzer, acceptance of the materiality of one’s identifications, as identification/communication with any object will presumably suffice as long as the evolutionary process is allowed to continue. Afterall, or so Seltzer generally argues, naturalism’s biopolitcal discourse ensures that lethal serialistic oversocialization only follows on paradoxically from efforts to transcend material attachments by uncovering the “real” (or rather, finding “substitutes” for it).

What is most surprising though is how ultimately Seltzer’s efforts to differentiate a critical method from the naturalism propounded by his new historicist colleagues, is itself so faithful to another definition of naturalism contemporaneous with the popularization of the Luhmannesque sense of recursive observation. I am thinking here of Williams’s final definition of naturalism in Keywords:

At the same time there has been an interaction of naturalism with empiricism and materialism in which the crucial argument affecting the sense of naturalism (with some support from environmental methods in description and explanation) has been about the relation between the observing subject and the observed (natural or naturalistic) objects (Williams 1976 [1983]: 218-219).

In the case that I am discussing, “the crucial argument affecting the sense of naturalism”, has to do with the suspension of one of the strongest objections which, as Williams notes, realists have traditionally lodged against naturalist methodology: the medium in which representation occurs, ‘whether language or stone or paint or film, is radically different from the objects represented in it, so that the effect of “lifelike representation”, “the reproduction of reality”, is at best a particular artistic convention, at worst a falsification making us take the forms of representation as real’ (Williams 1976 [1983]: 260-261). Notice how consistent this definition is with aspects of Williams’s own method, which were highlighted in Chapter One (1.4: 66), and which I will be returning to in Chapter Six’s discussion of Donna Haraway’s work. Seltzer, on the other hand, seems to be suggesting that psychoanalysis sets the initial conditions for melodramas involving the unfoundedness of actions, because it unsuccessfully attempts to distinguish the psychic apparatus in terms of a distinction between inside and outside. Herein could be found his objection to the sense of realism Williams conveys, on account of its complicity with the naturalism associated with the more orthodox stream of new historicism. This arrangement, consistent with my explanation of Seltzer’s method in this chapter, is interpreted as facilitating the management of internal difference. The prominence of trauma in psychoanalytical discourse is then one indicator, to him, of the double contingency by which this system is compelled by naturalist discourse to deconstruct itself:

Seen this way, the trauma is something like the compulsive return to the scene of the crime: not merely in that the trauma is the product of its repetition, also in that it is the product, not of an event itself, but of how the subject repeats or represents it to himself (Seltzer 1998: 260-261).

To avoid these “lethal consequences” therefore, Seltzer would be obliged by his own logic to embrace the criteria of naturalism summarized by Williams. I am wondering though about how far the associated disregard for the status of objects could be taken (i.e. an erasure of the radical difference between a medium and the objects represented in it). What frees my critique up in order to be able to cast Seltzer in the omnsicient position of “the brainvat” in the next instalment of this chapter then, has to do with the evident blurring of the difference between psychology and epistemology presupposed by his naturalism.

Afterall, it is not clear that this manoeuvre marks any real advance over the Lacanian position it is supposed to be opposing. In Williams’s terms, the Lacanian system subscribes to realist principles, because it postulates the existence of an unassimiliable and unknown realm (“the real”), and the subjective representations that are the product of symbolic and imaginary representations (“reality”). One can accept the proposition that there is some difference between these areas, but I would insist that this need not mean that the world cannot be known by either greater or lesser degrees of adequacy. Unsurprisingly, given the primacy of his analytical method, Lacan’s proceeds by treating the psychological issue of how an individual sees and experiences the world as determinant of the degree of certainty with which the world can be known. As Craib has argued though, the latter issue should be regarded as closely related, but this should not obscure, as Lacan is prone to do, an important fundamental distinction between them. Craib makes this point by using the example of how his occasional fantasy of flying out of his fourth floor office window, “is of a different order”, than his knowledge of the laws of gravity, which remind him that he would most probably die. The psychoanalytical basis of the fantasy is a processing of Craib’s personal reality by his unconscious, whilst his knowledge of the laws of gravity is drawn from an intersubjective reality, “governed by the laws of rationality” (Craib 2001: 156).

This distinction might easily translate respectively into the terms of the I and the me set out in Chapter Four’s pragmatic demonstration of the situational deployment of a “mixed” agency. But of more immediate interest is how Craib’s distinctions also touch on Williams’s anticipation of a conception of triple contingency, in a manner that demonstrably has bearing on Seltzer’s conflation of epistemological and psychological levels. What Chapter Three’s reading of tragedy can elucidate in this respect is that third area between signification and reference. It is something not unrelated to the general issue, set out in Craib’s example, of how an individual sees and experiences the world. In particular, Williams wished to stress on this level the importance of all that was not fully articulated, that was experienced as disturbance or emotional trouble. What he struggled with in this instance was the difficulty of finding an appropriate term to capture a point of comparison to register “major changes in the relation between the signifier and the signified” (Williams 1981a: 168). What deserves to be pointed out here is that the apparent imprecision of the terms he chose to indicate this process of change, “experience” and “structures of feeling”, are a necessary consequence of the dynamism of knowledge acquisition. The point Williams is making here could be buttressed by noting, for example, a parallel with Popper’s intuition that if one already knew what new knowledge was, one would already have it. An awareness of this paradox informed Popper’s opposition to attempts to analyse the context of [scientific] discovery (Popper 1959 [1980]: 32). If I treat Fuller in the following chapter then as broadly sympathetic to Williams’s project, it is because the social epistemologist’s expressed enthusiasm for Popper must acknowledge the open ended nature of the context of discovery, whilst seeking to institute principles for demonstrating the falsehood of an account, irrespective of the authority “conveyed in its original expression” (Fuller 2003a: 30). For without the benefit of such structuring principles to measure disjuncture from the recorded articulations, Williams argued that all that remained was the formalist experience of the subject as an ideological illusion, or the techniques of analysis, primarily statistical, devised in response to the “impossibility of understanding contemporary society from experience” (Williams 1981a: 170-171).

Given Williams’s demonstrated awareness of the hegemonic influence of recorded articulations, it would be quite incorrect to argue that he sacrificed the Marxist duty of conducting ideological analysis in the interest of sentimentalizing the contestatory power of culture[73]. The Long Revolution is more accurately characterized as the culmination of Williams’s various attempts to specify the change brought about by the development of the Industrial Revolution; conditions under which tragedy has gradually taken the liberal form of an expectation of privatized consumption, as if the society’s products did not depend on “continous co-operation and social organization” (Williams 1961: 325). Williams is here drawing attention to how ideology manages one of the major defining logical contradictions of contemporary life. That this ideological obstacle could not be easily overcome was one of the major reasons why Williams felt it appropriate to speak of “the long revolution”. In Craib’s terms though, Williams is not so much blurring the distinction between psychology and epistemology, as he is attempting to translate from an individual level into a normative lexicon, something irreducible to the statistical power of techniques of analysis. Which is to say, Williams is less preoccupied by idle daydreams of flying out of his office window, and drafting risk assessment strategies, (commensurate with the statistical probability that the governing laws of rationality may prevent him from doing so), than he is by the possibilities for naming a nascent totality, a common culture.

If new historicism arrives on the opposite end of the scale it is because it presupposes the reading of experience through a formal epistemological lens. The end result amounts to the same danger faced by Lacanians, except in reverse: psychology has become indistinguishable from epistemology. It follows that one of its most telling differences from a cultural materialist approach is the characterization of the relationship between serial violence and the Industrial Revolution solely in terms of what Williams identified as “techniques of analysis”. This further ratifies the point I made earlier about Seltzer’s “numerical” mistreatment of Simmel’s investment in ethical unsubstitutability. For Seltzer, the pathological public sphere has effectively done its work of reducing all citizens to the status of liberal juridical subjects (i.e. equal before the law). The naturalism he advocates therefore does not extend to consideration of how to discriminate between “true” or “false” representations. All that has to be negotiated is the abstract equivalence between the particular and the general, which structures intra and interpersonal relationships. Those individuals unable to channel these “reciprocal topographies” into manageable consumption patterns become serial killers. This conclusion could in turn imply varying related degrees of emphasis. The difficulty lies in deciding upon which implication of his work Seltzer would choose to take a stand. Here are some of the criteria one is left with when attempting to isolate the prospects for redemption that the new historicism can offer, once it has demolished [sic] sociology and psychoanalysis:

• The fact that statistical evidence suggests that serial violence remains a minority crime implies that to remain consistent Selzer must obey his own imperative to not draw melodramatic conclusions from the human interface with technology. Yet the characterization of the pathological public sphere itself appears to be a rather melodramatic, and perhaps even premature, assessment. There is a puzzling contradiction at work here because Seltzer privileges the nominalistic power of statistical techniques of analysis as evidence of the “taming of chance” that constitutes the pathological public sphere.

• That actual, (read: “real life”), serial murderers are acknowledged as an anomaly by official homicide statistics is immaterial. Of greater importance is how interested any given population, (“the mass”), is in vicariously consuming imagery of crime to plot its own position on the scale of normality/pathology. The ratings of each television network’s audience share, recorded box office takings, publisher’s bestseller lists, and the greatest number of website hits are thus more signifcant statistical indicators of the existence of a pathological public sphere than any of the data collected by government sponsored criminological institutes (or by sociologists, for that matter). These relationships of abject dependence can tell us much about how the naturalist biopolitcal strategy of bait and switch controls the contemporary working and consuming population through the mass media.

• These control strategies of the body-machine complex apply only to select cultural products that capitalize on the melodramatic consequences imputed to the relationship between human agency and technology. Accordingly, search popular culture texts for variants on the vampiric themes introduced to the reading public during the heyday of the Industrial Revolution by the mass marketing of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula (1897): a narrative organized around the exchange of written correspondence between characters, as mediated by technology (particularly typewriters). Note how this intimacy with machines is equated with a draining of life from characters, and a contractual system premised on quantitative methods. Describe the centrality of seriality in this context, not least as demonstrated by the eponymous character of “The Count”, himself (Seltzer 1998: 73-81).

• Consider the possibility of more positive implications becoming associated with representations of the violent deconstruction of human subjectivity. The [alleged] escalating carnage in popular culture, for instance, may be construed as proof of the exhausted humanist paradigm having finally reached its limit. Preparations must thus be undertaken for our imminent posthuman future. In this context one can anticipate the growing promotion of a connection between biotechnologies and the cultural coding of socalled “nano splatter” texts. Indeed, according to this position, biotechnologies, in combination with nanotechnologies, prefigure radical possibilities for personal and social transformation, which follow on from popular culture’s discreditation of humanism through the representation of violence (Milburn 2005). The elaboration of this technophilia has ended up surpassing even the utopian hopes expressed by Luckhurst at the conclusion of Chapter Four (4.8: 154): sexism and homophobia are rendered obsolete (hermaphroditism becomes technically feasible); racism disappears (skin colour is changed at will); speciesism vanishes (xenotransplantation makes it possible for humans to grow fur on their bodies) (Rikowski 2003: 130). Hence it is not surprising to find that one cultural studies scholar, who has argued against the pathological representation of posthumanism (read: “self-making”), in The Silence of the Lambs, (see my discussion in 3.4: 109), has also privileged transgenderism as the avant-garde of a postmodern queer theory (cf. Halberstam and Livingston 1995; Halberstam 2005).

In attempting to distil from this list the prospects for redemption to which the new historicist may be willing to assent, it can be said that the first two points are essentially methodological issues. The tension between them has never been resolved, (letalone addressed), in Seltzer’s writings, so one suspects he does not regard it as greatly significant. One can speculate though that each interpretation of the pathological public sphere is required to validate the basic premise of his thesis of a reflexive society constructed by exchanges between antinomies (i.e. double contingency). This point is well worth pursuing further, but I will postpone this task for the moment. The more interesting tensions have to do with the remaining two points. In particular, what needs to be brought into focus is the ambivalence of the statistical techniques of analysis, in a manner consonant with Williams’s description of the research method he employed for The Long Revolution. As I have already shown, Williams was forthcoming in his admission that without the assistance of statistical forms of data he could never have written his book, because the Industrial Revolution inaugurated a new type of society that was unknowable in the terms of experience. At the same time, he recognized the inherent danger of dominance by these techniques of “rational penetration”, as he called them (Williams 1981a: 172). Seltzer’s reduction of agency to the abstract level of liberal juridical principles may register as one example of the kind of danger Williams had in mind here.

More recently though, another thinker concerned with the ambivalence of such techniques of analysis, has described some of the options that might be canvassed in response to Seltzer’s type of scenario. Steve Fuller identifies two possible responses. Firstly, it is accepted that the identification of some individuals or groups as “pathological” can assist more powerful governing agencies in determining how a reallocation of resources can help bring the target population’s standard of living up to a level commensurate with social norms of a decent standard of living. This option has historically been associated with welfare programs and the normative role of the social sciences. In the second option, statistical analysis is given a thoroughly epistemological makeover, so that it is regarded in realist terms as merely indicative of nothing more than the capability of planning agencies to represent indeterminacy. In this ambivalent context, human welfare cannot apriori be privileged over other spontaneously generated forms of life. Herein identity politics carves out a niche for itself (Fuller 2006: 144). My discussion of Bauman in the previous section has already touched on this possible scenario, wherein, as he described it, “general categories no longer suffice” to encompass rarefied forms of individuality (5.2: 182-183).

Returning to Williams in light of Fuller’s typologies, while it can be said that he certainly acknowledged that indeterminacy could be associated with realism, his greater interest was in preserving the first option. Afterall, he believed that an overreliance on statistical technique could lead to an underevaluation of particular areas of human experience. As I have argued thus far, he referred to this area in terms of “structures of feeling”. Fuller also has to acknowledge a comparable point as the basis for his claim that criminal profiling works by ignoring the specificity of individuals in the interest of correlating their actions to socially relevant statistical categories, hence its basis of prosecution is “guilt by association” (Fuller 2006: 98). Williams was interested in the work of Sebastiano Timpanaro then only in as much as it too could provide a convenient foil to textual formalists who insisted that nothing existed outside the available articulation, “physical organisms exist in an undeniably material world whether or not they have ever been signified” (Williams 1981: 167).

It is possible then that the posthuman options alluded to in point form [above] are logical consequences of the second alternative that Fuller identifies, which defines itself by refusing to privilege humanism. But as I have demonstrated through Williams’s definition of “naturalism” from Keywords, Seltzer feels no obligation to acknowledge realism. His formalist critique instead presupposes that such a distinction is a mere byproduct of the biopolitical version of naturalism he wishes to discredit. If the precepts of his preferred naturalism do not logically privilege human welfare, it is for the simple reason I have already hinted at in this section: again, in Luhmannesque terms, lethal consequences are avoided on the proviso that logic jumps to facilitate further communications. So, although Williams generally stresses the difficulty of defining a term as complex as naturalism, the cultural materialist has proven himself both accurate and highly prescient when applied to today’s new historicism. This impression is affirmed if one considers how subsequent increases in usage of this kind of naturalism may not also be unrelated to an ascendant bioglobal discourse. Certainly this is a contextualization that some social scientists would readily endorse. Thus although realist distinctions are not important for Seltzer’s argument, Fuller could on another level be seen as drawing a relevant analogy between Luhmann’s portrayal of the individual as a vehicle for reproducing the social structure, and Dawkins’s thesis of the selfish gene (Fuller 2006: 121). Hayles has in a similar vein reported the attempted transfer of the selfish gene’s characteristics into artificial systems, suggesting a possible future scenario whereby it may become acceptable for any object to perform the social function necessary for the reproduction of an autopoietic system. This is certainly the inference that can be drawn from reading Luhmann and Seltzer together (Hayles 1999: 227-228).

The more critically balanced sociological perspectives of Williams and Fuller therefore lead one to conclude that it would be most appropriate to regard the types of problem set out in new historicist writing as hyperbole. What I have aimed to do therefore in this section is demonstrate some of the ways in which the new historicist method mimics the seriality of the actor network theorists described in Chapter One, and the postmodern nominalism associated with Wolfe and Elmer’s animal hybrids in Chapter Three. The critical reservations I have expressed in the conclusion of this section have only just begun to raise some of the issues tackled in Chapter Four that pertain to the achievement of an autonomous identity capable of creative action. In this context, it is not the fact that individuals are subjects of power that is remarkable in and of itself, but how these subjects of power choose to respond to their situation. Although it is certainly undesirable for an individual to become oversocialized, this is not a necessary consequence of association with a collective, or rather, corporate entity, as new historicists would generally prefer to call them. The lynchpin then between the building of an autonomous identity and the creative potential of a political collective is the existence of a third area. In Chapter Four this was described in Winnicottian terms as a “transitional space”, and a commentary from a deconstructive thinker was drafted into service, in order to suggest a critical point of difference from serialistic absorption in the here and now (4.5: 145).

My next interest is in extending this sense of difference into consideration of a possible relationship of politics to a triple contingency. Although this discussion is preparatory for an introduction of Strydom’s use of this term in the next chapter, its function here also has to do with discharging my use of deconstruction from the new historicist association of it with an abstract politics of signification – which can do little other than reproduce naturalist discourse. Finally, I can consolidate each of these elements with a cultural materialist critique of the new historicism as a lead in to Chapter Six.

5.4 Escaping Seltzer’s Luhmannesque naturalism: the need for triple contingency

In order to break free of any new historicist accusations of complicity with naturalism, I am now obliged to distinguish the basis of my preferred option of a triple contingency from Seltzer’s selection of Luhmann’s double contingency. From what I can make out, this is the only substantive challenge the new historicist method presents to my argument progressing any further. Permit me to clarify this assertion. What I mean to indicate specifically here are the consequences following from the new historicist recuperation of Luhmann away from Joas’s more pacific engagement with his work in the context of Chapter Two’s development of an historical sociology of contingency (2.1: 70). Were this new historicist operation successful, the premises of my subsequent chapters may also become tainted. Fortunately though there are reasons to think that this need not happen. It may then be one of the greatest ironies of this whole debate that the new historicist Walter Benn Michaels had indicated the appropriate direction to follow in one of his earlier responses to the situation described at the beginning of the last section. He had concluded that the deconstruction of literary texts had become a repetitive argument about subjective and objective interpretation. Michaels’s sense of disatisfaction eventually led him to the pragmatist position Peirce had taken, on how the interpreting subject could also be seen as the product of communities of interpretation. What impressed Michaels about Peirce was his emphasis on the grounding of practice in a radical empiricism, rather than in a general theory of language, which would concern itself solely with how one could not occupy a foundation outside of the activity involving and constituting us as subjects. The new historicist gained a greater appreciation of how the Peircean option relieved the burden of having to offer a ground to practice deconstruction, which could in turn itself be deconstructed (Michaels 1977: 396 cited in Thomas 1991: 119-120). Thomas has identified this as the point where nothing is necessarily lost by referring to the material existence of works of literature in the face of the new historicist naturalist reading strategy. Which is to say, one can acknowledge that writing is already inhabited by a structure of internal difference, whilst remaining equally attentive to “the specific marks of writing that make up a particular work, a specific materiality that makes each work, and the potential effects of each work, different” (Thomas 1991: 239).

Once this lesson is forgotten though, it becomes but a short step to Seltzer’s characterization of the unfoundedness of actions, and the melodramas of uncertain agency he associates with an abstract politics of signification. But what happens once the logic of double contingency integral to the naturalist discourse of new historicism is forced to reflexively fold back on itself? What becomes unfounded in this situation, I will suggest, is the very possibility of new historicist criticism. My argument will therefore show how the new historicist reading method is forced to proceed by pretending to not know that its position is untenable. This facade is ultimately betrayed by some of its claims about excessive reflexivity. Before getting to this problem though, my introductory remarks should have neatly rounded out the narrative enframing of new historicism by returning to Greenblatt’s earlier point regarding deconstruction. It will be recalled that, for Greenblatt, deconstruction marked both the negative and positive limit for the emergence of new historicism’s Founcauldian turn. As I have demonstrated, what has subsequently taken place in the evolution of Seltzer’s techno-visual turn is that the apparatuses of Foucauldian panopticism have become absorbed as self-referential metalevels into a radical constructivist discourse overdetermined by Luhmannian systems theory. The equivalency that is at stake, or rather in question, in such instances, therefore becomes that of deconstruction and systems theory.

Allow me to demonstrate a critical understanding of the new historicist position by drawing a contrast between the respective conceptualizations of contingency as follows: for Luhmann, systems are demarcated by their other, and this other is of the system, rather than other to the system. For deconstruction, it is philosophically undecidable “whether a system is de-limited by its other or whether it is a system that delimits itself by its other as a process of self-limitation” (Cornell 1995: 228).[74] It gradually becomes clearer in these terms why Seltzer is unable to proceed too far down a deconstructive pathway, where emphasis is laid upon the irreducibility of violence in order to demonstrate the logic of différance: the “origin” of a system is not a pure fiction, but nor is it a spatio-temporal event. It is instead the non-derivability founding the law, the aporia or paradox of the system (Beardsworth 1996: 34). Différance must consistently suggest therefore that the constitution of meaning does not materialize in separate parallel processes of systems mutually closed to each other. As Teubner has argued, “[T]he thesis is that while such a concept of différance is incompatible with autopoiesis, it is at the same time its necessary supplement” [Teubner 2001: 41]. Luhmann himself has argued that deconstruction is best understood as second order observing, which he defines as follows:

On this level one has to observe not simple objects but observing systems--that is, to distinguish them in the first place. One has to know which distinctions guide the observations of the observed observer and to find out if the stable objects emerge when these observations are recursively applied to their own results. Objects are therefore nothing but the eigenbehaviors of observing systems that result from using and reusing their previous distinctions (Luhmann 1982: 767-68).

Further to this, Luhmann notes, ‘Deconstruction destroys this “one observer-one nature-one world” assumption. Identities, then, have to be constructed. But by whom?’ (Luhmann 1982: 765). Luhmann’s line of questioning in this particular instance can be directly related to the problems a deconstructive perspective may have with Seltzer’s modelling of the natural body/human agency in relation to technology. For were Seltzer to remain consistent in following Luhmann’s characterization of deconstruction as second order observation - whereby sexual difference would stand revealed as based upon a system through observation of its functioning - this is something that comes about through explanation of how it is possible for an individual to observe the system as a system, rather than simply arguing [with Luhmann] that the sufficient condition is observing the system observing itself. Thus for Derrida, the repeatability of language implies both sameness and difference in order for it to be used in different contexts. Hence the constitutive iterability of language cannot equate to identical meaning because the existence of a supraordinate context is a logical impossibility. Or rather, in more familiar terms, it is contingency that allows one to see a system as nothing more than a system, rather than as a pre-given objective world. In this sense, contra Seltzer, given the construction of systems in language, pure self-referentiality would be “contaminated” or transformed as it sought to perpetuate itself in different contexts (Cornell 1996: 195). If recognition of iterability opens up a transformative space for a politics, it cannot be regarded as taking place via the shifting of the meanings within the binary code. Were that the case, one would be remaining within Luhmann’s conception of the perpetuation of codes by systems. The starting point then for iterability has to be that the inseparability of the code from its meanings cannot act to immunize the code from its undermining.

Seltzer in effect though chooses to disregard this distinction when he admonishes “deconstructive media studies” for erazing the specificity of communication technologies by emphasizing only the postcard and not the postal system (Seltzer 2004: 583). He is thereby arguing here that Luhmann’s second-order cybernetics is a radical form of constructivism inasmuch as it captures a qualitative change in recursive observation, “since by this means one can also observe what and how an observed observer is unable to observe”. From a new historicist perspective then, deconstruction is inherently limited by its dependence on a general economy of writing as something always already in place, (or “at work”). For Seltzer, this means that it is prevented in principle from charting the “evolution” of “new media” because, while the content of a medium is always another medium, innovation becomes discernible in the incorporation of the meta-levels of these mediums. The endpoint of autopoiesis for him would therefore appear to be nothing more than the pure self-referentiality of meta-levels, inclusive of identity options or performatives, the realms of opinion or belief, and voluntary or unconscious “deceptions” (Seltzer 2004: 569).

Seltzer is arguing here that systems theory, in contrast to deconstruction, will attempt to account for the reproduction of boundaries and distinctions in order to reduce the violence of the “origin” i.e. by restricting an openness not controlled by self-reference. Aligning himself with Luhmann, his reasoning must hold that, if a distinction is drawn, one must have already distinguished: no first distinction is fathomable. He therefore draws from Luhmann that all communication programs are intended to divert and defer the paradox associated with the groundless inscription of the code. I note defer here as central to Luhmann’s argument for how the retroactive attribution of finality to the code assists by solving undecidabilities. The immediate decision is thereby recast into the future, given that what is right now can be wrong tomorrow (Luhmann 1987:14 cited in Stäheli 2003). Seltzer claims however that the serialist typifies the spatialization of time by always compulsively returning to the scene of the crime. And so, without temporal contingency, seriality attempts to slip into the cracks of the system. Its aim is to testify to an unmarked state that can only show itself as a failure. In attempting to refer back to what is taboo, its own forgotten institution, seriality manifests as an infinite regress.[75] For Seltzer though, such strategies are, in the final analysis, futile, as is also critically implied by Luhmann’s analysis of the systemic function of excising materiality (i.e. in addition, for him, to the temporalization of contingency). For these disavowals may themselves be symptomatic of nothing more than a program’s (re) productive relation to the code (Seltzer 1998: 175-176). If human agency is represented as decision-making its function thereby is to suture the signifying failures of the system, by dissimulating the presence of technology in the interest of offering the promise of an “imaginary” order. Or, as Delanty aptly puts it, choice would seem irrelevant to Luhmann’s world of differentiation in which systems are incapable of movement beyond their closed points of reference within, “a structurally determined system that may be specified only by its own structures and not by states of consciousness” (Delanty 1997: 125).

Despite some idiosyncratic differences then, Seltzer is basically apiece with Luhmann when it comes to the more structuralist and linguistic components of his argument, as pertains to the functionality of a particular selection. Stäheli (Stäheli 2003) has pointed out how this differs from the poststructuralist conception of contingency, which foregrounds the significance of an event which is unexpected and cannot be deduced from an existing system. The singularity of this event is facilitated by a suspension of the law. Interestingly, this opens up the space for the kind of messianic politics evident in Derrida’s later writings that will be discussed in the Conclusion of this thesis[76]. What can be noted here is how telling it is that Luhmann does not articulate a messianic politics - in his writings on the political system (e.g. Luhmann 1989) he retains the system/environment distinction in terms of the government/opposition distinction. He is inclined to view religion as the only social system entitled to openly symbolize the social paradox of the third excluded by the difference between system and environment (Luhmann 1984).

Seltzer likewise evinces no interest in any messianic politics. On the other hand, Laclau has argued from a largely deconstructive viewpoint that system dislocation needs to be distinguished from antagonism. Whereas the former may be the product of differential and paradoxical constitution of any system, the latter are the contingent historical result of the political articulation of a dislocation (Laclau 1990: 16). This point can be more explicitly opened through consideration of this [above] “third excluded by the difference between system and environment” and Joas’s foregrounding of a theory of articulation (in 5.5 below). What starts to become available is something that will be referred to as a “triple contingency” as I gradually build more explicitly toward a more detailed definition of a realist/constructivist nexus.

What happens though when one’s terms of reference remain the differential and paradoxical relationship between system and environment? I would suggest that the end result is a very peculiar but logical outcome of Seltzer’s preference for “mixed agency”. What is delivered by this medium to the sociological critic of new historicism is a renewed appreciation for Gillespie’s cited remarks about the conquerors of modernity’s Cartesian fortress bearing a “striking resemblance” to their supposed opponent, the omnipotent God of Christianity. Bateson’s renowned work, Steps Toward an Ecology of Mind (Bateson 1972), is an instructive (comparative) case in point. Bateson, unlike Seltzer after him, at least concedes a constructivist point, “the map is not the territory”. This concession is undone however by those extraordinary passages in Steps that bring home the omniscience presupposed by its perspective. If omniscience seems to figure so prominently it is because Bateson assumes the existence of a “mental determinism” of contingent observation “from behind”; what in effect amounts to a total loop of the entire pattern of existence. In his words, “there is a larger Mind of which the individual mind is only a subsystem. This larger Mind is comparable to God and is perhaps what some people mean by God, but it is still immanent in the total interconnected social system and planetary ecology” (Bateson 1972: 460). This comparison of these two cybernetic communication theorists is apt then because in principle there is no discernible difference between Bateson’s positing of a “total interconnected system” and Seltzer’s identification of a technological “self-processing supersystem” (Seltzer 2004: 583). But perhaps an even more complete characterization in such terms can be found in Schwanitz’s contrast between Luhmann’s systems theory and Derrida’s deconstruction:

Derrida's deconstruction of presence makes him one of the most prominent members in the club of the enemies of a visual discourse. Feminism has popularized this iconoclasm in the shape of a critique of visibility, i.e., a deconstruction of observation as a phallocratic instrument of categorization, identification, and petrifying objectification. In this context it is hardly surprising that Günter Schulte has devoted a third of his book Der Blinde Fleck in Luhmanns Systemtheorie (1993) to the analysis of his observation theory, reconstructing it as the transformed "phallus oculatus," the oedipal paradox of re-entry and blindness, the double bind of Lucifer which condemns him to observe God by drawing a distinction between the Almighty and himself. Even the identity of names suggests an affinity between the observer of princes, Niccolò Machiavelli, Old Nick, the observer of God, and Niklas Luhmann, the observer of all observers (Schwanitz 1996: 500-501).

The possible existence of such a supersystem is in fact nothing less than the ineffable paradox that has long transfixed the many thinkers attempting to negotiate relationships that Luhmann would describe in terms of the difference between system and environment. For once Descartes’ dualism is abandoned and his materialism is extended, variants of a common theme begin to mushroom everywhere, ranging from the characterization of communications networks as a kind of distributed intelligence or “superbrain”[77], to Hilary Putnam’s (Putnam 1981) refiguring of the sceptic’s dilemma, in which an evil scientist kidnaps you and transplants your brain into a vat; thereafter stimulating auditory and visual cortices to cause the brain processes that constitute conscious and unconscious experiences. Following Putnam, how are we to know whether or not we are merely brains in a vat? Or more generally, merely a residue or epiphenomenon of a technological supersystem? For that matter then, how would Bateson and Seltzer know either? (Gere 2004: 351)

Recurring fascination with the brain vat scenario here attests to a contradictory legacy of sceptical anxiety about our knowledge of the “external” world, vying with a complete trust in the powers of reason and invention needed to sustain such an apparatus. Against this background, Seltzer’s endorsement of Luhmann’s system theory, along with Foucault’s study of the quasi-positivist, or “applied surrealism” of Raymond Roussel, might even be classified as one moment in the cultural history of science (cf Fuller 1989a). Whereas Roussel imagined the preservation of the head of the revolutionary Danton in something approximating a brain vat, Foucault, and later new historicists as well, systematically “beheaded” humanism with the conception of the panoptic machine “and assorted impersonal discursive formations that constitute a subjective interiority” (Tresch 2004: 326).[78]

What this contextualization properly draws attention to is the continuity of problematiques of concern to this thesis. Tresch’s panoramic survey is suggestive then not only of how Roussel’s reference to Danton evokes how the Terror came to symbolize for more conservative commentators a disconnection from rational restraint (i.e. a mob ruled only by passion, once the head of the political body was removed). For Seltzer’s thesis of the pathological public sphere appears less interested in returning to an organic conception of society freed from revanchist individualism, than it is in paying obeisance to de Tocqueville’s characterization of democracy as “the tyranny of the majority”:

Every time that an attempt is made to do away with absolutism, the most that could be done has been to graft the head of Liberty onto a servile body (de Tocqueville 1983: 209 cited in Tresch 2004: 318).

I shall be using this conception of “the mass” in the next section to make a contrast with Williams’s reading of “multiple serial production”. What should be noted in the present context is that the resurgence of such non-critical regenerative techno-dystopias[79] may be one of the most compelling reasons for endeavouring to discern a social level where the principles of reason could work in a more normative fashion. Broadly speaking, a concern with “situated knowledges” characterized, for example, the more

“deconstructive” position adopted by Wittgenstein in his later works, such as Philosophical Investigations (Wittgenstein 1945 and 1947-49 [1953]). Whereas in the earlier Tractatus (Wittgenstein 1918) the structure of the world was knowable, with scientific propositions accordingly enjoying the privilege of judging and criticizing others, in the Philosophical Investigations an about face occurs. Wittgenstein here concedes that the categories of understanding [language] gain their meaning from the use to which they were put within an established discursive field.

This point marks a logical return to the beginning of this section in as much as it approaches the desirable mixture of deconstruction and Peircean pragmatism advocated in the earlier work of Michaels, and more consistently maintained by a critic of new historicism, Brook Thomas. However, it is worth further considering how the importance of interpretive communities could be extended. For authors such as Dupre, a consequence of Wittgenstein’s approach is that epistemological pluralism is necessary as it is reflective of an underlying ontological complexity of the world which he refers to as, punning on the title of Foucault’s famous work, The Disorder of Things (Dupre 1993: 7). He is therefore concerned to revive Wittgenstein’s “family resemblance concept”: common to many sciences are many features, but no set is definitive of any adequate science. What is consequential here for Dupre could have bearing on a critical response to Seltzer’s march of the machines historical periodization. From Dupre’s perspective, what matters is a studied avoidance of any possible conflation of such a descriptive model of science, with a critical or normative one. In the latter sense, Seltzer’s new historicism is a hostage to fortune. For Dupre’s general point is that a conceptual lineage can be plagued by demonstrable confusion, and yet remain of long-standing duration in spite of a minority of “interactors” who may clearly discern its weaknesses. Or, as he puts it, “I do not deny that persuasion may in some sense be a lot more important than rightness. But we should beware of obfuscating the distinction between the two” (Dupre 1993: 236).

In other words, Dupre is in effect extending Laclau’s distinction between system dislocation and antagonism into consideration of the important issue of the disciplinary organization of knowledge practices. To my mind at least, this reads as a more subtle presentation of the classic sociological problematique which inquires into the possibility of distinguishing system and social integration. Understood more in terms of a methodological distinction as opposed to a strictly “real” distinction, an appropriate allowance can thereby be made for how society as a whole should be analysed from two methodologically distinct but nonetheless related perspectives. The rider is that methodological pluralism correlates with the integration of different areas of society according to different principles.[80]

The curious detour taken in this chapter from cultural materialism, to deconstruction, Lacan, Foucault, Luhmann, and then finally back to cultural materialism again, interestingly runs parallel to the critiques of new historicism that advocate a taming of deconstruction, by contextualizing it within interpretive communities. If your wish is to see and encourage an understanding of how society is integrated according to different principles, then it is advisable to save your time and energy by canceling your itinerary’s planned stays in lodgings bearing the imprimatur of Lacan, Foucault and Luhmann. Failure to do so risks more than eviction from the cultural materialist camp however; it also actively courts the danger of a return to the individualized omniscient scenario charted in Chapter Four, and later materialized in the new historicist form of a brainvat. Stated as simply as possible, the brainvat dilemma is what happens when you do not develop principles facilitating axial rotation toward the realization of a social epistemology. Hence the student of seriality becomes deadlocked in a mind meld with the object of their analysis.

Despite all of this, I have hardly resolved the thorny related issue of the dubious politics that travel under deconstruction’s name, (and the same could probably, by association, also be said of Wittgenstein and his disciples), simply by claiming that such excesses may be curbed by cultural materialist means. This is why a separate section has been devoted to this very problem in the Conclusion. I wish to close this chapter by instead broaching the family resemblance between two issues: the institutional emergence of “trauma” discourse as it relates to the intellectual formation of cultural studies and new historicism. And then finally, the status of “corporate” entities and cultural materialism, which will foreground the agenda of Chapter Six.

5.5 The institutional destiny of cultural trauma & the formation of avant-garde intellectuals

Implicit in my critique of the new historicism has been the consolidation of the point made in Chapter Three with reference to sociological research on postmaterial values and empathy for nonhumans (3.3: 101-104). Thus, when confronted with naturalists bearing hybrid gifts, simply respond by showing them typologies that demonstrate the variance in how individuals live with the same structure of internal difference. Such is the basis of immanent critique, which seizes on the affirmation by liberal capitalist societies of notions such as equity and equal opportunity, in order to demonstrate how unevenly they are distributed, and the exploitation this oftentimes entails. In new historicist terms, classconsciousness would be an example of naturalism, because its identity is more than its physical qualities. The same logic could be applied to gender, sexual preference and race (Thomas 1991: 125-126). And yet subordinate groups continue to put awareness of this contradiction to work in the form of identity politics with the aim of challenging the structured inequality they experience in various ways. Seltzer’s implied response is that [identity] politics is merely one more symptom of a wound culture/pathological public sphere, with people bonded together around their common experience of trauma (i.e. “I feel your pain”; Seltzer 1998: 22, 117), a claim which has in turn, understandably, prompted assorted criticisms of his work in the cultural studies community (Gomel 1999: 68; Halberstam 1995: 185; Jain 1999: 33-38; Piipponen 2000:154).

I do not mean to suggest that none of these cultural studies responses offer any sound basis for immanent critique. However, what they tend to occlude is an interesting narrative that has more to do with the family resemblance basis of disciplinary identity and social epistemology, which were introduced at the end of the previous section. Framing matters in this way provides an opportunity to contextualize Williams’s cultural materialism as a form of immanent critique. One must first consider the irony of how such cultural studies infighting is largely of its own making. To employ one of Seltzer’s favourite terms, the respective positions are concomitants, rather than alternatives. This family resemblance extends to the popularizer of cultural studies, Stuart Hall, citing Williams as a “founding father”, just as the popularizer of new historicism, Stephen Greenblatt, acknowledged the formative influence of Williams’s work, and finally Seltzer becomes indebted to the new historicist Walter Benn Michaels. Each “discipline” then followed the path described at the beginning of this chapter: a move away from the normative [humanist] universalism they associated with Williams’s work, toward the embracing of poststructuralism as a more suitable vehicle for valorizing subaltern identities.[81] Somewhere along the way though, which is where the cultural studies fascination with “trauma” enters this narrative, awareness began to develop that poststructuralism’s emphasis on “the death of the subject” could not provide a foundation for identity politics. In an important introductory essay to a special issue of the journal Cultural Critique dedicated to the study of trauma, Ball has shown how a compromise solution was hit upon between the older ethnographic technique of recording the experiences of subordination suffered by minority groups, and the “antihumanism” associated with the poststructural option: the first could be acknowledged in the psychic form of trauma, thereby taking into account the latter’s deconstructive lesson that memory will always be subject to reinscription because it is mediated by cultural conventions (Ball 2000: 5-8).

Ample evidence has been presented throughout this chapter of how Seltzer regards the current prominence of trauma in theoretical work as indicative of a diffuse naturalist discourse crosscutting all stratas of social life. In short, he is in full agreement about the applicability of the term “trauma”, choosing only to dispute the consequences drawn from this recognition (Seltzer 1998: 272). But the fact that Seltzer is unwilling to downplay the general signification of trauma suggests that he belongs to the same intellectual formation as anyone else in the cultural studies field. Therefore the possibility arises that the emphasis on trauma may really be about ensuring the continual viability of an interpretive community. There are a number of reasons for making this assessment, some of which flow directly from the problem of cultural studies scholars not having adequately formulated a method for establishing the existence of trauma outside of their own closed points of reference. Williams was certainly aware of the limitations following on from the adoption of such a formalist position. By the time he had begun to put together his late sociology of knowledge, which amounted to a history of the structuralist movement in combination with a sociology of avant-gardism, cultural studies scholars and new historicists were already rushing toward their epistemological appointment with trauma.

As Jones has demonstrated, Williams understood how the abandonment long ago of the model of the Leninist vanguard as the template for intellectual politics had opened a power vacuum, which could be filled by an avant-garde, “leadership by experimental example”. This has meant more though than reacting to the dominant class within which these avant-gardes are formed and against which they rebel, (thereby prefiguring developments within this class), to the extent that it also entails emulating aesthetic avantgardes at the level of intellectual content (Jones 2005). Here is a reminder and even an extension of the point featured in my Introduction, given that one could draw parallels between the managers of the “new capitalism”, university administrators and (some) academics, who have recuperated the aesthetic critique of alienation by incorporating it into their own work practices (0.4: 14-15). This close affiliation is an important indicator of the “academic capitalism” to be discussed in the following chapter. Williams therefore noted the associated dangers of an aesthetic theory becoming, “negatively”, a social theory; a formalism he tracked to developments in literary criticism, linguistics, psychology, and anthropology, ‘but which acquired its most significant popular influence in an isolating theory of “the media”’ (Williams 1974: 126).

I wish to say more though about the enabling function that technological determinism can perform in such a context, by reconnecting discussion to the institutional matter of the archive: i.e. how memories, (traumatic or otherwise), are stored, retrieved and transmitted. By initially focusing on Seltzer once more, a vector is opened up for appreciating the different means by which cultural materialism can treat this issue of “recorded articulations”. Read in this light, the aforementioned mirroring at the level of content takes on more sinister connotations when understanding how Seltzer’s preferred affirmative mode of naturalism, (i.e. erasing any difference between an object and the medium of its representation), extends to an erasure of the distinction between memory and its prosthetic supplements. The new historicist must be read as making a prescriptive claim for how to avoid the traumatic consequences faced by his cultural studies colleagues, as this presumes a capacity to distinguish is from ought. But it would be more accurate to say that prescription is all that is left for Seltzer to offer, because his method can offer no means of identifying what is. The chief problem here is the meaning of the “primary mediation” he adduces from a reading of Friedrich Kittler’s Discourse Networks 1800/1900 in order to indicate the logic of prosthesis mediating between human communication and memory (Seltzer 1998: 73). In Kittler’s poststructuralist approach, Foucault’s archaeology of discourse is given a technological updating. Herein can also be found one of the chief sources of contradiction and disappointment with Seltzer’s analysis, as can be inferred from Sebastian’s perceptive review of of Discourse Networks (Sebastian 1990). The movement both within and beyond Foucault is interlinked in both cases to an understanding of technology as a technical apparatus in its empirical facticity and not, as it was for Foucault in The Archaeology of Knowledge (Foucault 1972), as a function of knowledge, hence Kittler’s assertion:

In his admirable uncertainty about whether the realm of language circa 1900 represented the last moraine of transcendental knowledge or a new beginning, Foucault placed psychoanalysis, ethnology, and structural linguistics in a position where the human sciences’s inner perspective on Man was traversed by language as an exterior element. The uncertainty arose because Foucault conceived discursive rules as comprehensible and therefore neglected technologies. But innovations in the technology of information are what produced the specificity of the discourse network of 1900, separating it from transcendental knowledge and thus separating psychoanalysis from all human sciences (Kittler 1990: 278).

In reviewing this passage, the sense of “facile associationism and an arbitrary connectedness” comes into play with the replacement of language by technologies conceived as the means of information storage and retrieval (cf. Pizer 1997). Technology thereby becomes the historical apriori of what can be recorded. To be logically consistent, as Sebastian notes, it would have to follow that other technologies will require other sciences, which will in turn tell other stories. In this unfathomable “archaeology of the present,” technology becomes the unattainable exteriority which is not obliged to tell any verifiable truths and is therefore unable to account for its own historical locus. Therefore contrary to Seltzer’s claim, particularly in light of his critique of sociology and psychoanalysis as belonging to the sentimental philosophical underpinnings of the human sciences, post-hermeneutic criticism does not really succeed in making the break of its stated objectives. Instead, it merely reinscribes the principles of the human sciences by making technology the ideal historical and hermeneutic subject (Sebastian 1990: 594).

If this critique is applied wholesale to Seltzer then he follows Kittler in not being entitled to claim to be telling anything other than just another story about technology. But if one is prepared to take a closer look at this object lesson in epistemological relativism through a cultural materialist lens, it becomes clearer why more than relativism is at stake. As Williams noted, the enthusiastic reception of McLuhan’s theory by the “media men” of existing institutions could easily be explained as following from the theory’s limited vision of media control, “for particular psychic effects”, that would remove or control any social problem. How startlingly close this characterization is to the portrait of trauma in “the pathological public sphere”, the seriality of which must presume that the effects of the medium will remain the same, irrespective of who controls or uses it (Williams 1974: 128). Williams therefore preferred to speak of “multiple serial production” rather than “mass production” or “the mass media”, on the basis that the latter terms are unable to distinguish between the meaning of large numbers, (“within certain assumed social relationships”), “rather than any physical or social aggregate”. Moreover, Williams notes how the very term “mass communication” evokes the public listening groups that were organized by fascist regimes, rather than the specificity of “broadcasting” – where it is more appropriate to describe many people receiving communications by means of individual sets (Williams 1974: 24). However, if one prefers to retain new historicist nominalism, it becomes difficult to not only distinguish between the particular and the general, but also between bourgeois propaganda and a bourgeois public sphere (Jones 2005). It follows that it is through such a conflation that the aforementioned “media men” are embellished by McLuhan and his epigones with an avant-garde aesthetic gloss, in turn becoming a social theory that assigns all critics to “pre-electronic irrelevance”. Williams did not hesitate to describe this process as an ideological representation of technology (Williams 1974: 128). This point is clearly equally applicable to both serialistic technophobes and those technophiles anticipating the arrival of posthumanism. It thereby foregrounds my upcoming critiques of the promised cyborg utopia in both the next chapter and the Conclusion.

To remain consistent however with my earlier emphasis on Williams’s writings on structures of feeling and tragedy, it should be clarified why simply conducting an ideological analysis is insufficient grounds in and of itself for contesting serialistic logic. To be sure, Williams did concede that formalist techniques may be useful for demonstrating how cultural forms are, sociologically speaking, “social facts”. He regarded such modes of analysis as undesirable only when they separated their objects from social determinants. Mistakes of this kind then became projections (i.e. defacto social theories). And certainly his critical practice of examining intellectual formations could be broken down to usually consisting of three related steps:

• Immanent critique of the dominant tradition (Jones 2004: 25)

• Sociological analysis of the organizational flow of the intellectual groupings responsible for the development of a tradition

• Presentation of a counter-tradition encompassing paths not taken, which may offer means for subaltern groups to realize modernity’s emancipatory potential (Jones 2005).

There are of course additional dimensions to Williams’s method, which, although related to the creative potential implied by the third of these points, does not force one to abandon inquiry into the general significance of cultural trauma. To assume otherwise would be to regard it as nothing more than a formal product of the dominant tradition critiqued in the first two components of the cultural materialist method. While the latter may largely account for some of the self-interested motivations behind cultural studies interest in this phenomenon, the wider scope of the contingency I have been developing through Williams and Joas may by contrast be affirmed in the following terms:

Whoever defends the concept of experience and insists on its crucial role for cultural and social theory may be blamed for falling back into the time prior to the linguistic turn. But that is not the point here. What we need is a reconstruction of cultural innovation processes as an interplay on four levels: the situations with their own qualitative immediacy, our pre-reflective responses to such situations, our own articulation of these pre-reflective responses, and publicly available and established interpretations. One can call this whole process the dynamics of the articulation of experiences. Such articulation always takes place in a field of power and interests and not in a vacuum…this brief hint may be sufficient to make the point that we are not confronted with the dilemma of choosing between ignorance toward the interpretive mediation of social processes or a mere reconstruction of interpretive regimes (Joas 2005: 373).

Joas’s conducts his critical reconstruction of a theory of cultural trauma with reference to Jeffrey Alexander’s cultural sociology (Alexander 2004). Nevertheless, one can appreciate his unwillingness to retreat in the face of the linguistic turn, in a manner generally not countenanced by the cultural studies attempt to deal with “experience”. Regrettably Joas has never investigated Williams’s sociological legacy in this creative area, and one is left wondering whether this is partly because cultural materialism is more commonly associated with cultural studies. The same might be said of those few honourable exceptions within cultural studies who took up these issues in a balanced manner, which extended to a description of their method in the same terms as that later chosen by Joas, the articulation of subject positions[82] (cf. Grossberg 1992; Slack 1997). This cultural studies prescience is probably not unrelated to having dealt earlier and more intensively than sociology with the possibilities of reconciling “experience” and the linguistic turn, that I have described.

Be this as it may, it is none too difficult to trace the contours of Williams’s project along the lines set out by Joas. With regard to the first of the four levels, Williams investigated the experience of tragedy (read contingency or “cultural trauma” in Joas’s terms). The critical reservations Williams expressed toward Lacan are the clearest indicator of where his sympathies lay on the matter of pre-reflective responses to the initial level and their articulation. He resolutely maintained an opposition to notions of “systematic predetermined utterance”, which even extended to admission that he would have liked to rejoin literary studies with experimental science to ascertain what happened to “physical rhythms in certain reading contexts”. Indeed, this would be, in his estimate, “the materialist recovery” from behaviourist and Lacanian reductions of the process of writing and reading (Williams 1981: 341). Finally, immanent critique of the dominant tradition, Joas’s “publicly available and established interpretations…in a field of power and interests”, completed Williams’s attempted “reconstruction of interpretive regimes”. To sum up: what can be found here are some directions for fleshing out the sociology of culture that was raised at the conclusion of Chapter Two with reference to not only Williams and Joas, but also Archer and Mouzelis (2.3: 90).

Such is the process of critically articulating the contexts of discovery and justification. By, [in Joas’s terms], remaining ignorant of “the interpretive mediation of social processes”, it is not surprising that the cultural studies accounting for trauma has taken a different path than cultural materialism and Joas’s sociological theory of creativity. In the new historicist case, choosing instead to adopt a formalist stance toward the articulation of the interpretive mediation of social processes and interpretive regimes has consequently led to an emphasis on the discourse of force emanating from corporate entities. This was the obstacle in the present chapter impeding the axial rotation of my thesis into its next more altruistic form. I should now though be in a better position to overcome the implicit naturalist reduction of the potentially altruistic corporate body to be considered in the next chapter. I have in mind specifically the idea of the university, as an artificial form capable of creatively reinterpreting tradition, or even collective “memory”, if one prefers to recuperate new historicist nomenclature. In taking up the trauma discourse, cultural studies made an important discovery when it acknowledged that the significant thing about memories is that they are not directly accessible, so the unavoidable mediation implies they can be subject to change. The important distinction in comparison with Williams’s position, is how often this insight has been used by cultural studies in the avantgarde sense of keeping ahead of the popular, [more often described as “the mass”], usage of contested signifiers. Williams’s historical semantics, his Keywords, were by contrast chosen on the basis that they were located between popular and critical usage and were recognizable as such by subaltern intellectuals, so their task was to ensure the signifier was not monopolized by the dominant formation (Jones 2005).

5.6 Moving beyond corporate fictions: the cultural materialism of Brook Thomas

Consider how the semantic fate of the signifier “corporation” illustrates these important differences. What I seek to ascertain therefore is the enabling function of cultural studies in such a context. My argument is that it is a very short journey from trauma’s institutional destination to the proliferation of naturalist logic, along with a particular conception of interdisciplinary work. The problematization of synedoche, the organic explantory model par excellence, is a development related to an unwillingness to allow a part, (be it a party or a discipline), to speak for the whole. Rather than represent culture as a whole, a more anthropological sense of “thick description” concentrated instead on relating literature to other cultural practices. Hence chiasmus, the production of difference, is intended to logically undermine the viability of the organic model. But once chiasmus is translated into the terms of identity politics, it paradoxically comes to assume the interpretive form of synedoche. On an institutional level, this tendency is most obvious from the [superficial] call to interdisciplinary study, which can do little to disguise an implicit disciplinary imperialism, that follows on from recognizing that every practice is merely a text that can be related to any other ad infinitum. Such is the familiar serial problem associated with the overdetermination of metaphors, in particular “networks”, “complexity”, and, in the case of new historicism, “structure of internal difference” (Thomas 1991: 10-13).

Usage of the latter corporate metaphor can demonstrate how naturalism performs an enabling function for today’s attempted neoliberal reorganization of knowledge practices. The criticisms which Brook Thomas has made made of Michaels’s (in) famous article, “Corporate Fiction” (Michaels 1986), have wider applicability insofar as much of the work produced by new historicists has found an institutional home organized around the interdisciplinary principles of “American Studies”. In this context, what Thomas has to say about Michaels can become inclusive of the naturalist doctrine of force subtending Seltzer’s so-called “body machine complex”. This remains the case in spite of Seltzer’s attempt to differentiate his position from that of Michaels, on the basis that the “corporate fiction” thesis attempts to recover the oppositions between bodies and machines, which Seltzer wishes to expose as constitutive of naturalist discourse (Seltzer 1992a: 200-201). For as I have argued, the privileging of a model of “mixed” agency by itself is no panacea for an increasingly corporatized bioglobal environment. This is quite obvious given how Selzer wishes to argue that Michaels’s model has already diffused throughout American culture, without offering any means for verifying this claim, letalone a basis for politically challenging such arrangements were they somehow proven to be “true”.

Thus, if the similarities remain more telling than the differences, they are most apparent in the recurrence across the new historicist spectrum of a key question: “what is the connection between the legal fiction of corporate personality and the identity of real persons?” Michaels attempts to answer this question in part by drawing on Arthur Machen’s legal discussion of corporate personality. Machen becomes significant for Michaels’s purposes because he offered a widely celebrated challlenge to the orthodox legal doctrine that the corporation is a creature of the state; “a fictitious, artificial person, composed of natural persons…existing only in contemplation of law”. What captures Michaels’s attention is Machen’s insistence that it is impossible for a corporation to be simultaneously artificial and fictional. Machen wishes to argue to the contrary that “fictional” cannot be conflated with “imaginary”, because man-made [sic] things, such as artificial lakes for example, are objectively “real”. Machen then redeploys the distinction between artificial and fictional to make his point that a corporation is a real entity, albeit irreducible to the sum of its members. Hence it is a fictitious, rather than a real person (Machen 1911: 257 cited in Michaels 1986: 198).

What is in need of clarification though in Machen’s acccount, notes Michaels, is the rationale for relinquishing the fiction of corporate personality. Uniting the imagining of persons as personified things and the transformation of thing into person, is the assumption that other real entities, such as rivers for example, are not defined by an immaterial act of figuration. If there was not something like a less material bond of union identifying the individual members of a corporation, there would be no body. There would be no corporation if the individual members did not belong to the same body. Michaels can therefore take Machen’s reasoning to its logical conclusion, “the corporation comes to seem the embodiment of figurality that makes personhood possible, rather than appearing as a figurative extension of the idea of personhood” (Michaels 1986: 137 cited in Thomas 1991: 137).

Further to this, attempts to oppose an idea of “natural” personhood to the artificial personality of corporations are doomed to fail. Such arguments will presume that the insatiable greed of corporations can be attributed to its intangibility, because a physical body, conversely, has limitations on how much it can contain (i.e. it may be satiated, at least on a temporary basis). The problem then, as Michaels suggests, is that this logic reduces human agents to the level of rivers, rather than persons. That is to say, without the immaterial figurality conferred by Machen’s categorisations, nothing can stop natural forces, not because they are insatiable but - quite the opposite – because they are “indifferent”. Michaels wishes to use this point to shore up his naturalist argument that personality is always corporate and that, “all fictions, like souls metaphorized in bodies, are corporate fictions” (Michaels 1986: 138 cited in Thomas 1991: 138).

By means then of this simple deconstruction, Michaels manages to convert human agency into a phenomenology of freedom of contract between autonomous individuals. Corporate personality thus becomes homologous with laissez-faire capitalism. Or, as Seltzer puts it, quoting Nietzsche, the task for culture becomes, “to breed an animal with the right to make promises” (Nietzsche 1989: 57-58 cited in Seltzer 1992a: 73). Such a view is of course consistent with the anormative predilictions of Foucault, which, as I have shown, Seltzer draws upon to demonstrate the dominance of naturalist discourse in the United States at the turn of the century – a period in which he conjoins the Industrial Revolution and the emergence of the serial killer on the historical stage. Crudely put then, the corporate fiction which Michaels’s describes as “immaterial materiality” or “immaterial figurality” equates to Seltzer’s “discourse of force”, which itself parallels Stratton’s description of state power (5.1: 168-169). Hence Lacan, Foucault and Luhmann become translated into the form of new historicist corporate fiction. My decision to frame this background of naturalist discourse as dependent upon a very selective reading of American legal history, by way of Brook Thomas’s study of new historicism, is therefore very deliberate. For I regard Thomas as exemplary in the manner by which he conducts an immanent critique of the keyword “corporation”, in the interest of specifying alternate paths that could and, moreover, should have been taken. What is particularly significant for my purposes, at the conclusion of this chapter, is how Thomas proceeds by reconnecting this matter of corporate personality to the institutional conditions broached by Williams’s critique of the formation of avant-garde intellectuals.

Once immanent critique is factored into consideration, it becomes difficult to solely equate the doctrine of corporate personality with insatiable greed. Thomas argues that this doctrine dates back Roman law and associated notions of the corporate body of the church, defined as irreducible to the sum of individual membership. Such a doctrine was of course anathema to the advocates of laissez-faire capitalism because it conflicted with their tenet of freedom of contract between autonomous individuals (Thomas 1991: 133). It almost goes without saying that its stubborn persistence is reflective of the contradictions between natural rights doctrine and corporate theory retained by the American legal system up until the present day, therby undermining new historicist emphasis on the naturalist connotations of corporate fiction. Thomas, an expert in both antebellum literature and American legal history, is therefore well placed to demonstrate the significance of this glaring contradiction.

Perhaps the most telling manifestation of this contradiction, with respect to those espousing the dominance of naturalist discourse, has to do with the origin of the orthodox legal doctrine of corporations, which Machen sought to challlenge. Thomas notes the establishment of the orthodoxy by John Marshall’s decision in the Dartmouth College case of 1819. In light of this it would be ill advised to downplay the fact that businesses are not the only form of corporations. Thomas therefore reminds his readers that Harvard College is the oldest corporation in the United States, with the association of the term with more exclusively commerical imperatives not attaining wider currency until developments in seventeenth and eighteenth century Britain. With respect to the common law tradition then, Marshall’s decision set an important precedent by asserting that a corporation is dependent upon the state for its charter. A corporation was thus an artifical entity; it was endowed with a personality by a fiction of law, granting it a status distinct from the individuals comprising it (Thomas 1991: 140).

For the new historicist characterization of corporate fiction to work then, Machen’s preferred laissez-faire model would have to be consistent with the principles of naturalist logic. Specifically, as I have shown Michaels attempts to argue, this would require negotiating a status as [real] artificial entities with fictional personalities. Ergo, the immateriality of the corporation’s identity as a thing is an indicator, according to Michaels, that the fictionality of corporate personality affects the personality of individuals (Michaels 1986: 203-204 cited in Thomas 1991: 145). If this same logic is applied to Seltzer’s seriality thesis, individuals become affected by the endless production of desire, which can be linked to the ascendancy of corporate capitalism. That this insatiability of the corporation transcends the limits of natural persons intimates immortality because it implies that desire can never be dried up (Thomas 1991: 148). By identifying with this corporate fiction, the actions of the serial killer tirelessly demonstrate that not even the “production” of death can signify satiation.[83]

But if one returns to the mode of immanent critique, it seems doubtful that Machen’s position can be simply construed as evidence of the existence of all of American culture conforming to the logic of the market. The clue is already there in Marshall’s legacy, which Machen opposed. Machen could not have felt any need to be concerned about any “artificial” person standing behind a “natural” one in the manner Michaels implies, because he was not, like Marshall, an artificial entity theorist. To acknowledge that a corporation was an artifical entity created by the state, was to open it up to possible regulation by the state. Contra Michaels’s interpretation of him then, what Machen needed to be able to do was synthesize laissez-faire and corporate conceptions to protect the “free” and “natural” operation of the market (Thomas 1991: 144). Hence he chose to portray the corporation as a natural entity. That a variation in membership was not sufficient to alter its identity was enough proof for Machen that the corporation possessed an identity prior to the state and distinct from individual membership. To remain consistent Machen treated the corporation as a real entity, whilst refusing to grant it a real personality. Afterall, so he reasoned, according the corporation the status of a real personality would contravene the sacrosanct primacy of the individual, which he presumes must be preserved at all costs. If real personality exists prior to the state, any personality the state confers on the corporation can only be fictional, an “imaginary gift, of no value” (Machen 1911: 361 cited in Thomas 1991: 145).

When thinking about these background issues, it starts to make a real difference that Marshall and Machen maintained an uneasy coexistence in the period of American history that is obsessively raked over by new historicists. On the other hand, for an author such as Seltzer, many of the dilemmas we face today are traceable to the development in the nineteenth century of an industrial culture, thus problematizing any presumptions of a transition from an ethos of production to consumption having taken place. His argument is that consumption is itself a form of production (3.4: 111-112). Accordingly, both corporate capitalism and laissez-faire variants are portrayed as functioning through a similar logic. Although the common understanding of the latter as a natural entity evokes a Darwinian understanding, its insatiability, like that of its corporate cousin, is ultimately premised on a certain immaterial materiality. If this same logic is applied to the conditions under which new historicists themselves labour, then their message becomes clearer: this is how it is, we have over one hundred years of historical evidence to back up our claims, so you had better learn to resign yourself to this fact and get on with business as usual. New historicists are not alone however in making these kinds of assumptions, which is why the following chapter demonstrates the struggle currently taking place between the use of the keyword “corporation” in the university setting, as aiding and abetting a possible bioglobal future.

What is most perplexing though about new historicists in this respect is their general unwillingness to apply the logic of their own arguments about corporate intangibility in a manner compatible with Marshall’s conception. For while it may be true that intangibility can sanction corporate greed, Thomas has also affirmed its potential as a model for world reform. In like terms, in 1914 the philosopher Josiah Royce envisaged the nations of the world forming an international insurance company. Presupposing as it did a community interest against destruction, the irreducibility of the corporation’s identity to any specific territory ensured it could never be destroyed. Royce attributed this resilience to, “its essentially intangible soul” (Royce cited in Thomas 1991: 134).

Much remains to be said about the potential of this alternative sense of intangibility as a blueprint for both the contemporary university and a much more inclusive cultural materialist sense of a common culture. Suffice it to add here, intangibility starts to sound a lot like the structural condition affirmed by Chapter Four’s reference to “potential space” and a later sense of “openness” to be associated with supercomplexity. The lesson this chapter offers is that cultural studies practitioners and allied theoretical discourses pay a heavy price when they fail to seek solutions for the recurring problematiques that modernity presents. As I have previously argued (3.1: 91), Wagner remains consistent by arguing that any solutions found may only work for certain periods of time. If particular components of these problematiques reappear in successive chapters, such as “omniscience” for example, this has less to do with serial repetition on my own part, than it has with a demonstration of another theoretical position having failed to properly engage with a recurring problematique.

Oftentimes, such failures are associated with an absence of immanent critique, and not having foregrounded the importance of mediation in downplaying what Delanty has described as, “the dualistic model of modernity and its central conflict” (Delanty 1999: 69) – an impasse rehearsed by new historicists such as Seltzer in their focus on “double contingency”. The articulation of an alternative corporate form imbued with a sense of triple contingency will therefore prove essential for the axial rotation of this thesis into its next more altruistic stage. This also means that Gillespie’s prophecy regarding the inheritors of the Cartesian fortress lying in ruins must now be reexamined. At the beginning of this chapter it was announced that this characterization might prove applicable to the new historicism. Although such a method of inquiry may crave the role of destroyer, for all of its attentiveness to modernity’s material grounding, new historicism cannot be compared to Benjamin’s archetype, the ragpicker, who searched among the urban ruins for a principle of redemption (Benjamin 1983: 19). Afterall, how could it claim otherwise when it renounces immanent critique? Thomas evidently detected this tendency as well. It puzzled him that anything calling itself “new historicist criticism” could offer so little that was actually “new”. This paradox inspired Thomas to entitle his study The New Historicism and Other Old Fashioned Topics.

There is perhaps an important lesson here for not only new historcists, but also for cultural studies scholars more generally. Momentarily putting brainvats to one side, it has to do again with the metaphor of ruins, and is suggestive of how Gillespie’s description of nihilism could supplement Blumenberg’s argument that, under modern conditions, it is in our best interest not to destroy all institutions in an effort to somehow ground them in an impossible conception of rationality. By the same token though, this need not legitimize the sort of post-foundationalism demanded by writers such as Seltzer. Blumenberg in effect suggests instead that recognizing contingency means that “the burden of proof always lies on the person who objects to the arrangement that it carries with it” (Blumenberg 1985: 166 cited in Thomas 1991: 216). I accept this burden by outlining in the next chapter an immanent critique of bioglobal planning in universities. But I have not yet done with new historicism and the institutional lessons it may need to learn. Because I have already conveyed so much in Thomas’s voice, it seems appropriate then to close this chapter by directly quoting his observation that the unforeseeability of the future in new historicist writing somehow parallels their institutional position:

In a short book Blumenberg traces the image of shipwrecks observed from Lucretius thorugh European literature up to the Vienna Circle’s Otto Neurath, who compared the modern epistemological dilemma with the task seafarers faced in rebuilding their ship at sea. Over the years the distance between gazer and wreckage has narrowed, so that by the twentieth century the spectator has no secure point from which to contemplate the disaster. Thrust onto the wreckage at sea with no haven to retreat to, the gazer senses the urgency to rebuild the ship but has to wonder where the foundation and material can be found for a successful reconstruction. Blumenberg’s answer is a question: Probably from earlier shipwrecks? (Blumenberg 1979: 79 cited in Thomas 1991: 217)


6.1 Universities: embodying the spirit of universitas?

A major component of my argument up until this point has been that the particular appeal of the disciplinary crisis of sociology, and by extension, the university, is closely tied to perceptions that we are currently living in a serialistic bioglobal era. In this situation, the paradox would be that a posited increase in complexity is interpreted as facilitating a new form of integration. Indeed, it is this context that informs McLennan’s attempt to formulate “the new positivity”. McLennan is but one commentator on this state of affairs, as demonstrated by his inaugural lecture at the University of Bristol, titled “Sociology in Chaos and Complexity”. For him it is obvious that an intellectual shift begets an institutional restructuring of far reaching consequences that is generally to be welcomed:

By this point, my discussion is veering on to the terrain of the very purpose of the intellectual, and of the university, and why not. Too often, in my view, the lumpers and the splitters, hedgehogs and foxes, dis-enchanters and enchanters, that is to say simplifiers and complexifiers, have been cast as very different types of people or very different types of theories. But I think that all disciplines, and all thinking people, carry these tensions inside themselves. The role of the intellectual …is to construct and advocate big pictures of our human situation in full awareness of the complexity and reflexivity that might get sacrificed, and yet still in a way get carried along, in the process. We continually smash simplicity and complexity against one another in the accelerator chamber of our consciousness, and wait, with bated breath, to see what comes out the other side (McLennan 2002b).

Further support for this kind of view can be found in some of the more recent writings of Wallerstein (Wallerstein 1996). Common to both thinkers is a generally high level of comfort with metaphorical modes of conceptualization. McLennan forsees widespread acceptance of such modes, of which complexity is a primary example, on the basis that they do not presume an air of scientific detachment owing to a capacity to foreground the practices and values of our particular lifeworlds as knowledge producers and users. In his view, it therefore behoves sociology to become a broad church to such an extent that it will not become too defensive about figurative encapsulations such as “the panopticon”, “the network society” and even “base and superstructure”. Despite his obvious enthusiasm, McLennan still adopts a pragmatic attitude as he wishes to preserve positive discourses in the field of sociology, given that he regards “general philosophical nostrums about adequate explanation” as dependent or parasitical upon them (and not vice versa) (McLennan 2002).

In light of McLennan’s prefatory remarks, recalling my references to “omniscience” in my previous two chapters is hardly coincidental either. Reference to Donald Campbell is useful then because he addressed the ethnocentrism of specialists in his renowned article "Ethnocentrism of Disciplines and the Fish Scale Model of Omniscience" (Campbell 1969). He argued that academic specialization has meant that most academics will have some awareness of what is going on at the immediate boundary of their own discipline, (the fish scale adjacent to their own), but that this awareness will not extend to areas one step removed. Those theorists who spend comparatively little time collecting and analyzing data were, Campbell thought, more likely to range freely across disciplines, but the fish scale or viewspan was likely to decrease as depth of knowledge explodes (Campbell 1969).

This would seem to me as good a critical description as is likely to become available of the technocratic solutions to omniscience which social postmodernists and new historicists are likely to offer. As is well known, there is a reasonably widespread perception within the social sciences of social theorists, McLennan’s (2002) producers of “general philosophical nostrums about adequate explanation”, as typifying Campbell’s mobile disciplinary rangers.[84]

The “commentaries” they produce are “parasitical”, in McLennan’s terms, on the positive knowledge or data collected by sociologists. Campbell's appropriately biological fish scale analogy focuses here upon the adjacency of subjects, but like McLennan’s broad overview it says relatively little about the academic environment or the kind of fish living in it. He provides no sustained analysis of the larger ontological claims orienting the manner under which research in disciplines is conducted. Once these factors are taken into account, it becomes clear that the classical philosophical debate over the constitution of reality mirrors Knorr-Cetina's concerns about the possibly serialistic relationship between the individual knower and the collective body of knowledge (0.5: 20). Autonomous? Normotic/oversocialized? Atomized individualism? Is it one-many or part whole? (Fuller 2001a) Yet again, it appears that a flexible heuristic device such as seriality is needed to encompass all of these dimensions and their attendant problems; not the least of them, how does it becomes possible to argue in principle that the kind of fish living in an academic environment share none of the proclivities of an omniscient and oversocialized serialist. Although omniscience in Campbell’s sense may exist, his fish are at least swimming in a school, which appears preferable to the Cartesian isolation of the severed head confined to its brainvat. Consolidating and building upon this distinction through the constrasting of the problem of “supervenience” with a more enlightened “constrained constructivism” are among the primary objectives of this chapter.

Further to this, if consilience as understood by Edward O.Wilson’s sociobiology (0.2: 7) typifies one possible answer to some of Knorr Cetina’s concerns in terms unacceptable to most sociologists, to what extent then is the complexity canvassed by McLennan perhaps a viable alternative? Without wishing to pre-empt everything I am about to argue, support for complexity is commonly buttressed by appeals to its holistic nature as facilitating knowledge integration by healing the rifts in Western metaphysics: objective/subjective; analytic/synthetic; factual/value. If “organisms” become appreciated for their autonomy and creativity, so the argument goes, they can no longer be understood as mere survival machines (Best and Kellner 2001: 120).

Referencing Weber earlier suggests a potential further affirmation of the qualifier I offered in my Introduction: it is important not too exaggerate the novelty of current developments (0.1: 1). Understanding the heritage of sociology in ethical terms, as I have attempted to do, therefore also requires accounting for the institutional conditions of this emergence. What does this have to do with the general concern with the rise of biology that has been explored to some degree up till this point, exerting considerable influence upon the thesis of the post-social as attributed to materiality by new historicists, ANT et al? I have already intimated, via the opening quotation of this thesis, at how Williams defined his cultural materialism by contrasting it with the rival accounts of “inheritance” that are to be found, and often conflated, in biology and economics. Williams regarded this recurring problematique of the inter-generational transmission of property as best dealt with through creative solutions, as opposed to the mindless reproduction of tradition. He spoke in such terms of “the great pattern of inheritance and response” (Williams 1958 [1961]: 323). His thought was of course intended to be part of this great pattern, and it is thus appropriate to place his reflections within a long sociological tradition that has likewise opposed the rival entente cordiale between biology and economics. Chapter Five went some way toward suggesting it was important to come up with an alternative to naturalist corporate fiction in order to make good on Williams’s vision of a common culture. Indeed, as Fuller (Fuller 2004) has demonstrated in greater detail, Ferdinand Toennies, the first president of the German Sociological Association, set out sociology’s founding distinction, between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, around this very “corporate” issue. Toennies attributed significance to a medieval innovation in Roman law, which I have set out in the form of a table below.

To answer the question then of how all of this relates to them, new historicists and their actor network relatives in all likelihood could attempt to let themselves off the hook by claiming that they are not required to answer any charge of mindlessly reproducing tradition. Afterall, the network models they favour are by definition diffuse and evanescent. But if this is their answer, it becomes not so much a matter of letting themselves off the hook, as it is a case of reinventing the wheel. For if one examines Table II, and then maps network characteristics to it, it becomes difficult to shake an association with the longstanding conventions of Roman Law. As a convention, socius must have its own history, and all of the attendant baggage this implies. The novelty of the current situation though is the extent to which this tradition is manipulated in the interest of providing a blueprint for the organization of knowledge. Hence the questions involving omniscience transmute into the broader analysis of supervenience in this chapter, because the latter is concerned with finding an appropriate model of integrating knowledge at a time when the university is itself becoming more de-centred (witness Barnett’s description of the associated relativization of epistemological authority which was discussed in my Introduction – a condition he describes as one of “supercomplexity”; 0.3: 12). In other words, if the university finds itself here becoming more open, then the issue to be dealt with by its various disciplines is how much, and what kind, of reduction is both desirable and possible? The forms of reduction to different constitutencies can thus be represented:

Table II: Contrasts between modes of inheritance transmission and relation of ends to means as correlated to forms of social life (as developed from Toennies & Fuller 2004: 37).
Period and Form of Legal Protection Type of Social Entity Mode of Inheritance Transmission Relation of Ends to Means Form of Social Life
Roman Law Natural Family (gens) Durable: does not transcend members over place or time Gemeinschaft
Roman Law Artificial Joint-stock companies, crusades (socius) Temporary: does not transcend given place or time (i.e. members separate once project completed and profits distributed) Gesellschaft
Medieval (12[th] Century); Universitas Artificial Welfare Durable: collective ends transcend those of any or all members at any given place or time (e.g. states, universities) Socialism: (i.e. a ‘common culture’: Williams 1958)

I take it that this table clarifies where Williams would fit into the contemporary scene: today’s cultural materialist is also obliged to push in the direction of greater public accountability in order to achieve a desirable form of knowledge integration. At the same time, such a thinker could suggest that the problems of disciplinary reduction associated with the fish scale model of omniscience, (and also supervenience), could best be handled through a form of constrained constructivism. All of this will be demonstrated in this chapter.

Taking the more long-term sense of inheritance into consideration, the table is also useful in contextualizing the great pattern of response, to which Williams referred. Williams therefore inherits that tradition wherein universities were not originally a social form of power of their own; they provided for another, a new kind of space. Universitas denoted mutual recognition of the institution’s members and a common language (Latin): unity through dialogue was the regulative ideal of a common cause (Barnett 2000: 72). Their constitutive strength was their non-alliance, including the possibility to shift between the powers that be. Not only the cultural materialism of Williams, but more generally of sociology, is inseparable from these institutional conditons of emergence, as universitas has provided the objects of social research. Instead of trying to identify what the alliance of this time is, perhaps sociology can find a role in rekindling universities’ recognition of their non-alliance as a strength, the most important and arguably, according to Friese and Wagner, perhaps the only authentic one they have ever had (Friese and Wagner 1998: 29).

But how do these ideals fare in the era of supercomplexity?

6.2 Complexity: closed or open sciences?

The Gulbenkian Commission has promised a unity of the sciences to be effected through complexity theory (Wallerstein 1996). To better sort out the different kinds of “openness” that tends to be obscured in the rush to embrace holism, it is best to briefly distinguish a closed from an open conception of science. The distinction arises from the basic, practical problem of needing to design experiments where the properties of certain mechanisms can be isolated and identified. Design is necessary because the mechanisms generally do not exist under such conditions. One need only contemplate the difficulty of isolating experimentally the causal mechanisms responsible for the origin of a new species. As I shall demonstrate with respect to the work of Alexander Rosenberg, some theorists have attempted to wrap up this practical difficulty through questionable means. However, to the extent that such strategies are themselves problematized, the potential to challenge the claim to “scientific status” especially characterizes the perception of evolutionary biology and the social sciences (Benton and Craib 2001: 129).

There are however other cases where experiment can be a practical possibility; organisms for example can be raised under controlled, artificial conditions. Bhaskar acknowledges this point when he delineates “closed” systems, where there is a natural isolation to the existence of mechanisms (for him, this holds as well for a balancing of interfering mechanisms, or their artificial isolation or control). As noted by Benton and Craib, contingency is the salient characteristic of the interaction and coexistence of mechanisms in Bhaskar’s conception of an “open” system. However, this should not automatically be read as a rigid opposition ripe for deconstruction: Bhaskar cannot envision either the necessity or possibility of experimentation were all mechanisms to naturally occur in closed systems. This stance can then also consistently hold, with some justification, that the artificiality of closed systems is a precondition for experiments (Benton and Craib 2001: 129).

So, experiments conducted under a closed system can yield data about a material’s powers and properties. Ultimately though, the viability of the material’s causal powers depends upon their transferability to open systems. In other words, without needing to impute regularity to the sequencing of events, the laws of nature must apply “transfactually” (Bhaskar 1978: 227). The “intransitive dimension” is the term Bhaskar frequently employs to capture these characteristics, with his critical realism evident in his ascription of the independent existence of the world as “differentiation” (Bhaskar 1978: 22 cited in Benton and Craib 2001: 129).

6.3 Networks as the “triple helix” of industry, university & government

As an account of academic capitalism that uses the development of biotechnology can demonstrate though, the viability of a material’s causal powers as transferable to open systems have come to be defined more in utilitarian, market terms (0.4: 14; 5.5: 208). House finds the North American example to be particularly extreme but instructive, because the nature of the collaboration in biotechnology is unprecedented, even given a long history of academic consulting for the corporate sector (Krimsky et al., 1991). The fateful “triple helix” of universities, industries and government in this case thereby interconnects both a large number and variety of actors (House 2001: 255).

Settling for “network” as her preferred descriptive term, House is able to observe a dualist capacity for being able to both enable and constrain change, learning and innovation. However, it is important not to exaggerate the uniqueness of the American situation, or to suggest discussion must be confined to biotechnology alone. House is probably justified then in drawing on Harvey’s critical point that ‘networks offer a means of controlling the introduction of innovations, making their impact minimal: social and technological “creative destruction” can be confined to one node of the network to ensure stability for the overall structure’ (Harvey 1989: 195–7 cited in House 2001: 254). Likewise, Castells (Castells 1996; 1997; 1998), perhaps the premier theorist of “the network society,” disagrees with Marx and Schumpeter that the technological network will inaugurate revolutionary changes threatening to capitalism (House 2001: 254).

Still, it is necessary to provide further explanation for these developments, in order to ascertain the importance of academic capitalism as a facilitator of bioglobalism. Network collaboration in the life sciences has largely come about then owing to the broad distribution of skills and resources needed to produce new medicines. Commensurate with the inability of any single organization to control and master all the competencies required, a broad front opens up connecting research institutes and universities working at the forefront of basic science (Powell, White, Koput, Owen-Smith 2004).

In the case of the U.S., growth in biomedicine is readily discernible in fluctuations in the total budget of a key funder of basic research, the National Institute of Health, whose brief includes the allocation of approximately 80% of its budget to external research grants to universities and firms. Available figures indicate that under the Clinton administration, for example, the NIH’s total budget grew exponentially from $8.9 billion in 1992 to $17.08 billion in 2000. Additionally, internal expenditures on research and development by biotech and pharmaceutical companies have also appreciably increased from $6.54 billion in 1988 to $26.03 billion in 2000. Venture capital disbursements have deviated somewhat from this trend though, in that their irregularity is reflective of the opportunities public equity markets appear to offer when particular technologies are in vogue (Powell, White, Koput, Owen-Smith 2004).

To again place these trends in a comparative perspective, the biotechnology sector in the U.K is second globally to the U.S, and with the encouragement of Government iniatives strong links have been forged between university research departments and industry by clustering new start up ventures around leading universities through so-called Regional Development Agencies. Although only a small selective sampling can be offered here, the scenario of bioglobalism starts to sound more credible when such iniatives are extended by the lead Government organization supporting international trade, U.K Trade and Investment, to establishing a Biotechnology and Pharmaceuticals team in Cambridge (Department of Trade and Industry 2004: 5). However it is Oxford Science Park that has emerged as the greatest beneficiary of the tripartite corporatist alliance [or “triple helix”], by accommodating over 50 high technology companies, many of them spin-offs from Oxford University, that has in turn earned it the title of “Britain’s most entrepreneurial university” (Department of Trade and Industry 2004: 21).

Through these networks, the market threatens to become the premier open system for science. Presupposing as it does an emergentist metaphysics, biology, more specifically biotechnology, has proven especially adaptable to the contingency of this open system (Fuller 2001a). Fortunately, this is countered to some degree by public scepticism and reluctance to always accept the claims of science. Accordingly it is plausible for Nelis’s study of the biotechnology industry in the Netherlands to argue that:

[T]he prevalence of futures language, practice and activity is roughly proportionate to the intensity of uncertainties in genetic diagnostics. The longer and more permeable the configuration of the network, the greater is the requirement for future-oriented anticipatory capacity through which actors can engage with one another…to actively create a common repertoire, a shared vision of the future and, consequently, add to the stability of the network (Nelis 2000: 224-225).

Nelis’s concern here is more on the areas where policymakers should concentrate their attention in order to shore up industry requirements. I am ultimately more interested then in co-opting Nelis’s conceptual language of actors engaging with one another to become reflective of the kind of communicative “opennessassociated with the ideal of a critical public sphere.

It is worth explaining this further though, especially in light of earlier claims that the risk profile of science has increasingly fostered a more intense sociocultural presence. The distinction between “open” and “closed” remains useful only with respect to utilitarian criteria. The performativity principle which Lyotard (Lyotard 1979) reads as defining the production of knowledge in the postmodern condition could be underscored by the decline in the status of physics as the model of Big Science. A brief example can illustrate this. The state protection afforded to physics by the Manhattan Project and the Cold War shifted decisively with the abandonment in the 1980s of the gigantic particle accelerator known as the Super Conducting Collider. This largely government funded project was perhaps one of the last gasps of Big Science “pure research”, as its reductionist program concentrated on the fundamental particles that would, so it was hoped, unlock the ultimate nature of matter (Sassower 1995: 1-10). Other than the ever-escalating costs of the project, it is clear that the lack of definite “results” must also have had a negative effect on the viability of longterm funding. The situation has not radically changed in the period since: particle accelerators will continue, albeit on smaller economies of scale than the Super Conducting Collider, to smash beams of particles together at increasingly higher energies; this will in turn squeeze out ever more esoteric constituents of matter. The unattainability of ends by means of this circular process should be clear. If particle accelerators appear incapable then of providing answers about the ultimate nature of matter, what they seem to demonstrate more clearly instead is that the number of possibilities increases exponentially with the application of more energy - consequently generating ever more questions (Cohen and Stewart 1994 [2000]: 277).

In more sociological terms, the declining fortunes of physics are perhaps best understood as expressive of a more general neoliberal concern for the potential “obsolescence of the commodity form” threatened by welfarist decommodification, some of the dynamics of which appeared in the Introduction as a means of prefiguring bioglobalism. Indeed, according to Offe, this concern with decommodification is used to legitimate the direction of state funding toward the calibration of activities operating as commodified markets (Offe 1984: 124 cited in Crook 1994: 208). The decommodified so becomes recommodified. In such an environment, there is little incentive for the preservation of the autonomy of projects such as the Super Conducting Collider, given that governments are seeking to reduce their long-term outlays by attuning research to industry needs. Crook contextualizes this transition in terms relevant to the distinctions between “open” and “closed” I have been drawing here, with reference to:

…the “open” communication of results, which had been central to the academic research system as modelled by Merton and others, comes under threat…the consequential shift is from an “organized” accommodation of commercial (or military) secrecy which operates in subsystems of research to a “disorganizing” circumstance in which secrecy threatens the “core” of the system itself. Taken together, these two developments suggest that scientific information increasingly circulates in the commodified financial and industrial economy, to the detriment of the peculiar form of commodification which characterized the autonomous “economy” of organized science (Crook 1994: 209-210).

In the situation Crook describes, a contrast may be drawn with Wallerstein’s optimistic vision. It should be clear by now that for Wallerstein, knowledge reintegration can occur with a little encouragement, once it is recognized that oppositions such as past (history)/present (social science), interpretative/explanatory analysis, indigenous structures (market/state/society)/exotic cultures, are no longer viable. This kind of interdisciplinary holism can be contrasted with the dedifferentiated scenario Crook, along with other writers such as Nowotny, Gibbons and Scott, refer to, which could be described as transdisciplinary - and appears closer to the mark in capturing the entente cordiale between Wilson’s socio-biology and commerce familiar from the Introduction. This is the appropriate term for knowledge organized as networks in a university context; the most telling contrast to the classical ideal of universitas here is the inherent similarity to socius, (i.e. the university as joint stock company), given that transdisciplinary knowledge networks are locally driven and constituted and have therefore been described “as problem solving on the move” (Heilbron 2004: 39).

Again though, what does this specifically have to do with some of the terms such as “omniscience” that have been the stock in trade of this thesis? There remain compelling reasons to retain sociology in spite of reflexive critique of its occasional tendency toward omniscience. Not least among them, it is important to retain a critical function for universitas while avoiding conflation with epistemic arguments for the market, as opposed to planned economy, as a solution to the problems of ignorance. Afterall, Friedrich Hayek in effect is pronouncing in terms recognizable from my description of omniscience when he writes, “it may prove… to be far the most difficult and not the least important task for human reason rationally to comprehend its own limitations” (Hayek 1942-4: 162). Some of the enormous ramifications of this problem for the disciplinary saliency of biology as well as for the sociological alternatives raised in the earlier discussion of tragedy, will become available for analysis in a discussion of reductionism, (as a form of knowledge integration), by way of the work of Alexander Rosenberg in this chapter.

However, it is first worth briefly considering Hayek owing to the acumen of his economic prescriptors for the pursuit of transdisciplinary research, especially in light of House’s critique. When Hayek takes up the problem of what he calls “the division of knowledge” in society he is less interested in its disaggregation per se than the nature of this knowledge, including for him, practical or “tacit” knowledge with its associated skills (and practices), and the knowledge of particulars articulated to a specific place and time. The consequence for Hayek is that these particulars could not be translated into any general propositional form of use to a central planning agency that would then be able to coordinate the activities of the different economic actors involved (Hayek 1978: 179-90). In this vein, Darwinian intuitions about knowledge production and its contingent relation to social development compound the ignorance faced by the entrepreneur regarding the viable commodification of future wants. The alternative appellation of the entrepreneur as “venture capitalist” therefore attests to a faith in the price mechanism as a discovery procedure and form of communication capable of co-ordinating the economic activities between individuals, which allows them to use their particular knowledge. Ultimately this was Hayek’s solution to the problem of omniscience, (or rather the “creativity” serving as the panacea for “alienation” according to Boltanski and Chiapello’s contextualization of the new spirit of capitalism; 0.4:14-15), the more specific consequences of which may now be considered.

6.4 Knowledge integration: supervenience & biological reduction

That biology has been able to flourish in such a contingent, performative climate may have something to do then with its peculiarly inconsistent dual status at both epistemological and organizational levels. At the organizational network level, I have demonstrated the success of biotechnology in opening itself out beyond the university environment - a feat less successfully accomplished in recent times by other sciences such as physics. On the epistemological level, biology shares with the other sciences a network evolutionary metaphysics in the concept of the phenotype: the organicist holism at work here portrays a relational self where the body is an integrated network of gene and flesh, inside and outside. In spirit at least, embryology encourages such a mult-disciplinary phenotype-based science given its ecosystems type of approach. The inconsistency with the organizational networking arises on the epistemological level though because phenotype based biology is a comparatively minor tradition, which becomes obvious when one considers the prominence of genetic studies. This dominance apparently extends to the infrastructure of biology as a discipline, inclusive of its funding and text structure. In a critical essay, developmental biologist Scott F.Gilbert goes so far as to argue that in this respect genetics has remained unaffected by postmodernism, and stands alone as one of the most structuralist disciplines in academia. He notes that genetic’s denial of phenotypic individuality bears comparisons with Saussurian linguistics for holding that (linguistic) structures are held in common across all genres of communication (Gilbert 1995: 564).

It follows then for Gilbert that the flight from historicity into code typified by genetics has some interesting ramifications when related to the traditional Great Chain of Being ordering the hierarchy of progression from matter into rationality. Gilbert claims that this principle once extended over the Universe, but has gradually been reduced to applicability in the ranking of disciplinary status within the University itself (Gilbert 1997: 46). The implication of Gilbert’s argument is that this abstraction of matter at the apex of the hierarchy has sanctioned the valorization of information over substance, to the extent that biology and communication have become a unified cybernetic science of information. To the extent that de-differentiation in an era of “post-science” shapes society itself as laboratory, the logical extension of Gilbert’s argument beyond the perimeters and parameters of the university becomes discernible in proclamations of the “post-human” condition. Such forms of contingent embodiment, retrofitted for “up-loading” into communication systems, (Hayles 1999), and described in comparable terms by Haraway as the “informatics of domination”, are suggestive then for a critical understanding of the university’s existence in a post-Fordist, bio-global age, inasfar as knowledge becomes “disembodied” in the commodity form of information (Haraway 1991: 161-167).[85]

In brief then, Gilbert is claiming that biology has capitalized by filling the power vacuum left by the epistemological relativism of the other sciences. Afterall, he reasons, the “abstraction” of genetics still cannot entirely obfuscate the fact that it is dealing with living matter, and it is thus better able to legitimate itself by laying claim to the mantle of truthseeker. For biologist Gilbert, as for sociologist Tiryakian, the possibility arises that the authority of the social sciences is significantly challenged by these developments (Gilbert 1997: 50; 0.2: 7-10).

Alexander Rosenberg, a prominent philosopher of science, makes an interesting attempt to justify knowledge integration from a reductionist perspective, of relevance to the historicity/code transition Gilbert describes (Fuller 2001a). His point of entry is the age-old debate surrounding the empiricist tradition of the sciences, which explains particular events by bringing them under the aegis of universal laws. Like all like-minded reductionists, Rosenberg is confronted by the challenge of the competing teleological explanations I have shown to be increasingly shared by the biological and social sciences. His characteristic response is both to reduce and to translate teleology into initial conditions defined in causal terms, and lower-level universal laws. In effect this means that scientific progress is identified with the substitution of causal laws for teleological explanations, to the extent that this becomes a linear historical trend (Ransom 1992).

In light of my engagement with psychoanalysis, which I have argued is of some applicability to the serialist social psychology of some sociologists and scientists, it is interesting and worthwhile to further consider Rosenberg’s reductionist response to the treatment of teleological validity in biology. In this vein, Rosenberg has imagined the process of natural selection from a position of complete omniscience --i.e. from a God's eye point of view (compare Rosenberg, 1985 and Rosenberg, 1986). The sufficient conditions for this, in Rosenberg’s eyes, are two interrelated steps. Firstly, it is assumed that it is the effects of teleological phenomenon that are of defining importance; secondly, that these effects can be articulated to the causal antecedents of chemistry and physics (Ransom 1992).

Despite these working assumptions of omniscience and the unity of the sciences, Rosenberg is forced to concede the existence of some teleological ascriptions yet to be reduced to chemistry and physics, which, it might reasonably be inferred, would posit insurmountable difficulties for his project. He senses that there are practical grounds making it not legitimate to reduce biology. The central point for him here is that unmanageable complexity would arise were, for example, Mendelian genes to be reduced to molecules. Rosenberg is able to draw impetus from this, however, by arguing that reduction is not necessary for development of the macro theory. To do so, he is obliged to remain consistent by according these biological exceptions special dispensation without invalidating his own reductionist premises (Collier 1988: 8). Rosenberg’s response is to retain the principle of physical reduction in these elusive cases, claiming that the fact that this has not yet occurred is due only to the computational limitations of the human brain. His hypothetical model of an (omniscient) individual possessing sufficient resources would then, in principle, he claims, be capable of surmounting this limitation (see Rosenberg 1985).

The qualifier for Rosenberg then, is that ontological reducibility cannot be invalidated on practical grounds. He is inclined rather to the view that ontological reduction is both a logical and a physical possibility. The latter possibility finds its basis in the finite size of the world. Rosenberg’s logical assumption is that this finiteness must also apply to the physical instantiations of any of the macro properties, because physical laws, to the degree that they are relevant to biology, are deterministic (Rosenberg 1985: 62-64). In this way, he is able to logically argue that every macro property must be coextensive with some complete physical property. From this perspective, to argue to the contrary would appear to push toward the infinitude of the world or an endorsement of indeterminism as such (Collier 1988: 8). His substantive focus therefore serves as a taming of teleological reduction by emphasizing that the reduction to causal variables of every teleological explanation would require a very large number of different physical descriptions (Rosenberg 1985: 118).

Taking leave of Rosenberg at this point leaves unanswered an outstanding problem, or side effect, of his kind of reductionist approach. Understanding what this is requires referring to Chapter Three’s discussion of tragedy, which held that there were compelling reasons for not basing the distinctiveness of the social sciences upon the differing physical properties between humans, animals and technology (3.5: 113). It is easy to see the form knowledge integration would take from Rosenberg’s perspective, in terms seemingly similar to my own, as the inexactitude of the physical properties of what is being reduced easily then becoming supervenient to a macro-property, such as “society”. In effect Rosenberg’s solution to the problem of omniscience is simply to replace it with (normotic) oversocialization. There are obvious cases though where this may become problematic in accordance with the association to varying degrees of this oversocialization with forms of violence. For example, “macro-reduction” could obscure the specificity of medical intervention into women’s bodies, to the extent that they become aggregated to “paternity rights”, a “couple” or a fetus in treatments of infertility (in vitro fertilization) and congenital disease (fetal surgery) respectively. A way of dealing with this side effect therefore suggests itself: focusing on the production of individuality. If these reproductive technologies are a profoundly feminist issue, ultimately this is because autonomy, and its associated continuity of individual selfhood,[86] become contingent achievements rather than pre-given ontological categories (der Ploeg 2004: 155). Afterall, “pregnancy is about the making of new individuals, about processes of individuation, about two bodies becoming one, one body becoming two” (Franklin 1991: 203).

A central issue then for feminist engagements with these technologies is how to both critically retain within medicine these normative issues of autonomy, bodily integrity, patient’s rights and informed consent, whilst recognizing their contingent status. Haraway is therefore appreciative of Latour’s understanding of the mutually constitutive relation of nature and culture as “hybrids”, but still wishes to distinguish her own conception of the “cyborg”, (“a polychromatic girl”), as more capable of delineating the different distributions of risk, choice, work and responsibility involved. It is the implied equivalency of Latour’s hybrids then, (“we are all hybrids, [or “cyborgs”]), that leads her to identify this as the point at which “Bruno Latour’s beautiful little engine runs out of fuel” (cited in der Ploeg 2004: 154)[87]. This argument, it should be clear by now, is not entirely dissimilar to some of the other criticisms of ANT discussed in Chapter One, and the related need to distinguish “the bad hybrid” raised in Chapter Three. Furthermore, if one reconsiders the ending of Chapter Four, Haraway can be seen as not being simply content to throw in her lot with Rorty by accepting the contingency of selfhood as a mere byproduct of chance or accident. Afterall, to assent to Rorty in this instance would register as a failure to be answerable to Joas’s related critique and complication of the relationship between contingent selfhood and violence. Not the least of the other critical considerations one could and should be mindful of here is how to assess the nominalism of Wolfe and Elmer that is premised upon a distancing from humanism as a form of speciesism (3.2: 98-101). With this latter contextualization in mind it becomes appropriate to consider for example the wary appraisals of the uptake of deconstruction in Critical Legal Studies. Afterall if, as Derrida for example suggests, justice and injustice have been reserved in Western culture for the possessors of language (Derrida 1990: 951), what is to prevent anti-abortion activists from utilizing deconstruction on behalf of the fetus in the manner in which he argues animals have been excluded from the domain of justice? As Balkin muses, ‘is the argument abhorrent because it is not deconstructive or rather because it is deconstructive - because nothing in “deconstruction” prevents such an argument?’ (Balkin 1994: 22)[88]

In other words, what is coming through strongly here is not so much the figure of the serial killer per se, but some arguments for bringing under control oversocialized forms of knowledge integration that have played a part in the forging of links in a chain of serialistic violence. It also needs to be said here that this problem for reproductive politics posed by macro-reduction is even further magnified though, to the extent that it leaves the door ajar for Singer’s aforementioned privileging of the rights of animals over select humans he considers as not having met an adequate standard of reproductive fitness. Wolfe and Elmer’s nominalism sounds a familiar refrain in Singer’s case as “speciesism” is assumed to be the most unpardonable crime of all - the foundational murder upon which the edifice of humanist culture is constructed.

By contrast, Haraway has remained more cognizant of the danger of using Nature as a normative yardstick for equality, and certainly cyborgs, (and technology more generally), do not figure in Singer’s Left Darwinist approach. Post-humanism therefore logically entails post-Darwinism, because the individual organism “selects” its environment, rather than the other way round; creativity and not adaptation therefore becomes the new byword. This leaves Haraway with a quandary, however, because the postmodern de-essentializing, or opening of identity, which her approach favours is itself dependent upon a similarly open, tolerant socio-economic environment. Afterall, biotechnology can merely recast the law of natural selection in the sense that its offspring design is intended to correct the perceived imbalance resulting from the “suboptimal” [sic] occurrence of more spontaneous births than are necessary for “survival” in a neoliberal environment (Fuller 2001a). For example, while it would be more comforting to read him as a postmodern parodist of such a view, Hughes claims instead to be operating from the perspective of “democratic transhumanism” in a preview of his book Citizen Cyborg. The points of convergence with the liberal eugenics just outlined are clearly discernible given his operating assumption “that a society with fewer disabled would increase rather than decrease their per capita expenditures on the disabled” (Hughes 1996: 94-101).

I hasten to add, however, that any connection between these two strands is not intended to undermine a woman’s right to choose, its concern rather is with “societal judgements of quality of life and a medical profession which prioritizes eugenics” (Shakespeare 1998: 179). In any case, Haraway had clearly foreseen the importance of constantly shifting metaphors to prevent the kind of recuperation typified by Hughes, but the cyborganization of the nature of the human has still become literalized in many studies that do little to discourage further misappropriation. Albeit unintentionally, self-proclaimed cyborg scholars such as Hughes have done this to such an extent that it could even be argued that the cyborg is a dead metaphor (Bartsch, Dipalma and Sells 2001: 141). That this should have so easily happened, despite its desire to be otherwise, may also in part be because the cyborg is a relative figure. Contra its desired role in a postmodern identity politics, where disparate parts may unite into coalitions, the cyborg can easily remain wedded to a metaphysics, where the whole is outweighed by the sum of its parts. Seeking to deconstruct the universal human subject, the cyborg remains only an aggregate or additive figure with respect to its component parts--it is nature AND machine AND human. Critics such as Elizabeth Spelman are therefore entitled in this respect to characterize its "tootsie roll" or "pop-bead metaphysics," where each part "is separable from every other part, and the significance of each part is unaffected by the other parts" (Spelman 1988: 136 cited in Bartsch, Dipalma and Sells 2001: 142)

In light of these critiques, Bartsch et al regard it as significant that Haraway was to subsequently replace the cyborg with other metaphorical figures such as the vampire, for their ability to transform others which thereby alters and problematizes all blood relationships, encompassing kin and race. The ramifications of this metaphor for identity politics involves highlighting the dangers of an essentialist position supported by the blood fetish as marker of authenticity. However, it is equally the case for Haraway that the price of ignoring the specificity of such difference amounts to “cultural annihilation.” The interdependent, or relational logics at work in cases such as these, suggest that the parts affect the character of the whole, contra the additive nature of the cyborg. For her, civic engagement, or a possible politics, ultimately has to exist then in this space between, which is fraught with tensions (Bartsch, Dipalma and Sells 2001: 147).

It remains to be determined though in this later discussion whether this move strengthens Haraway’s ability to foreground what Bartsch describes as “a mutually and actively informing process that is in motion along multiple axes of power.” These authors insist, employing their preferred term “simultaneity,” that this requires an active tension between multiple sites, inclusive of the possibility of inhabiting more than one location at a time. In their view, the stationary cyborg metaphor is insufficiently attentive to how categories of identity are mutually informative and dependent (Bartsch, Dipalma and Sells 2001: 143).

6.5 The relevance of constructivism and realism

Reviewing this brief outline of some of the central themes of Haraway’s work, particularly as framed by Bartsch et al, it is difficult to suppress the suspicion that the emphasis on cultural politics implies that Haraway is jumping on the decisionist bandwagon. In partial defence of Haraway, I would argue that as pertains to the apparent prominence of a species of postmodern identity politics in her work, it might be argued that this does not necessitate an overbearing decisionist component or character. That this need not be the case has to do with some specific distinctions Haraway attempts to draw, suggesting that she is best understood as offering a form of what could be called constrained constructivism (Hayles 1997), inasmuch as it is in principle opposed to the omniscient biological models of knowledge integration as exemplified by Rosenberg’s supervenience. To clarify this, it is useful to distinguish between social constructionism and a quite different form of constructivism (in Haraway’s work the equivalent distinction is between relative and relational). Constructivism is concerned with the cultural construction of the cognitive frames of different orders. These frames are portrayed as bearing on norms and preferences within a situation outlined by structural parameters. By contrast with this more restrained cultural constructivism, constructionism views the structural features as socially constructed (Strydom 2002a: 130).

In other words, as Williams clearly understood, realism can be affirmed to argue that there are objects that exist and are causally independent of human beliefs and desires (1.4: 66; 5.3: 195). Truth claims are also not merely ad hoc constructions powered by political expediency alone, or the idiosyncratic personal selections of individuals. Both Haraway’s notion of situated knowledges and Fuller’s social epistemology also serve as reminders that there are institutional limitations or structural parameters that affect the kinds of epistemological claims that can be made. It is this feature that social constructionism has blithely ignored. Constructivism in turn assesses whether these knowledge practices “work,” not by grounding them in objectivity, but as “agents of adaptation to an environment, for contingent, revisable purposes.” (Wolfe 1995: 44). I have attempted then in the table below to set out some of the pragmatic, contextualist features of some forms of realism and as a critical means of grappling with complexity (table adapted and modified from Rocha 1997).

Table III: Contrasts between classical, evolutionary, critical realism and evolutionary constructivism.
Epistemology Theory of Truth Metaphysics Summation: How knowledge/science is grounded
Evolutionary Realism (e.g. Hooker 1987) & Critical Realism (e.g. Aronson, Harré, and Way 1995) Contrasts of the truth claims made by classical realism (cr) and Evo & Crit Realism (ecr):
• Propositional (cr)/correspondence (ecr)
• Isolated substances (cr)/systemic relationships (ecr)
Natural; truth limits versimilitude (i.e. degree of match/mismatch between models) World organized according to systemic natural kinds (based on selforganizing principles)
Evolutionary Constructivism (e.g. von Glasersfeld 1995) Internal; “as if” correspondence truth claims Pragmatic Science endeavours to secure validity of constructions through the consensual agreement of individually constructing observers

Reading realism and constructivism together by means of this table urges awareness of dynamic structural parameters, which suggest that the “reality” of objects of knowledge is not somehow to be discerned within themselves, but rather in the systemic patterns that are observed across contexts. By this route may be found the means for realism to challenge the kind of strong constructivist claims which would argue that biotechnology, in conjunction with neoliberalism has recreated the world in its own image. Equally though, constructivism can supplement realism by highlighting how reality is not merely accepted as given by social actors, but is also actively negotiated by them. It is this complex recursivity or positive feedback that drives the (second-order cybernetic) “evolution” of cognitive frames (Delanty 2002: 283).

It is clear as well then that the realist methodology at work in some forms of criminology is an impediment to understanding seriality, irrespective of whether or not it has been explicitly linked to bioglobalism. Jenkins, for example, wavers between a social constructionist approach and a realist methodology.[89] For the former, he regards the serial murderer as an indispensable folk devil; the product of a relativistic will to power i.e. a dependency relationship whereby sectional interests ensure their self-reproduction by fostering shared belief in the continual existence of deviance. As Jenkins would have it, the police, the media and feminist groups stand to gain the most in this sense from the serialist folk devil. With respect to the realist components of Jenkins’s work, they are isomorphic with a statistical, comparative historical sociological approach (Jenkins 1994: 225-229). This in effect means for him that a noticeable fluctuation in statistical data is apparent in the Weimar and Nazi period, (to use a case expanded upon with reference to Joas’s age of contingency, as featured in Chapter Two; Joas 2002), but his operating assumption is that seriality is a crime of opportunity strictly dependent upon the availability of a sufficient pool of potential victims. His thesis therefore is that the degree of attentiveness by police agencies is a consistent explanatory factor, while scales of historical population shift in and of themselves are less significant (Jenkins 1992). In other words, he is arguing that in the Weimar and Nazi eras serialists were able to flourish because political policing distracted attention away from other forms of criminal activity. Jenkins even appears to deflate the relative deprivation thesis adopted by Left Realists such as Leyton and Young[90] by suggesting that the rates of serial murder in the United States may only appear higher than the United Kingdom or Canada, because the latter have much tighter privacy restrictions on the reporting of the investigation and prosecution of these cases (Jenkins 1992: 41-42).[91]

Now, it may well be that Left Realism differs from Jenkins by touching on the definitive sociological concern with inheritance introduced (above) in Table II, inasmuch as it insists that the legitimation of meritocracy is undermined by awareness of the unearned wealth that is a staple of social privilege. Young suggests that acts of criminal transgression are attempts to mimic this luxury through excessive and sensually stylized ripostes to the world of work. At issue then for him is not primarily, or even in the last instance, the calculative rationality of crime as an alternative form of work, but a potent fusing of structure and agency (Young 2003: 409). This sensual component of agency as manifest in the frisson of calculated risk-taking has also been described as “edgework” (Lyng 1990). In such settings, the realization of the ego in a histrionic context through the controlling of fear would bear comparison with some of the action dynamics highlighted in my own discussion of serial violence. Of particular interest here from my own action perspective would be how individual perceptions may become acute and concentrated, to such an extent that cognitive mastery can give way to fusion with the environment; it might follow that the “oversocialization” of the serialist merely exists on the extreme end of a continuum of other (potentially) dangerous activities, whose participants become “part of the wave”, “at one with their machines” or “continuous with the rock” (Jencks 2003: 179).

However, if a more generally applicable point can be made that brings the realism of Jenkins and Young together, in spite of the [above] similarities to aspects of my own research, it has to do with the absence of constructivism in their respective approaches. One aspect distinguishing my own conception of the importance of the relations obtaining between communication and intimacy, as discernible in the critique of Seltzer’s “pathological public sphere”, has been that attempts to correlate media representations of risk with the psychic economies of actual spectators is a potentially hazardous enterprise, in as much as they are overtly speculative and operating at high levels of abstraction. By this comment I mean that my critiques of the “tragedy” of neoliberal risk environments such as bioglobalism have been more ethical in that they have argued that it is perilous to urge the adoption of an individualist perspective in situations determined by interdependency. In other words, abstraction tends to lose sight of the complexity contextualizing people’s interpretations of risk as part of a discursive process where, as noted by Wilkinson, “there are few fixed opinions and many partially coherent and logically inconsistent points of view” (Wilkinson 2001a: 16). In these terms the evolution of criminological studies of seriality can thereby be understood: each paradigm has failed to secure a self-regulating Kuhn-like internalist angle of vision, to such an extent that accounts of causality have adapted by embracing a “specificity-uncertainty dialectic” (Kern 2004: 375). The adding of more and more layers of causality has therefore meant a greater acknowledgement of complexity and accordingly a greater awareness that, “[N]o matter how many times researchers roll the dice and record the outcome, the future always remains probabilistic and uncertain” (Kern 2004: 373). [92]

From a constructivist perspective then, the evolution of cognitive frames in the risk discourse generally, and in criminological discourse more specifically, would proceed by concentrating not on media effects based audience studies, but by choosing instead to open up the debate to, as described by Jones, “contestants of popular conservative fundamentalism”, such as ‘emancipatory’ social movements and even public intellectuals” (Jones 1997: 14). Conceptually then there are no insurmountable difficulties in drawing the risk discourses surrounding seriality into alignment with those concerning biotechnology. Which is to say, the heuristic device of seriality in the bioglobal age is logical, because what Jones proposes for a redrawing of a critical criminology does not differ in principle from Delanty’s call for a “critical genetics” (that he wishes to distinguish from the naïve realist politics of risk associated with the theory of reflexive modernization). As Delanty has it, if choices are always discursively framed, there will always be contestation as to whether biotechnology is a benefit (as it will be for those, say, who believe it can help the developing world, or increase the autonomy of wealthier consumers), or a risk (the position adopted by many intellectuals, such as Habermas for example; Habermas 2003). Furthermore, the automatic articulation of biotechnology and seriality to neoliberalism is not coherent, in the sense that such claims must hold both that choices are increased while simultaneously the basis of a responsible society is undermined. Once public communication is understood to be mediated by agency, dystopian technological forecasting, in the sense that new historicism could also be characterized, can be strongly qualified (Delanty 2002: 287).

6.6 The product of these clarifications: constrained constructivism

Having accomplished this much, one can more readily afford the kind of distinctions Haraway attempts to make in the following passage:

A biochemical genome is already a kind of second order object, a structure of a structure, a conceptual structure of a chemical entity; and the electronic genome databases represent still another order of structure, another structuring of information. The genome is a historically specific collective construct, built by and from humans and nonhumans. To be “made” is not to be “made up”. In my view, constructivism is about contingency and specificity but not epistemological relativism. The reality and materiality of the genome is simultaneously semiotic, institutional, machinic, organic, and biochemical (emphasis mine) (Haraway 1997: 99).

Like Williams before her then (1.4: 66), Haraway opts for a constrained constructivism, in that it is able to escape radical subjectivism whilst acknowledging that unmediated access to reality is not possible. Here again I detect a point of convergence with the issues I raised in Chapter Four because Haraway is taking a stand against the omniscient viewpoint (the "god trick" is her preferred term) which claims to be everywhere and therefore nowhere, claiming accountability to nothing (Haraway 1991: 191). For Wolfe though, there is a troubling contradiction at work in Haraway’s attempted grounding of objective knowledge practices through the incorporation of perspectives previously excluded by hierarchical social arrangements. He is concerned lest the resulting ‘faithful accounts of a “real” world’ are not objectively ones “that can be partially shared and that is friendly to earthwide projects of finite freedom.” Would this mean then, he asks, that the projects be abandoned? (Wolfe 1995: 42)[93] Believing this alternative to be hardly practical or desirable, he suggests instead that Haraway needs to draw on a stronger constructivist methodology. To my mind, this is a legitimate criticism of Haraway, highlighting as it does how the notion of a new objectivity cannot properly account for the value of her own method of situated knowledges. Wolfe’s critique can help consolidate the kind of realist constructivist nexus I have been arguing for. As was the case with a critical criminology or a critical genetics, it is not the membership, or “situatedness”, of certain social groups that will ultimately bring about a more reliable objectivity, (to the extent that it does claim this, Haraway’s “modest witnessing” in effect recapitulates the perspective of standpoint theory), but rather an understanding of situating knowledge as a technique for gaining objectivity by continuously making bias visible and open to criticism (Hattiangadi 2000: 655). It is only with this modification that it becomes justifiable to read Haraway’s constrained constructivism alongside the approaches adopted by others such as Williams, Habermas, Strydom, Fuller, Jones and Delanty.

In other words, the contingency of knowledge claims is only experienced by the knower once the situatedness of their beliefs becomes apparent through this technique (Fuller 2000b: 340). Fuller traces the lineage of this sociology of knowledge to Lukacs, from whom Mannheim developed the goal of demonstrating how the diverse perspectives of society were reflective of latent class conflicts. The sociology of knowledge was thus understood to be an oppositional science. It follows that Mannheim reserved the designation of existentially determined thought for a certain, almost tragic, acceptance of fate, in that a world-view was not understood to be mediated by social factors. This he sought to distinguish from what he called conditioned thought, where social awareness implied one’s perspective could be changed (Fuller 2000b: 232). Once Mannheim’s refusal to apply his sociology of knowledge to the “natural” sciences has been dispensed with, it may become possible from my perspective to argue that there was a comparable sense in which Williams’s long revolution was intended to creatively move beyond tragedy. This was demonstrably the most important function he reserved for critical intellectuals.

6.7 Critical or specific intellectuals?

The relation between these existentially determined and conditioned modes of thought are not clarified though by those who remain silent on the “ontological” questions about knowledge and reason I have tried to address in my discussion of seriality, particularly in Chapter Four. Throughout the course of this chapter I have advanced various means whereby this relationship may be more usefully thought in terms of disciplinary identity and knowledge complexity with respect to the realist/constructivist nexus. However, it is the intransitive dimension of the public sphere which provides the impetus for the next phase of axial rotation of these relationships into even more altruistic forms. Although I have touched on its signifcance in the previous section of this chapter by invoking a qualified need for “situated” knowledges, given the larger context of my argument is articulated more specifically to Williams in the context of the “long revolution”, I can name these associated more altrusitic form of relationships in his terms as the necessary conditions for a “common culture”. At least initially though, this might appear somewhat paradoxical: for is not the very proposal of “commonality” suggestive of a reduction of complexity? How compatible can any such reduction be with the maintenance of disciplinary identity? How can it be contrasted with consilience, the fishscale model of omniscience and supervenience?

As the posing of these questions marks something of a transition point for issues I will be taking up in more detail in the Conclusion, and in the process providing a forum for me to take stock of the progress in this chapter, I can set some of the conditions for further discussion with reference to some observations which Fuller has made on related matters. There are some good reasons for doing so. Firstly, to be quite frank, his essays “Strategies of Knowledge Integration” and “Back to the Future with Bioliberalism” have exerted a profound influence on the shaping of this chapter (Fuller 2001a; Fuller 2004a). Therefore it is somewhat fitting to return to him in order to tie this particular piece together at its end. The second reason, however, extends beyond this sense of obligation to grant due acknowledgement, relating more, as it does, to the possibility raised in Chapter Three that Fuller may be regarded as sympathetic in spirit to aspects of Williams’s project of cultural materialism.

Perhaps the most obvious way to draw this particular comparison would be to bracket Williams and Fuller off from a rather different form of cultural materialism that emerged in anthropology, and which can be related to one of the figures who was introduced at the beginning of this chapter (cf Fuller 1997). In this more anthropological context, the objective was to formalize culture in evolutionary terms as something passed along intergenerationally. Diffussionistic models were accordingly developed to see how ideas or artefacts came into existence and hence were disseminated throughout the world.

The problem however with such a “cargo cult” style epistemological model was that it could not account for iterability (i.e. as featured in Chapter Five’s discussion of deconstruction and triple contingency): complex phenomena were not learnt or transmitted, but changed in the process of dissemination. If there is any interest in evoking this flawed conception of cultural materialism here, it is because of its association with Donald Campbell. I raise it then because it becomes possible to extrapolate from it issues having to do with complexity and economies of scale that are subject to a different emphasis in the cultural materialism of both Williams and Fuller.

One may recall here the reference to Campbell’s fish-scale model of omniscience at the beginning of this chapter, which was followed by Stanley’s characterization of jetsetting mobile disciplinary rangers who spent comparatively little time collecting empirical data. In like terms, Campbell suggested that depth of knowledge would as a consequence decrease. But the example of Campbell’s own cultural materialism would appear to be tainted by this very weakness, given the unimpressive findings of its research into evolutionary epistemology. A further point can therefore be made with regard to the economies of scale required to conduct empirical research of this magnitude: the enormous funding necessary to carry out the research is more likely to instil a client style relationship on the researcher’s behalf in relation to their benefactor. This much should already be clear given the productive “triple helix” relationship benefitting the biotechnology industry that I have described in this chapter. The point though, as the example of Campbell’s style of cultural materialism illustrates, is that the same principle can readily be applied to the research of social scientists. Under these conditions social science research is more likely to become a policy instrument intended to control people for the benefit of more powerful social interests (Fuller 2005: 89-90).

Given discussion in this chapter about the need for the development of critical techniques that can interrogate “situted knowledges”, Campbell’s type of appeal to the authority of extensive empirical research begins to read more like a gatekeeping method intended to restrict the production and flow of knowledge for the benefit of a select few. If there is sufficient motivation for my attempt to read Fuller alongside the cultural materialism of Williams, it relates to how the former’s opposition to the scholastic curatorialism [embodied by the example of Campbell] ethically appeals to the same constituency that motivated Williams’s critique of “the scholarship ladder” as not simply reflective of a meritocracy[94]. Of the two though, Fuller has attempted a more thorough cataloguing of the various responses that have been used in attempts to justify the curatorial perspective. The added benefit here is that he has critically analysed how this perspective has been framed as a matter of disciplinary identity related to reductionism and complexity.

My own account of Fuller’s efforts will by necessity be somewhat truncated, however, as the discussion must suffice only to convince the reader of how they may be construed as arguing that the university is not a “common culture”: it is this degree of limitation that opens up space for the final problematique to be dealt with next in the Conclusion [in greater detail], the viability of the political order. With this qualification in place, it can be noted that the first strategy Fuller describes recalls Dupre’s Wittgensteinlike description; where a “family resemblance” conception of knowledge will be reflective of the complexity of the world (5.4: 205). If this characterization is accepted at face value, it can be used to justify the intensive work practices of academic labourers because the production of new knowledge ensures the university’s evolution to higher stages of complexity. In theory at least the door of opportunity is therefore also left open for new knowledge workers to ensure the reproduction of this process. Here though is where Dupre’s aforementioned plea for retention of the distinction between “persuasion” and “rightness” could be used to ratify Fuller’s critique, which holds that this complexity based argument provides no credible warrant for situated knowledges. This is for the simple reason (read: a non-complex[ity] reason) that the reality diverges from the ideal in the sense that there is little parity in the attention granted by academics to the articles and books produced. To the extent rather that attention becomes focused on relatively few texts and authors, it becomes more difficult to ascertain compelling reasons why “so many people should enter academia to do research that few people - including other academics - will bother to take seriously” (Fuller 2005b: 139).

Of course, the most predictable response to such critiques would be merely to note that for all this talk of complexity, for us to have disciplines at all is [by their very nature] to presuppose in turn the reduction of complexity to some extent. This is the work that disciplines, to be worthy of the name, do (Osborne 1998: 184). In such terms it might make more sense to speak for example in terms of a tradeoff where the knowledge produced is a form of “simplexity” (cf. Cohen and Pratchett, (1994) [2000]). But again, the residual positivism of such responses are no less apparent here than in their other incarnations. Afterall, not the least of the paradoxes has to do with the implicitly unsociological nature of such ontological appeals to the authority of disciplines. In avoiding this paradox, Fuller can more consistently evoke the discipline’s renowned reflexivity to acknowledge that sociology is itself no less a sociohistorical entity than any other, so its eventual disappearance may in fact speak to a new level of integration of the social sciences. Rather than automatically becoming unemployed, sociologists may thereby find themselves able to redeploy their skills in new contexts (Fuller 1993).

The context that I have been building towards in this chapter though has more to do with the reintegration of sociological knowledge in a context where the possible unemployment of sociologists is less of an issue. In particular my interest lies with the intransitive dimension of the public sphere as an integral component of a common culture. What I think is fair to note about Fuller’s style of reasoning is that it need not be construed as disingenuous (emanating as it does from a tenured academic). Afterall, when all is said and done, he is unwilling to decentre the skills that can be honed by disciplines to an extent where the sociologist acting in a wider public role becomes completely interchangeable with any other participant in a discussion. Therefore he acknowledges the indispensable value of crafting theories that presuppose causes and effects in a manner which appears consistent with my own defense of Barnett’s notion of supercomplexity (Fuller 1995). His argument though is that the retention of the disciplinary benefits accruing from this theoretical acuity are indissociable from a relationship of power. This has to do with how deferment to the authority of such knowledge on the part of individuals requires them to grant tacit consent that it will be substituted[95] for their own knowledge claims. The precondition of this consent for Fuller’s social epistemology is that the theorist has to pass a mutually agreeable test. As was intimated in the Introduction, this precondition advances responsibility beyond mere sceptical pluralism toward the design of a criterion for quality. In other words, rather than settle for supervenience as setting the minimal conditions for knowledge reduction, a more reliable basis for reductionism is the detection of and agreement upon a common medium for adjudicating between claims (Fuller 2005b: 101102).

A subclause here though which further balances this account is that the academic is restricted when it comes to granting a licence for usage with respect to their knowledge claims. Although he does not explicitly say so, in this regard I detect a subtle change in emphasis in Fuller’s perspective. This point is important for consolidating the developmental logic of my own argument because this chapter commenced with the suggestion that the academic swimming in formation with the fish-scale model of omniscience marked some kind of advance over the Cartesian isolation of the brainvat familiar from Chapter Five. In his earlier work Fuller had argued in terms of rational choice theory that it was useful to think of knowledge as a material substance by concentrating upon what knowledge is, rather than solely remaining preoccupied with questions of truth/falsity. His point in so doing was to suggest that inferences are made in awareness that errors are costly in terms of material resources: not the least of them, time, computational power and overall effort. (Fuller 1989b [1995]: 117).

As Fuller would have it, fear of mourning for a proposition formerly held to be true is one indicator that cognitive preferences are less prone to the irrationality stemming from Cartesian isolation. It follows that in institutionalized contexts of knowledge production it is apposite to speak of a Meadian collective mind, given the greater likelihood that preferences will be mutually adjusted in order to fit a consensus. Indeed, Fuller goes on to suggest that this might explain the normative psychology in such contexts as driven by a cognitive preference for scepticism, which prefers never having lost, to the alternative of fallibilism, which runs the greater risk of squandering resources. In other words, scepticism in the fish-scale differs from that in the brainvat in that it is less liable to go over to the latter’s extremes of irrationality because rationality is more bounded by contextual constraints (Fuller 1989b [1995]: 120-127).

This distinction assists in bringing this chapter up to speed over alternatives such as some forms of social postmodernism and new historicism, the very serious failing of which is that they are incapable of making these kinds of distinctions.[96] But if my aforementioned intransitive dimension can be further opened up, it can be read more in light of the distinction Fuller has drawn in his recent work, when he refers to the role of the intellectual. For in many of such cases, Cartesian isolation is not at stake in as far as the intellectual will characteristically presume to speak on behalf of those perceived as more disempowered or oppressed than themselves. However, Fuller adds, such activity need not necessarily involve academics either (Fuller 2005b: 55); particularly in as far, I would add, that a mutual adjustment of opinions in the form of scepticism may become a prescription for timidity or conformity. This would imply a cognitive preference for fallibilism on behalf of the intellectual to the degree that their pronouncements are less swayed by fear of a license for knowledge usuage been revoked by peers. Such a sense of commitment therefore amounts to a greater willingness to adopt Popper’s dictum, “start anywhere but falsify from there” (Fuller 1989b [1995]: 117). As Fuller describes it, complaints by academics that their work has been misappropriated to suit this seemingly more impressionistic agenda of intellectuals can itself actively obscure the prerequisite that would follow on from this: only those possessing fully formed knowledge can be permitted to participate in debate, which would mean that public discourse by definition would consist entirely of experts talking to/past each other (Fuller 2005b: 137).

Of course, it would be self-refuting for Fuller to imply that academics are prevented apriori in his terms from being intellectuals, and it is in recognition of this point that my interest in his work alongside Williams can be further strengthened. For whenever I read Fuller’s various pronouncements on academia my attention almost immediately returns not only to the specific disparaging comments Williams made regarding “the scholarship ladder”[97], but also his more general reasons for doing so. What was at issue in each instance were the prospects for his lived identity as a writer and a thinker becoming the exemplary embodiment of the identity he regarded as prerequisites for a common culture. Maintaining a fidelity to such commitments therefore meant for him that a life defined by the imperatives of academe alone threatened to be a form of “authoritarian training”. It was this sense then of not belonging that prompted a search for kinship with other possibilities of community equally irreducible to a model of “romantic individualism.” It might be tempting therefore to automatically argue that Williams attempted to mediate between the two via identification as a Gramscian “organic” intellectual, were it not for the fact that the cultural materialist also expressed his reservations about the party connotations of this label. Certainly Williams agreed with Gramsci that the usage of the term “intellectual” to denote a form of activity separate from other modes of cultural production was problematic, and that organic intellectuals tend to develop the embedded assumptions of the classes to which they are attached (Williams 1981b: 215-216; Jones 2004: 152). However, he tended not to resort to this category, except when referring to relationships between intellectuals and parties at moments of radical social change (Williams 1981b: 226-227; Jones 2004: 152). Therefore, more generally, Williams downplayed any “intrinsic” definition of intellectuals for the sake of instead locating them within the complex of social relations. Of particular interest for Williams, in such a context, were the typologies of modes of cultural producer-institution relations, which he used to evaluate the degrees of congruency between relative autonomy, institutional recognition, and the reproduction of a monopolist social order (Williams 1981b: 218-219; Jones 2004: 153). In these terms, both Chapter Five’s immanent critique of avant-garde intellectual formations, and this chapter’s focus on bioglobal academic capitalism, could be used to illustrate Williams’s typology of the market asymmetry that provokes a legitimation crisis of traditional institutions. Consistent with these themes, Williams describes “the exceptional dynamism of the cultural market” as interlocking with:

…the sociological detail of the privileged cultural institutions, such as universities. These not only protect certain unsubordinated standards and procedures of cultural work, but under stress protect them differentially. They often have full effect in residual areas (e.g. classical scholarship) by the recognition of relative difference. They usually have functional effect in dominant areas (e.g. applied science) where internal standards and procedures can be accepted as the conditions of effective service. But quite often they have minimal or even negative effect in emergent areas (e.g. critical sociology) where the conditions of privilege may be threatened by their practice, and where the received “standards” can even be invoked against new interests and procedures. This often leads to complex sectoral formations within these institutions, as in our own time in the universities (Williams 1981b: 225).

I think it unlikely that one will ever encounter a more concise and prescient summation of the challenges faced by today’s critical sociologists, such as Fuller, who, like Williams before him, are interested in doing more than following the example of the natural sciences’s reproduction of the conditions of “effective service” required for a complete capitalist transformation of the university (Fuller 1999). If I have laboured the point perhaps a little too much at the conclusion of this chapter on complexity and knowledge integration then, it is only in the interest of consolidating the role of situated knowledges in contrast to alternatives such as the fish-scale model of omniscience and supervenience (which, as I have argued, assorted new historicists and cultural studies scholars have already started accommodating themselves to). Those readers more familiar with some of the sociological debates in Australian academic circles may be surprised that I have not devoted any sustained attention to some of the other postulated alternatives to critical intellectuals, such as for instance a performative and “passionate” sociology dedicated to “deconstructing the social” through emphasis on “the body” and “play” (Game and Metcalfe 1996). My reasons however for not engaging too closely with such material is that the differences from my favoured approach have already emerged for the most part elsewhere through discussion of comparable strategies. Consequently I will spend little time reproducing them here, suffice it to add that the realist/constructivist nexus has the advantage that while it too is a materialist theory of knowledge, which need not imply a naïve investment in an overtly discursive approach, it does not in turn collapse into nominalism.

It might be said then that Game and Metcalfe are very strong in their critique of what they describe as the terrible desire for “pure knowledge”, drawing attention [in a manner that Williams and Fuller might also have understood] as they do through a semiotic reading to the power relations symbolized in graduation ceremonies; with the student ascending the stage to tip the mortarboard to the academic, and thereby, albeit momentarily, gaining parity (Game and Metcalfe 1996: 14). They are equally frank in their admission that as sociologists working at a university, it would be untenable for them to posit a non-ordered form of sociological knowledge. Therefore what is more at stake for them are the possibilities for different orderings of sociological knowledge (Game and Metcalfe 1996: 25).

In the very opening pages of this thesis, I referenced this “different ordering” as amounting, according to Crook’s evaluation, to a postmodern nominalism of the body (0.1: 2). By way of contrast, I have placed greater faith in the orientation of sociological knowledge by particular ethical problematiques. In the Introduction I suggested that Gouldner captured such possibilities as dependent upon a capacity to be both critical and evaluative, and I have sought to emphasize the sociological dimensions of Williams’s project in such terms through reference to a conjoining of realism/constructivism. At stake, as is particularly obvious in my treatment of this theme in this chapter, are the possibilities for nurturing a developmental logic opening out beyond the purview of the self-regulation of disciplines by academics. In contrast, Game and Metcalfe appear to offer a more internalist angle of vision: pure knowledge may be damaging, but its effects can be moderated by reforming teaching practices to emphasis the construction by students of personal narratives based on affective individualism (Game and Metcalfe 1996). In light of Fuller’s earlier comments, it becomes more difficult to read such a strategy as not somehow related to the coyness following on from having previously experienced fallibilism first hand. Indeed, Milner in effect suggests that the restricted agenda of many so-called “specific intellectuals” is probably attributable to the unrealized hopes of a once more expansive social program (in Game’s case, Althusserianism; Milner 1991: 99). To protest against such charges though by claiming ‘it is not helpful to evoke guilty self-interest amongst those who have “made it”, perhaps does little other than, “attest to the presence of a distinctly neo-utilitarian element in both post-structuralism and postmodernism” (Milner 1991: 102-103). Furthermore, as was demonstrated in Chapter Five, the same might also be said of the corporate fictions produced by new historicists. Indeed, Thomas is very forthcoming in these terms:

…we should not forget that for the most part those who published on literature and the marketplace were professional success stories…a particular generation’s very local historical situation made various complicated relationships between literary studies and economic and social conditions obvious avenues to explore (Thomas 1991: 20).

If some implications of the breadth of the situatedness presumed by constrained constructivism can be extrapolated from this discussion then, they have to do with how in the final analysis such a critique of omniscience remains hospitable to the ethical roles played by universal/critical intellectuals. Some precedents can be cited here. In his critique of “social constructionism as social psychosis” for example, Craib (Craib 1997a) was forthcoming in his admission that any presumption of a totalizing dismissal of omniscience in itself presumed an impossible omniscient viewpoint. His tactic to avoid this self-refuting posture was to argue that his reliance on psychoanalytical modes of analysis was therefore best understood as merely metaphorical. But on the basis of what I have argued in this chapter, it also seems possible and perhaps more desirable as well that constructivism can facilitate something other than the urging of reflexive modesty. Fuller might accordingly be regarded as meeting this problem of “ignorance squared” in a more robust fashion. Afterall, he reasons, even if the impossibility of omniscience offered some grounds for acknowledging Hayek’s critique regarding the ignorance of central planners, this is not sufficient justification in itself for recourse to the market as the only viable discovery procedure. For by the same standard of proof, how could the critical/universal intellectual be ultimately certain that their ideals will not be realized? Indeed, once these contingent grounds for action are acknowledged, it is quite legitimate for Fuller to conclude, “[L] ogic can provide a counsel of hope as well as resignation in matters of intellectual policy” (Fuller 2005b: 140-141).

So, rather than abandon the possibility of a normative psychology, social epistemology proceeds instead by offering some compelling reasons as to why the choice finally is not between the unrealistic dreaming rationality of something approximating Pierre Laplace’s famous omniscient demon presiding over a clockwork universe, and a realistic nightmare irrationality (Gigerenzer, Todd, and the ABC Research Group 1999). For cultural materialism specifically and sociology more generally, this need not become a matter of omniscient claims to epistemic superiority legitimating an objectivistic social science, or an arbitrary choice from pluralistic alternatives. The cognitive constructivist approach therefore offers a reminder that there is another mediated form of bounded rationality that decisively moves beyond the internalist discussions of academic disciplines and the binary opposition it presumes. Receptiveness to demands from the larger society place the university in an important position that can affect the evolution of social discourse; a change in the nature of the “fish”, to redeploy Campbell’s metaphor.

To phrase this matter somewhat differently, supercomplexity remains a possibility because the creative engagements of the knowledge user with their object are mediated by what Strydom has described as “a triple contingency”; the end product of which is the realist/constructivist nexus. One can read in Styrdom’s account the basis for further critique of the “neo-utilitarian” prejudices Milner discerned in his negative assessment of the impoverished ambitions of specific intellectuals, or scholastic “gnosticism”, in Fuller’s terms (Fuller 2005b: 166):

Unlike semiology, which views the sign as a dyadic structure, semiotics of Peircean origin proceeds from the assumption of the sign as a threefold process in which a mediated relationship is maintained among the sign or linguistic system, the object or reality referred to and the interpretation community. By contrast with structuralist semiology, semiotics keeps this dialectical process in focus and thus does not exclude the iconic but expressly seeks to account for the way in which the immediate qualities of experience act as mediating signs - Peirce‘s icon or iconic sign (Strydom 1999a: 64).

Consistent with the momentum of both this chapter and the foregrounding of the importance of his conception in Chapter Five (5.4: 197-205), Strydom identifies this triple contingency as providing the intransitive dimension for the axial rotation into the final and most altruistic of the three problematiques I shall be considering: the viability of the political order. The Conclusion provides a forum to assess its mediatory function in relation to the other two problematiques that have been discussed up until this point.


7.1 The future viability of the political order

If the nature of the fish has started to mutate, it is almost time to bring together the matching ideal of universitas with the more widely encompassing sense of what, following Williams, might be called a “common culture”. Increasing complexity, a need for an integrated theory of creativity - all of this has been relayed thus far with a flurry of keystrokes. If this Conclusion is, as it should be, the pinnacle of my argument, then the combined weight of these other elements must be involved in pushing the evolution of [triple] contingency toward something other than the mutations of a serialistic bioglobal culture. But there is no simple straightforward path available to accomplish this goal once it is accepted that in a situation of contingent supercomplexity, universitas can no longer refer to an underlying structure or idea (Delanty 2001b: 67).

If one pauses to reflect for a moment on how Williams has been used to shine light into some dark corners of this thesis, then it quickly becomes apparent how this definition of universitas could appear a little underwhelming in the face of his commitment to “the long revolution.” But before specifying the nature of this potential clash in the final part of this opening section, allow me to firstly to set out some of the democratic strengths that have been laid at the door of this aforementioned ideal of universitas. If the focus on knowledge integration in the previous chapter is to be read in such terms, one can imagine Habermas, for example, regarding Wallerstein’s faith in the holism of the sciences of complexity as misplaced, to say nothing of Game and Metcalfe’s critique of “pure knowledges”, inasmuch as they all overestimate the potential of scholarship, or “cognitive rationality”, to provide “an integrative self-understanding of the corporative body of the university” (Habermas 1987: 123 cited in Delanty 2001b: 68). It is true that Wallerstein and his associates also advocate some mild institutional reform, principally that professors should hold chairs in different faculties in order to help heal the division of academic labour, but the adequacy of such measures must be questioned (Wallerstein 1996: 104).

The space for an alternative understanding of the university has been considerably broadened by Habermas, and it is possible to detect some sympathy in the discussion of other writers such as Friese and Wagner, who elucidate “the other space of the university” (Friese and Wagner 1998). In their estimate, any exclusive focus on institutional reform is hampered by offering choices strictly in terms of three forms of guardianship, or regulation; which include the market reforms, thereby dissolving the distinction between basic and applied science (particularly visible I have argued in the development of biotechnology); the relative impartiality of the state; peer review or governance (largely dependent upon the securing of autonomy through the state). By this point much of the danger of the first of these should be apparent, and no attempt has been made to naively downplay its influence. But Stanley’s acerbic commentary from the Introduction regarding academic reproduction, [no less than the commentary in the previous chapter with respect to Williams and Fuller], is suggestive of how peer review, or self-regulation, creates its own pernicious forms of natural selection. It becomes easier then to appreciate the cogency of Wagner and Friese’s reminder that in spite of the unity of teaching and research obtaining in the time of his writing, von Humboldt was fully aware that academic autonomy had largely defined itself by the exclusion of Jews, women, and other minority groups. Stanley (Stanley 2000) suggests that more subtle exclusions are at work in the present day, but it would be wrong in light of a long historical legacy to regard such instances as unique aberrations (Friese and Wagner 1998: 28-29).

Given these associated limitations, which they regard as being as old as the idea of the university itself, Wagner and Friese become more interested in recovering that other space of the university that can equally lay claim to its heritage (Friese and Wagner 1998: 30). Like Habermas and Gadamer (Gadamer 1992) before them, the implication of their argument is that universitas transcends any form of institutional regulation, because (unity) emerges from the experience of openness. What the turn to complexity can offer in this respect is an understanding of democracy as communication (Delanty 2001b: 70). To the extent that this form of openness exists in the university it too, as Lefort has described democracy, is an empty space because it can never be fully, permanently occupied by power: procedural rules legitimating contestation and opposition secure this transitional space. If democracy disincarnates society, its effect on the university is similar as pertains to those three agencies of external regulation Wagner and Friese identify. As a product of modernity then, the university shares with society the maintenance of an exteriority from itself that permits quasi-reflection upon itself: a distinction between the symbolic and the real that effaces the figure but not the dimension of the Other. While this may be read in part as a normative rehabilitation of Lacanian theory, it deserves to be equally understood as a refusal on the level of political theory of positivism, which would entail identification and the granting of causal efficacy to a “real process” such as technological progress (Lefort 1988: 224). I have argued that the latter is something the theoreticians of seriality are wont to do. My preferred reading of democratic “supercomplexity” qualifies the circularity that would equate the university with bioglobalism[98], because such arguments fail to maintain the distinction between the symbolic and the real. Here then is Lefort’s provocative formulation of democracy as universitas:

We must of course be careful not to project this externality on to the real; if we did so it would no longer have any meaning for society. It would be more accurate to say that power makes a gesture towards something outside, and that it defines itself in terms of an outside. Whatever its form, it always refers to the same enigma: that of an internal-external articulation, of a division which institutes a common space, of a break which establishes relations, of a movement of the externalization of the social which goes hand in hand with its internalization (Lefort 1988: 225).

A preparedness to take Lefort seriously can offer some grounds for believing the university will continue to play a significant role in shaping biotechnology into “humanized” forms of citizenship. As Delanty argues, the continuing importance of university based expertise in this field is a sure sign that industry, market forces and technology do not necessarily have all of the bargaining power on their side (Delanty 2001b: 158). If it is to take place, the recovery of the cosmopolitan project for the university may increasingly involve forms of technological citizenship taking the form of a “new social contract of complexity”. The minimal requirements here would denote two things significant for provision of a normative framework for democratizing risk policy and technology policy, which in effect greatly augment Feenberg’s [aforementioned] “instrumentalization theory”:

(i) Within the context of a technologically complex society, a compact among people holding different levels of knowledge.

(ii) The form of relationships humans hold with complex technologies, and even with “complexity” itself; Frankenfeld chooses complexity over expertise as the object of his desired social compact because he rightfully regards it as prior to expertise and more basic, referring here to recombinant DNA amongst other things, “the complexity of complex hazards creates the conditions for differential expertise, experts, and political inequality” (Frankenfeld 1992: 477).

As any realization of these requirements is an empirical matter, they are raised here only as part of a possible future research agenda, the potentiality of which is yet to be determined. However, some discussion is warranted with respect to the linkages Frankenfeld seeks to overcome between differential expertise and inequality. In this respect, what is of most consequence in this social contract of complexity is a vindication of discursive democracy, where science courts or consensus conferences are working examples of technological citizenship as a form of deliberative democracy. Most important for Frankenfeld, and other writers on technological citizenship such as Zimmerman (Zimmerman 1998) is that citizens exercise their autonomy through a scepticism about expertise, which Frankenfeld describes as “the civic ethos of critical trust” (Frankenfeld 1992: 475). Unlike the convening of Public Understanding of Science workshops, the mediation of triple contingency does not reserve a privileged role for academics as the mediators educating and delivering to the lay public from “on high” completed forms of knowledge. Rather, it becomes the case that academic knowledge producers themselves and members of the public alike, (a broad cross-section, not only those most directly impacted by the technologies in question), endeavour to cooperatively integrate knowledge practices through dialogue, critical interrogation and reconstruction. There is no question then in these forums of either special dispensation for client relationships between knowledge producers and users or the privileging of special interest groups on the basis of being most directly affected by the technologies in question (Fuller 2001a). The democratic inclusiveness involved appears compelling inasfar as it realizes a spirit of universitas whereby knowledge amounts to more than information (Elam and Bertilson 2003).

By stressing the importance of a general space of communication operating at such local levels, in conjunction with cosmopolitan public spheres that contextualize and engage with the structural violent side-effects of science at global levels[99], a decisive move away from the ethical imperatives of Weber’s “Science As Vocation” is also strongly implied. It seems fitting to momentarily return to Weber to consolidate this assessment of the democratic strengths of universitas in part because my Introduction commenced by wondering along with him whether sociology was isomorphic with the endurance of certain problematiques. I also raised his legacy in the context of discussion in Chapter One of Feenberg’s hermeneutic dimension as crucial for capturing the duality of the latter’s instrumentalization theory. With the benefit of hindsight, a closer examination here can help make the case why I have ultimately placed my own position closer to that of Feenberg rather than relying solely on Weber’s ethical guidelines. Afterall, when all else has been said and done, Weber’s conception of politics as vocation remains a hierarchical one, in that the activities of the specialist operating from within a differentiated value sphere were ultimately supervenient to a superior authority, a leading statesman. Having cathected soulcraft to statecraft, in what amounted to a reimagining of Machiavelli’s Prince, the statesman, for Weber, stood at the helm of the ship of state, hand securely resting on the wheel of history. At one level a weakness of this approach is that it passes responsibility up the bureaucratic chain of command, which hardly seems adequate for engaging the politics of modern technoscience, such as biotechnology, given that moral, technical and political strands are so closely interwoven. However, appearances to the contrary, and therefore unlike his lecture on science, Weber’s “Politics As Vocation” does not restrict responsibility to the narrow purview of a professional discipline. The tensions arising between an ethics of absolute ends and an ethic of responsibility were seemingly not expressed by him in a language other than vocation, and yet Weber writes of the ethic of responsibility, “that everyone of us who is not spiritually dead must realize the possibility of finding himself at sometime in that position” (Weber 1919: 127). The potential integration of science with various global forms of violence that I have been discussing implies that taking up Weber’s challenge means that responsibility is to be found in the cracks between specialized roles; indeed, in the universitas of a shared human interdependence, with all the mortality that this entails (Thorpe 2004: 79).

At least, such is the conclusion Thorpe reaches in his meditation on the relative merits of Weber’s ethics for prosecuting the case of science’s relation to violence. The endurance of this problematique is clearly not so remote from the challenge seriality presents to the ideal of a shared human interdependence as it has been presented in this thesis[100]. But if this relation can be taken even further in this Conclusion when contemplating technological citizenship, it is because of the intransitive dimension of the public sphere. My own development of an integrated model of creativity set sail in Chapter Three with reference to Kurasawa as capturing the dual responsibility of exercising the subjective dimension of ethical conduct alongside the practising of communicative action with others in the context of normatively informed social environments. The implication was that this creative duality would place Kurasawa closer to Williams than Weber. For if Thorpe is aligning Weber more exclusively within the bounds of subjective conduct, an implied relative neglect of normatively informed social environments lends credence to Vandenberghe’s related charge that Weber did not really introduce the democratic principle as a fourth type of legitimation. Regarded less as a normative principle than a subtype of charismatic legitimation, Vandenberghe is able to conclude that Weber reduced democracy to a pragmatic mechanism for the election of a leader. To wit, “he threw the democratic baby out with the liberal bathwater” (Vandenberghe 1998: 6).

Having rotated the nexus into its final altruistic form, I should have by definition bypassed this potential danger. This much should be clear by now and is one indicator of the progress of my argument. At the same time, certain problematiques indissociable from the theorization of modernity remain, and in this sense attestify to what a cumulative sociological knowledge base can consist of. In other words, to imply breaking with Weber on one level is by the same token to reaffirm something approximating his notion of Verstehen on another. Such is the manner by which the foregrounding of Weber in the Introduction continues to serve as a lightning rod for the double imaginary signification I later imported [by way of Wagner] to orientate each stage of my research.

On the basis of this evidence, having come so far, scope for more progress can open up around these conjoined features of the sociological imagination. In particular I have in mind how a changing of the bathwater whilst retaining the democratic baby can assist in clarifying why the role of the responsible sociologist becomes more than a mere technical adjutant when thinking through the implications of technological citizenship. In these more expansive terms, the sociologist can and should propound a cognitive model that, as presented by Delanty, Fuller and Strydom, among others, also remains affirmative of Bauman’s depiction of a role as interpreters rather than legislators (Bauman 1987). The mediatory function of sociology’s cognitive models therefore supplements, rather than replaces, the integrative role of science courts, in that the testing of models of global responsibility may take place within such local public spheres. There can be little questioning the worthiness of the democratic accountability which the proceduralist character of such knowledge integration facilitates. As Strydom suggests, nothing less is at stake in the struggle over the definition of technoscience than the capacity to vindicate the existence of a cultural rather than a biosociety (Strydom 2002b: 141).

By this statement, Strydom is proposing that a cultural politics can open a critical space by constructing alternative cognitive models through discourse. What this involves is the tying together into the final problematique to be examined, (i.e.the future viability of the political order), of two elements: a temporal dimension (‘the future’), and a critique of representation (‘alternative cognitive models’). One can understand the ethical attainment of technological citizenship as facilitated by the mechanisms to which Strydom refers. Technological citizenship would therefore be the apotheosis of the articulation of contexts of discovery and justification towards which this thesis has gradually been working. However, there is something else which remains to be done. As I mentioned at the beginning of this Conclusion, something of a conceptual clash between this ideal of universitas and Williams’ project might be identified. To clarify this point, I will move beyond Weber’s [aforementioned] deficit by reaching back instead to some of the deconstructive imperatives adopted from Joas’ age of contingency in Chapter Two. Accordingly the structure of the argument will take the form of a spiral by deepening the temporal and cognitive aspects Strydom alludes to through a deconstructive lens. Once this has been done, the final part of the Conclusion can reconvene this opening stage, by situating the ideal of a common culture as a means of affirming the existence of a cultural as opposed to a biocultural society. But if this is something that comes about as a somewhat qualified ‘deconstructive’ gesture broadly assenting to the imperatives of Joas, then the question demanding an answer is ‘what qualifies its character as such?’ The spiral will therefore take shape to a significant degree by comparing and contrasting the temporal and cognitive priorities of Derrida’s work with the cultural materialism of Raymond Williams. One of the chief difficulties here is intelligibly relating the kind of empty democratic space to which Lefort alludes with the imaginary presuppositions of socialism, as a form of universitas. It would seem that the future hope of socialism is transmitted as a messianic promise, whilst the threat of an apocalyptic bioglobal dystopia presents as a condition of post-histoire. While united in their faith to the first ideal in opposition to the second possibility, the most significant tensions accrue around the means by which Derrida and Williams manage the tensions between the temporal occupations of an empty space (i.e. universitas; which cannot refer to an underlying structure or idea), with the substantive reality of those [Marxist] policies that will facilitate redistributions of social power. If the allusions in Chapter Two to a potential “cabinet of horrors”[101] are to be brought to center stage, now is the time to do it. But of course, given the projected spiral-like structure of this Conclusion, further recasting of earlier parts of the thesis are still required [i.e. in addition to the final revisiting of Weber’s legacy in this section] in order to contextualize the points I wish to make regarding Williams and Derrida.

7.2 Cultural materialism: responding to bioglobalism as “Plan X”

What I wish to reaffirm then is that the success of sociology in realizing technological citizenship overall necessitates a three-pronged approach. To my mind, Williams is a model thinker instructive in precisely this regard. In all the territory canvassed in this thesis, it would be feasible to map different aspects of Williams’s cultural materialist project.[102] Here then is less an exegesis of Williams’s cultural materialism for its own sake and more a convenient capsule summation of the integrated theory of the creativity of action that I have built up in successive chapters. It would be fruitful in this context to read Williams’s project as parallelling Wagner’s problematiques of modernity and thereby building on the premises of Feenberg’s instrumentalization theory. Of course, the combined weight of the following points should also be seen as working hand in glove with Chapter Five’s summation of Williams’s method of immanent critique (5.5: 213):

(i) For situated knowledges; a lynchpin for the problem of knowledge integration, wherein reference can be made to Williams’s extensive foregrounding of his own experience as a critical intellectual (Chapter Six).

(ii) For contingency against technological determinism in order to recover the social from the ravages of neoliberalism. It follows that if technoscience has no inherent propensity toward instrumental rationality, it can be controlled. In these terms, Williams’s concern with speed, mobility, power and technology was not, as Pinkney has convincingly argued, “in the forces or sites of production, nor in their dynamic products” but rather with the complex circuits of dissemination and retrieval of the democratic process itself (Pinkney 1989: 31).

(iii) A sociology of culture; capturing Williams’s, (and Gouldner’s), janus-faced character of sociological investigation as both critical and evaluative, means that sociology is a radical realist-constructivist project i.e. it is not a discourse about ethics, but a form of ethical discourse, conjoined to a commitment to formulate explanatory accounts of the world which are also better able to change it (cf Osborne 1998).

Of course, if the corpus of Williams’s work and a complete summation of all that I have tried to develop in this thesis is to achieve any kind of coherence, each of the aspects adumbrated in the above list demand to be read together. Full justice to such a reading cannot be done here. What can be afforded, however, are some observations on the degree to which cultural materialism might potentially encompass the issues accruing around universitas and socialism in a manner to be distinguished from both Habermas and Giddens. With respect to Seltzer’s new historicism, a more general point can be made regarding imaginary presuppositions and disincarnation. In each and every case, flagging some possible future directions by revisiting these figures allows me to demonstrate some necessary reconstructive conclusions arising from my contemplation of violence as a byproduct of a contingent modernity.

In order to set the tone for this discussion, another reading of Habermas can demonstrate his motivation in recent years to take up some of these related issues through an attempt to assuage the objections of deconstructionists, who are fearful of the consequences of a universal ethos of tolerance that may obscure the particular needs of subordinate groups. Habermas responds by arguing that the cosmopolitan ideal serves a critical role in that it cannot be equated with globalization per se or an ideal of world government; on the contrary, for him, the prospect of public spheres operating at multiple national and transnational levels and coming into contact potentially sets into train critical transformations. He therefore wishes to clarify that a democratic community means that no privileged agent is able to set the boundaries of tolerance from their own preferences and value-orientations, so that:

…from this example we can also learn that the straight deconstruction of the concept of tolerance falls into a trap, since the constitutional state contradicts precisely the premise from which the paternalistic sense of the traditional concept of “tolerance” derives (Habermas and Borradori 2003: 41).

As a direct consequence of this formulation, what arguably becomes tributary however from both a cultural materialist and any more recognizably deconstructive perspective is concern for the materialization of bodies through the interdependence of symbolic and material constraint (cf Cheah 1996). It is in anticipation of expansion on this interrelatedness that reference could be made to aspects of Fuller’s “social epistemology”, where knowledge is treated as materially embodied as commodity, as in cultural materialism, through the intentional structuring of the relationship between social agents in an exchange. As Remedios in sententious and exegetical mode describes social epistemology, ‘the “content” of a text is simply an embodiment - and ultimately a “reification” - of that relationship, which structures the ways people relate to each other’ (Remedios 2003: 20). Social epistemology and cultural materialism might thus be able to gain further leverage on Cheah’s deconstructive imperatives, as what he says regarding Butler’s limitations may be construed as holding equally for Habermas, inasfar as both have comparatively, “little to say about scenarios of contestation where the constraints on and enabling conditions for the resignification of identity are primarily material rather than discursive, economic rather than ideational” (Cheah 1996: 134). In these terms it may be possible to see Habermas stopping short at the point of Lefort’s democratic

“disincarnation” of the Other.

Of course, if any such a blindspot exists, it can be expected, as highlighting it here begins to draw my argument full circle. Afterall, in the very first chapter the foundations were laid for reconciliation between theories of modernity and science and techology on the basis that communication is dependent upon the existence of common objects to debate. Broadly speaking, the adoption of a post-Kantian perspective on this basis becomes detectable in not only that explicitly named as deconstruction, but also in Mead’s pragmatism. One can see Fuller’s social epistemology extending the conceptualization of knowledge as a material substance, as he views its communicative exchange as underwritten by the existence of a Meadian collective mind. Futhermore, the closing stages of Chapter Two tentatively herded together Williams’s cultural materialism and the work of Archer and Mouzelis into the spotlight, in the aftermath of discussion of Strydom, Wagner and Friese’s broaching of communication around a plurality of bodily centres. The basis of these actions had to do with how their respective sociologies of culture regarded the interaction with and distribution of power resources/objects as of absolutely fundamental importance for the creativity of social actors. I shall have more to say on Williams in this respect, and this will involve, in the final passages of this Conclusion, reading Mouzelis alongside him in order to consolidate the validity of a cultural materialist perspective.

Given this background to present discussion, there may be limits as to how far any sympathetic comparison between Williams and Habermas can be pushed. There may also be limitations, in spite of any shared [broadly construed], post-Kantian sympathies between cultural materialism and deconstruction. These too will be critically scrutinised in this Conclusion. Be this as it may, some assent can firstly be given to the manner in which Williams might have being able to problematize, in principle, certain aspects of Habermas’s perspective. Here I would want to argue that Williams’s mature cultural materialism developed in a more acute form than Habermas an awareness of how at some point democratic pluralism eventually runs up against its own “imaginary presuppositions”, and this may be the most telling limitation to broaching the comparison. McLennan has more generally attempted to pinpoint in some comparable terms a clash between democratic disincarnation and the imaginary presuppositions, or, if one prefers, the central organizing tenets, of socialism as well. The basis of his concern is that the representational premises of modernist radicalism ultimately require normative collectivism and methodological holism (McLennan 1995: 93). It can reasonably be surmised that it was an awareness of these inherent limitations, or rather dangers, which may have proven decisive for Williams’s argument, in his essay entitled, “You’re a Marxist, Aren’t You?” that as a matter of principle and practice a parliamentary perspective should be retained, but was not sufficient unto itself to secure the long revolution (Williams 1989b: 75).

If one pauses though to consider the rationale behind Habermas’s stance, his possible evaluation of Williams’s loyalty to this particular resource of hope is none too difficult to imagine. Habermas’s thought has evolved commensurate with his intuition that the complexity of modern societies means that the tensions between integration and differentiation cannot simply be made to disappear in accordance with the realization of a utopia based upon organized labour. It therefore follows, as is evident from his comments on the constitutional state [above], that Habermas now no longer views matters in terms of a dualism between lifeworld and system. This is to say, he allows for the possibility of a mediation of conflict through the medium of communication. In his view, democracy can therefore play an indispensable role in alleviating the facticity of law as distorted by social power, by making it more accountable as a normative system (Habermas 1996: 459; Delanty 1999: 92-93).

Returning to Williams, I have furnished evidence that some comparable arguments about the relation of democracy to the discursive role of institutions can be found in his work. It is my view that in choosing to also cast his gaze beyond these horizons Williams does not necessarily become vulnerable to Habermas’s intuitions about integration and differentiation. This becomes more obvious once allowance is made for the complexity of the cultural materialist’s position in a sense other than is implied by the generalizations to be found in the related [i.e. more to Habermas] characterizations by McLennan regarding normative collectivism and methodological holism. For the problem with Habermas from a cultural materialist perspective is that his arguments do not presuppose a perspective on creativity. Williams did not wish to invest solely in a parliamentary perspective because he must have sensed something comparable to Joas’s reservations regarding Habermas: namely, that recourse to the normative force of the legal system is something best approached as a safety net, or fallback position, rather than as a generative principle, most especially if those values are to be reproduced which ‘can protect us from the wrong use of “safety nets” (Joas 2000: 185; Fuller 1996). In drawing a comparison at different times between Williams and Joas, I have conveyed this impression through demonstration that the genesis of values is a creative discovery procedure, which must account for how the good becomes articulated to the right. Were this to be incorporated into his social theory, Habermas would not have to make too many unreasonable concessions to the strong contextualism/constructionist critiques of some deconstructionists[103]. But this will remain difficult so long as he continues to be unable to conceive of any universalistic ethics [i.e. “the good”], which results in the tendency in his work to instead reify the normative [i.e. “the right”] (Joas 2000: 184-186). As a consequence, it is in all probability more likely that the theory of cultural innovation in the work of Williams and Joas can only send Habermas tumbling down a slippery slope; unable to come to grips with its conceptual significance in light of his preoccupation with a solely political focus (Delanty 1999: 98).

In the case of Williams specifically, it was his emphasis on structures of feeling that secured his firmer grip on the creative slope. In the greater part of what remains of this Conclusion, I would like to further elaborate on the importance of these structures of feeling as lying in their complication of the commonly assumed tension between democractic disincarnation and the imaginary suppositions of socialism. I therefore offer something less than the promise of a fully realized model of transnational governance from a cultural materialist perspective to combat bioglobalism. My argument settles instead for the suggestion that the cultural transformation of identities implied by structures of feeling could in principle offer a theoretical linkage to the work of others, such as Delanty, who have turned to Joas as a corrective to the aforementioned deficit in Habermas’s work:

[T] his would entail a focus on…developments associated with postmodernity and globalization [which] force us to rethink the normative and cognitive categories of occidental modernity (emphasis mine) (Delanty 1999: 98).

Structures of feeling may accordingly prove themselves an important part of such a rethinking, as they too can confound any efforts to reduce Delanty’s stated cultural imaginary presuppositions to a narrow political level. The correlate of such a characterization is that Williams was equally unwilling to merely align representation with dystopia (read “apocalypse”). Some evidence of the continuity of problematiques is discernible following this discussion of Habermas if one is also prepared to imagine Williams’s reaction to select (more) contemporary sociological discourses, which seem replete with dystopian overtones, in accordance with their absence of any viable theorization of cultural mediation. In such cases, cultural innovation is effectively erazed, as what is unknown must be managed as threatening, as risk. Here is where Giddens can reenter the picture given that his thesis of reflexive modernisation presupposes a particular orientation to the future that bears little relation to the resources of hope Williams was more interested in cultivating.

With this background to Williams, it consequently becomes feasible to see not only bioglobalism, but also by extension a world risk society, to say nothing of the current waging of a so-called “war on terror” [sic], as variants of the dystopian “Plan X” scenario he firmly believed should be prevented from colonizing the future. At stake for him in this instance was the viability of an undesirable futurological politics articulated to a militarized rhetoric of strategic advantage by self-conscious elites, in which “X” denotes, “a willed and deliberate unknown, in which the only defining factor is advantage” (Williams 1983b: 244). In any case, for Williams the upshot of Plan X is that politics and planning become reduced to forms of crisis management, an acceptance of permanent danger, (for Beck, read “risk”), attributable to the instrumental role of “high-capital advanced technologies”, amongst other decisive factors (Williams 1983: 247). Therefore it is imperative for him that a more robust futurological politics is able to respond, and in his view a socialism accommodative to the “more rational” moral resources of the new social movements is the best option for ensuring this. In light of these remarkably prescient comments, originally made in 1983, it seems, at best, strange and somewhat disappointing that they have not entered at all into the debates about “reflexive modernization” (which subsequently became sociology’s “hot issue”, or “next big thing”, throughout the course of the 1990’s).[104]

There are, I think, at least two ways in which Williams could in theory respond to the actuarial mentality of Giddens et al. Giddens distinguishes the “manufactured” character of risk as following from a post-nature order, where fate was lived as danger. It is this situation, he argues, that fosters our preoccupation with controlling the future and of which the maintenance of ontological security is expressive (Giddens 1996). It is also conceivable, however, that Plan X bioglobalism may be a logical extension of this ethos.

Crosscutting criminological and biotechnological discourses therefore are technocratic forms of risk management, the operating premise of which will logically entail that no overtly dramatic transformations can take place in the spatio-temporal ordering of late modernity, lest any calamitous effects on ontological security are to be avoided. Critics of structuration theory such as Thrift have focused in these terms on the Giddens version as struggling to remain conceptually consistent: in that Giddens wishes to separate his work from functionalism, while at the same time the effect of the routinization of social practices must be the “stifling [of] conflict and creativity” (Thrift 1985 [1997]: 136). Williams however, would have been inclined to take a broader and more progressive view. For the cultural materialist, reading culture as process within a distinct social order would have led rather to an emphasis on how the manufactured nature of risk was contested as part of a struggle for social legitimacy. Predating the risk discourse then by a considerable period of time, the existence of the more constructivist “folk devil” paradigm, in addition to other more critical currrents within criminology, can be construed as having demonstrated the degree to which law and order, or “ontological security”, can function as an ideology for cultural values constituted by society, that may themselves be criminogenic (cf Smith 1999). What is to be found here then in the first instance is ratification of Joas’s expressed reservations about Habermas’s recourse to the socially integrative functioning of law as a “safety net” which I have discussed [above] in relation to Williams.

The second lesson for narrowly system-orientated thinking, of which Seltzer’s new historicism is also a notable example, has to do with its tacit retention of the classical and bourgeois roots of tragedy. Against such conformity, Williams endeavoured to rearticulate tragedy to the more common categorization of “mere suffering” or “accident”. Tragedy was, in Williams’s estimate, closely associated with ethical control and human agency, and these were precisely the qualities he believed were becoming abstracted from understandings of social order (Williams 1966: 46-54). In Chapter Five I demonstrated how the successor to Williams’s ethical project, the new historcism, responded in a negative way by refusing to consolidate a model of tragedy. In the writings of Seltzer in particular, one can, in cultural materialist terms, witness instead a growing abstraction as the category of accident is attributed to an autopoietic technological process. In other words, in new historicism, as perhaps for much of the risk discourse emanating from reflexive modernization theory as well, the alienation implicit in any diminishment of tragedy is in effect disregarded.

Cultural materialism is thus necessarily less interested in the provision of security maintenance in the sense understood by Giddens, than with the possibilities of overcoming much of the tragedy that exists in the world today. While it would be grossly unfair to ignore the attention Giddens has paid to life politics as a means of shaping the experience of risk, in the final section of this Conclusion some demonstrable shortcomings in this aspect of his work can be unfavourably contrasted with Williams’s cultural materialism. On this basis there is ample justification for concentrating along with Williams on the relationship between socialism and democracy. If Williams demonstrates an interest in complexity then in the sense in which I have been using it, it registers in the altered time and spatial coordinates of revolution he regards as responsive to his theme of tragedy.

Thus, he argued that:

The antithesis of nature to the mind, ‘as object to subject’, we now know to be false, yet so much of our thinking is based on it that to grasp the substantial unity, the sense of a whole process, is to begin a long and difficult revolution in the mind. (Williams 1961: 39).

Likewise in his 1982 New Foreword to Culture and Society, Williams expressed enthusiasm for the “ecological” modes of complexity theory, which had garnered considerable momentum in the years since original publication in 1958 (Wheeler 1997). There is thus considerable continuity in Williams’s project, as culture remained for him a pattern of communication. Indeed, in The Long Revolution, after citing a [n anonymous] biologist to the effect that each species maintains “a rhythmic building by alternation of organization and disorder”, Williams identifies the distinctiveness of this process for human creativity as residing in the process of learning and relearning, facilitated by the complexity and power of communication systems (Williams 1961: 38):

Thus our descriptions of our experience come to compose a network of relationships, and all our communication systems, including the arts, are literally parts of our social organization…the process of communication is in fact the process of community: the sharing of common meanings, and thence common activities and purposes; the offering, reception and comparison of new meanings, leading to the tensions and achievements of growth and change (Williams 1961: 55)

Further to this, some commentators have speculated that the railway signalman’s son intuitively understood the significance of networks as residing in the demonstration that “even those places which are based upon geographical propinquity depend upon diverse mobilities” (Urry 2001: 14). This aspect of his work in principle complicates any efforts to view Williams as nostalgic for a homeostatic model of community of little value for thinking through the effects of globalization: a charge inconsistent with his apparent awareness of the diverse forms of travel, which connected community to other places. Fittingly this theme was to become central to his novel Border Country (Williams 1960) (Pinkney, 1991: 49; Cresswell, 1997: 373).[105]

To anticipate somewhat then, if Williams ultimately resisted the temptation to render the apocalypse banal, a fate which has in turn arguably befallen much postmodern thinking on related matters, it was largely owing to his more differentiated grounding of developmental processes. Thus in Modern Tragedy, he could be construed as mobilizing the complexity theme against the currents of post-histoire thinking:

A more adequate understanding of both natural and cultural evolution would have made so mechanical and unilinear a model untenable, for it would have emphasized both variation and creativity and thus a more genuinely open and (in the full sense) revolutionary future (Williams 1966: 70).

7.3 Post-histoire; the advent of apocalypse

Given what has preceded this point of discussion, it is entirely consistent that the characteristics of variation and creativity Williams alludes to here can to some considerable degree be related to the kind of creative action theory I have tried to present in terms of modernity as an age of contingency. Read in these terms, contingency might bear comparison with Nietzsche’s endorsement of eternal recurrence, at least in the more superficial sense it is taken to mean a principled opposition to both the ideas of determinism or mechanism, (read “modernization theory”), and eternal novelty (read “modernity”). For Nietzsche, considerable irony consisted then in the confounding of putative anti-teleologism in the latter, through the smuggling back in of intention and goal. Inasmuch as the universe has to avoid any final state, what is resurrected as a consequence is, “the old beloved, infinite, boundlessly creative God” (Nietzsche 1967: 547).

Eternal recurrence would thus sit fairly comfortably with the contingent nature of evolution, as opposed to evolutionism, that has been referred to. What follows though is not just a recapitulation, but more a reworking of many background themes, before Williams is better able to re-enter the fray. My suggestion is that his conception of structures of feeling bears comparison to this recurrent contingency, and that his method was associated with a critique of representation. However, given that this Conclusion has been building gradually through a critical distinction of Williams from Habermas, Giddens and Seltzer, the reference here to to a “superficial” comparison to Nietzsche’s conception of contingency can serve as a means to begin foregrounding some points of comparison and contrast with a more avowedly deconstructive perspective. So, prior to settling down to the task of making the specific contrasts more explicit, it will help to set the scene by foregrounding some of Derrida’s critical investments in contingency and representation.

In other words, some further background may be required so as to establish Williams’s distinctive contribution. Afterall, at least since Nietzsche onward, many critiques of representation have posited that to symbolize is in effect a form of violence because the future is “murdered” in advance before it can occur. Such associations appear apposite though only to the extent that death becomes a synecdoche for the spatialization of time, with “eternity” signifying a perpetual present (Goldsmith 1993: 43). In many anthropological studies for example, such a characterization constitutes a universal, as attestified by the significance attributed to the elaborate codification of burial rites across all cultures.[106] What is disturbing about post-histoire discourses then, of which postmodernism and posthumanism are merely two of the most prominent and specific examples, and to which I will be contrasting Williams’ position, is that their decisive and irreversible ontological sense of completion parallels the rites of internment by speaking to a profoundly ahistorical apocalyptic drive (cf Jay 1994). Thus it may hardly be coincidental that critiques of representation draw much of their impetus from the fact that “apocalypse” is etymologically descended from the Greek apokalupsis, which was in turn a translation of the Hebrew word gala (to unveil Jahweh’s glory), and can therefore be defined as the unveiling of transcendent truth, a divine revelation of the shape of things to come. It is also the case that for the epigones of post-histoire discourse, messianic themes are both recurrent and contiguous given the inheritance of Saint John the Divine’s apocalyptic book of the New Testament, where an angel is the harbinger of a terrestrial New Jerusalem, and the marriage of Christ to the Lamb of God (Keep 2004; Heller 1993: 69).

Particularly in his earlier writings, Derrida clearly attempts to undermine such straightforward pronouncements equating symbolization with death (or what he regards as oftentimes erroneously perceived to be the same thing, apocalypse; Derrida 1982; 1984; 1989; 1992; 1993). For him, of course, it is the case rather that textuality is constituted by the irreducible time/space interval of différance. So, for the apocalypse to occur, it would have to take the form of something like a nuclear annihilation of symbolization, (“the entire archive”); which is to say, for Derrida, the very possibility, or “trace”, of the human itself. The “second death” is the preferred term Lacan uses to describe this end of symbolization tout court, which he sought to distinguish from the “first death”, as the (conventional) funerary symbolization of biological death. As for Derrida, Lacan came to regard the second death as a more threatening possibility with the development of nuclear warfare (Žižek 1991: 35). If the second death cannot be represented, one can appreciate the satirical aspects inherent in the series of films directed by George Romero for example, as his walking dead somehow impossibly close the space of the first death, which Blanchot also captured, in his likening of images to cadavers.[107] For Blanchot cadavers appear close at hand and simultaneously somewhere else because it is the interval between (visual) perception and contact with the image that constitutes experience. He could therefore assert the ontological priority to the corpse over the living person by saying that the corpse resembles itself: this is what happens when mourners come to terms with how a human relationship is no longer possible with the dearly departed; a strange, otherworldly inaccessibility begins to assert itself, which Gregg is able to summarize thus:

The cadaver is not identical to itself; it is in excess over its identity: the image/cadaver does not represent an original object/person. What it does refer to is the fissure within itself…The presence of the cadaver defines the general economy of being as “a dimension irreducible to the discretion of the here and now, of presence and absence, identity and noncontradiction. The persistence of the cadaver describes a presence of the inactual, a presence of absence” (emphasis mine) (Gregg 1994: 25).

Drawing on related aspects of deconstruction and/or psychoanalysis, with bearing on some kind of potential space structured by presence and absence[108], it might become possible to adduce a few elements of a temporal theory of trauma, which can be related to the role of the social scientist [in a bioglobal age], and perhaps even for the cultural materialist as well, as one of creative translation. From there on it should become apparent to what degree this is a central motif of my thesis.

To get at how Williams approached this imperative through his conception of structures of feeling, some aspects can be shown to have been already anticipated in my earlier discussion of psychoanlysis, as a means of further tying together this Conclusion. The important difference of course in this Conclusion, concerned as it is with the problematique of the viability of the political order, is that these psychoanalytical aspects will have to be more explicitly focused on the relationship between representation and collective agency. If this can be accomplished, then this later discussion of structures of feeling can be related back with some justification to my earlier chapters on the continuity of selfhood, scepticism, and the tragedy of culture as evidence of axial rotation into more altruistic forms. What I have in mind has to do with how the continual existence, or rather the retranslation, of tradition by definition is dependent upon the management of inheritance transmission for psychoanalysis, no less than for sociology. If this is the case then the earlier theorization of tragedy can be situated here also with respect to Freud’s temporal definition of trauma in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. This original formulation has itself in turn been suggestively reworked in a creative direction by not only Winnicott, but also by Jean Laplanche’s explication of the nachträglichkiet (“afterwardness”) that will prove useful for what I am attempting to accomplish here.

As is generally well known, Freud originally analysed the traumatic event as subject to revision in consciousness after it takes place, because a sensation or experience may recall a repressed memory (irrespective of how seemingly unrelated it may appear). In this way, the past is not simply (re) created in accordance with psychic needs or development. Nor is it a type of “storing procedure” or time lapse between stimulus and response. Noting the inexactitude of any disjuncture between the psychic economies of mourning and melancholia Freud regards as coping with loss (Freud 1917 [1984]), Laplanche apprehends that nachträglichkiet cannot be an originary time. Rather, if subjectivity operates through a mourning process, this involves continually reworking the past from the present, toward the future. In other words, what is at stake cannot be equated to apocalyptic melancholia, because the primal-awaiting-translation is an endless labour, which Laplanche describes as the creative forging of a new “world view” (Laplanche 1999: 241-56). Caruth also follows Laplanche in this regard, by reading the account in Beyond the Pleasure Principle as building on Freud’s earlier understanding of trauma as not temporally locatable within one moment, but rather the relation between two moments (Caruth 1996:133). This means that the trauma:

…as it emerges in Freud and is passed on through other trauma narratives, does not simply represent the violence of a collision but also conveys the impact of its very incomprehensibility. What returns to haunt the victim, these stories tell us, is not only the reality of the violent event but also the reality of the way that its violence has not yet been fully known (Caruth 1996: 6).

Unable to be assimilated into the subject’s consciousness, the repetition of the trauma signifies that it has not yet become an object of knowledge. The performative dimension at work in such instances opens up the future through an ethics of historical transmission which, as Caruth has it, implies that the witnessing of the trauma cannot take place in the individual at all. If not a “cure” then, at least a “witnessing” may become possible for future generations. In this sense, Berger is correct when he argues that the trauma can be mapped to other critical vocabularies that problematize representation by defining its limits, which might include not only the apocalyptic, but also the sublime and the sacred. In short, “the event or object that destabilizes language and demands a vocabulary and syntax in some sense incommensurable with what went before” (Berger 1997: 573). I want to suggest further to this that it is the degrees of messianic hesitation surrounding this destabilization, which are somewhat the crux of the matter as pertains to thinking the degrees of “openness” of the future, be they “witnessing” or potentially more “curative” properties.[109]

In any case, enough groundwork should have been laid already in Chapter Five to suggest how this might involve contesting the premises of Seltzer’s new historicism, as trauma for him consists in how the subject retroactively represents, or bends to selfreference, events, be they real or imagined. Crucially then, and as I have demonstrated, his claim is that the trauma is culturally facilitated by the hegemonic “containment thesis” of psychoanalysis, that posits the existence of the subject prior to representation. Hence the following consequences according to Seltzer: the personality of the serialist, to the extent that it can be said to exist at all, is traumatized by the representations of the wound culture, captured by space, and thus forever compulsively driven to return to “the scene of the crime”. There is however seemingly nothing in the psychoanalytic literature of nachträglichkiet to support the approximation of the containment thesis. It appears rather to be the case that fantasy is not used as an escape vector from the horrors of time, but rather as a means of constructing it as a respite from traumatic repetition (Žižek 1997: 10-11). If this is so then it is not the blankly obscene, or vertiginous availability of representation, of “atrocity exhibitions”, that finally throws the subject into trauma, but rather the sheer contingency of that unknowable future anterior which resists it. Building thus on the insights of Laplanche, Caruth, and Berger, anxiety, the condition of unknowability, will struggle to be converted into a more manageable state of fear. By extension, omnsicience is the product of a faulty perception of experience, which stems from the conviction that the conversion, or translation, of the trauma can ever be (definitively) sublated.

Lest the critical disavowal of Seltzer appear churlish however, or itself symptomatic of some kind of traumatic repetition, further justification is required for resurrecting him in the present context. His work is instructive then inasmuch as it reveals the conventions of the post-histoire genre to which I am drawing a critical contrast in terms of a capacity for creative translation. Afterall, Seltzer’s account of “substitution manias” jibes well with other elements of post-modern thinking such as Baudrillard’s, which presents the apotheosis of capitalism as social totality in the form of a mega-machine with no transversal points of exteriority. What takes place here, according to Baudrillard, is not the transvaluation, but rather the commutation of all values. Under late-capitalism, if reality and representation are no longer distinguishable, the result is that, “the whole [social] system becomes weightless; it is no longer anything but a giant simulacrum: not unreal, but a simulacrum, never again exchanging for what is real, but exchanging in itself, in an uninterrupted circuit without reference or circumference”. Hence for Baudrillard the “murderous capacity of images” under simulation is opposed to representation because their power undercuts the critical capacity to identify false representation: the equivalence of the sign as real thereby transmutes into a general principle of equivalence which negates the function of the sign as value (Baudrillard 1983: 152; Baudrillard 1996). Human agency implodes into the blackhole of “the masses”, and thereafter is cast adrift in “the cool universe of digitality” (Baudrillard 1983: 52).

In other words, the dominance of the signifier in Baudrillard’s writings heralds the emergence of a radical semiurgy in which there can be no criterion of value once the involution of all spheres has taken place. However, Lefebvre had already anticipated the essence of Baudrillard’s totalizing conclusions, by pointing [pace the Situationists] towards the diminishment of adventure as an escape vector, due to the programming of everyday life by the capitalist spectacle. He therefore dispassionately regarded popular fascination with atrocity exhibitions as a failed attempt to inaugurate a new cycle of prohibition and transgression, by momentarily halting the flux of signifiers:

Eroticism is obsessive nowadays, though this obsession only superficially reflects an intensification of virility (or femininity) and a greater aptitude for sexual pleasure. We see it rather as a symptom of the obverse, a lack of virility and femininity, frigidity, not overcome but self-conscious, and a demand for compensations. The cult of Eros denotes a desire to restore former interdictions so that transgressions - investing erotic acts with a lost significance - become possible; whence the impressive [sic] number of collective rapes and sadistic or masochistic rituals (Lefebvre 1971: 84).

Even Fukuyama, otherwise perhaps the most enthusiastic purveyor of the posthistoire theme, expresses some concerns comparable to Lefebvre. Whilst bereft of Lefebvre’s ostensible orientation as a critical theorist, Fukuyama fears living in a perpetual present could work to the detriment of masculinity’s traditional Hegelian quest for the recognition of its achievements, instead bringing about the easy satisfactions of Nietzsche’s “last men” (Fukuyama 1992: 300-312). This is one of the potential threats of “the posthuman” biotechnologies he later also regarded as an indirect outcome of the end of history (Fukuyama 2001: 155). Again, there are echoes of Baudrillard’s argument here, as for Baudrillard the posthuman is complicit with the posthistoire, and henceforth a ludic sexuality wherby, "after the orgy comes the time of transvestism. After jouissance (sexual pleasure), comes the artifice. After the reign of desire and sexual difference comes the triumph of a medley of all erotic simulacra, topsy-turvy. It is a transsexual kitsch in all its glory" (Baudrillard 1992: 20).

With these qualifiers in place, if any continuity of problematiques remain sufficient to warrant ascription of a “tradition”, they have to do with Gane’s examination of French social theory from Comte to Baudrillard, where thinking the present from the point of view of a radical future is a common occurrence. Gane wonders though whether a SaintSimonian “problematic”[110], organized around resistance to anomie, poverty and exploitation is any longer adequate when hypertelic forms of “fetishistic individualism” and “extreme phenomena” have come to the fore (Gane 2003: 190).

The important factor to be emphasized in light of this however is that the design proposal of this thesis has been more attentive to Wagner’s insistence on the special character of the social sciences as pertaining to inescapability and attainability. This requires that theoretical fiat alone cannot provide guidance on how to interpret and respond to specific problematic situations (Wagner 2001: 132).

7.4 Translating the future: structures of feeling and/or catachreses?

By definition, post-histoire discourses can only offer slim resources for continuation of the Saint Simonian problematic Gane refers to. Looking at Baudrillard for instance, it becomes apparent how for him no true or false needs can be posited, no point of contradiction or difference identified and articulated. Or at least this was more strictly the case up until his writings of the 1990’s, when a subtle shift in tone is suddenly detectable. The kernel of a sentimental, residual humanism starts to assert itself, through Baudrillard’s insistence that “a perfectly autonomous world” may never transpire because it would be undermined by “the dangerous imperfections” of human beings, in combination with the “evil genius for dysfunctions, electronic viruses and other perverse effects” (Baudrillard 1998: 24). However, imperfectability for Baudrillard, true to form, is here less a synomyn for any recognizable action dynamic, than the merely accidental and highly abstract biological unruliness of the human itself.[111]

To hold too strongly to either postmodernism or (a diluted) realism in the manner the evolution of Baudrillard’s thought implies however evidently presents insurmountable difficulties. As Osborne has succinctly argued, both converge at the point of paradoxically foundering a “shared fideism” that there is a crisis in Western reason. The attendant difficulties in these cases become intransigent because they assimilate reason and representation to the model of rationalism; resulting in the apperceptive seriality this thesis has subjected to critical examination (Osborne 1998: 194).

The alternative that has been presented here is the action dynamics of creativity. In these terms it becomes possible to establish some fertile crossover points. From this perspective the hermeneutics of suspicion from the tradition of the great masters Marx, Nietzsche and Freud has to be transcended with a hermeneutics of affirmation. Instead of fetishsizing the social knowledge's falsifying content, as per the equation of representation with apocalypse, what have to be unravelled is its hidden potentialities "for a positive symbolizing project.” It is on these grounds that Williams is closer to Castoriadis and Benjamin, for example, than he is to deconstruction in the more formal sense Balkin identifies[112].

By acknowledging that cultures consist of dominant, residual and emergent forms, (discourses and practices),[113] Williams clarified how “structures of feeling” exist in relation to the hegemonic languages of modernity. Given that there were thus traces of continuity, structures of feeling could not simply be recovered or “reproduced”. In Benjamin’s terms, (and also for Derrida as well), this means that any metaphorical correlation of the textual and the genetic is irreducible to living beings producing and using texts, which would suggest a continuous translation of the vital into the textual. Rather, the structure of feeling is an indicator that the “translation” survives the original. Or, in the terms of complexity theory, the conditions of possibility of these subordinate structures of feeling are the translation between symbolic systems (Johnson 1993: 196):

…anyone who has carefully observed his [sic] own practice of writing eventually finds that…what is being written, while not separate from him, is not only him either, and…this other force is literary form (Williams 1989: 86).

In this way Williams was cognizant of the ability of form to detract from the ability of language to articulate the specificity of experience. His cultural materialism was thus driven to explicate those as yet inchoate social forms for the structuring of experience. It followed that for him these were not comparable to the structural homologies of the sociology of literature promulgated by Lucien Goldmann’s “genetic structuralism”. By structures of feeling then, Williams developed an alternative perspective on inheritance as the byproduct of a selective tradition, through the lens of his critical ethics of historical transmission. It is telling then to what degree Hall, for example, fails to appreciate the crucial analytical depth of this formulation, when he attacks the “experiential paradigm” for reducing structural causality to a synchronic [read “serial”] level. He proceeds in this manner by claiming that temporal simultaneity equates to an equal causal significance of explanation that is consequently ill suited to accounting for the diachronic sequencing of the institutional orders of social totalities (Hall 1989: 62-63). The problem of course with this critique, is that it does not appreciate that by “structures of feeling” Williams was referring to a process of nascent totalities (Filmer 2003: 212). Surprisingly, a related inadequate grasping of this significant difference can also be found among even his most sympathetic commentators. Milner, for instance, goes some way toward suggesting that structures of feeling are the pre-emergent moment of hegemony, “the distinctly Gramscian reformulation of the notion”, albeit with the minor qualifier, “that hegemony as a concept does not sufficiently acknowledge the elements of thinking and feeling that are paradoxically wrought up in the reproduction of common sense” (Milner 1994: 55 cited in Filmer 2003: 214).

In cases such as these, an eagerness to formally codify betrays the significance Williams attached to attainability by distinguishing literature and ideology, in terms of writing and practice. Here, and this would be somewhat the crux of the matter, it becomes possible to identify the theme of creativity in cultural materialism as generating more light than heat for the problems of contingency and violence that have been explored in this thesis. In the most limited sense, experience only equates to a synchronic [or “self present”] authenticity in existentialist accounts of creativity. In cases such as these, autonomy becomes an attempt to free the self from causality. Hence the legacy of the existential privileging of murder as the realization of “the Absurd”, the gratuitousness and “creativity” of which consists in its senseless nature (Kern 2004: 59-61). Refuting this legacy does not however have to inexorably lead to a pre-determination of agency. But nor need the ontological weighting of Giddens’s structuration theory automatically be evoked to fill the vacuum. For in the case of structuration theory, one is forced to think subjectivity in terms of an objectivistic (Joas 1993: 183) conception of time[114] that remains quite alien to Williams’s own orientation to structures of feeling. Afterall, for the calculative subjectivity presupposed by structuration theory, what exists outside the purview of “everyday” [sic] routine is risky and must therefore be expunged from “practical” consciousness.

To my mind, the temporal/spatial disjuncture urged into awareness by Williams’s writings speaks more directly to the creative aspirations of experience foregrounded, (as I have tried to demonstrate), albeit in varying ways, in the work of Winnicott and Mead[115]. Moreover, this is for the simple reason that the concept of “structures of feeling” preserves the productive tension arising from the interplay between self-identity and personal identity. Where this is absent, it can be said that violence is a restricted form of creativity. Suffice to say, something vital about all of this vanishes when select post-structural critics (falsely) accuse a comparatively dull, plodding Williams of peddling a naïve and dated humanism, incapable of accounting for the fragmented ego which they are more inclined to hypostatize, or rather, reify, as the dominant structure of feeling. Undoubtedly this was the primary reason Williams remained vigilant in distancing himself from those he famously chided as “the new conformists”- for whom oftentimes, and unsurprisingly, “postmodern” conditions were invoked as sufficient warrant for the emergence of the aforementioned fragmented ego (Higgins 1995: 135).

Where then might complexity theory serve as a necessary supplement to a cultural materialism already demonstrably capable of making some fine distinctions? Certain parallels are suggestive for a cultural materialist in understanding culture as process in communicative terms. It follows that from complexity theory could be derived a probabilistic notion of creativity - in these terms, practising (or “enacting”) its autonomy becomes a contingent accomplishment able to rekindle a qualified conception of “progress”. But I would go somewhat further by suggesting that the “complexity” in this particular case furnishes the deconstructive complementarity principle of Williams’s realist/constructivist nexus. Indeed, it might even be said that that the latter presumes and is presumed by the former. Integral as they are then to cognitive processes, discursive figures intervene, shape and direct the ways of knowing and doing practices (Botting 2003: 354).

But complexity strictly read in its own abstract terms ultimately parts company with cultural materialism where its cybernetic analysis of cultural and literary forms equates the latter with the radically different, “the noise of culture” which generates more complexity (Paulson 1988: 99).[116] From a cultural materialist perspective, such formulations run the risk of conflating the task of the creative translation of literary form with the complexification of metaphor as catachresis (Botting 2003: 354). The genealogy of new historicism I have offered is therefore merely one indicator of how this can be contextualized with respect to Foucault’s earlier work. Consider again The Order of Things, where Foucault had argued that the sciences had demoted language to the status of an object transparent to thought. Foucault suggests that, as compensation, literature came to define itself “wholly in reference to the pure act of writing” (Foucault 1970: 297 cited in Botting 2003: 354). The Order of Things is really a useful reference point for the proponents of bioglobalism as an apocalyptic discourse then because all of them, in some sense or other, could be understood as suggesting that a cultural crisis takes place once such separations of language are no longer possible. If translation survives the original, then metaphor cannot be accorded a foundational status with reference to an original property or meaning. Any efforts to corral appropriate usuage will thus be doomed to fail. Paul de Man’s account of how the reflexive figuration of language can lead to unexpected places, “Epistemology as Metaphor”, may thereby be retrospectively read in a new light: although he is not explicitly referencing bioglobalism, some intersecting points are discernible if one holds to the logic of his argument as consequential for challenging the separation of science and literature on the basis of language:

[S]omething monstrous lurks in the most innocent of catachreses: when one speaks of the legs of a table or the face of a mountain, catachresis is already turning into prosopopeia, and one begins to perceive a world of potential ghosts or monsters (de Man 1996: 42 cited in Botting 2003: 355).

Of course prosopeia, the logic of substitution, (or “paraphilias”, in the context of erotic relations), undergirds the kind of “wild analogism” Seltzer discerns in “the pathological public sphere”. Hence catechresis can be understood as a metaphor of metaphor, a signifier without referent. Acknowledging it in any serious way means that a diagnosis of the sovereignty of the code, or the civilization of the gene, will face challenges at a level at which it would appear certain analysis, such as Scott F.Gilbert’s for instance, cannot hope to fully appreciate, owing to the presuppostion that genetics remains one of the most structuralist discourses at work in universities. Which is to say, the strength of such oppositions is contravened by their failure to take language seriously enough[117]. It is more telling then [as preparation for drawing a contrast with Williams] how Derrida attempts to meet this challenge head on, after recognizing that a potential civilization of the gene in effect means it becomes possible to do the apocalypse differently, or more “inventively” than he had perhaps hitherto imagined possible. For how challenging to the post-histoire theme can the promise of the future as always potentially “monstrous” be, most especially if and when monsters themselves become biotechnologically designed and programmable as pets, in accordance with language doubling to the fullest possible extent - namely, metaphorical analogy slipping into ontology? (Derrida 1992: 386) Afterall, as Baudrillard would have it, such domestication speaks to the re-coding of catachreses into a precession of simulacra (Baudrillard 1994).

It will be recalled that these concerns relate back to the kinds of functionalist circular causality raised in Chapter Five. Elsewhere though in Bauman’s writings, the existence of [comparable to Baudrillard and Derrida’s] “disorderly orderly” processions is more explicitly regarded as typifying the management of strangers through the alternation technique of “proteophobia”. Strangeness thereby becomes a case of a bad infinity, as Bauman turns to Levi-Strauss’s classic work of anthropology, Tristes tropiques (1974), in order to distinguish two means by which societies constitute themselves by cognitively mapping their relations to strangers.

What is to be admired here, and used as justification for reinvoking some of these points at such a late stage of proceedings, is the manner in which they may be able to logically consolidate the manner in which Chapter Five followed on the tail end of Chapter Four’s discussion of Laing’s “oral self” (along with speculations by a forensic specialist on the historical similarity between vampirism and seriality). Thus, in noting a difference, (which need not imply inferiority), Bauman describes how Levi-Strauss identified a “primitive” strategy as “anthropophagic”. This strategy operates by devouring the mysterious forces of strangers in an attempt to control their power. The anthropophagic strategy is thereby contrasted with the anthropoemic one, (the Greek etymology of the term is derived from “to vomit”), which Levi-Strauss believed to predominate in modern societies. The emphasis on exclusion, confinement, and surveillance in the writings of authors such as Foucault, for example, according to Bauman, details the disciplinary power of the anthropoemic strategy. In assessing Levi-Strauss’s considerable legacy, Bauman also disabuses the reader of the impression that such a distinction holds between “historically successive types of societies” (Bauman 1996: 163).

In place of the opposition, Bauman instead proposes that every society, including our own, applies in parallel, or substitutes if you prefer, both strategies across every stratum. The immutable paradoxes of the monstrous stranger come about through the recycling and waste disposal of the two strategies of cognitive mapping, and are therefore not readily amenable to any decisive resolution:

The administration of social space does not eliminate proteophobia; neither is it meant to. It uses proteophobia as its main resource, and willingly or inadvertently, but constantly, replenishes its stocks. To control the processes of social spacing means to shift the foci of proteophobia, to select the objects on which proteophobic sentiments are targeted and then to expose such objects to the alternation of phagic and emic strategies (Bauman 1996: 165).

Bauman’s sociological acuity again proves itself logically compatible with Seltzer’s attention to the management techniques of biopower (and thereby further justifying my pairing of these two theorists together in Chapter Five). Those wishing to break this circuit may pessimistically conclude that sociology and new historicism alone are seemingly blunt instruments without the deconstructive supplement of triple contingency which I attempted to put to work in Chapters Five and Six. It should be noted though that this claim would itself presume to ignore the alternative “circuit breaker” more generally found in anthropological studies, in which anthropophagic themes, along with other extreme phenomenon such as sexual orgies, are viewed as indicators of primordialism, whereby a society descends to a form where its classificatory structures begin to break down and intermix. The expectation follows that from out of this “creative” process something new may then emerge (Sharrett 1984: 265).

However, the more deconstructive imperatives of my discussion of contingency have defined themselves in some measure against pronouncements of dystopia/apocalypse, in a manner also suggesting a creative process not quite as straight forward as is implied by Sharrett’s more anthropological position. Therefore I regard it as more appropriate to foreground the characteristics of a critical non-regenerative dystopia. More generally, what differs in this vital sense from the alternative, (i.e. a non-critical regenerative dystopia), are characteristics which are essentially secular (historical) and bereft of any millenial ideals. In simpler terms, this would mean holding to the distinction that while it may be the case that all millenarian systems of belief will be apocalyptic, not all-apocalyptic thought need be millenarian. For the critical non-regenerative dystopia specifically, more than a simple transition to a “perfect society” is deemed necessary; on the contrary, a break in the continuum of history is both the permanent element of structural possibility and that which cannot be fully anticipated.

What I will argue in the next section therefore is that it is in acknowledgement of this point that both the greatest points of comparison and contrast between Williams and Derrida are discernible. In other words, neither of these thinkers is anticipating the dramatic regenerative rites of some of their contemporaries [i.e. in the manner described by Sharrett] as an escape route from a post-historical condition, with all of its associated proteophobic strategies. At stake therefore is the best means of critically coming to grips with the infernal machine responsible for such dystopian possibilities, the continual existence of which appears to be predicated upon moribund theories[118]. This much may be clear by now given the contextualization of Baudrillard, and earlier, other writers such as Virilio. If so, I can now turn to a discussion in earnest of cultural materialism and deconstruction.

7.5 Futurological politics: between inescapability & attainability

As befitting a Conclusion, there are some intimations in the above imperative that appear to bear comparison with Joas’ framing of deconstruction in relation to the contingency of violence in the twentieth century, which was introduced in Chapter Two. The argument held that it is incumbent upon us to make our analysis more definite, while at the same time leaving these responses open for further articulation. Subsequent to this, indicators were offered via Wagner’s analysis of the role of the social sciences in relation to modernity, that this dual responsibility circumscribed a horizon of expectation. Even further back, in the introductory pages of the thesis, these complementary positions were already anticipated by the dual optic of being critical and evaluative that emerged in a discussion of Levine and Gouldner. If these are the criteria for what is reasonable for disciplinary purposes, it is hoped that my own analysis has consistently remained in accord with them.

Although this implies that every ending is of course really just another beginnning, this “final” part of my argument remains bound to some degree by conventions and so must still necessarily proceed by attempting to apply these standards in the hope of ascertaining some of the formal conditions of a critical non-regenerative dystopia. Given the presumed deconstructive element at work in such instances, and Derrida’s [above] expressed aversion to the proteophobic management of “monsters”, it is now appropriate to gauge his response as herein may be found some grounds for establishing the distinctiveness of Williams’ project by comparison. Derrida’s response then would appear to be twofold, and might be construed with some justification as, to paraphrase McLennan, “the trumpeting of différance hitting some very odd notes” (McLennan 1995: 95). Further to his interest in retaining the “truly” monstrous as separate, [because unexpected] from the “normally” monstrous, Derrida attempts to perform a deconstructive rescue operation upon Marxism, in response to proclamations of its death by the acolytes of post-histoire. Could it be then that, for Derrida at least, [deconstructive] catechreses/translation risks appearing insufficient to jam the circuits of inheritance transmission in contemporary capitalism, without more explicitly forging such an alliance? I strategically raise these issues here less for the sake of presenting Derrida, in this instance, as a man of straw, through the issuing of decrees on the Marxist inheritance. Apart from smacking of hubris, such a claim would also be logically inconsistent with the theme of attainability. It appears more legitimate henceforth to argue in terms of the varying degrees in the latitude of the attainability presumed by Derrida’s messianic conception of time, in comparison with “the long revolution” as Williams intended it.

For Derrida then, Marx's critique in The German Ideology of Stirner's egoism, which had operated on the supposition of the "unfreedom" of labour under capitalism, must be circumvented. Derrida’s claim is that Marx’s critique sanctioned the positing of “unfree labour” as a totalitarian essence to fill in the ghost/void of the "unique" ego, which Marx, along with actually existing communism, had feared. Derrida therefore claims that Marx would have done better by following Stirner in emptying out the void, rather than using an essence to fill it (Derrida 1994: 30). However, before assuming the Stirnerian task in earnest, Derrida is more forthcoming in his agreement with Marx’s basic point that the “technological body” of capitalism functions through a process of “spectralization” which continuously disestablishes the concept of “the human”. From the deconstructionist perspective though, Marx’s ontology of difference (human/machine, revolutionary/ideological, bourgeois/proletarian), becomes problematical inasmuch as it is premised on a metaphysics of productivism wherein “the future” realizes the necessity of “socialized production” (Abbinnett 2000: 101).

As Joas’s [earlier] “deconstruction” of modernization theory has shown, questioning necessity in these terms is what contingency is all about. Williams may have viewed such an assessment as equally applicable to those species of Marxism, which do not open up a genuinely creative, revolutionary future. The Long Revolution suggests in some ways that Williams was an early precursor of complexity thinking, but finally, how far should this be taken, and what might some of its effects be? Williams evidently resisted the abstraction of complexity into an avant-garde formalism, by tying it explicitly to the democratic processes of a common culture. Deconstruction in principle though cannot be tied to any specific ethics or political programme (Bennington 2000:16). Its defenders such as Lucy characteristically present this aspect as one of (methodo) logical consistency, in opposition to the logocentric prejudice that, “how thought is used justifies how thinking is done, since what matters in knowledge formation is the political effects (speech) rather than the professional practices (writing)” (Lucy 1995: 96). But such conceptual rigour also demands that any postulation of a purely disinterested knowledge is logocentric as well, because knowledge can always be exploited as a resource by practical interests, such as the military industry, whose:

…research programs have to encompass the entire field of information, the stockpiling of knowledge, the workings of all semiotic systems, translation, coding and decoding, the play of presence and absence, hermeneutics, semantics, structural and generative linguistics, pragmatics, rhetoric (Derrida 1983: 13 cited in Lucy 1995: 88).

Irrespective then of the plausibility or otherwise of deconstruction’s being tied to any specific ethics or politics, Derrida in turn evokes a certain messianic conception of justice to elucidate his conception of a democracy to come that goes some way toward responding to these related issues. Additionally, it is obvious that aspects of Lefort’s thinking could be brought to bear here as well, as Derrida is trying to stress why justice requires that the symbolic and the real can never be contemporaneously assimilated one unto the other. Certainly, the impossibility of attaining distributive social justice under the depredations of present day capitalism is a salient reminder of why this must be so, while at the same time Derrida is attempting to free the imperative from its association with doctrinaire communism (Derrida 1994: 56).

The deconstructionist is therefore generally unwilling to assimilate demands for justice and democracy to something fixed in the manner of Kantian regulative ideals. Albeit bereft of the nomenclature of deconstruction, Gershom Scholem’s account of the tradition of Jewish messianism is suggestive for thinking these demands in terms of the incalculability of the messiah’s advent: Scholem views messianism’s greatest strength and its weakness as residing in its being an energy that, while it can never burn out, can also never be fulfilled. This can only mean learning to adjust to “a life lived in deferment, in which nothing can be done definitively, nothing can be irrevocably accomplished” (Scholem 1971: 35). Perhaps in this regard Derrida’s conception of justice could almost be situated with respect to the “baroque” sensibilities of trauma, apocalypse and the sublime, inasfar as they too remain unrepresentable and unreachable, they become characterized by their melancholic nature. Such comparisons must be somewhat qualified here however in order to be mindful of Derrida’s own stated position that:

[I]t is not a question of a messianism that one could easily translate in Judaeo-Christian or Islamic terms, but rather of a messianic structure that belongs to all language…I have no tolerance for those who - deconstructionist or not - are ironical with regard to the grand discourse of emancipation (Derrida 1996b: 82).

In principle one imagines many cultural materialists would concur with Derrida on this latter point at least. But the outstanding verdict pertains to his moves from the principle to specific proposals for making good on the promise of justice. Some comparison from a cultural materialist perspective may help to settle this vexed question of “how much can still be done?” The emphasis here will be that tragedy, and its associated melancholic structure of feeling, can help to galvanize a positive symbolic creative transformation. It has also been suggested that the dynamics of capitalism in a bioglobal age have benefitted from the retranslation of the artistic critique of alienation into new network forms. Indeed, “spectralization” may be a manifestation of catachresis taken to its logical extreme in an era of bioglobalism. As a consequence of capitalism’s moving towards total commodification with increasingly less mediation, this has been described in the tradition of earlier critical theory, and also for Baudrillard’s postmodernism, as becoming inclusive of its own ideological legitimation. I think that Williams sensed the defeatism inhering in such a gloomy prognosis, however, quite early on, which is why he developed his sociology of culture. If Derrida in this instance is also deserving of any critique then, it has much to do with a comparatively impoverished ambition, wherein he universalizes money as capital in the interest of an emancipatory desire to convert exchange value into use value. Although writing from a more orthodox Marxist position than Williams, Bedggood is critically attentive to the scope of Derrida’s “new International” for such reasons:

To extend Spivak's (Spivak 1995) critique further, Derrida's discourse on the “new world disorder” reduces to a critique of unequal exchange -- not of labour values but of money "values" or prices as determined by the market. This means that insofar as "exploitation" exists it results from individuals buying commodities cheap and selling them dear. Equitable consumption then becomes a matter of caveat emptor. This reduces ideologically to performativity as "market choice" similar to that of Hayek or the "negative freedom" of Berlin (Bedggood 1999).

Such a line of critique could be extended further, as [to reiterate] my purpose here is not to single out Derrida as a special case. Why this may be so becomes clearer in light of the earlier critiques that were made of aspects of Haraway’s writing, especially given that they are themselves influenced by deconstruction. For what else is the cyborg option if not the product of the spectralization Derrida foregrounds as constitutive of the logic of capital? In relation to this question hesitation becomes discernible around some important aspects of Haraway’s proclaimed socialist feminism. Or as Jones has more generally assessed the recurring problem in the cultural studies genre, the problem remains one of “method” (Jones 2004: 18-24). In an earlier critique, this was shown as consequential for Haraway’s version of constrained constructivism; thence Hattiangadi’s critical articulation of “technique” can be used interchangeably with “method” as deployed by Jones (6.6: 247).

Taking a moment therefore to more directly address Haraway’s socialist feminism, evidently she struggles to defend the retention of partial identities, so that the theory of surplus labour value, for example, is not essentialized as a historical ontological category to the exclusion of all else. Whilst recognizing then that socialism can be wilfully inattentive to the specificity of women’s oppression, Haraway strives through her sense of partial identitites to leave the possibility open of say, a (female) professor identifying with the working class. The outstanding problem however, which is where Hattiangadi’s and Jones’s lines of critique persuasively diverge, is that at no stage in her writings does Haraway appear to have squarely faced up to the practical issues involved in the exploration of “all kinds of linguistic possibilities for politics” which shape her practice of “modest witnessing”.[119] This is especially strange in light of the fact that attending to such issues would appear to be crucial for the kind of coalitional stance she is adopting, because, to borrow some relevant terms from Giddens, it presumes the articulation of “life chances” and “life politics”.

Further to this, it would involve, for the cultural materialist, the relation of technoscience to other forms of communication through various media. If Haraway neglects the problem of method [pace, “technique”], ultimately it may be because she prefers to speak in terms of her Manifesto, for example, as not being strategic (Penley and Ross 1991: 14). It is instead a metaphorical ironic “politics”; of a kind that cannot be separated, it seems, from the catachresis associated with bioglobality. For where Haraway is obviously sympathetic to deconstruction, putting forward the cyborg metaphor as a way out of the dualisms that have shaped our ontology (Haraway 1991: 181), Derrida, for example, regards metaphor instead as securing the privileged relationship between the human and Being; “Man alone takes pleasure in imitating…man alone learns by imitation” (Derrida 1982: 237). As Yi acutely observes, the consequences of Derrida’s reasoning for Haraway’s cyborg are that:

…the more slavishly the cyborg imitates humans, the more seriously it affects human ontology. But in doing so, it also helps keep the metaphoric relationship with humans, thus rendering human ontology inexhaustible and a cyborg ontology impossible (Yi 2004).

There is however another consequence following on that has already in part been touched on in Bartsch et al’s critique of Haraway’s attempted move from ontology to politics. In both of these senses the cyborg option remains wedded to a kind of fatalistic resignation. So when Haraway candidly admits in conversation with David Harvey to nearly having lost the capacity to imagine a world without capitalism, this reads in part as a tacit and somewhat belated acknowlegement of having underestimated the potential commodification of her cyborg utopia (Haraway and Harvey 1995: 519). Equally though, the admission is reflective of an incapacity to account for the materiality of culture itself, except as an epiphenomenon of some other such material reality.

Indeed, this would be the point at which it could be said, as noted earlier, that democracy runs up against its own imaginary presuppositions. A moment can be taken to set out the relation between the kinds of categories Giddens uses [i.e. ‘life chances politics’ and ‘life politics’] that demonstrably have some bearing on [the above] assessment of Haraway’s work. Furthermore, these categories can be seen as coinciding with the long revolution as envisioned by Williams, at the stage where he was responding to Plan X future forecasting by seizing upon the significance of ‘life politics’ (i.e. the new social movements), as vital resources of hope for his socialist objectives. So, while Derrida and Haraway would probably be in agreement that some form of resignification is required, it seems worth investigating in this context why designation as a “fully historical semiotics” was one of the more telling characterizations Williams offered of his cultural materialism (Williams 1984: 210). What follows then is a glimpse of how both this characterization, and the conjunction of the terms Giddens uses, relates to the question of “method” in cultural materialism. While at first glance this may appear to be a somewhat eclectic assemblage, it can be demonstrated that others have already begun the work of tracing some of the political lines of continuity.[120]

In a nutshell, any cultural materialist will remain disatisfied with Derrida’s clarion call for equitable consumption, however much it may otherwise be willing to acknowledge deconstruction as a necessary, if not a sufficient, condition for any Marxist politics. It should also be clear from the numerous reservations that have been expressed throughout this thesis that Giddens does not offer much of an advance in this regard either. Rather, he proceeds by calling for dialogical democracy in a spirit that weakly gestures towards Derrida’s equitable consumption, albeit masquerading as creativity in the form of a reflexive “life politics”. According to Giddens, this “democratization of democracy” goes beyond interest representation and the spread of rights, referring as it does instead, to a more generalized opening out and respect for “the other” in the spaces vacated by collectivist ideologies and tradition in the late modern context of rapid detraditionalization[121]. Giddens mobilizes this description to draw a further distinction, between “life chances” politics, (the traditional province of the Left), concerned with equality and emancipation, and a “life politics” more related to the sculpting of individual biographies and the collective challenges facing humanity, such as the ecological crisis (Giddens 1994: 90-92).

However, even if one were to hypothetically accept Giddens’s implicit suggestion that life politics is more central to late modernity than life chances politics, surely it still remains the case that this shift can still be expressed in terms of cultural rights (Giddens 1994: 92). One has only to consider the history and current situation of many subordinate groups to be reminded that the spread of cultural and other rights downwards have always been championed by the Left and opposed by the Right. It appears legitimate then on the basis of this considerable evidence for Mouzelis to argue that, contra Giddens; life politics are a form of emancipatory politics. But without the assistance of a comprehensive political economy type approach, Mouzelis suggests, Giddens cannot really explain how and why rights were distributed in a hierarchical fashion among different groups. Additionally, Giddens suggests that the state should provide some financial support for civil society organizations without absorbing them, thereby also garnering them some independence from market imperatives. But with no substantive proposals of this kind for reform of the media sphere, Giddens fails to account for its disproportionate influence upon the shaping of the reflexive project of the self, with the consequence that the potential for dialogic democracy and the greater distribution of cultural rights may become substantially inhibited (Mouzelis 2001: 447).

The alternative position advocated in this thesis has sought kinship with Williams’s idea of a “common culture”, given that while justice may always be yet to come, the interim need not exclusively settle or aim for universal use value/equitable consumption. However, it would also be quite wrong in turn to simply regard an opposition to such consumption on the basis of an axiomatic privileging of production over consumption. There is a familiar refrain of feminist cultural studies criticism, which imputes to such a hierarchical privileging the symptom of masculine agency opposing itself to feminine passivity (Ritzer, Goodman and Wiedenhoft 2001: 425). A related tack from queer theorists is to regard such aversion as embodying heteronormativity’s fear of the mass-produced commodity as a “clone”, threatening to the cherished ideal of heroic singular subjectivity (Tuhkanen 2002). However, thinking creativity/productivism in these terms alone itself appears symptomatic of a contingent ascription, as critical analysis of this problematique by way of Seltzer’s work in Chapter Five has demonstrated. Afterall, Williams’s comprehensive critique of “the mass” categorically refuses such a classification. This means that when Williams was relating his study of culture to structures of feeling, he was really referring to the latter in terms of an action theory, as opposed to simply evoking “feeling” as a behavioural reflex arc. Understood thus as a creative and, more pointedly, a critical “testing procedure” in emergent form, the ethical principles of his cultural materialism sought after an equal availability of “technological citizenship” for producers, consumers, and “legitimate” purveyors of culture.

Some qualification of the latter ascription of “legitimacy” is warranted here though, because it is closely related to the creative work Williams intended the long revolution to accomplish, and which I am attempting to mobilize in response to the possible ascendancy of bioglobalism. Again, Mouzelis in this respect might be regarded as propounding a cultural materialist position in relation to the shortcomings of Giddens’s position, thereby clarifying the adequate conditions for this “legitimacy” as ultimately dependent upon the choice of the correct method:

A necessary (but not in itself sufficient) precondition for the advance of the type of cultural emancipation that Giddens’s life politics entails is a profound restructuring, a profound democratization of ‘the means of cultural production’. It requires designing and implementing a regulative framework for reversing the growing imbalance seen in late modernity between the economic and cultural spheres. It requires mechanisms that will make it difficult, to use Bourdieu’s terminology, for economic capital to buy more or less cultural capital. It requires mechanisms that will shift the control of cultural technologies from media moguls, not necessarily to the state, but to those who all actually produce culture (artists, writers, intellectuals, philosophers), as well as those actually entitled to transmit it to the new generations (teachers, parents, priests). It requires, that is to say, mechanisms that will reverse the present drift from market economy to market society (Mouzelis 2001: 448).

Equally applicable in the practising of science, politics, criminology and other sociocultural forms, I have drawn on the structures of feeling as both topic and method in an experimental fashion, by way of a series of related problematiques analyzable in the terms Mouzelis sketches here. This Conclusion has thereby built upon the critiques of Habermas, Giddens and Seltzer advanced in its earlier chapters by suggesting that any adequate response to these problematiques could be well served by articulating itself to Williams’s project of cultural materialism, with particular reference to the importance of cultural mediation as facilitating such creativity. Of particular importance in this context is Williams’s sense of the “selective tradition” of relations between culture and society (Williams 1961: 50-71 cited in Filmer 2003: 208). This process of the control of social and cultural production, by what Filmer has appropriately referred to as, “an established order of power relations”, was not something Williams treated in monolithic terms. Filmer again phrases it well when he alludes to Williams’s conviction that “practical consciousness” instead implied a creative component, because the structuration of experience by a selective tradition was not “adequate to the volatile emergent complexity” of what was actually lived (Filmer 2003: 208; Williams 1977: 132-3). The critique of representation associated with the concept of structures of feeling thereby evokes the reality of social experiences in solution, inasfar as they have not yet achieved collective recognition and institutionalization (Filmer 2003: 216-217).

Everything Williams ever wrote on the relationship between technology and cultural forms was by extension predicated on the understanding that it was not possible to speak objectively, in the manner of a selective tradition, of a purely “factual”, “autonomous” world. Rather, it is the case that technological mediation is suggestive of how the world is transformed into a human artefact. In like terms, Hooker has argued that an artefact is “an art-i (n)-fact”, because it creatively combines fact and value in the form of a factually realized human design. All artefacts are therefore experiments that demonstrate the possible and the preferable, and this notion of the creativity of artefacts can logically be extended to encompass entire cultures as well. Thus, when I consider Williams’s legacy as a challenge to projections of a bioglobal age, Hooker’s work becomes complementary, as he is equally anxious to ensure that we humans not only undergo the experiments, but also exercise appropriate forms of control over them (Hooker 1987: 214-215). Williams offers invaluable assistance in this regard as his foregrounding of structures of feeling effectively substitutes social relations for the formalism associated with a selective tradition, in the interest of in turn stressing the imperative of making more ethical choices. It follows that this movement of Williams’s thought reconnects to the problematique examined in this chapter, the viability of the political order, because his ideal of a common culture can only be viewed as a conjecture about the structure of future possibilities. Although I will in the Epilogue undertake a more detailed analyses of some of these central themes in the work of Williams and Hooker, I can for now more generally concern myself with placing the cultural materialist’s ideal of a common culture alongside the venerable tradition of the social sciences.

7.6 [So finally] Isn’t the news terrible?

It is obviously my view that questions of inheritance in even the most highly technologically mediated forms are amenable to the testing procedure of the ethical problematiques I have highlighted, and this belief holds equally for both utopian and dystopian artefacts. This point should then quite comprehensively consolidate an excursus that commenced through reference to the sociological legacies of Levine and Gouldner, given my development of a realist/constructivist nexus that is designed to meet the latter’s conjoined expectations of the discipline being both critical and evaluative.

But if the ever expansive violence of seriality, specifically that of the serial killer, has been dimmed down in the preceding pages, an opportunity may have finally presented itself to speculate about the recurrence in the future of the problematiques that have contextualized my study. At issue therefore is the need to maintain vigilance against other possible manifestations of seriality. So, here too is nothing less than a fitting epitaph for the posthumanist claims of novelty oftentimes made on behalf of not only the omnipresent serial killer in a digital culture, but also the impending fusion of nanotechnology to the biological domain that is starting to attract more critical attention; so-called bionanotechnology [sic] which encompasses many of the serialistic effects, inclusive of the scepticism, “murdering the future” (Pagano 1999: 2), and brainvats “syndrome” which this thesis has examined. In other words, transhumanism’s faith in the renovation of the cryonically suspended through such technology evidently amounts to a selective tradition actively working to obscure the intended beneficiaries of its inheritance. As Drexler’s[122] colleague Ralph Merckle has remarked, “we need only repair the frozen brain, for the brain is the most critical and important structure in the body” (Parry 2004: 410).

The desire to bypass such burlesque visions of social inheritance forces one to look elsewhere. Thus if “the social” can somehow be understood as a metagift of creativity, it is reasonable to imagine a future coalitional knowledge politics involving sociology, law, medicine (Fuller 2004d) and the media taking place through the medium of a critical public sphere, attentive to not only the use of biotechnologies in general, but also to the cryogenic storage of tissues and cell lines in particular; the donation and biomedical research of which have so far been employed for the collective benefit of all human beings. At present, donors are assured of a meaningful “immortality” at odds with the fate of neurosuspension patients, who are uncertain of what “instantiation” they might wake up to. Indeed the “several lifetimes in which to contemplate their fate” could potentially afford all manner of unforeseeable extremes, ranging from consolation to a portal into something far worse than imaginable (Parry 2004: 412). This is clear from the residues of “existential” pathos or abject dependence attending their wager on the future, given the characteristic struggle for recognition in all non-critical regenerative techno-dystopias. If however, sociology is also concerned with what “instantiation” awaits, then it is assured of several lifetimes in which to both contemplate and promote the realization of an alternative collective fate in the form of a common culture.

Prefiguring, as this example does, “welfare” as a hallmark of the social sciences against bioliberal conceptions, implies the existence of a surplus value in social life, a kind of meta-gift, derived from an economy of collective ability rather than individual need. However, as O’Neill has clarified, it is also the case that this gift of a surplus of labour and service cannot be returned by the creation of an egalitarian society, any more than it can be liquidated by the exercise of possessive talents. Rather, in a context of inequality of need, collective talent offers a gift of civic assurances that form the rationale for the secular practices of charity (O’Neill 2001: 41). Reading Gane, the implications of the meta-gift for “doing” sociology become much clearer: theory will forever be regenerated because this demand, of doing justice to the social, cannot be resolved through “a single metaphysical frame of the Enlightenment’s grand narrative for bourgeois society” (Gane 2003: 189); hence reflection is an infinite labour, and is contextualized as such within the traditions of social thought by Goux and Wood:

…modern, postrevolutionary suspicion founded sociology as an attempt by Auguste Comte and by Marx, to remake otherwise (but how?) what political economy could only demolish. This remaking has not ended. Marcel Mauss, describing the gift in primitive societies as a total social phenomenon, or Georges Bataille meditating on sacrifice, both of them unreservedly opposed to calculable reciprocity, plainly continue the same concern, and each time it is sociology that assumes Penelope’s impossible task: to remake, to reweave what political economy…destroys and isolates by the cleavage that it introduces and the autonomization that it installs (Goux and Wood 1998: 40 cited in Gane 2003: 189).

Contextualizing this Penelope’s task with respect to the discussion of Gouldner in the Introduction, the obligation to be both critical and evaluative therefore means that while the facts social science uncovers can never be entirely value free, the exercise of striving for value neutrality is contiguous. In other words, accepting these conjoined prerequisites entails a preparedness to take onboard the inherently endless difficulties of attainment, and therefore having to live with and through impossibility. Irrespective then of how plausible it may have been for Deleuze to argue with hindsight that Foucault lost his wager on the triage of “anthropologisation”, (0.2: 8), Foucault’s later positive reassessment of his earlier description of these “human sciences” are worth recalling here. Originally arguing in negative terms that by not having their own true objects the human sciences were simulacra occupying a “meta-epistemological” position in relation to existing sciences (Foucault 1970: 348), he later came to regard this status as a strength, believing it was in this metaphysical zone that new problems of values, including human freedom, were encountered and assessed (Foucault 1984).

This example from [a post-new historicist] Foucault may also offer some kind of positive reinforcement of how the ideal of a common culture will remain the excruciated meeting point between empirical sociology and social theory, in so far as it is the product of a continual ethical labour; or rather an ethos of “enlightenment”, as Osborne [in Foucauldian mode] prefers to refer to it (Osborne 1998: 186). The contrast in this thesis between this ideal and heuristic devices such as seriality and its associated omniscience are therefore merely one means of foregrounding sociology’s responsibility to realize modernity’s potential; in the sense that this activity should be infinitely extended, this becomes coterminous with its recurrent problematization.

For sociologists then, the ideal of a common culture remains a “place” to exercise judgement in relation to questions of freedom and justice. Inescapable as an ethical problematique, and yet not structurally attainable in any direct sense, this common culture is nothing less than a complex patterning emergent in the creative process of striving to make our practices more definite, whilst leaving them open for further articulation. I wish then to also record my assent to a likeminded situating of the relation between violence and contingency that Joas (Joas 2002) views as part of an ongoing dialogue between the past and the future, conditional on the understanding that the effect of this differential trace is the inscription of a promissory note, to be translated and redeemed as a symbolic token of collective inheritance. In accordance with this taking place, it becomes more reasonable to assume that an affirmative [or even a “supercomplex”] response to Tiryakian’s provocative question, “is there a future for sociology in the bioglobal age?”, will remain a distinct possibility. Penultimately any sociological renewal in earnest of Penelope’s impossible task, and thereby the reinvention of “the social” as some kind of qualified deconstructive gesture[123], may well prove itself quite a lot to be going on with.

Epilogue: A Treatise on Method as Illustrated by the Contrasts between Seriality/Parallelism and the Realist Constructivist Nexus of a Common Culture

8.1 Society as artefact: normative questions

My Conclusion drew to a close with an insistence on the necessity of securing a common culture on the basis of an enhancement of distributed agency through processes of communication. This component of my thesis is designated as an Epilogue then in part because I wish to utilize it as a forum to summarize and build upon the kinds of method I believe might prove useful in attaining this cultural materialist objective.

When discussing the role of the university in this context, my intention is to treat its potential freedom of communication and association as related to a more general development of highly diverse public spheres, in which previously marginalized groups have been able to articulate their interests (cf. Negt and Kluge 1993 cited in Livingstone and Sawchuk 2000). The historical sociology featured in Chapter Two was but one demonstration of how this process has been highly contingent, rather than linear. The emergence of fascism in the period following Joas’s narrative is a further salient reminder of this point. One of the most disturbing things then about the “Plan X” seeking to deliver a bioglobal future is that its sense of flexibility reinvents “freedom” as a new form of control. There may be some justification therefore in arguing that postmodern discourse theory is a response to “freer conditions” in a social context structured by asymmetrically distributed relationships of power. Mayhew intimates these conditions when noting the dual possibilities confronting what he calls “the new public”:

Fragmentation has two faces: what from one perspective is a loss of stable traditions/identities is, from another perspective a gain of freedom to construct new identities and hence new solidarities. Individuals can now assemble and dissemble identities, which, though weak, are flexible…They will, that is, create postmodern community through public discourse. (Mayhew 1997, p286)

However, when discussing the dilemmas faced by the contemporary university it is important to highlight the asymmetry of power relationships in a very specific sense. I ultimately chose to focus on Williams then because his articulation of the long revolution and a common culture anticipate a full socialization of the forces of knowledge production. For him, this should be seen as encompassing not only universities, but also everything from trade union schools to free voluntary public libraries. To the extent that any of this ideal has being realized, subordinate social groups have been able to utilize resources in the interest of various forms of autonomous cultural production. As Williams was very much aware, in part through his own teaching experiences in adult education, any growth in these sectors constituted a challenge to capitalist efforts to appropriate, through privatization, the socialized relations of knowledge production (Williams 1993; Livingstone 1999 cited in Livingstone and Sawchuk 2000).

But as this appropriation has become more expansive, so too must a counterconception of learning as a social phenomenon capable of culturally and historically contextualizing the relationships between reflection and experience as a critical, creative endeavour. In this sense, the Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky might almost be identified as a precursor for Williams’s project of cultural materialism In Vygotsky’s writings, experience-based, self-directed and informal learning remained important, because the cultural-historical school of human development studies with which he was associated emphasized its basis in the social relations of tool mediation, language and labour. To the extent that Vygotsky conceptualized social participation as the determinate factor in learning, it consequently became understood as a dimension of all cultural material practice (Vygotsky 1978 cited in Livingstone and Sawchuk 2000). Given these conclusions, it is also not surprising that Vygotsky issued a notable challenge to the individualistic cognitivism of Piaget's model of child development, that has in turn proven influential in later theoretical refinements of “activity theory” (Livingstone and Sawchuk 2000).

In other words, both Vygotsky’s and Williams’s cultural materialist theorization of adult learning recognized the cultural and material limits and pressures on reflective and interpretive agency in a manner that could not be countenanced by the more simplistic constructivist models. The reader should be able to recognize this perspective as an extension of the theory of creative morphogenesis and its associated sociology of culture that were introduced at the conclusion of Chapter Two. Therefore to adequately understand learning practice, a critical materialism needs to be articulated to a historical and political economic structure (Livingstone and Sawchuk 2000).

But of course, such a historically grounded, cultural materialist approach is anathema to the individualist bias of neoliberal policymakers. It is no coincidence that the kind of serialist discourse that I have critically examined has arisen in such a context. From my perspective, no monistic reduction of causation to a single privileged metaphysical mode can be countenanced. In the terms favoured by Joas, who I have drawn upon at various points, one of the ways in which my approach could be described is “pragmatic”. Indeed, it can easily be demonstrated that there is a long-standing interest among all of the classic pragmatists in the significance of “emergence” and “creativity”. Oftentimes such terms coexist in this literature in very close proximity, particularly in the case of Mead (cf. Blitz 1992 cited in El-Hani and Pihlstrom 2005). However, it is precisely this conceptual language that is threatened with recuperation by the new sciences of complexity, thereby functioning in turn as agents of a bioglobal future.

I am able initially to identify two means by which this recuperation can take place. In the first of these, supervenience functions by undermining the very notion of emergence, as entailing the creation of something new. In Chapter Six, a discussion of the work of Alexander Rosenberg demonstrated how supervenience might take form in this sense by rendering an individual supervenient to a macro-property such as “society”. It can equally be demonstrated though that the concept of supervenience is flexible enough to work in another sense as a neoliberal ideology. As Kim has argued, rather than deliver determination without reducibility, supervenience can easily transform into the thesis that, “properties of a whole are determined by the properties and relations that characterize its parts” (Kim 1997: 278 cited in El-Hani and Pihlstrom 2005). In such a setting, determination can only logically mean that the higher level properties of a given entity are “totally fixed by the lower-level properties and relations characterizing its parts” (Kim 1996: 222 cited in El-Hani and Pihlstrom 2005). Afterall, when an emergent property is also categorized as strongly supervenient, the very idea of emergence would appear to be compromised. El-Hani and Pihlstrom are very blunt on this point, “[I]t is not an easy task to explain how the claim that emergents are dependent on, or determined by, the microstructure from which they emerge can be reconciled with the idea of irreducibility” (ElHani and Pihlstrom 2005).

The second sense of recuperation extends more directly to the issue of what, if any, distinctiveness emergence or creativity can claim for itself. The problem here from a bioglobalist point of view would be that my preference for a more pragmatic cultural materialist approach could only weakly separate itself from the dilemma of social constructionism as social psychosis. For if any emergent property is grounded in human practice, the notion can quickly become trivial because the implication would then be that nothing is non-emergent. I remain adamant however that there are two counter-responses that I can legitmately make, and they should be read as encompassing the supervenient option as well. Firstly, contra the bioglobalist perspective, the sense in which it could be said that properties emerge from practices is not the same as the ontological, metaphysically realist versions of emergence favoured by either Rosenberg or the postfoundationalism of new historicist naturalism. In Chapter Five and Six I can be seen as offering the alternative of a Peircean treatment of deconstruction in order to demonstrate the axial rotation of creativity, (or emergent properties, if one prefers this term), rooted in the individual agent’s pragmatic ontological commitments, into a more expansive set of epistemic circumstances. Again, El-Hani and Pihlstrom provide an excellent summation of this counter-strategy when they write, “[T] he ontology of emergents, like any ontological issue, is, then, irreducibly epistemologized, simply because it is embedded in our ontologically relevant practices” (El-Hani and Pihlstrom 2005).

The second counter-strategy, not unrelated to the first, should magnify awareness of the differing senses of causation and emergence in each case. In the Introduction it was suggested that there is a symbiotic relationship between neoliberalism and dystopian claims that serialistic cultural forms are becoming increasingly dominant and inevitable. In that context the basis of a counterargument was advanced on the understanding that such a hegemonic strategy was dependent upon the exclusion of normative content associated with a more hermeneutical approach. For the “going parallel” stategy to work, it was demonstrated that the central requirement to be fulfilled is that neoliberalism is underwritten by autopoeisis: i.e. this process of “going parallel” endeavours to facilitate the end product of a particular form of materialist individualism I have labelled “seriality”.

I shall be returning shortly to these importance issues of using an appropriate method to distinguish both degrees and kinds of causation and creativity/emergence. What shall be presented next in tabular form are summations of some of the most important grounds for vindicating the emphasis from my own perspective on creativity/contingency. As noted in the Introduction, (0.7: 44), here I basically reproduce, with some very minor modifications, the tables featured in Hooker’s summation of Unger’s epistemological model (Hooker 1987: 212). Where I do claim innovation however relates to the subsequent rearticulation of Hooker’s work. What I wish to illustrate by these means therefore is the framing assumption that seriality remains open to future contestation, because it can do little other than pretend to offer an efficient means for resolving the antinomies associated with each of the ethical problematiques I have explored in this thesis. In short, “going parallel” stands in stark contrast to the ideal of a common culture, and its associated method of a realist constructivist nexus, that have guided my own research. The demonstration of these contrasts will assume a form in keeping with the ordering of each chapter by way of dialectical tensions (with gradual evolution into a more integrated cognitive learning model):

• Table IV: the metaphysical presuppositions underpinning the philosophic structure of liberalism/constructivism - the developmental logics of which I have described in terms of a parallelism/seriality nexus.

• Table V: the irresolvable tension crosscutting the ethics situating each of the problematiques I have introduced to theorize modernity.

• Table VI: the productive antinomy of Chapter Four’s “psychology” of action.

• Table VII: Chapter Six’s demonstration of the limits of knowledge integration is suggestive of the need for a more adequate epistemological model.

• Table VIII: the tradeoffs in formulating a coherent political philosophy; captured specifically in the Conclusion as falling between “safety nets” and the creative genesis of values; and more generally throughout the thesis in terms of the inherent difficulties of articulating contexts of discovery to contexts of justification.

• Table IX: how liberalism’s strategy of “going parallel” attempts to resolve these four antinomies of ethics, psychology, epistemology and political philosophy.

There is the strong suggestion in this last table that “going parallel” is staking a strong claim on the integration of social complexity. A response from a more sociological perspective can suggest that the operating premise of “going parallel” is a deductivist one that is incompatible with the “nature” of the entity it pretends to account for. A realist constructivist model by way of contrast can consolidate the points raised in the Introduction regarding qualification of the discipline’s cumulative knowledge base, without having to surrender to incoherent pluralism. While some of this is perhaps by now familiar, there is a need to reiterate that an essential component accounting for the prospects for progress in the discipline have to do with a learning model. In Williams’ related conceptions of “the long revolution” and “a common culture”, this might even be said to necessarily involve an interesting development of the ties between normative critique and realism and constructivism. I will close with the suggestion that in his case this may prove suggestive for the articulation of the components set out in Table III of Chapter Six i.e. the ethical force of the long revolution presupposed an evolutionary realist constructivism.

What can be demonstrated thus for both liberal parallelism and the alternative of a common culture is a need to come to grips with the metaphysics of universals and particulars. The former defines itself in terms of a partial, abstract generality. The latter as polar opposites treated as complete, concrete and individual. The antinomy of course is that the particularity of existence cannot be accounted for by universals alone, while particulars in themselves cannot represent its structures.

Table IV: How liberalism defines itself against metaphysical antinomies by proclaiming the exclusivity of material particulars.
Principle of Nominalism Symbols are conventionally applied universals, logical or names of particulars
Principle of Analysis Basic particulars set parameters for analysis of every law; complexity can be analysed as a logical relation among names
Principle of Reduction Every whole is the ‘sum’ of its parts
Principle of Individualism Social sciences become defined by their most basic particulars i.e. persons.
Experience boils down to sensations
Table V: The ethical principles crosscutting the problematiques
Pure Reason Universal; unmotivating owing to its impersonality
Desires The polar opposite of pure reason
Nominalism Principles of universal ethics are conventional and non-cognitive
Empiricism Desires are not readily accessible to reason
Antinomy Moral rules derived from pure reason cannot apply in particular; desires in themselves do not offer reliable guidance to morality
Table VI: Psychological principles for the continuity of the acting person & the certainty of knowledge
Understanding Impersonality defined by objectivity and universality
Experience The polar opposite of understanding
Nominalism There is a conventional nature to all universal understandings
Empiricism Connections in experience are the criterion for understanding
Antinomy As Mead’s symbiotic I/Me model demonstrates, experience alone cannot facilitate understanding. The reverse equally holds
Table VII: Epistemology
Theories Linguistic, universal; not independent of the mind
Facts The polar opposite of theories
Nominalism Fact descriptions imbricated by theoretical presuppositions; descriptions are conventional
Empiricism Conventional descriptions of objective facts are the end product of the reduction of theories
Antinomy Truth is particular so it can elude theories; understanding cannot be furnished by facts alone
Table VIII: The viability of the political order
Rules Universal because determined by pure reason
Values Particular because determined by desires
Nominalism Rules are conventional and non-cognitive
Empiricism Values are not readily accessible to reason
Antinomy Rules not conducive to application in particular; society cannot be constituted solely by values

Table IX: How “going parallel” resolves [sic] each of these four antinomies. Hooker typifies this strategy as dependent upon the marrying of a “doctrine of materialist individualism” (cf Table IV) with “the doctrine of instrumental reason”. He explains the presupposition underwriting the latter in terms whereby the “nature and limit of reason is the calculation of maximal connections between particulars” (Hooker 1987: 212).

Ethics Personal morality cannot be said to exist in any really meaningful sense because morality is merely a social convention oriented to the reduction of collective costs in pursuing desires
Psychology Regularity of experience only prerequisite for understanding
Epistemology Theories are maximal conventional summations of factual causal regularities
Political Philosophy Rules are formalizations of enforceable moralities

Notice how the “resolution” of antinomies in this final table might be interpreted as speaking almost directly to Jenkins’ framing [in my Introduction] of the social significance of seriality as having to do with the imposition of choice and control (0.4: 17). If this holds, then the implication would be that neoliberalism has attempted to adapt itself by no longer remaining dependent upon any pure ideal of instrumental rationality. Hence all the recent concern about the recuperation of creativity, and my own particular sense of seriality, that pays tribute to Fuller’s critique of “flexible fascism” (0.4: 16). Accordingly the developmental logic of each successive chapter marks a critical attempt to mediate between the particular and the universal. Afterall, the challenge I faced from the outset is that the parallelist strategy underwriting seriality presupposes a network logic whereby each of the problematiques [I have used to define modernity], are recuperated into a form of holism masquerading as the attainment of a higher threshhold of complexity.

What is clear then from examining the tables I have adapted from Hooker/Unger is how political liberalism proffers a minimalist implicit theory of society that does little to legitimate its controversial basis. This is on account of its privileging of a universalist principle (i.e. the economic market) intended to maximize individual freedom against what it classifies as “interpersonal normative authoritarianism” (Hooker 1987: 210). There is sufficient cause here for the sociologist to question the desirability of responding through an attempted grounding of their own work either through social theoretic objectivity or from the more lofty heights of philosophical detachment alone. So when I read Jones explaining his avoidance of realist debates through the fear that they may be potentially inhospitable to immanent critique, I think it fair to say I have some idea of where he is coming from (Jones 2004: 39). Let it be made clear therefore that raising some of these realist issues in the context of Chapter One’s discussion of the perils associated with readings of “technological determinism” should not be construed as assenting to the throwing out of normative critique by treating it as something only “half way valid” in the manner of liberalism (1.4: 65). The point rather of the realist/constructivist nexus is that it works on both levels. Which is to say, it insists that any epistemology speaking in an endsneutural sense is the product of pure fantasy. This much should be clear from the objections

I have raised to the presuppositions of the liberal/parallelist nexus. However, in the interests of harnessing normative critique to practicable goals, realism must also be factored into consideration.

But given my own focus on the various complexity sciences and its cognate biotech culture, there are some more specific reasons for maintaining this double edged critical approach. These reasons come through strongly in Hooker’s reference to Unger’s treatment of society as an artefact. For what is being increasingly recognized, [as I suggested in the Introduction], in relation to the post-empiricist science exemplified by complexity, is the decline of positivism as the model against which sociology can arraign its normative critique. What has taken its place is recognition across the board of constructivism. Rather than having to choose between positivism and normative critique, it was demonstrated with reference to Rotman, Fuller and Delanty, that “going parallel” forces the sociologist to choose instead between a hermeneutic constructivism and an autopoietic constructivism. Whereas the critique of positivism presumed the instrumental control of an objective realm of nature, biotechnology in contrast is a salient reminder that nature has itself more obviously become an artefact. In other words, evoking realism/constructivism in such a context is to immediately speak in a normative tongue, because constructivism presents prospective ideals: they remain only 'half way valid’ prescriptions in accordance with the realist model adopted to assess their propects and limitations. What matters with respect to my subsequent discussion of Hooker is that his realist perspective is normative because he presumes democratic freedom and equality to be axiomatic for modernity, inclusive of the pursuit of scientific inquiry. His contributions are aimed at the protection and extension of these democratic features on the understanding then that they are creative discovery procedures.

8.2 Choosing the correct method

To better establish why my own account of historical contingency fits in well with this normative prerequisite, a critical examination of the more traditional epistemological model can prove to be of assistance. In this older classical form sociology defined itself against the covering law associated with the hypethetico deductive model of knowledge associated with scientific epistemology. For the latter, a charge of falsification is applicable when no universal statistical laws can be proven to underwrite a claim to scientific explanation. In marked contrast, sociology has traditionally been less willing to assert its discovery of universal laws. Furthermore, it does social scientists little good to adapt through compromise by taking on board probabilistic models of explanation. Some of the pitfalls of such an approach have already been referenced in Chapter Six via Kern’s investigation of the failures to develop an adequate system of thought able to ‘account’ for uncertainty in relation to violence. Such defensive reactions substitute statistical inference rules for falsification, oblivious to how this maneouvre makes it difficult to distinguish correlation from causation (Gorski 2004: 7-8). Of course, for new historicists such as Seltzer, this liability becomes a virtue as it allows one to simply describe the recursive effects of uncertainty [attributed to a liberal ‘pathological public sphere’] whilst neglecting the reconstructive responsibility to provide a criterion for discriminating between a good or a bad causal theory (cf Seltzer 1998). And this is to say nothing of the classification of either manifest (intended consequences of which participants are aware), or latent functions (unintended consequences of which participants are unaware of), advanced by modern functionalism (Marshall 1998: 241).

Rather than give up on the ghost of causation in this manner though, the initial choice of a reconstructive response may be for realism/constructivism to turn its attention to the study of processes rather than events. The distinguishing feature is that the former can be associated with a greater temporal duration and spatial extent than the latter. While a detailed reading of Gorski would here reveal his criteria as worthy of comparison to Sztompka’s temporal theory of trauma [2.3: 88] the scope for such reflections are immediately threatened once it is also acknowledged that a series of events can constitute a process. On the other hand, Chapter One’s discussion of actor network theory, as per new historicism, demonstrates a bypassing of the issue of causality altogether. But if there is a way out of this cul de sac it has to do with how the nature of any such series might itself be further broken down. In Table III the features of evolutionary realism and constructivism were laid out on the understanding that a fruitful combination was possible. From the realist component can be extrapolated a distinction from empiricist premises on the basis that explanation is viewed as causal rather than logical. A theory is therefore a symbolic construct that construes explanatory models as linguistic representations of causal processes. If parallelism constitutes a threat then it is because its proponents attempt to hijack the means by which sociologists can use the ability of a causal process to transmit “influence” as the criterion to distinguish it from a mere series of events (Gorski 2004: 1617).

As Gorski demonstrates, various attempts have been made in turn to respond to this kind of problem by distinguishing processes by their degrees of either “production” or “propagation” of causality. What is most striking here is the sense of Gorski convening not only with the aforementioned Sztompka, but also with Halloran’s critique (0.6: 31) of the influencing model; a meeting of minds premised on the understanding that it is possible to distinguish degrees of influence in accordance with their spatio-temporal dispersion. My thesis however demonstrates a threat to these sociological prerogatives in the form of a resurgent influencing model where “going parallel” in effect means dissolving all spatiotemporal horizons into the post-historical form of simultaneity [a form I have more generally referred to as seriality, with especial reference to post-histoire as a dystopic formation in Chapter Six]. It is my personal view that the survival of this undesirable model is relative to its colonization of the territory more fruitfully explored by realism/constructivism. By now it should be clear that the latter mobilizes symbolic constructs, [theories], with reference to real entities in the world. It is predicated upon ontological assumptions about their key properties (Gorski 2004: 18). The former may claim to be doing the same. How can they be distinguished then?

Before providing a more explicitly normative answer to this question, I will set out some other criteria for determining what is appropriate, premised not in terms of the causes involved, but rather on the basis of whether either a certain class of outcomes in particular or in general are to be explained. This can be read as a direct response to the recurring problems Hooker [above] adumbrates in tabular form. It is also the issue to be contemplated when formulating strategies of knowledge integration, some of which were discussed in Chapter Six. Given the theoretical heterogeneity and multicausality presumed by the promiscous logic of seriality, de-essentialization through deconstruction or the production of a single piece of counter-evidence appear insufficient and therefore unlikely in themselves to serve as warrants for falsification. Therefore it may be more helpful to follow Gorski in assessing competing explanations by “how well supported they are by the existing evidence, relative to other explanations”. Here is Gorski’s criterion for assessing the value of theories in such terms. The better theories will tend to be:

• The most direct and continuous observations

• Exhibit the greatest explanatory breadth of all cases across variations in cases

• There will be correlations between theoretical parsimony and the generation of a large number of models (i.e. range)

Gorski however is the first to concede that this criterion can only amount to wishful thinking if the sociologist does not also make allowance for how it will generally remain the case that newer models will tend not be as strongly confirmed as older ones; for the simple reasons that it will take time for evidence to be gathered and for the model to be extended in various ways. Thus it might be said that social science progresses “primarily through the construction of better and better explanatory models rather than the falsification of bolder and bolder theories”. Gorski reasons that this discrepancy might explain why more strongly confirmed models have emerged in a manner not strictly correlated to any definitive falsification of pre-existing sociological theories (Gorski 2004: 21-22).

There are several important implications that follow on from this. The most important one has to do with how it teases out the normative orientation of the realist/constructivist nexus as something indissociable from its evaluative prerogatives. For given the temporal and spatial dispersion of the causal processes that sociologists study, it becomes rather difficult to justify adherence to any formal grounding of how research should work. To claim otherwise would be to throw in one’s lot with the methodologicism characteristic of the older model of deductivism. In other words, when I cite Jones in the Conclusion arguing that “the problem is always method”, this may be construed as evidence of how for sociologists methodology is anterior to method. Methodology is thus not a normative prescription for what explanations should do. Rather than derive methods from methodology, the latter simply clarifies which of the methods sociologists “can and do use” (Gorski 2004: 22). It is legitimate therefore to distinguish the contexts of discovery and justification when making the point that explanations are to be justified on empirical, not procedural, grounds. In this regard deductivism can prove useful in borrowing empirical predictions from causal models for the purpose of demonstrating their limitations [thereby facilitating further refinements]. From this Gorski is able to conclude that as “a heuristic and rhetorical tool, deductivism clearly has its uses. Abuses arise when we make the leap from explanation to theory” (Gorski 2004: 30).

And perhaps this is where much of the confusion lies: autopoietic constructivism makes its presence known in the bioglobal debate by noting a superficial similarity between sociology and evolutionary biology; structures appear and disappear over time. Objects are historical. The difference though, and here again I find myself building upon the general implications of Gorski’s argument, is that the hermeneutical strand of constructivism is more attentive to how the structures of the social world are “structured by the interpretations of the past or the visions of the future that animate social actors” (Gorski 2004: 29).

Which brings me back to Hooker, and shortly thereafter, Williams. Hooker’s socalled “naturalist realism” can be read with some justification as responsive to the characterization of method that Gorski imputes to realist/constructivism. In the first instance, Hooker taps into the realist component and eventually comes to grips with an evolutionary hierarchy of basic judgement/action that he regards as neither normative nor factual, but both. In his view the creation of theoretical artefacts is thus dependent upon past experiments - there is no apriori knowledge or norm-free methodology able to account for it. Norms are embodied in practices and as such determine the acceptability of theories. Hooker proceeds by sketching the contours of a process that presupposes, in Gorski’s terms, a considerable spatio-temporal dispersion involving the structuring by social actors of their visions of past and future. For Hooker this process is not amenable to falsification because it presupposes not just learning, but learning how to learn; learning what values to value valuing (Hooker 1987: 204). Not only does this conception make it inherently difficult to associate his realism with a threat to the possibility of normative immanent critique, it also offers a means for avoiding transcendent conceptions of norms amounting to Platonism [i.e. relatable to “facts” in only a very mysterious fashion]; as well as from the other conception of norms as subjective and cognitively irrelevant to facts (i.e. consistent with liberal conventionalism as an arbitrarily imposed system of rules adopted under the causal influence of ‘utilities’). Here then is Hooker’s evolutionary model of learning that mediates between these conceptions of norms:

What is required is an alternative theory of norms which resists their dogmatic/authoritarian use yet which allows them the legitimate interactions with the factual…Notice, as a beginning, that theories themselves serve both of these latter functions well. Thus if we can suppose norms to be fallible theoretical conjectures of a distinctive kind, then we can see our way clear to avoiding the Scylla of transcendentalism and the Charybdis of conventionalism. Theories are open to criticism in the light of experience and to revision in the light of experience and alternative proposal. This process can be strongly institutionalized as a strong antidote to dogmatism. Moreover, since real theories exist in a delicate equilibrium with their experimental bases and with each other, norms as theories would explain why, and how, normative theories are found in interaction with their empirical bases, namely with theory and experience, and with each other. And since this is so, we are able to learn about our norms, are able to make experiments with them, evolving them as we go along. And this, I have been arguing, is what we in fact do (Hooker 1987: 220).

8.3 Strydom’s three cognitive master frames of modernity

I would want to add to this accurate and highly acute summation that these relations are comparable to my own exploration of Williams in this thesis. The more explicitly ‘deconstructive’ element of my argument simply holds that it is wrong to start out with the reduction of contingency to a normative account. The latter is rather the destination or reward that emerges from successfully resolving emergent problems related to the co-ordination of social action. In this manner norms eventually come to set the preconditions for the epistemology that can subsequently be pursued. In both the body of my text and the Endnotes I have illustrated this central point of the thesis with reference to the action perspectives on creativity offered by Williams, Fuller and Joas. Reading his work alongside such figures may constitute some form of recovery of the explicitly sociological dimensions of Williams’s project (cf Jones 2004), and in the larger context of the thesis, this also registers as a defence of sociology against biological consilience. For Williams in particular it was obviously the case that something approximating Hooker’s evolutionary learning process constituted “the long revolution” toward the realization of a truly common culture. There would be grounds here as well for a sympathetic comparison between Williams’s common culture and Habermas’s conception of the public sphere which have to do with their presentation as both real and ideal. Which is to say, each fulfills Hooker’s requirement of institutionalizing an antidote to both transcendental dogmatism and subjective conventionalism. Their normative force is therefore an immanent property of the social rather than an abstract transcendental principle. I have additionally attempted to present Wagner’s model of recurring ethical problematiques in like terms, falling between inescapability and attainability, to assist in the mobilization of sociology’s public role.

This also provides some grounds for my decision to not overburden the normative aspects of my argument with empirical social theoretic premises (cf. Peritz 2001). Ideally then, the critical assessment should not be that the relationship between democracy and socialism broached in the Conclusion is a paper tiger inadequate for engaging the complexities of bioglobalism. Such a characterization may have more justifiably been the case if I had presented this relationship as precluding attentiveness to institutionalization, and thereby labouring under the delusion that a purely oppositional critique was all that was needed for developing effective forms of transnational governance, cosmopolitan citizenship etc. Indeed, the varied critical responses to bioglobalism act as reminders of how hotly contested such relationships are. If one follows the writings of authors such as Strydom or Delanty for example, what is encountered is a gradual lifting of communication out of the possession of particular collective actors, such as social movements, into a more abstract, free-floating conception of discourse. I shall focus here on Strydom in particular for the moment. Strydom has sought to maintain the importance of articulating a logic of constructivism, which would explain how a historically specific discourse takes place in a structured setting featuring adversaries, the media, and social scientists [i.e. the public] (Strydom 2003: 300). In other words, his conception of the public role for sociology as both a critical and evaluative enterprise involves not only linking up with “social creativity to stimulate the development of a diverse culture of reflexively and discursively available cognitive structures and cultural models”. Also at stake for him is the evaluative prerogative of describing the transposition of constructivism from the micro and meso levels through to the macro level of public construction; i.e. how actors and their frames are “recognized and incorporated into the public sphere” (Strydom 2002b: 158).

I raise Strydom in this context in the hope that the developmental logic of my successive chapters can hopefully be seen as running somewhat parallel to his, (i.e. not “parallelism” in Rotman’s sense), conjoined imperatives, as this thesis builds towards an “integrated” model of creativity. However, a foregrounding in the Conclusion of the importance Williams attached to the new social movements as an oppositional force to Plan X future forecasting should not be mistaken for a reification on my part of only the first of the two sociological obligations Strydom prescribes (more especially since in Chapter Two I attempt to contextualize Williams’s legacy with reference to Strydom’s later discourse theoretical model). As I attempt to show, Williams did not remain naively stuck at the level of any pure oppositional critique given his awareness of situated knowledges as presupposing institutionalization; not the least of them universities and, by extension, technological citizenship. Moreover, he clearly identified the modus operandi of his sociology of culture in a manner easily translatable into Strydom’s constructivist terms. My discussion in Chapter Five, (5.5: 212), suggests that more generally in cultural studies the term articulation is substituted for constructivism, (notwithstanding Haraway’s use of constructivism in cultural studies, and Joas’s sociological deployment of articulation), but what can link each of these together, in a useful way, is acceptance of a point Williams makes about how ideological analysis can in effect merely repeat the history of “culture” as a concept. It is a point that Strydom would probably have little difficulty assenting to:

General ideologies, in their full depth and elaboration, have indeed to be seen as among the most remarkable forms of collective cultural production. But then it is precisely because all significant ideologies are indeed this deep and elaborated that the concept cannot be abstracted as some kind of “informing spirit”, at the roots of all cultural production. To say that all cultural practice is “ ideological” need mean no more than that (as in some current uses) all practice is signifying. For all the difficulties of overlap with other more common uses, this sense is acceptable. But it is very different from describing all cultural production as “ideology” or as “directed by ideology”, because what is then omitted, as in the idealist uses of “culture”, is the set of real complex processes by which a “culture” or an “ideology” is itself produced. And it is with these producive processes that a full sociology of culture is necessarily concerned. To study “an ideology”and what “it” produces is a recognizable form of idealist philosophy. What the cultural sociologist or the cultural historian studies are the social practices and social relations which produce not only “a culture” or “an ideology” but, more significantly, those dynamic actual states and works within which there are not only continuities and persistent determinations but also tensions, conflicts, resolutions and irresolutions, innnovations and actual changes (emphasis mine) (Williams 1981b: 29).

But in aligning Williams with Strydom, what of the role of a common culture as a constructivist discourse? Although my claim may be reasonably controversial, it might still be suggested that the problems accruing around bioglobalism force some recognition of how the scope of Williams’s project already encompassed this form of Plan X, albeit in a manner obscured by those more inclined to emphasize the novelty of such developments. Accordingly, the socialism presupposed by Williams’s normative critique, [as is noted in my Conclusion], was irreducible solely to a form of state planning. It might be suggested then that in this late period of his work, Williams had become more conscious of how his ideal of a common culture - in which integration occurs through communication - was crosscutting those emergent discourses associated with greater reflexive awareness of new forms of social problems on the part of the general public.

As a way of bringing this together, consider for a moment the cognitive “rights” frame Strydom discusses in his Discourse and Knowledge: The Making of Enlightenment Sociology (Strydom 2000). Strydom reads the development and institutionalization of the rights discourse as an expressive means for establishing a less costly and more humane mode of co-ordinating collective action. According to Strydom’s historical narrative, the consequent transformation of violence into legitimate power took place through the mobilization of movements under the auspices of the rights frame, leading eventually to the constitutionalization of the absolutist state. Therefore the rights frame symbolically transformed violence, while it was itself institutionally transformed through mediums of communication - i.e. “democratically posited law and legitimate politics linked to the agreement or acceptance of those affected by power”. If such developments attest to a general self-awareness on the part of modern society, (i.e. that to remain feasible it required collective action: indeed, that it needed to constitute collective action to solve the collective problems with which it was faced), this should not be misconstrued as a smoothly functionalist historical account. On the contrary, Strydom is at considerable pains to point out that collective action was never fully mobilized owing to the exclusion of a significant number of potential participants. In this respect, it could be argued that power remained concentrated in that it was not connected fully to communication (Strydom 2000: 171-181).

What is most interesting for my purposes is that this leads Strydom to conclude that the rights discourse came to assume the character of a crisis discourse. When he detects a pathological feature of modern society at work here, he wishes to emphasize something at least equally important, if not more so, than the familiar sociological focus on “instrumental” or “functional” reason. He regards the “minimization of politics” as significant when it leads to the exclusion or reduction of participation, with all of its associated contrasting points of view, “and their interrelation through communicative conflict” (Strydom 2000: 181). My own reading of Williams’s ideal of a common culture holds to the indissoluble tension between full participation and the possibility of constructing common purposes as a creative problem; violence can become expressive of failures to address it as such.

But what is more important overall in considering Strydom’s narrative here is how he charts the prominence of particular master cognitive frames commensurate with the evolution of Williams’s thought [which I have endeavoured to contextualize with respect to the contemporary problem of bioglobalism]. Following the rights frame Strydom demonstrates that the justice discourse of modernity arose initially in late eighteenth century England in response to the industrial capitalist system. He maintains that the justice discourse became expressive of the social question associated with the pauperization and exploitative nature of capitalism. As Strydom also argued with respect to the rights frame, the justice frame furnished the logical rules of a “socio-politically and culturally significant semantics” which played a part in politically mobilizing the labour movement as a collective actor. The combined weight of these two effects became discernible in the institutional form of the welfare state (Strydom 1999c: 33). My Conclusion finishes with an affirmation of this master frame of justice/welfare as indispensable for the continual identity and public role that sociology can claim for itself and continue to perform into the 21[st] Century.

I say this because on Strydom’s account of the third master frame, the previous justice frame has not somehow by default become completely irrelevant. Strydom views the ascendancy of the responsibility frame as linked to our constructivist relationship with nature. At most he seems to allow that the older forms of collective action associated with the justice discourse are undergoing relativization, or “deconstruction”. Like its predecessors though, Strydom associates the ascendancy of a new cognitive frame with a breakdown of certainty: in this case the environmental crisis that became more pronounced throughout the course of the 1970s. Particularly in Chapter Six and the Conclusion it was shown to be the case that risk discourses have increasingly permeated nature, inclusive of the body and the planet as its home. For Strydom the latter is indicative of the “macroethical commitment of collective coresponsibility”. For a communication community to disseminate this form of global discourse is to presuppose some kind of neo-corporatist institutional arrangement (Strydom 1999c: 33-36).

It is however also to presuppose that none of us can fully know what shape or characterization is most suitable for the current situation. This too is a question of “method” in Gorski’s terms. Seriality in the bioglobal age reads as a provocative typology to investigate then because it involves each of the three master frames Strydom has traced from the rise of enlightenment sociology up until the responsibility discourse. Indeed, Joas’s “age of contingency”, which I explored in Chapter Two, is one of the clearest indicators of this confluence, given the heady mixture of Darwinism becoming more cultural in contexts of violence and uncertainty. That this should be so, however, is more important for the greater focus in this thesis on Raymond Williams. Afterall, repackaging Strydom’s work through Williams’s concept of structures of feeling might suggest the coexistence of dominant, emergent and residual cognitive frames. That the serial violence some have associated with bioglobality makes it difficult to exclusively correlate its character strictly with any particular structure of feeling may be suggestive of its transitional or emergent character, but only on the understanding that one cannot use this as a licence to ignore the recurring nature of the problematiques I have associated [via Peter Wagner] with modernity. Therefore with respect to Wagner, one may see Strydom’s [coexisting] master frames as equivalent to the problematique of the viability of the political order. The open questions then have to do with the degree to which changes on this level affect the status of the other two problematiques: the continuity of the acting person and the certainty of knowledge.

I am left wondering whether Strydom’s emergent neo-corporatist global discourse of co-responsibility is possibly one logical offshoot of Williams’s conception of a common culture. For if it can be argued, with Williams [and Hooker], that a common culture presupposes the idea of “a natural growth and its tending”, one is already making allowance for the contingent further development of his project (Williams: 1958 [1961]: 323). With the problem of seriality in the bioglobal age portrayed as it is, the onus is on me to demonstrate sufficient breadth and depth in Williams’s legacy across each master frame and its associated problematiques. This needs to be done in terms suggesting that, irrespective of the need for further refinement, the general value of his method remains undiminished. In the final analysis the thesis advanced here will have to prove itself in all of these areas. If indeed this takes place, it can be said that a tremendously capacious social theory has proven responsive to the challenges presented by a polyvalent culture and society.

[t]he aporias of risk have already been played out long ago. There is not a risk society but a post-apocalyptic society. The melancholic wanders among the ruins in a blasé attitude: his nerves don’t fry, she is indifferent. For Durkheim the symbolic was shot through with life. The symbolic was the normal set against the pathological. But here the explosion of the symbolic, of the national symbolic by the cultural commodities of the global information culture, is also the destruction of life, the invasion of the normal by the pathological. Death, and its partner being, are no longer outside us but among us. There is nothing more at stake (Lash 1999: 343).


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