Jeremy Crampton has responded in a very interesting way to my comment that ‘the political is always technical’. I made that comment in my remarks to the ArcticNet conference last week – a summary and the audio recording are here. Here’s the key paragraph he is responding to:
One of the previous presenters had made the claim that there was nothing political about some of the techniques. While I made the comment that we could say that there is always a politics to the technical, I was most interested in turning his claim around, rather than disagreeing with it: suggesting that the political is always technical. I’ve made this claim before in relation to territory as a political technology, as dependent on all sorts of techniques for measuring land and controlling terrain.
Jeremy’s post is interesting on several levels. The first is that he sees this response as a productive way of engaging – rather than simple opposition it ‘opens up possibilities for investigation’ and ‘has the secondary purpose of enrolling the first speaker in the search’. That’s a nice way of putting it, and it was part of my intent to find a way to move a debate further forward.
The post is also interesting because it asks the question that my comment needs (and didn’t get on the day) –
How is the political technical? What does that mean? What technologies are involved? Specifically exciting is that it invites on to the field of inquiry (I can imagine) all sorts of cartographies and mappings.
I’m not going to try to elaborate a full response here, but what I’d suggest is that the claim is twofold. One is that there are specific technologies at stake – land surveying, cartography, scientific practices, etc. These are crucial, and need to be elaborated in detail – no shortage of these in the Arctic work, as the presentation I was responding to had illuminated in detail. The second is that the register of the technological needs to be understood in a broad sense. You can take that in at least two ways – the Heideggerian understanding of an essence to technology, as itself nothing technological but a way of conceiving or grasping the world; and the Foucauldian mode of talking of ‘techniques of the self’ of ‘government’ and so on. These are arts, practices, techne – broad ways of conceiving and acting, the interrelation of knowledge and power. Both the Heideggerian and Foucauldian influences are crucial to my thinking on this question. I try to trace some of these ‘technologies’ in a broad sense in The Birth of Territory, as Jeremy notes – how can we understand territory as a ‘political technology’, or a bundle of political technologies…
The other thing interesting in Jeremy’s comment is that he sees this as familiar move of mine, and gives three examples from my work – two from Mapping the Present and one from the ‘Land, Terrain, Territory’ essay (which is an early version of the introduction to The Birth of Territory). I hadn’t really seen this as a common thread, and certainly wasn’t consciously drawing on that mode of operating with my largely improvised comments in Halifax. But there is definitely a similarity in these approaches, and the reversal of claims or the hierarchy of concepts is, of course, something Foucault and Heidegger both do.