Broadly interested in the ways techno-science multiplies the possibilities of human and nonhuman lives, this issue of parallax seeks to elucidate ways of questioning the political as a function of the radical transformations in material culture over the past centuries. What are these things we’ve built? What might we do with them? Who will they turn us into?
Questions might include: What concepts of the political can help us think about the stakes of techno-science, and what political strategies are made possible? What is the difference between the claim that science is powerful and that it is political? If biopolitics was initially tightly bound to the nation-state, what are the parameters of its global forms? What is the ontological or affective status of the manufactured image, object or fact in the work of politics? How does the domination of nature take on its own life and turn toward the objectification of the human? What forms of political practice have new media generated, and what is their relation to ‘knowledge’?
Max Weber’s essays on the twin vocations of politics and science lay out a distinction – between political decision and scientific knowledge – that has long troubled the instrumental rationalities of modern thought. Carl Schmitt similarly felt that scientific developments, crucial to the problem of power, were nonetheless incidental to his concern with sovereignty and decision. In these biopolitical configurations ‘politics’ could not be thought outside of the bureaucratic state and the disciplined reason that made it possible. This distinction constituted the basis by which men subordinated nature to their purposes – on the presumption that these purposes could be decided upon as the work of politics itself through a clear distinction between means and ends.
Yet science and technology studies has shown that manufactured objects fundamentally disorient the subordination of technicity to political will by generating their own excess or agency. Mutating the boundaries between the human and nonhuman, this material productivity takes on a life its own, thus making demands on and greatly expanding the possibilities of political existence.
The political imaginary then becomes a question of grappling with unpredictable situations we’ve made but no longer control – a kind of ‘modernity out of hand’ in which climate change, arms proliferation, capital accumulation, empire, and state failures have been constituted in no small part through the nonhuman agency of their material elaboration. Were not Cold War fantasies of nuclear catastrophe always driven by the sense that the missiles somehow demanded to be launched – that the politicians could not quite keep their fingers off the button, as JPS Uberoi has suggested of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? This suggests a relation between contingency, the ambiguities of decision, and political affect.
Similarly, techno-science has re-made social relations around completely new and better possibilities of existing, from material conditions of living to health and practices of freedom, which further enable new political forms of determining contingent futures. One could mention the actually-attempted Utopian programs of the self-governing market and the totally-planned social state, measures such as capitalist welfare or international development, or the experimentalism in which images, objects or facts operate through the seductiveness of novel potentialities. For instance, decision-making strategies such as scenario planning often look like the science-fictive anxieties introduced through diversely-mediated modes of imagining political futures.
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