The Eye of War: A Symposium

Over the coming week, The Disorder of Things will host a symposium on Antoine Bousquet’s new book The Eye of War: Military Perception from the Telescope to the Drone, published last year by University of Minnesota Press. Following today’s introductory post by the author will be contributions from Katharine Hall, Dan Öberg, Matthew Ford, and Jairus Grove before a final rejoinder from Antoine. See also The Eye of War‘s accompanying website for a visual synopsis of the book and special order discounts.

Antoine is a Reader in International Relations at Birkbeck, University of London and a long-standing contributor to The Disorder of Things. His first book was The Scientific Way of Warfare: Order and Chaos on the Battlefields of Modernity (Hurst Publishers & Columbia University Press, 2009). Antoine’s visual-heavy war-centric twitter feed can be found here.

All the entries in this series will be collated here. Previous symposia are also available.


“Visibility equals death.”

This is the stark expression with which strategist Martin Libicki sums up our contemporary martial condition.[1] Indeed, we increasingly live in a world where anything that can be seen can be targeted with lethal force, whatever its position on the globe. The U.S. Air Force certainly has no hesitation in affirming that its “nuclear and conventional precision strike forces can credibly threaten and effectively conduct global strike by holding any target on the planet at risk and, if necessary, disabling or destroying it promptly.”[2]

How have we got to this extraordinary state of affairs? Which concatenation of knowledges, devices, and motives has realised this formidable alignment of perception and destruction? What becomes of war when it hinges on struggles over visibility across planetary battlespaces? Who is the agent of war when it is conducted through technologies that augment, envelop, and supplant human perception? These are the questions that The Eye of War asks and seeks to answer.

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Against the New Phrenology: De-Pathologizing Trumpism

This is a guest post by Dan Boscov-Ellen. Dan is a Ph.Dprofile. student in Philosophy at the New School for Social Research and a Visiting Instructor in Social Science and Cultural Studies at Pratt Institute. His dissertation research involves exploring the political-philosophical implications of capitalist ecological crisis.


One of the most persistent refrains of the US Presidential election has been that of liberal incredulity at the idiocy of Trump voters. Depending on the current status of Nate Silver’s election forecasts, this tends to manifest either as amusement (perhaps chuckling at a Daily Show interview of deluded rally attendees or a screening of Idiocracy), or as disgust and horror (perhaps soberly staring into one’s craft IPA when the debate watch party gets too real). How, liberals wonder, could anyone vote for Cheeto™ Hitler?

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But of course they do not wonder too hard – it is obvious to most liberals that Trump voters are simply ignorant and stupid, an apparent truism of which comedians, political scientists, neuroscientists, and cognitive psychologists constantly assure us. Everyone knows that Trump supporters are less well-informed than liberals – if only they read the New York Times and listened to NPR instead of watching Fox News! But the deeper problem, allegedly, is that Trump voters are simply not intelligent enough to realize how ignorant they are. Psychologist David Dunning explains that

[t]he knowledge and intelligence that are required to be good at a task are often the same qualities needed to recognize that one is not good at that task — and if one lacks such knowledge and intelligence, one remains ignorant that one is not good at the task. This includes political judgment.

According to neuroscientist Bobby Azarian, this Dunning-Kruger effect “helps explain why even nonpartisan experts — like military generals and Independent former Mayor of New York/billionaire CEO Michael Bloomberg — as well as some respected Republican politicians, don’t seem to be able to say anything that can change the minds of loyal Trump followers.”

At base, then, it is the Trump voters’ fundamental and impenetrable stupidity that causes them to ignore the experts – highly credentialed neoclassical economists, experienced military and intelligence figures, beneficent billionaires, esteemed members of the mainstream American political establishment and independent press, and Neil Degrasse Tyson – who obviously know far better than the plebian masses. Indeed, many liberals secretly believe it might really be better if the experts just ran things and we revoked the cretins’ right to vote.

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(Dis)Embodied Methodology in International Political Economy

Nicki Smith

Following some previous discussion on similar themes, a guest post by Nicola Smith. Nicki is Senior Lecturer in Political Science at the University of Birmingham and has published on a diversity of issues surrounding globalisation and social justice. She is currently writing a monograph on Queer Sexual Economies for Palgrave and has published articles in Sexualities, Third World Quarterly and the British Journal of Politics and International Relations. Other related publications include Body/State and Queer Sex Work. The following piece has been developed as part of a book project on methods in critical International Political Economy, edited by Johnna Montgomerie, and a version of it was recently presented at the semi-plenary session on ‘The body in/and international relations’ at the 8th Pan-European Conference on International Relations in Warsaw.


The Book of Life - Brain and Body - Zone of Civilization

There was a time when I understood International Political Economy (IPE) to mean ‘bodies of thought’ (realism, liberalism, Marxism, etc.) and so, not knowing which body to have, I tried each of them on for size. Realism didn’t fit (too tight); liberalism felt wrong (unethically-sourced materials); Marxism looked good (but I lacked the discipline to maintain it). Social constructivism suited my friends and felt pretty comfortable, so this was the body I decided to have. As a social constructivist, I did a lot of work on ideas (‘discourse’) and thought a lot about other bodies of thought. But what I didn’t do was to engage in thought about bodies. Bodies didn’t seem to happen in IPE; they appeared to exist somewhere else entirely, to be accessed only via metaphor (as in the above description) but always somewhere ‘over there’, never as the living, breathing stuff of the discipline. Bodies – or so I assumed – were off the cards.

In other contexts, though, I was thinking a lot about bodies: from the personal (‘will my body be able to produce another body, a child?’) to the professional (‘do I under-perform in job interviews because I gesticulate wildly when nervous?’) and the political, too (‘the government should de-criminalise the sale of sexual services’). Indeed, while I was writing a PhD and then monograph about states and markets – globalisation, economic development and social justice in the Irish Republic – it was bodies that I loved talking, reading, arguing about. I just didn’t see them as ‘IPE’.

In fact, bodies had been there all along; I hadn’t seen them because I hadn’t been looking.

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Fear and Honesty: On Reconciling Theory and Voice, in Two Parts

Kate DaleyThe second post in our guest series on critical methodology and narrative, this time from Kate M. Daley. Kate is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at York University in Toronto, Ontario. Her doctoral research in feminist political theory explores responses to privilege in the context of feminist relationships and her current research interests include narrative research methods, social science education, indigenous methodologies, and anti-oppression knowledges and discourses. She lives in Waterloo, Ontario, where she advocates for projects and policies that support transportation choice, environmental protection, and vibrant public spaces.


Part I: Fear

I am lucky in this room, among my colleagues. I am working in feminist political theory, not international relations, and my discipline has been advocating for and responding to feminist work that is in one’s own voice and that tells one’s own story for decades. Still, I feel a sense of paralysis. I am 27 years old. I have passed my qualifying exams. I have written dozens of graduate papers. My work is starting to get published. I am now starting to stare down my dissertation. And I am not sure that my work has ever been truly honest.

It was my Master’s supervisor who graciously began to break my training. She encouraged me to write in the first person. In her class, I had argued passionately with some of my more conventional colleagues. I had defended the overt positionality of narrative political theory, and valorized those who had the courage to write in their own voice. And yet I most often continued to write as though I was not there at all.

So I started to use first-person pronouns in my academic writing. Sometimes I even included a personal anecdote to make my writing more compelling, more convincing. I believe firmly in the importance of personal narrative for political theory, and for social sciences scholarship. I have thrown in the occasional story to illustrate a point. But I have never really, truly, made myself visible and vulnerable in my theory.

I am afraid. I have come to a place where I can no longer only speak an I that serves as nothing more than a grammatical device between abstract ideas, or a persuasive tactic to convince others of a conclusion I have already drawn. But I cannot wholeheartedly embrace autoethnography and my own narrative, either. I am afraid.

I fear that I will learn that I can write as a faceless academic, but not as a whole person. Continue reading

What We Talked About At ISA: @Hannah_Arendt – A Hypothetical Exploration of Hannah Arendt in Cybersphere

‘Social Media Drawing’ by Tjarko Van Der Pol

This year’s general conference theme for ISA in San Diego centred on ‘Power, Principles and Participation in the Global Information Age’ and, expectedly, gave rise to a proliferation of papers on the value, consequences and effectiveness of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and other social media in the context of international relations and global politics. Having spent the past three years trying to disentangle the thoughts of one of the more intriguing political theorists on power and politics – Hannah Arendt – it has always struck me that she might have had a word or two to say about the supernova that is social networking as such. I couldn’t help picturing her vigorously engaging with a medium like Twitter, firing off Tweets to relevant interlocutors – @karlmarx no, I think that’s where you’re wrong and dangerous: #history is not ‘made’ by men and #violence not the midwife for a new society! Perhaps even: Yep: RT @karljaspers When #language is used without true significance, it loses its purpose as a means of communication and becomes an end in itself – hashtag and all. Or, on the other hand, flatly dismissing platforms such as Facebook as vanity spheres of little or no substance for political interaction. So I pitched in my paper as a playful thought experiment as to how she might have loved or loathed online social networks as viable platforms and public spheres for the creation of power and conduct of politics proper. This is a somewhat abbreviated version of the full-length paper, which can be found here.

The potency of social networking sites, as channels of communication and a medium for people from all corners of the world to meet in a virtual realm and engage with shared ideas – political or otherwise – has become indisputable. Not least since the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, where bodies and voices were galvanized to part-take in various acts of revolt and revolution in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and Libya, facilitated through online networks like Twitter and Facebook, have people discovered the enormous potential for a transnational coming-together in a shared cause. These networks thus appear to present themselves as a global public realm in a virtual space, transcending geographic limitations and boundaries, broadening the scope of possible political impact considerably. But with such a young medium it is perhaps wise to take a step back from the hype and ask how effective are these networks in creating actual political power? In how far can we understand the possibility to mobilize and plan in a non-spatial realm, through social networks, to constitute the generation of power and the actualization of political action? My paper sought to address these questions with an Arendtian lens – for better or for worse.

Inside the Political Twittersphere. Sysomos

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Materialism and World Politics conference

Materialism and World Politics

20-22 October, 2012
LSE, London, UK

Registration is now open here for anyone who wants to attend.


Scheduled Speakers:

Keynote: The ontology of global politics
William Connolly (Johns Hopkins University)

Opening Panel: What does materialism mean for world politics today?
John Protevi (Louisiana State University)
More TBC

Closing Panel: Agency and structure in a complex world
Colin Wight (University of Sydney)
Erika Cudworth (University of East London)
Stephen Hobden (University of East London)
Diana Coole (Birkbeck, University of London)

ANT/STS Workshop keynote:
Andrew Barry (University of Oxford)

ANT/STS Workshop roundtable:
Iver Neumann (LSE)
Mats Fridlund (University of Gothenburg)
Alberto Toscano (Goldsmiths, University of London)
More TBC

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The annual conference for volume 41 of Millennium: Journal of International Studies will take place on 20-22 October, 2012 at the London School of Economics and Political Science. This includes 2 days of panels and keynotes on the weekend, and a special Monday workshop on actor-network theory (ANT), science and technology studies (STS), and alternative methodologies. Space for the latter is limited though, so let Millennium know of your interest in attending it as soon as possible.

The theme of this year’s conference is on the topic of materialism in world politics. In contrast to the dominant discourses of neorealism, neoliberalism and constructivism, the materialist position asks critical questions about rational actors, agency in a physical world, the role of affect in decision-making, the biopolitical shaping of bodies, the perils and promises of material technology, the resurgence of historical materialism, and the looming environmental catastrophe. A large number of critical writers in International Relations have been discussing these topics for some time, yet the common materialist basis to them has gone unacknowledged. The purpose of this conference will be to solidify this important shift and to push its critical edges further. Against the disembodied understanding of International Relations put forth by mainstream theories, this conference will recognize the significance of material factors for world politics.