The Space of the World 2009

Here’s the initial project proposal I wrote in 2009 for the work I’m now beginning to think about more seriously.

Globalisation remains a significant research topic across the social sciences and humanities. Yet despite attention within geography, a coherent analysis of the relation between globalisation, space and territory remains lacking. At the same time, philosophers have attempted to think the notion of the world, particularly in terms of it being something that precedes the extension of economic, political and cultural phenomena across the globe. However these philosophical accounts have often remained frustratingly detached from the global forces actively reshaping the world, its constituent states and territories. Where philosophical ideas have been employed in analysis, this has often been at the expense of sufficient nuance. One example would be the widespread adoption of the term ‘deterritoralisation’ to describe globalisation, when at most what is being observed is a remaking of spatial relations. Continuities between the state-territorial modern world and globalisation cannot be properly conceived because the conditions that made both possible are poorly understood.

This project seeks to bridge these divergent literatures in order to undertake a philosophical investigation of the relation between territory and globalisation. Building on the analysis of territory I have developed in two book length studies—Terror and Territory: The Spatial Extent of Sovereignty (University of Minnesota Press, 2009) and The Birth of Territory (in progress, projected 2012)—this will interrogate the space of the world.

How did the world become an object of thought? How was this related to its becoming an object of practice? What potential is there for rethinking the way the world is constructed without simply falling into mechanistic, technocratic ways of rendering? To think the world of globalisation forces us to realise that this is not a transcending of spatial or territorial problematics. Globalisation does not mean the end of geography, but rather its reconfiguration within existing terms. Territory—understood as the political corollary of calculative space, as a political technology—offers us insight into the world scale or the notion of the worldwide. The process of globalisation is an acceleration of the homogenous understanding of space and time, as coordinates on a three and four dimensional grid. The understanding of space and time as calculative, and extension as the primary characteristic of material nature is to make it amenable to science through geometry and measure more generally. A difference of degree rather than an ontological transformation is thus the way to grasp the spatiality of globalisation.

The key authors interrogated will be philosophers within the continental tradition: Eugen Fink, Kostas Axelos, Henri Lefebvre, Alain Badiou, Quentin Meillassoux and Peter Sloterdijk. While Fink and Axelos have had some work translated in the past; they largely remain to be discovered in English-speaking scholarship, particularly in terms of their work on the concept of world. Badiou is now a major figure in translation, with his Logics of Worlds translated in 2009 and his ex-student Meillassoux’s book After Finitude the year before. As yet the majority of scholarship on their work, especially within geography, has been overwhelming positive, not recognising the problems of their mathematical ontology. Sloterdijk is the subject of an extensive and ongoing programme of translation. Of special note is that Semiotext(e) have recently contracted to translate his three-volume masterwork Spheres. I have published on all these writers: a book on Lefebvre, and three edited collections of translations; a special issue of a journal and a forthcoming edited book on Sloterdijk; and journal articles and chapters on the others. All of these thinkers are working in the wake of the analyses of Martin Heidegger, on whom the PI has authored two books.

A reworked version of this became the fellowship application to ANU I begin next week. A much more elaborated version, with some significant changes and expansions became the short piece forthcoming in New Geographies. Looking at the 2009 version now, I’m struck by a few things. First, that it’s very thinker-focused – at the time I’d been writing pieces on many of these people and thought the book would be more structured in that way. It no longer has that shape. Second, that at the time I’d hoped to get some external funding to try to get translations of Eugen Fink’s Spiel als Weltsymbol and Kostas Axelos, Le jeu du monde made. I’d hoped I could work with post-doc researchers on these – them doing the translation, with me in an advisory role, and maybe coauthoring an introduction. The funding didn’t come through and I’ve not pursued this since – though I continue to think they are both great books that would be wonderful to have in English. Publishers seem vaguely interested in the idea, but apprehensive about sales given the cost of translations. Hence the thought of some funding to help. And third, that at the time I seemed to think that the calculative model of territory was sufficient to understand the space of globalisation; but I’d now claim it is simply necessary. As such, The Space of the World, as now planned, takes a number of rather different cuts through the topic, and is led and structured by those cuts, or problematics, rather than either being simply ‘big territory’ and a straight-forward sequel to the earlier works; or thinker-based. I think the newer plan is much better than either of those alternatives, but of course I would say that, and it’s all subject to change still – one of the best things about doing research-based writing, rather than writing up research, is that the process of writing is itself transformative.

This entry was posted in Alain Badiou, Eugen Fink, Henri Lefebvre, Kostas Axelos, Peter Sloterdijk, Quentin Meillassoux, Terror and Territory, The Birth of Territory, The Space of the World. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Space of the World 2009

  1. This sounds very interesting. I wonder if you have anything to say on a point that is often made by Marxists and world-systems theorists: that, contrary to the oversimplistic ‘declining state’ thesis, globalisation (or at least capitalist globalisation) actually REQUIRES the state system — that is, capitalist globalisation necessitates political multiplicity or a multiplicity of territories. To put it another way: the radical deterritorialisation of capital, goods, certain privileged bodies, etc. is actually premised upon the equally radical territorialisation of labour, less privileged bodies and soldarity (i.e. through citizenship). What if the ‘decline of the state’ is premised upon the intensification of state power in particular areas: the areas of calculability that define territory? This is a point that has yet to be drawn out in a philosophical register despite its being manifestly empirically evident.

    Take the passport: this is a technology as old as diplomatic relations (the word diplomacy coming from the folded documents ambassadors would carry with them as evidence of their legitimacy when visiting foreign courts) but it only became an object produced on a national scale with industrialisation and the possibility of mass mobility. It allows both mobilisation and immobilisation — the ability for certain bodies to pass through space unimpeded and others to be restricted. Again, we come back to territory qua calculation.

    Or take the airport terminal: the (relatively) poor are huddled together like cattle while the rich swan from their private jets to their private cars and the business class pay to pass through special check-ins so as to be relatively unimpeded in their movement.

    Or, to go back to the more Marxist interpretation, global finance capitalism runs on the basis of forcing states into competition so as to drive down regulation and ensure capitalist interests are fulfilled. Sovereignty is literally for sale in tax havens and most states are willing to accept the flouting and manipulation of their tax laws provided that the rich reside in their jurisdiction and so pay SOME tax rather than none at all. Haven’t we heard this constantly for the past few years: ‘well, yes, of course we’d like to make the banks pay their fair share of the damage they’ve caused but if we squeeze them too hard (i.e. at all) then they’ll all run off to Tokyo or Singapore’?

    This is really the big divide between political philosophy and international relations (as an academic discipline): political philosophy has never taken the concrete fact of political multiplicity seriously (and IR has done a really bad job of doing so). The society or the state has habitually been taken as a black box with nothing but ‘anarchy’ or ‘ the state of nature’ outside of it. So when trans-territorial processes become so obviously massive that we can no longer ignore them the only way this can be cognised is to understand it as an abandonment of states and societies and the coming of an abstract, smooth, deterritorialised totality. This simply ignores the overwhelming empirical evidence to the contrary; and yet the problem is really rather difficult to pose in a (political) philosophical register, a register that has since Plato been all about ‘the good life’ WITHIN a defined society, state, republic, etc. Normatively it seems we are either hemmed into our particularities or forced immediately into some cosmopolite dream of a common human totality. Factually we seem compelled to make the same leap: either isolated local objects interacting chaotically or a single global object determining its parts. Political multiplicity itself is the conundrum; not only has it not been understood it has barely been recognised.

    /end ramble/

  2. stuartelden says:

    Thanks for this. Interesting questions. I suspect I will be operating in a rather different register, but I have tried to think of something close to what I think you mean by political multiplicity – under the more Heideggerian term of Mitsein (being-with or being together) – in previous work. Sloterdijk’s Spheres project is also about that topic, and will be discussed in the book. Sloterdijk is interesting on different types of globalisation, the last of which would begin around the same time as the modern state. Personally I don’t buy the ‘decline of the state’ thesis, and think that Lefebvre’s notion of the ‘state mode of production’ is quite helpful in understanding the present moment. Neil Brenner and I discuss this in the intro to State, Space, World. These are interesting thoughts – thanks again.

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