Nima Paidipaty, University of Chicago

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:

On counterinsurgency:
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.

Warm wishes,


Morgan Brigg (Queensland)

* your point about the “violent erasure of non-European thought in critically minded projects” certainly resonates with me. but I’m probably pursuing this in my own quirky way. i gave a paper (still very rough – presentation notes, really) at a symposium on indigenous knowledge at sydney uni late last year. i’ll give an updated version here at uq in june. fyi, the abstract:

Engaging Indigenous Knowledge in the Academy: From Sovereign to Relational Selves
Morgan Brigg, UQ.
Mainstream knowledge production relies upon the figure of a discrete and self-sufficient knowing subject as the locus of knowing. In universities and other dominant knowledge institutions the official story tells us that this figure achieves distance from his/her “subject matter” to generate objective and valid knowledge. But this version of the knowing self is a thinly-disguised fiction, and the accompanying knowledge practices are an elaborate set of tricks which researchers play on themselves and others daily. This orthodoxy generates a series of patterned contradictions and an imbalanced and destructive hierarchy of knowledge practices. The resulting knowledge complex militates against engaging Indigenous Knowledge. Somewhat paradoxically though, this same dominant knowledge complex also contains possibilities for engagement. Ideas of relatedness, connection, and local interaction have potential for making links with – and facilitating – Indigenous Knowledge in the academy. These and related ideas are expressed in methodological and theoretical schemas as innovative and diverse as autoethnography, contingency theory, and complex adaptive systems. Much traditional scholarship and those heavily invested in the dominant knowledge complex will struggle to embrace the relational foundation of such approaches. However, navigating relationality and absolutism is a key challenge of our time, and as an instance of what can be gained through engage across different approaches to knowledge, I argue that Indigenous Knowledge provides mainstream knowers with a demonstration of how to have supple enough minds to accommodate the relational alongside the absolute. In the process of working with both the relational and the absolute we might reconfigure our own selves as researchers and build meaningful links and collaborations which help to facilitate the reception and development of Indigenous Knowledge in the university setting.

* on foucault and deleuze, i think the problem is mainly with the acolytes. but then the fact that there are so many of them makes it a problem for the ‘brand’, so to speak. i don’t do much with Foucault and Deleuze now, and I partly moved away because i got tired of many of the followers not doing anything very interesting. I think both F & D would be pissed off re the followers, i think that at one point F referred to criticism as the art of reflective insolence, and he certainly wanted people to apply that to his work. but we don’t see much of that…

* on the deleuze – fanon framing, in some ways this interests me, but you’ll see from above that i’m on a slightly different trip. i’m also thinking about playing around with bruno latour’s (another european!) work on political ecology, which for me has the advantage of opening up an exchange with the sciences (the above paper draws a lot on latour). and i’m interested in making links directly with australian aboriginal thought, although that’s a tough and long-term gig. none of this is to say that i think you’re off track with what you propose – i’m partly just musing through where i sit in relation to it.

* i think there is a lack of exchange btw these authors and the ‘traditions’ they represent, but i’m not positioned quite right to be able to comment in a very firm way about it, or about what my vision of it would be. if i were to ‘join the project’ i’d have to immerse myself in both authors, and i’m probably not able to do that given the other interests i note above.

* but, i have a sense – more than a sense, actually – that there is a very strong resonance between the type of work that you’re talking about and what i’m planning/hoping to do as mentioned above. similarly, it sounds like we’re interested in similar things – that our work is animated by similar concerns…!

* so that leaves me saying that i’d be interested to see where this goes, and to see along the way if there might be way to link up on the key themes if not on the authors… what do you think?

Heloise Weber (Queensland)

Thanks immensely for this initiative…..It sure is timely to engage explicitly the modes of ‘closures’ (and enclosures) not just in IR but in global politics more generally, and the various ‘disciplines’ within it. I come to an appreciation of the value of such a project from my work and interest in development, and especially development through dispossession and domination; frequently, this is articulated through discourses of ‘improvement’, often premised upon the naturalization of a quite specific (“Western”?) conception of ‘development’. The latter, as we know, is often presented in idealized ways that obliterates the other(‘s) histories. This vision and representation of development (‘civilization’) continues in thought and practice, and resistance to it also continues in various forms.

While many anti-colonial thinkers and movements resisted the often brutal (and savage) behavior that has been integral to ‘civilization’, they were, nevertheless, forced to walk the line –- at least to some extent– and / or in many cases also embraced some premises of the ‘civilizing mission’ as being superior to other ways of knowing, doing and being (Gandhi and Nehru come to mind here..). An understanding of the complexity (brutality) of our histories and their legacies–as well as the various solidarist efforts for more humane relations and development pathways – are what Fanon and Du Bois and other anti-colonial thinkers bring to the otherwise teleologic narrative of the history of progress. And, I feel I should mention here Chinua Achebe’s beautiful book, Things Fall Apart….

Anyway, I have not read Deleuze. I have read some Foucault, and I like some of it. More specifically, I like the ‘reverse ethnography’ that he brings to bear on “Western civilization”. But, I’m not convinced of the use of Foucault’s works in the study of political economy, for instance. I do also share concerns that some working from within such approaches (“post- structuralism”..??) have tended to assume ‘intellectual’ hegemony by purporting to articulate the critical voice over others. And, in this context, I kind of see a trend emerging that is conflating ‘post-colonial/de-colonial’ concerns and such lines of enquiry, merely with (critical?)‘methods’ of enquiry. In such cases, substantive critical concerns are subsumed as merely instrumental to the method of inquiry itself– this is my feeling. For this reason, I am particularly thankful to you for raising this as an explicit focus. It matters for political reasons as much as for the pursuit of intellectual analysis of our histories, and thus also for potential discussions of alternative developmental pathways. Such an account cannot really come from within the confines of methodological approaches, which are becoming increasingly self-referential.

Given my interest in understanding substantive social and political relations (also how we can better understand these relations), and my interest (like many others) in writing back in agencies of the ‘subaltern’, Fanon, and other anti-colonial/de-colonial thinkers bring not just these histories to life, but also offer better accounts of the meanings of historical relations. They caution against mimicking the violence that has been implicit to the history of development… Importantly, they render visible other(‘s) histories which the narrative of international relations has so quickly and so easily obliterated… (this violence is prevalent for example, in discourses of failed states as well in the simplistic comparativist trope that underpins the idea and practices of ‘international’ development).

Working along these lines of inquiry, others who come to mind, as having made important contributions to such concerns (for me, at least) include, Memmi, Du Bois, Nandy, Grovogui, Seth, Hindess, Cooper, Chakrabarty, Mbembe, Rojas, Chatterjee and Shilliam (do you know him? :-))…… …and in a different way, but nevertheless not unimportant to such debates, at least to some extent, I think, are Hobson (J.M) and Goody (J).

I love the project, Robbie! As for scope content, organization and remit: the blog is a good start! Perhaps in the longer term we could think of possibilities to workshop these ideas … the dialogue is important.

Tarak Barkawi (Cambridge)

hey robbie

good to hear from you. hope things are going well. sorry i haven’t gotten to that paper yet but been a busy year.

one of the things i’d like to tell you about re: the below is all my experiences teaching fanon to british and american military (and todorov and some others). fanon makes a big impression on the smart ones, they can’t get over his anger but learn a lot about how it all looks from the natives’ point of view and start thinking through their wartime experiences in iraq and afg through that lens. (my all time favorite that way is a guy whose last job in AFG was to interview failed suicide bombers who gave an impromptu todorovian reading of his encounter with difference and how he worked through it in dealing with these characters). i know these pedagogical moments aren’t quite what you’re getting at below but nonetheless.

the same course, war and society in world politics, mobilizes foucault’s society must be defended to think about ‘small war’.

on the research front, i’m working on a paper called ‘power/form/knowledge’ about the military/academic enounter in ‘small war’ and how power puts knowledge to use by putting it in ‘utile forms’ (e.g. database, fact sheet, field manual, smart card), and that these knowledge forms have specific effects, among them the erasure of reflexivity. paper’s almost done for a conference next week, and i will send. but it’s more foucault meets the colonies stuff.

anyways, lots more to say. i’m certainly interested in your direction of travel so keep me in the loop.

take care

Seán Molloy (Edinburgh)

Deleuze and Fanon: Could be an interesting dialogue. The problem, and it may be insurmountable, is that I suspect that Deleuze would consider Fanon as shot through with ressentiment and that his project would be a fascist line of flight, compromised by its toxicity and merely affirming the darker elements of that which it opposes.  I’ve only ever dipped in and out of the Wretched of the Earth, but I suspect that his work would be susceptible to that kind of Deleuzian analysis.

Deleuze, and certainly Guattari, would probably be more at home with the Zapatistas. I’ve read a fair bit of the bould Subcommandante and there are clear resemblances to D&G in style and content.

Finally, I am not sure that Deleuze, or Deleuze and Guattari would be comfortable with postcolonialism as an ism.

Just some very preliminary thoughts.

David Blaney (Macalester)

I will likely be responding to this–in bits–over the next week or more.

Yes, there is a project here.  Yes, I want to be around as it unfolds. I will ponder more about the details as I get time.

In terms of auto-biography, I find it interesting that Naeem and I have mostly eschewed some of the thinkers you isolate.  I have read some Foucault but have never worked that into our or my work much at all.  Same with Bhabha and Spivak.  Naeem has done more Deleuze,and commented favorably on D and G, but has not brought that to our work–yet.  [though Zizek and Todorov have had more appeal.]  Both of us were more moved by Memmi and Fanon in earlier phases of our writing/teaching.  And then later by Nandy.  We weren’t raised on the pomo/postst stuff and I haven’t found them that compelling–at least not given what I have been interested in.  One hint as to why is that our work began with the premise that, whatever the problems of sovereignty, Third World countries took it seriously and we should figure out why.  Our earlier training in dependency theory made us especially sensitive to these issues.  Thus, we were never so drawn to the various deconstructive moves surrounding sovereignty that were fashionable earlier. There is also something about our own confrontation with modernity that was always already partly filtered through a lens focused on the Third World (yes, we used that archaic term until quite recently).  And that is a different confrontation (though perhaps linked in some ways) from Derrida and Foucault, as far as I can tell.   Naeem might tell the story a bit differently.

Two quick thoughts.  First, Alina S, who organized the panel to which you allude, has talked about organizing another.  You should be on it.

Second, there is a growing group of folks, many very young, who I think would be pleased to be asked.  And will contribute energy to this over many years.   Many of them were at ‘the panel.”  I had lunch with one–a beginning grad student at Minnesota–on Wednesday.

Now a third:  there is a group of scholars who have held on to their old Third Worldism–for better and worse.   People like Mohammed Ayoob, Ali Mazrui, and several more social scientzy folks who focus on developing countries and think about the lack of the Third World in IR.  Are these people worth reaching out to?  I don’t know for sure.

Siba Grovogui (Johns Hopkins)

I agree with your sentiments on all counts: the poststructuralism of the Indian sub-continental tradition of postcolonialism (Spivak et al); the marginalization of non-Western intellectuals; and the need to engage. My own book, Beyond Eurocentrism and Anarchy was a modest contribution in the direction that you suggest. Granted, I do not present the issues in the light that you do. This is particularly because I have a hard time taking anyone seriously who believes that Lyotard, Foucault, Deleuze and other French theorists were not inspired by anti-colonialists’ pronouncements on the two world wars and subsequent colonial wars in Algeria and Vietnam, amongst others. Take Jean-Francois Lyotard, the man said to have first articulated postmodernism after the late 1970s. It may be true that Lyotard’s analysis of the impact of postmodernity on the human condition was particularly refreshing. Still, Sartre and Ponty preceded him by a few decades. All of them were preceded by the 1918 encounter between Ho Chi Minh and Woodrow Wilson at the Versailles Peace Conference. To the then Union Colonial, an organization of anti-colonialists from the entire French empire, Wilson’s response to Ho was a crucial moment of disillusionment with post-Enlightenment ideologies of emancipation and liberal instantiations of freedom. Significantly, the Ho Chi Minh-Wilson encounter occurred in Versailles a good 6 years before Lyotard was born in the same town. It would be safe to assume that the fires put out by Versailles and the ruins it left behind must have had a bearing on Lyotard.

These sorts of things are difficult to always relate without sounding angry. This is why I did the archival work that I did. (I am still waiting for someone to tell me that my authors were borrowing from Foucault, Deleuze, or Ranciere). Deleuze, Foucault, Lyotard and all do not refer explicitly to the intellectual ferment of the postwar years as their moment of inspiration. Nor do they acknowledge that anti-colonialists contributed to the cultural brew that generated poststructuralism. They did not have to, but we do not have to presume that the connections are not there and we should consider that anticolonialists first questioned the central tenets of modernity and its rationalities and symbolic structures. In these regards, metropolitan discussions turned to questions of subjectivity (other(ness)), governmentality, spectrality, etc. in response to existential quandaries facing disenchanted leftists in need of self-preservation in an increasingly shrinking democratic space. It is not an accident that, in France for instance, postmodernists are disproportionately protestants, Jewish, second-generation immigrants, and/or born in the colonies. It may well be a good strategy, an efficient one at that, to grasp postmodern concerns – particularly where they seem to exhibit fragments and portions of anti-colonialist critiques in their own reflections on modernity – as staging for de-colonial concerns about the other refractions of modernity: empire, colonialism, and their moralities, rationalities, and subjectivities.

To this end, I have recently tried to recover “Africa” and “Africans” from between the lines of postwar French thought. This is what I did in my book and my essay on Cosmopolitanism (in the journal International Relations). This is also what I do when I teach courses around “Algeria”.

All in all, you have opened up a conversation that is of great interest to me. Let’s talk more about it. I will give your question further reflection but I did not want to let the day go without a quick response.