Archive for the ‘Michel Foucault’ Category

Homo economicus 2.0

3 November 2009

In the June 2004 issue of the Economic Sociology Newsletter [PDF] the following exchange took place between the interviewer (Søren Jagd) and Laurent Thévenot (“The French Convention School and the Coordination of Economic Action,” p.  13):


Michel Callon argues that the model of economic man could be useful for people engaging in economic activities. And that the interesting thing about this model is if it is actually used by economic actors. Do you agree with that argument?


If Callon says that I would say: Why do they use it? I would ask: What kind of properties should this variety of models have? This is not the kind of question he can answer. He would just answer that they do use it. I think that the problem with this answer is that it will lack a reflection on this architecture of regimes and on the path to the public. This is the main problem for me with this overwhelming notion of network. It doesn’t give any specification of the link, of the social link, of the social action. And again I think a good specification would require this specification both of the good and of the reality as it is used as a test. Instead of that the network modelling in general terms is, I would say, flat, so it cannot give you a good picture of what is needed to go from proximity to the public and to come back from there.

Callon’s essay, “Economic Markets and the Rise of Interactive Agencements” in Pinch and Swedberg’s 2008 book, Living In a Material World, reads like a reply to this challenge, as he develops exactly what Thévenot seems to be asking for. Callon defends his notion of homo economicus 2.0 (also discussed elsewhere) by developing a conceptual framework that allows him not only to describe the conditions for the emergence of such calculative individual agency and its characteristics but also to present some normative considerations for political action. In the process he also manages to revitalise actor-network theory for the study of economic phenomena.


Deleuze on apparatuses

17 October 2009

From “What is a Dispositif?” by Gilles Deleuze:

Two important consequences ensue for a philosophy of apparatuses. The first is the repudiation of universals. A universal explains nothing; it, on the other hand, must be explained. All of the lines are lines of variation that do not even have constant coordinates. The One, the Whole, the True, the object, the subject are not universals but singular processes of unification, totalization, verification, objectification, subjectivation immanent to an apparatus. Each apparatus is therefore a multiplicity where certain processes in becoming are operative and are distinct from those operating in another apparatus.


The second result of a philosophy of apparatuses is a change in orientation, turning away from the Eternal to apprehend the new. The new is not supposed to designate fashion, but on the contrary the variable creativity for the apparatuses: in conformance with the question that began to appear in the 20th century of how the production of something new in the world is possible. (pp. 347-349)

Deleuze, G. and D. Lapoujade (2007). “What is a Dispositif?” Two Regimes of Madness: Texts and Interviews, 1975-1995. New York, Semiotext(e) ; London : MIT Press [distributor].  pp. 343-352


29 September 2009

Andrew Huang‘s Doll Face video could serve as a pretty good illustration of what Giorgio Agamben seems to have in mind when (after Foucault) he talks about subjectification, the configuration of subjects by apparatuses. (Hat tip to themutabletruth)

An apparatus for apparatchiks

27 August 2009

Are apparatuses good or bad? But first, what is an apparatus? The shortest and very helpful definition comes from Giorgio Agamben’s essay, “What is an Apparatus?

I shall call an apparatus literally anything that has in some way the capacity to capture, orient, determine, intercept, model, control, or secure the gestures, behaviors, opinions, or discourses of living beings. (p. 14)

Agamben calls the process of producing human subjects by apparatuses subjectification.

So, once more, is subjectification by apparatuses good or bad? In Heidegger’s view, the apparatus (technology that has the character of enframing, Gestell) is dangerous because it threatens the essence of being human. Foucault seems to be cagier about this issue but Agamben appears to side with Heidegger when he classifies beings like this:

To recapitulate, we have then two great classes: living beings (substances) and apparatuses. And between these two, as a third class, subjects. I call a subject that which results from the relation and, so to speak, from the relentless fight between living beings and apparatuses. (…) The boundless growth of apparatuses in our time corresponds to the equally extreme proliferation in processes of subjectification. (p. 14-15)

Proponents of actor-network theory reject such a priori distinctions between human and nonhuman objects. The result of such a move changes the question itself. It is no longer interesting to ask, ‘Are apparatuses as such inherently good or bad?’ Instead, the question becomes, ‘ What is this or that particular apparatus made for? Is it well made or poorly designed?’ As for subjects, they are constructed, period. If everything is constructed, the prospect of subjectification is no longer horrifying. It is simply a matter of fact. In turn, the question of ‘How subjects are constructed by apparatuses?’ becomes extremely interesting.


Edgar Whitley’s recent video about the UK Identity Card Scheme provides an excellent example for this. As Whitley argues, the problem is not with the idea of using a card for identifying citizens but with the way the scheme, i.e. this apparatus, had been designed. While the ID card scheme does have a user-centric design, the problem is it centres on the wrong user:  the government, instead of the citizen.

The making of this scheme has to be put under the closest scrutiny precisely because the ID card is an apparatus of subjectification, a tool for producing a particular kind of citizen. Thankfully the LSE’s Identity Project has been fulfilling exactly that function. However, its message needs to be disseminated and heard more widely. As Whitley puts it, ID cards threaten to change the relationship between the individual and the state in the UK, by producing a new kind of citizen, and a new kind of state.

So, is an apparatus good or bad? It is bad only if you use Heidegger’s “The Question Concerning Technology” as a blueprint, a user’s manual (as the current UK government appears to be doing), rather than a thought-provoking meditation that kicked off a fascinating debate about the relationship between human beings and their tools. As science and technology studies have shown in the past 30 years or so, that relationship is much more complicated than anyone expected.


Agamben, G. (2009). “What is an apparatus?” and other essays. Stanford, Calif., Stanford University Press.

Heidegger, M. (1977). The question concerning technology and other essays. New York; London, Harper and Row.

Agamben’s apparatus

25 June 2009

Giorgio Agamben’s “What is an Apparatus?” is an extraordinary essay. It is in a league with those essays which one ends up remembering for ever because the act of reading them results in a permanent rearrangement of one’s world (Heidegger’s “The Question Concerning Technology” comes to mind). Other characteristics of such memorable essays are the immense compression and tight weaving together of lines of argument that span the entire written history of a culture and connect the concerns of the Ancients with what is happening today. Agamben’s essay does this beautifully.

What Is an Apparatus?” and Other Essays, by Giorgio Agamben. Translated by David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella. Published by Stanford University Press in 2009.


What is an Apparatus?

30 April 2009

Just a heads up on the English translation of Giorgio Agamben’s What is an Apparatus? hitting the stands next month.

On the Horrors of Realism: An Interview with Graham Harman

7 June 2008

The most recent issue of Pli – The Warwick Journal of Philosophy has an interview with Graham Harman “On the Horrors of Realism.” Harman speaks to Tom Sparrow about object-oriented philosophy, phenomenology, Kant, Husserl, Heidegger’s fourfold, Meillassoux’s correlationism, Lingis, Derrida and Foucault, DeLanda’s realism and Latour’s relationism, speculative realism, Whitehead, Leibniz, Zubiri, H.P. Lovecraft and China Miéville, and of course metaphysics. Harman speaks of weird things, about the horror of the real.

Noortje Marres on material practices of publicity

10 January 2008

On Thursday 24 January 2008 from 12:00 to 13:30 Noortje Marres will be giving an ISRF talk at ISIG at the London School of Economics and Political Science entitled “Devising Affectedness: Eco-Homes and the Making of Material Publics.” (more…)