Dear Robbie and everyone,
Let me start by apologizing for taking so long to respond to your provocative and collaborative proposal. I hope the project is well underway and I look forward to hearing more about it. I have a few thoughts that are motivated by my location outside of IR. It’s increasingly apparent to me that critical postcolonial IR theory and anthropology are currently moving in very different direction. I imagine that this has to do with the foundations and histories of the different disciplines. As a field that is centrally focused on state power–and its global organization–it makes sense to me that critical IR theory is trying to alter the conceptual terrain by recovering marginalized positions and subaltern voices. Anthropology on the other hand, which has trafficked for so long in marginalized places and “exotic” communities, is increasingly moving (partly out of guilt one assumes) towards the study of state structure and power in the metropole. Hence, this is a curious moment to observe the two scholarly communities. I see plenty of overlap between recent anthropology and mainstream IR, but less dialogue with postcolonial or critical IR. At this year’s ISA and AAA conferences, for instance, there was plenty of common interest in war, insurgency, financial crisis, security, risk, pirates, etc. The content and concerns of such panels across the two fields might still vary considerably, but even a decade ago, the “globe” was very differently constituted for anthropologists. Moving in different directions, it seems to me that there’s suddenly a fruitful, if strange, overlap between the subject matter that animates both IR and anthropology.
Here’s a small sample of work being done within anthropology that might also find a home in IR conversations:
Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency
On global bioscience:
Biocapital: The Constitution of Postgenomic Life
On financial capital:
Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street
You get the trend. Some anthropologists are turning their sights away from the non-West and are doing ethnographies of the US military, of Wall Street, of biotech firms in California. This is happening at precisely the same time that you folks in post-colonial IR theory are increasingly hopeful that ethnographic research will provide great insights towards the construction of a critical, global IR. So my interest in all of this is to try and make sure that anthropologists and postcolonial IR folks aren’t simply two ships passing in the night.
Towards this end, I would like to ask us to think about what’s at stake in the match up between Fanon and Deleuze? We need accounts that give us some sense of how these figures and theories come to us, what they push against, and which constellation of conversations they bring with them. I would urge us to think about this in at least two different senses. The first of course is through the intellectual and personal biographies that place these figures within a global Francophone intellectual world, in the aftermath of WWII and in the context of struggles over the decolonization of Algeria, Vietnam, etc. Some of these connections have already been discussed on the blog, in the posts by Robbie, Robert, Siba, and others. They show us that it is futile to think about French post-structuralism disassociated from twentieth century anti-colonial struggles.
But there is another sense in which I think we should think about the stakes of this conversation. Despite the differences that mark these two writers and their texts, there’s a version of both Fanon and Deleuze that enters the Anglo academy in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and that shares a certain conceptual terrain with other movements and conversations (Subaltern Studies, French post-structuralism, American post-colonial studies via Said, Spivak, Bhabha, et. al.). While I realize that conflating all these intellectual interventions has its problems, there’s also a productive way of thinking of this entire set of dialogues within the context of the rise of the New Left and the growing disenchantment with institutionalized, party-based Marxism. I am thinking here for instance of Hobsbawm’s Revolutionaries, a series of articles from the 1960s and 1970s, that attempts to explain the history and development of post-war Marxist institutions to a generation that has no experience of these developments and little patience for them. It is to such a generation that Fanon and Deleuze offered new ways for thinking about violence, war, modern subjectivity, and the antinomies of emancipation. In the US academy, neither of these authors come to us immediately from their site of production, but are refracted through the prism of the late Cold War, post-Vietnam era which witnessed the crisis and then re-entrenchment of Anglo-American hegemony. This is also the moment that Foucault, Harvey and others tag as the origins of neoliberalism. I think this is important for us to reflect on. And to think about whether this Fanon (the version which finds voice in Bhabha’s new introduction to The Wretched of the Earth) and this Deleuze are the ones we are interested in today, or whether we are hoping they have a critical purchase that is different from the aspirations that motivated posty conversations over the last 20-30 years ago. So in part, I want to suggest that Fanon as a critical project in the 1950s looks different from Fanon as a critical project in the 1980s. And difference between the two (and between these and other critical interventions that mobilize Fanon, in other contexts) might help to elucidate the aspirations we have for this conversation today.
Those are my two cents for now, and I’d love to hear more about the
collaborative adventures that you guys have planned.
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