Arguing the Cap K vs K affs Part 1

The most common reader question about how to argue the cap K vs a K aff dealt with answering Gibson-Graham so that is what part one will address. For those of you who may not be familiar, here is the most common card people read from these two authors when answering the cap K:

One of our goals as Marxists has been to produce a knowledge of
capitalism. Yet as “that which is known,” Capitalism has become the
intimate enemy. We have uncloaked the ideologically-clothed, obscure
monster, but we have installed a naked and visible monster in its place.
In return for our labors of creation, the monster has robbed us of all
force. We hear – and find it easy to believe – that the left is in disarray.
Part of what produces the disarray of the left is the vision of what the
left is arrayed against. When capitalism is represented as a unified system
coextensive with the nation or even the world, when it is portrayed as
crowding out all other economic forms, when it is allowed to define entire
societies, it becomes something that can only be defeated and replaced
by a mass collective movement (or by a process of systemic dissolution
that such a movement might assist). The revolutionary task of replacing
capitalism now seems outmoded and unrealistic, yet we do not seem to
have an alternative conception of class transformation to take its place.
The old political economic “systems” and “structures” that call forth a
vision of revolution as systemic replacement still seem to be dominant
in the Marxist political imagination.
The New World Order is often represented as political fragmentation
founded upon economic unification. In this vision the economy appears
as the last stronghold of unity and singularity in a world of diversity
and plurality. But why can’t the economy be fragmented too? If we
theorized it as fragmented in the United States, we could begin to
see a huge state sector (incorporating a variety of forms of appro-
priation of surplus labor), a very large sector of self-employed and
family-based producers (most noncapitalist), a huge household sector
(again, quite various in terms of forms of exploitation, with some
households moving towards communal or collective appropriation and
others operating in a traditional mode in which one adult appropri-
ates surplus labor from another). None of these things is easy to sec
or to theorize as consequential in so-called capitalist social forma-
tions.
If capitalism takes up the available social space, there’s no room
for anything else. If capitalism cannot coexist, there’s no possibility
of anything else. If capitalism is large, other things appear small and
inconsequential. If capitalism functions as a unity, it cannot he partially
or locally replaced. My intent is to help create the discursive conditions
under which socialist or other noncapitalist construction becomes a
“realistic” present activity rather than a ludicrous or utopian future
goal. To achieve this I must smash Capitalism and see it in a thousand

pieces. I must make its unity a fantasy, visible as a denial of diversity and
change.
In the absence of Capitalism, 1 might suggest a different object of
socialist politics. Perhaps we might be able to focus some of our trans-
formative energies on the exploitation and surplus distribution that go
on around us in so many forms and in which we participate in various
ways. In the household, in the so-called workplace, in the community,
surplus labor is produced, appropriated, and distributed every day by
ourselves and by others. Marx made these processes visible but they
have been obscured by the discourse of Capitalism, with its vision of
two great classes locked in millennial struggle. Compelling and powerful
though it might be, this discourse docs not allow for a variety of
forms of exploitation and distribution or for the diversity of class
positions and consciousnesses that such processes might participate in
creating.
If we can divorce our ideas of class from systemic social concep-
tions, and simultaneously divorce our ideas of class transformation
from projects of systemic transformation, we may be able to envis-
ion local and proximate socialisms. Defining socialism as the com-
munal production, appropriation and distribution of surplus labor, we
could encounter and construct it at home, at work, at large. These
“thinly defined” socialisms wouldn’t remake our societies overnight
in some total and millennial fashion (Cullenbcrg 1992) but they could
participate in constituting and reconstituting them on a daily basis.
They wouldn’t be a panacea for all the ills that we love to heap on
the doorstep of Capitalism, but they could be visible and replicable
now.23

 

Personally, I don’t think this card is that great/really does much at all to explain the actual argument- but it has good soundbites so naturally debaters pick it over something more substantive. Before we go on to answering it though I would like to dig a little deeper into what the argument most teams are trying to make is because tags like “totalizing views of capital crush resistance” offer no useful explanation.

 

Gibson-Graham are bringing a postructural analysis to sort of traditional orthodox Marxists (what Butler, as we will discuss in part 2, refers to as “neoconservative Marxists”. For post-structuralists the material world is important, but they want us to understand that our understanding of the material world is filtered by discourse. Discourse for them doesn’t just mean the literal concepts words convey, but instead the sets of cultural and political beliefs that language carries with it. These sets of discourse are often referred to as a “script” or “narrative”, these words being chosen to emphasize the constructed nature of these “scripts”- scripts don’t emerge naturally, they are written by someone and for some purpose. Gibson-Graham begin their discussion of scripts by discussing an article by Marcus about rape discourse. In that article, among other points, Marcus offers a critique of rape discourse designed to highlight the prevalence of rape- adds from the 80’s and 90’s that said things like “Every X amount of time a woman is raped”. One of the points Marcus makes is that these adds made it appear as if rape was an inevitability, something women were powerless to resist, because rape was purely a function of time- every X amount of time a rape occurred. Marcus wanted people to critically examine this discourse which, though well intentioned, could create feelings of apathy or surrender in women who saw them. She referred to these kinds of discourse as “rape scripts”.

 

Gibson-Graham point out that the discourse of neoliberal globalization often parallels these dominant rape scripts. People talk about the expansion of globalization as an inevitability we are powerless to resist, gendered metaphors like “market penetration” are used to explain and describe neoliberal expansion. What Gibson-Graham are criticizing is the way this kind of language constructs capitalism as a sort of global phenomenon that is huge and unstoppable. Like most postructuralists, Gibson-Graham are pushing at the questions “for whom?” and “for what purpose”?- so who benefits from this language that constructs neoliberalism as an unstoppable force? The way most teams explain this in debates I’ve seen is the argument that this somehow “link turns” the k- that describing capitalism in this way makes capitalism stronger. That is certainly one of the points the authors are trying to make.

The other, IMO better and more subtle, implication is that this language is designed to benefit a certain sect of Marxists (orthodox/Neoconservative) who believe that our only hope is a united labor movement. Describing capitalism as an overarching structure of such magnitude means that in order to resist capitalism we need a large unified resistance movement like a workers revolution. This discourse therefore serves to deligitimize in advance resistance movements who don’t agree with those tactics and want instead to employ some sort of “local” resistance strategy. Gibson-Graham think this sort of discourse needs to be problematized because it creates rifts in anti capitalist resistance movements (which is what most teams use to explain a permutation argument) but also because they believe that capitalism itself is largely constructed through discourse and therefore the discursive terrain is a key site of resistance.

 

So moving on to the cap K, Gibson-Graham makes more or less sense depending on how the neg constructs and organizes their argument. In a standard debate vs a policy aff where the alt is something like “resist” I often don’t think reading Gibson-Graham makes any sense at all. In these debates vs policy teams most negs are not making the sort of totalizing claims about cap this evidence indicts- instead they are making a sort of poststructural alternative argument about how capitalism can be resisted. Now this, I realize, is splitting hairs- I can already hear a chorus of readers saying “but that’s not offense!” and certainly it isn’t. The link to Gibson- Graham can often be established by pointing out your root cause claim or other sweeping impact claims- why does it matter that your alternative doesn’t link? This kind of thinking is very problematic if you want to become a successful K debater because it relies on several assumptions about the way debate works that are problematic- that there is an implicit offense/defense paradigm, that analytic arguments are less valuable than evidence etc. A well worded smart analytic explaining this tension should be more than sufficient to make this argument go away in these debates.

 

However, when teams read the cap K vs non policy affirmatives they generally are reading from a less sophisticated literature base, they are relying on these “neoconservative” marxists to make several of their link arguments (obviously this will vary from round to round depending on who you read)- but also more importantly since a lot of critique affirmatives are pessimistic about the possibility of world change many cap K alternatives rely on this division between theorizing (which discursive arguments would fall under) and acting (some sort of labor movement). People read a lot of link arguments that are basically “postmodernism bad” and these certainly will provide the affirmative with a solid basis for winning a link to Gibson-Graham. As such the rest of this article will be divided into 2 parts, part 1 will address how you can make your argument more sophisticated and therefore less vulnerable. Part 2 will deal with answers you can make while still reading the blue collar version.

 

So how can you make your arguments better to avoid having to debate Gibson-Graham? Well all the moves we could make to the K to improve it carry with them a particular kind of baggage: the more centrist you make your cap k the more problems you will have with competition. What I mean is that the reason people gravitate toward orthodox Marxists is that they are the Stannis Baratheon of debate authors -totally uncompromising. This makes ti easy to establish links and generate competition

 

1AC: Something

1NC: Discussing something forestalls the revolution

2AC: Perm, something and revolution

2NC: Including something in the revolution causes global nuke war- 20 awesome cards

 

This paint by numbers approach is certainly “easier”, but much like the Dark Side of the force in the end its counterproductive. When judges complain that they don’t like the cap K its often these crude essentializations they are speaking of. This sort of rigid/hardcore version of the cap K makes it difficult for you to capture the middle ground and absorb the other teams offense- something k arguments are generally designed to do. We will now go through some of the specifics, but bear in mind making these changes will require you to debate permutations differently (something we will address in part 3)

 

1. Carefully select your link evidence- For any link claim like “identity politics bad” you can find what I would call Strong and Weak versions of the argument. A strong identity politics bad claim would be something like “we are all the same, only capitalism causes oppression, discussing other “causes” distracts focus from capitalism”. This is certainly a stronger link argument in that it makes several deterministic claims about the world/the affirmative. However, it is generally imo strategically worse to read cards like this as they allow the affirmative to more easily set up arguments like the alternative is exclusionary/economic reductionism etc. A weak version of the identity politics link claim might be something like “IDP fractures resistance movements”- this link doesn’t rely on the idea that only capitalism matters or that identity based oppression doesn’t exist, instead it looks at the political ramifications of groups all pursuing competing identity claims. In some debates this may be a distinction without a difference, but the more sophisticated the affirmative team becomes in formulating their answers the more important it becomes for you to have your own sophisticated arguments.

 

2. Think about your alternative text and its function- why are you reading an alternative vs a k team? Vs a policy aff the answer is relatively straightforward, the alternative is designed to hopefully try and solve for part of the case, and probably to help provide uniqueness to some link arguments that otherwise would be in trouble. Vs a K team though, does the alternative work the same way? Lets just look at the solve the case part- can it be said that K alternatives meaningfully “solve” portions of K affirmatives?  Like anything else in debate this isn’t really a yes/no issue- its a spectrum. If the K aff in question makes relatively moderate claims than probably yes it could solve part of the case. Increasingly in debate K affirmatives are making more and more radical claims about why positive change is not possible within existing structures- these claims help them defeat framework arguments- and vs these kind of claims the alternative doesn’t really function to solve the case. Similarly vs identity teams where their affirmative is about why identity claims are important, no matter how you word your cap k alternative in order to avoid your links you will be forced to not advance these kind of identity claims, so what is the alternative really “solving”? Sometimes people try and make debate about “competing methods (a rant for another time….)” and here the idea is that the alternative is a different “method” for… something. Most often the barometer for measuring “competing methods” are poorly discussed/explained and this basically boils down to an almost policy esque calculation of efficiency- and if that happens you have K failed.

 

So what should your alternative be and what should it be “doing”? Well this is obviously case by case, but in general the alternative should be attempting to do the following

A. Explain how we can go about resisting capitalism/the problems identified in your link arguments- this wouldn’t be a “blueprint” per se, but instead you want to pick a set of tactics that you can defend- the more specific the better. So if you want to defend the labor movement that’s fine, but you need to explain why what happens in the debate/with the ballot is somehow tied to a broader labor struggle. I think the way most teams have copied reading Mclaren and arguing about pedagogy is also a fine route- this requires you to explain why your anti capitalist pedagogy is important and how it functions in the round, something many teams fail to do.

 

B. Explain how the alternative interacts with the philosophical underpinnings of the affirmative case- too many teams discuss “the aff” as a homogenized entity to avoid explaining their arguments. Instead of discussing the affirmative they throw around awful debate jargon like “our k internal link turns the aff”- sentence fragments that mean nothing but are vaguely debatey enough for judges to vote on. K affirmatives can be broken down into pieces/assumptions just like policy affirmatives. If a policy affirmative had 3 advantages you wouldn’t want to just say “security K turns the case” because those advantages are all different and have different internal links. You would break the affirmative down into parts and try and interact with those parts. Similarly K affirmatives can be broken down into parts- when debating Wilderson the most effective cap K teams try and break down the chain of reasoning that informs the affs arguments. They will agreethat anti-blackness is prevalent but reject the idea that it is ontological, therefore redirecting the debate to what is generally a small part of the 1AC, and putting a laser focus on that piece as they try to deconstruct it. They will then explain why breaking down this assumption causes other later claims (like civil society hosed) to fall apart. If your alternative is about pedagogy you will want to do this explanation differently than if your alternative is about boring politics.

 

The combined effect of working sophistication into all levels of your argument will be a lot more wins. It also allows you to successfully employ more sophisticated evidence- and on that note here is an example of one of my favorite cards to read to answer Gibson-Graham when you read a cap K that is more nuanced and includes discursive considerations (this is also on an point answer to the Barnett cards people have been reading frequently, also this whole article is pretty boss and contains more cards that develop this into a stronger argument so if you want to get goooooot at debate I suggest checking it out)

Springer, Dept of Geography Univ of Otago, 2012

(Simon, Critical Discourse Studies Vol. 9, No. 2, May 2012, 133–147 , p.136-7 )

From initial explorations concerned with the implications for state reform, the expansion of neoliberalism into a field of academic inquiry has been meteoric. Scholars are now examining the relationships between neoliberalism and everything from cities to citizenship, sexuality to subjectivity, and development to discourse to name but a few. Concomitant to such theoretical expansion, consensus on what is actually meant by ‘neoliberalism’ has diminished. Consequently, some commentators have demonstrated considerable anxiety over the potential explanatory power of the concept, labeling neoliberalism a ‘necessary illusion’ (Castree, 2006) or suggesting that ‘there is no such thing’ (Barnett, 2005). Drawing on Gibson-Graham’s (1996) misgivings over the discursive fetishization of capital, these reservations are anxious about how pervasive neoliberalism has become in academic writing and are equally concerned about the monolithic appearance of neoliberalism owing to its characterization as expansive, dynamic, and self-reproducing. These critiques offer an important call for further reflection, as it is vital to challenge the ‘neoliberalism as monolithism’ argument for failing to recognize the protean and processual character of space and time (Massey, 2005; Springer, 2011c). Similarly, by constituting an external and supposedly omnipresent neoliberalism, we neglect internal constitution, local variability, and the role that ‘the social’ and individual agency play in (re)producing, facilitating, and circulating neoliberalism. Such criticisms have triggered an increasingpropensity in the literature to replace discussions of neoliberalism with a new language of ‘neoliberalization’, which acknowledges multiplicity, complexity, variegation, and contextual specificity (see Brenner, Peck, & Theodore, 2010; England &Ward, 2007; Heynen & Robbins, 2005; Purcell, 2008; Springer, 2010b, 2011a). As a protean process, neoliberalization is considered to ‘materialize’ very differently as a series of hybridized and mutated forms of neoliberalism,  contingent upon existing historical contexts, geographical landscapes, institutional legacies, and embodied subjectivities (see Peck, 2001; Peck & Tickell, 2002).  On the other hand, some have called for a moment of pause, suggesting that we should be wary of overly concrete or introspective analyses of the local, as such accounts inadequately attend to the principal attributes and meaningful bonds of neoliberalism as a global project (Brenner & Theodore, 2002; Peck & Tickell, 2002). The ‘larger conversation’ that neoliberalism provokes is regarded as imperative in connecting similar patterns of experiences across space, which may serve as a potential basis for building solidarities (see Brand & Wissen, 2005; Escobar, 2001; Featherstone, 2005; Kohl, 2006; Routledge, 2003; Springer, 2008, 2011b; Willis, Smith, & Stenning, 2008). Thus neoliberalism as a concept allows poverty and inequality experienced across multiple sites to find a point of similitude, whereas disarticulation undermines efforts to build and sustain shared aims of resistance beyond the micro-politics of the local. Accordingly, conceptualizing neoliberalism requires an appreciation of the elaborate and fluctuating interchange between the local and extralocal forces at work within the global political economy (Brenner & Theodore, 2002; Ferguson & Gupta, 2002; Peck, 2001). Ong (2007, p. 3) corroborates this notion by conceptualizing ‘big N Neoliberalism’ as ‘a fixed set of attributes with predetermined outcomes’, while ‘small n neoliberalism’ operates in practice ‘as a logic of governing that mitigates and is selectively taken up in diverse political contexts’. In this light, Peck and Tickell (2002, p. 383) propose ‘a processual conception of neoliberalization as both an “out there” and “in here” phenomenon whose effects are necessarily variegated and uneven, but the incidence and diffusion of which may present clues to a pervasive “metalogic”. Like globalization, neoliberalization should be understood as a process, not an end-state’. Thus, neoliberalism-cum-neoliberalization can be viewed as a plural set of ideas emanating from both everywhere and nowhere within diffused loci of power (Plehwe & Walpen, 2006). The inability to straightforwardly align neoliberalism to particular individuals, organizations, or states, and the further recognition that there is no ‘pure’ or ‘paradigmatic’ version of neoliberalism, but rather a series of geopolitically distinct and institutionally effected hybrids (Peck, 2004), plays a significant role in the difficulty of realizing consensus on a conceptual definition of ‘neoliberalism in general’. Neoliberalism, it would seem is simply too nebulous to isolate or determine (McCarthy & Prudham, 2004).

Tracking down all the things cited there and reading them would be pretty good for improving your cap debating.

Ok, assuming you don’t want to do any of that… what do you do?

Well in that case its important to throw down and have a variety of evidence attacking the poststructural position of Gibson-Graham. You can easily find a lot of Marxists who don’t like it and read cards from them, this is a good start (again check out article for more)

 

Poitevin, PhD , 2001

(Rene Francisco, “The end of anti-capitalism as we knew it: Reflections on postmodern Marxism”, TheSocialist Review 8.3/4 (2001): 137-156)

The first thing that jumps out after reading The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It): A Feminist Critique of Political Economy is the way in which there are at least two ways of smashing the capitalist state: we can have the Leninist revolution or we can change the definition of capitalism and make it disappear. J.K. Gibson-Graham succeeds in doing the latter: in a kind of theoretical abracadabra, capitalism is definitely gone by the end of their book. But despite the theoretical sophistication of their work – a no-holds barred embracing of post-structuralist theory – once the epistemological fireworks dissipate, the argument of the book is actually rather simple. If what is wrong with Left politics “is the way capitalism has been ‘thought’ that has made it so difficult for people to imagine its supersession,”16 then it logically follows that what is to be done is to change its definition so that it can be “thought” differently – and therefore be made easier to get rid of. And if the problem of why U.S. radical politics has been so ineffective for the last two decades is the stubborn Marxist insistence upon “the image of two classes locked in struggle,” a situation that “has in our view become an obstacle to, rather than a positive force for, anticapitalist endeavors,”17 then how about getting rid of this whole class struggle thing and “reimagine” labor and capital as allies rather than enemies?18 Would not that make the whole task of social transformation much easier? Perhaps, but as we will see shortly, getting rid of capitalism is easier said than done. The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It) begs another question: Who are they going after? Is it capitalism or is it Marx? Their book spends so much time on what is supposedly wrong with Marxism that at times it reads more like The End of Marxism As We Knew It. This approach is typical of a pattern that, to quote Wendy Brown, “responds less to the antidemocratic forces of our time than to a ghostly philosophical standoff between historically abstracted formulations of Marxism and liberalism. In other words, this effort seeks to resolve a problem in a (certain) history of ideas rather than a problem in history.”19 Simply put, postmodern Marxist politics has more to do with the micropolitics of the ivory tower than with the plight of the workers who clean their campuses. However, once it becomes clear that a necessary condition for the primacy of postmodern theory and politics is that Marxism has to go (otherwise you do not have to become a postmodern to address their concerns), J.K. Gibson-Graham’s anti-Marxist hostility, while actively embracing the Marxist label in order to render it useless, makes a lot of sense. And once again, all this is done with impeccable logic: Given that Marxism is still the only doctrine that calls for the systematic overthrow of capitalism, getting rid of Marx(ism) is also to get rid of the need for revolution with a big “R.”20 One of the problems with trying to make the case for postmodern Marxism is that in order to get rid of Marxism and declare its tradition obsolete, you have to distort its legacy by constructing a straw man. This straw man-reading of Marx is predicated upon the double maneuver of collapsing Marxist history into Stalinism, on the one hand, and reducing Marxist theory to “essentialism,” “totality,” and “teleology,” on the other. As J.K. Gibson-Graham themselves acknowledge, without any regrets, “Indeed, as many of our critics sometimes charge, we have constructed a ‘straw man.'”21 What is left out of their quasi-humorous dismissal of Marxism is the complicity of such a straw man in the long history of red-baiting and anti-Marxist repression in this country and around the world.

 

Now obviously there are a million potential indicts of Gibson-Graham out there and which one(s) you select is largely a matter of personal choice- you want to pick the arguments you think are best, fit within your strategy the best etc. The above card I think is good, but it starts to border on the too clever for its own good line-i.e. the ratio of complex arguments to words is pretty low as the author indulges in some good natured sniping/clever word play at the expense of hard hitting analysis. I would never want to read 2-3 cards like this, if I read more I would want to make sure the later evidence carried more analytic heft with it.

Once you introduce your indicts/responses the debate then becomes about debating which set of evidence/arguments is stronger- a debate that will largely be conducted in the rebuttals. In order to set up that debate I think often times it is helpful to read a card or two that , while not explicitly responding to Gibson-Graham, helps lay the philosophical foundation for winning your responses. This evidence would question the poststructural approach or critique the idea of “totalizing” so that you can use it as a sort of “prefer my evidence” kind of argument in the 2NR, a card like this

Ellen Meiksins Wood, PhD Poli Sci UCLA , Member Royal Society of Canada, What is the Postmodern Agenda? in In defense of history 1997

At any rate, we are living in a historical moment that more than any other demands a universalistic project. This is a historical moment dominated by capitalism, the most universal system the world has ever known—both in the sense that it is global and in the sense that it penetrates every aspect of social life and the natural environment. In dealing with capitalism, the postmodernist insistence that reality is fragmentary and therefore accessi¬ble only to fragmentary “knowledges” is especially perverse and disabling. The social reality of capitalism is “totalizing” in unprecedented ways and degrees. Its logic of commodification, accumulation, profit-maximization, and competition permeates the whole social order; and an understanding of this “totalizing” system requires just the kind of “totalizing knowledge” that Marxism offers and postmodernists reject. Opposition to the capitalist system also requires us to call upon interests and resources that unify, instead of fragmenting, the anticapitalist struggle. In the first instance, these are the interests and resources of class, the single most universal force capable of uniting diverse emancipatory struggles; but in the final analysis, we are talking about the interests and resources of our common humanity, in the conviction that, for all our manifold differences, there are certain fundamentally and irreducibly common conditions of human well-being and self-fulfillment which capitalism cannot satisfy and socialism can. For people on the left, and especially for a younger generation of intellec¬tuals and students, the greatest appeal of postmodernism is its apparent openness, as against the alleged “closures” of a “totalizing” system like Marxism. But this claim to openness is largely spurious. The problem is not just that postmodernism represents an ineffectual kind of pluralism which has undermined its own foundations. Nor is it simply an uncritical but harmless eclecticism. There is something more serious at stake. The “open¬ness” of postmodernism’s fragmentary knowledges and its emphasis on “difference” are purchased at the price of much more fundamental closures. Postmodernism is, in its negative way, a ruthlessly “totalizing” system which forecloses a vast range of critical thought and emancipatory politics and its closures are final and decisive. Its epistemological assumptions make it unavailable to criticism, as immune to critique as the most rigid kind of dogma (how do you criticize a body of ideas that a priori rules out the very practice of “rational” argument?). And they preclude—not just by dogmatically rejecting but also by rendering impossible—a systematic un¬derstanding of our historical moment, a wholesale critique of capitalism, and just about any effective political action. If postmodernism does tell us something, in a distorted way, about the conditions of contemporary capitalism, the real trick is to figure out exactly what those conditions are, why they are, and where we go from here. The trick, in other words, is to suggest historical explanations for those condi¬tions instead of just submitting to them and indulging in ideological adap¬tations. The trick is to identify the real problems to which the current intellectual fashions offer false—or no—solutions, and in so doing to challenge the limits they impose on action and resistance. The trick is to respond to the conditions of the world today not as cheerful (or even miserable) robots but as critics. “(13-14)

 

This evidence sets up a number of arguments you could make like Now key, AT”: now not key, AT: later key etc.

 

 

In closing, people reading Gibson-Graham should read this better card

 

Gibson-Graham 8 – the pen name of Katherine Gibson, Senior Fellow of Human Geography at Australian National University, and Julie Graham, professor of Geography at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst

(JK, “Diverse economies: performative practices for ‘other worlds’,” Progress in Human Geography, doi:10.1177/0309132508090821, SAGE)//BB

We are arguing that the diverse economy ¶ framing opens up opportunities for elaborating a radically heterogeneous economy ¶ and theorizing economic dynamics that ¶ foster and strengthen different economies. It ¶ also provides a representation of an existing ¶ economic world waiting to be selectively ¶ (re)performed. But a problem remains – it ¶ seems that we need to become new academic subjects to be able to perform it. At ¶ present we are trained to be discerning, ¶ detached and critical so that we can penetrate the veil of common understanding and ¶ expose the root causes and bottom lines that ¶ govern the phenomenal world. This academic stance means that most theorizing is ¶ tinged with skepticism and negativity, not a ¶ particularly nurturing environment for hopeful, inchoate experiments.¶ Bruno Latour expresses a similar disquiet ¶ when he likens the practice of critical theory to ¶ the thinking of popular conspiracy theorists:¶ In both cases … it is the same appeal to powerful agents hidden in the dark acting always ¶ consistently, continuously, relentlessly. Of ¶ course, we in the academy like to use more ¶ elevated causes – society, discourse, knowledge-slash-power, fields of forces, empires, ¶ capitalism – while conspiracists like to portray ¶ a miserable bunch of greedy people with ¶ dark intents, but I find something troublingly ¶ similar in the structure of explanation, in the ¶ fi rst movement of disbelief and, then, in the¶ wheeling of causal explanations coming out of ¶ the deep dark below. (Latour, 2004: 229)¶ In more psychoanalytic language, Eve ¶ Sedgwick identifies this as the paranoid ¶ motive in social theorizing. She tells the ¶ story of Freud, who observed a distressing ¶ affi nity between his own theorizing and the ¶ thinking of his paranoid patients. Paranoia ¶ marshals every site and event into the same ¶ fearful order, with the goal of minimizing surprise (Sedgwick, 2003). Everything comes ¶ to mean the same thing, usually something ¶ large and threatening (like neoliberalism, or ¶ globalization, or capitalism, or empire).¶ The paranoid stance yields a particular ¶ kind of theory, ‘strong’ theory with an ¶ embracing reach and a reductive field of ¶ meaning (Sedgwick, 2003). This means that ¶ experimental forays into building new economies are likely to be dismissed as capitalism in another guise or as always already ¶ coopted; they are often judged as inadequate ¶ before they are explored in all their complexity and incoherence. While such a reaction may be valid as the appropriate critical ¶ response to new information, it affirms an ¶ ultimately essentialist, usually structural, ¶ vision of what is and reinforces what is perceived as dominant.¶ If our goal as thinkers is the proliferation of ¶ different economies, we may need to adopt ¶ a different orientation toward theory. But ¶ the question becomes how do we disinvest ¶ in our paranoid practices of critique and ¶ mastery and undertake thinking that can ¶ energize and support ‘other economies’? ¶ Here we have turned to what Nietzsche ¶ called self-artistry, and Foucault called selfcultivation, addressing them to our own ¶ thinking. The co-implicated processes of ¶ changing ourselves/changing our thinking/¶ changing the world are what we identify as ¶ an ethical practice. If politics involves taking ¶ transformative decisions in an undecideable ¶ terrain,5¶ ethics is the continual exercising of ¶ a choice to be/act/or think in certain ways ¶ (Varela, 1992).¶ How might those of us interested in diverse ¶ economies choose to think and theorize in a ¶ way that makes us a condition of possibility ¶ of new economic becomings, rather than a ¶ condition of their impossibility? Once again ¶ Eve Sedgwick shows us the way. What if ¶ we were to accept that the goal of theory is ¶ not to extend knowledge by confi rming what ¶ we already know, that the world is a place ¶ of domination and oppression? What if we ¶ asked theory instead to help us see openings, ¶ to provide a space of freedom and possibility? ¶ As a means of getting theory to yield something new, Sedgwick suggests reducing its ¶ reach, localizing its purview, practicing a ¶ ‘weak’ form of theory.6¶ The practice of weak ¶ theorizing involves refusing to extend explanation too widely or deeply, refusing to ¶ know too much. Weak theory could not ¶ know that social experiments are doomed ¶ to fail or destined to reinforce dominance; it ¶ could not tell us that the world economy will ¶ never be transformed by the disorganized ¶ proliferation of local projects.¶ Strong theory has produced our powerlessness by positing unfolding logics and ¶ structures that limit politics. Weak theory ¶ could de-exoticize power and help us accept ¶ it as our pervasive, uneven milieu. We could ¶ begin to explore the many mundane forms of ¶ power. A differentiated landscape of force, ¶ constraint, energy, and freedom would open ¶ up (Allen, 2003) and we could open ourselves ¶ to the positive energies that are suddenly ¶ available.¶ Weak theory could be undertaken with ¶ a reparative motive that welcomes surprise, ¶ tolerates coexistence, and cares for the new, ¶ providing a welcoming environment for the ¶ objects of our thought. It could foster a ‘love ¶ of the world’, as Hannah Arendt suggests,7¶ rather than masterful knowing or moralistic ¶ detachment. It could draw on the pleasures ¶ of friendliness, trust, and companionable ¶ connection. There could be a greater scope ¶ for invention and playfulness, enchantment ¶ and exuberance (Bennett, 2001).8¶ The diverse economies diagram in Figure ¶ 1 provides an example of weak theory. It ¶ offers little more than description, just the ¶ proliferation of categories and concepts. ¶ As a listing of heterogeneous economic ¶ practices, it contains minimal critical content; ¶ it is simply a technology that reconstitutes ¶ the ground upon which we can perform a ¶ different economy, which is how we have ¶ used it in our action research.¶ The choice to create weak theory about ¶ diverse economies is a political/ethical ¶ decision that infl uences what kind of worlds ¶ we can imagine and create, ones in which ¶ we enact and construct rather than resist (or ¶ succumb to) economic realities. Many other ¶ social scientists understand their research ¶ choices as ordained by the world itself, by ¶ the stark realities that impose themselves ¶ on consciousness and demand investigation. ¶ In economic geography, for example, the ¶ dominant topic of research over the past ¶ decade or more has been neoliberalism and ¶ neoliberal capitalist globalization. This has ¶ been represented as needing study for the ¶ apparently self-evident reason that ‘it is the ¶ most important process of our age, transforming geographies worldwide’. Some ¶ leading proponents of neoliberalism studies ¶ have begun to express concern about where ¶ this line of research is headed (Larner, 2003; ¶ Castree, 2006a), but few see themselves as ¶ making an ethical choice to participate in constituting neoliberalism. Law and Urry point ¶ to the ultimately destructive ‘innocence’ of ¶ this position:¶ to the extent social science conceals its performativity from itself it is pretending to an ¶ innocence that it cannot have. And to the ¶ extent that it enacts methods that look for or ¶ assume certain structural stabilities, it enacts ¶ those stabilities while interfering with other ¶ realities … (Law and Urry, 2004: 404, our ¶ emphasis)¶ Taking Law and Urry’s point to heart, we ¶ can identify a problem with strong theories of ¶ neoliberal globalization – their performative ¶ effect is to interfere with, to make noncredible (Santos, 2004), to deny legitimacy to ¶ the diverse economies that are already here, ¶ and to close down the open futures that are ¶ waiting to be performatively enacted.

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One response to “Arguing the Cap K vs K affs Part 1

  1. Pingback: LD Podcast 3 | HS Impact·

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