What is the Philosophy of Movement? V: Art and Objects

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This is a short excerpt on the philosophy of movement from a recent interview I did with Nico Buitendag for Undisciplined Podcast.

Nico: I can imagine and I take my hat off to you. So I also want to move on to some of your other work but still within this broader theme. I believe it’s your newest book, called Theory of the Image, where you do a philosophy of art or aesthetics that naturally focuses on the mobile aspect of images, which is something I’ve never thought of before. So kind of like my first, earlier question about what does mobility or movement reveal, but more specifically this time, in the case of the image, what avenue or what point of view is opened up to us when we look at the image as a moving image?

Thomas: Yeah so the Theory of the Image book, that research also came out of migration and border stuff. I was already kind of collecting little bits from history toward that book because I started to see some of the same problems, which is that there are two main ways of thinking about aesthetics and what an image is.

One of those is, you could say, is the classical model where if you think of Plato and the Forms, art represents the Forms. So it’s a copy of an original, and that’s what an image is, is it’s supposed to be a duplicate, but the duplicate is always inferior to the original model for Plato and that’s why philosophical knowledge is about the Forms and art and aesthetics are about being in a cave just looking at shadows. When you think about the Great Chain of Being, Being, stasis, and Form are at the top of that, and matter and motion are at the bottom. And that’s certainly what’s going on in Plato.

Then, on the other hand, you have the other major tradition, the Kantian one, which is where the image and sensation are understood hermeneutically, or by what does it mean for humans—“what does art mean? What is the meaning of art? What is the experience of a work of art?”—and that’s more Kant and Dewey. And then you have more social dimensions of that, which are the Frankfurt School and so on, kind of a more social hermeneutics that has to do with what the meaning of a work of art is for society or what it tells us about society. On that one, my problem is that we’re still—in both of these cases, in the Platonic, classical and in the more modern one—we’re not really talking about the image, we’re not really talking about art. What we’re talking about is the Forms which are more important—that’s the real thing that we care about—and then in the case of the human version, we’re interested in what humans think. We’re really studying ourselves more than we’re actually caring about the image itself.

So my orientation in Theory of the Image was to do basically what I did for Theory of the Border and Figure of the Migrant which was to sort of flip it upside-down and start with the mobility and movement of the image, track it from a kinetic systems approach, and think about the patterns of motion that the image does. So instead of thinking about what art means, or what it represents, just looking at what it does materially, practically, historically, and then looking at these different regimes and the way in which art and images are shaped and circulated; not how they’re represented or what their meanings are.

So it’s a very different approach to thinking about aesthetics that’s materialist and that is non-anthropocentric. It doesn’t focus on human interpretation of art and that’s mostly what art theory is about. So this is a very weird book to think about if we’re not interested in what humans think art means or what it makes them feel. Not that those are not relevant, it’s just that they’re not the primary focus, those are just a part of it. So human experience is part of a larger circulation, but that larger circulation is what we’re looking at, and humans are just one aspect of that larger process.

Nico: I’m wondering if you talk about getting rid of the anthropocentrism and the movement and real effect that art or images have, and also in the same way we’re talking about the border as almost a concrete thing—do you see any relation between kinopolitics and, for example, object-oriented ontology (OOO), or do you think there are important differences or distinctions that you would want to keep between the two? Do you think there is some overlap or link between these two?

Thomas: That’s a good question. I’m just going to give what my definition of what I think OOO is and then say what I think the differences are. OOO is looking at objects, and what an object is something (and here I’m just reading Graham Harman’s definition) that is discrete, vacuum-sealed, and separate from one another. Tristin Garcia Form and Object has a very similar definition where the objects are completely extensive and by definition, they are not what the other object is.

There are objects that contain and objects that are contained, and that’s what defines an object. So they’re discrete, they’re vacuum-sealed, and at the center of them has an essence which Harman says does not change, it does not move, it is not material, and it withdraws any attempt to empirically identify it. So whether that’s right or wrong that’s at least my understanding of what that tradition is doing.

The philosophy of movement is really about process, it’s not about objects as primary. In many ways, the philosophy of movement is the opposite of OOO where it doesn’t start with discreet, separate objects. It starts with processes and it starts with objects as metastable states, like a whirlpool or eddy. They’re there, but they don’t have any discreetness, they don’t have any isolation. Graham Harman emphasizes very strongly that the essence of the object is non-relational, it doesn’t relate to anything else. And for me that’s very much the opposite. Objects are metastable states and it’s not that there are relations before there are objects, it’s that relations and objects are completely immanent to one another, they’re not separate, they’re just two different ways of talking about the same thing. And of course, the static, unchanging, withdrawn essence to me is just metaphysics.

The philosophy of movement is a materialist philosophy that’s interested in thinking about things that move. And that’s the thing about matter—it’s a shape-changer. It’s always moving and changing shapes so there’s nothing that withdraws, nothing that doesn’t change—everything is in motion and movement. On that point this is not a metaphysical claim this is where we’re at, this is what we know in physics at this point in history, is that there is nothing in the universe that doesn’t move. So stasis is not a real thing. It’s always relative down to quantum field fluctuations: they are moving, and they’re active; nothing is a static, withdrawn essence. So Harman’s OOO is not consistent with what we know in physics. Maybe physics could be wrong and I’m open to that, but for the moment I’m not going to speculate metaphysically about things that we have no idea about.

 

Moving Borders

Debating and Defining Borders: Philosophical and Theoretical Perspectives, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

This book brings together insights from border scholars and philosophers to ask how we are to define and understand concepts of borders today. Borders have a defining role in contemporary societies. Take, for example, the 2016 US election and the UK Brexit referendum, and subsequent debate, where the rhetoric and symbolism of border controls proved fundamental to the outcomes. However, borders are also becoming ever more multifaceted and complex, representing intersections of political, economical, social, and cultural interests.

For some, borders are tangible, situated in time and place; for others, the nature of borders can be abstracted and discussed in general terms. By discussing borders philosophically and theoretically, this edited collection tackles head on the most defi ning and challenging questions within the fi eld of border studies regarding the defi nition of its very object of study. Part 1 of the book consists of theoretical contributions from border scholars, Part 2 takes a philosophical approach, and Part 3 brings together chapters where philosophy and border studies are directly related.

Borders intersect with the key issues of our time, from migration, climate change vulnerability, terror, globalization, inequality, and nationalism, to intertwining questions of culture, identity, ideology, and religion. This book will be of interest to those studying in these fields, and most especially to researchers of border studies and philosophy.

Buy here.

Read my chapter here.

Moving Borders

This chapter introduces a new process or movement-oriented “kinopo- litical” methodology for studying borders. In this I would like to argue against two common assumptions about how borders work: Borders are static, and borders keep people out. My argument takes the form of three interlocking theses about borders: (1) borders are in motion, (2) the main function of borders is not to stop movement, but to circulate it; (3) borders are tools of primitive accumulation. These three theses are then followed by a brief concrete example to illustrate them. These theses have major implications re-theorizing borders today, as I have shown elsewhere at length (Nail, 2016).
It is more important to study borders today than ever before. At the turn of the twenty-first century, there were more migrants than ever before in recorded history (10M, 2010; WHO, 2015) .2 Today, there are over one bil- lion migrants (UNDP, 2009, 21).3 Migration has risen by nearly 50 percent since the turn of the twenty-first century, and more than 56,000 migrants have died or gone missing worldwide over the last four years (Hinnant and Janssen, 2018). More than ever, it is becoming necessary for people to migrate due to environmental, economic, and political instability. In par- ticular, climate change may even double international migration over the next 40 years (IOM, 2009).4 What is more, the percentage of total migrants who are nonstatus or undocumented is also increasing, thus posing a seri- ous challenge to liberal democracies premised on universal equality (see Cole, 2000).5

In order to manage and control this rising global mobility, the world is becoming more bordered than ever before. In just the past 20 years, but particularly since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 on the United States, and more recently the war in Syria, hundreds of new borders have emerged around the world: miles of new razor-wire fences and concrete security walls, numerous offshore detention centers, biometric passport databases, and security checkpoints in schools, at airports, and along vari- ous roadways across the world. All make manifest what has always been the true strategy of global capitalism and colonialism: to steal the world’s wealth and lock out the poor. “Europe has invaded all peoples; all peoples are com- ing to Europe in their turn” (Latour, 2018).

The recent rise in right-wing nationalism and xenophobia in the West is precisely a reaction to the so-called “migration invasion.” Borders are the new weapons being used to continue a war against the rest of the world. This is the context and importance of rethinking borders today…

Read the rest here.

 

 

 

Being and Motion reviewed by Michael J. Bennett

Thomas Nail, Being and Motion

Thomas Nail, Being and Motion. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018; 544 pages. ISBN: 978-0190908911.

Reviewed by Michael J. Bennett, University of King’s College.

Thomas Nail’s ambitious philosophical project starts with the diagnosis that today we live in the “Age of Motion.” Politics, aesthetics and science have entered a “whole new kinetic paradigm,” (5) and this is true even of ontology, however reluctant ontologists are to accept it.

Though its scope is staggering, this book is yet a part of a larger whole. Nail proposes to treat the other topics in separate books, some of which remain unpublished, even as Being and Motion references them frequently. In Being and Motion, Nail aims to accomplish two things. His first task is to produce a timely “conceptual and ontological framework for describing the being of motion,” upon which the companion volumes can draw, thus also providing a “unique insight into a certain hidden or occluded dimension of Western ontology.” (11) Philosophers have rarely endorsed the ontological “primacy of motion,” Nail observes, and have usually subordinated it to a more fundamental principle. Three historical exceptions—Lucretius, Marx, and Bergson—who take motion as seriously as Nail does, receive brief treatment (32–35), and fuller analyses are promised elsewhere. But because Nail portrays Being and Motionas providing insight into what has hitherto been obscured behind other “names of being,” his book makes a critical intervention today. Contemporary philosophers who fail to appreciate the primacy of motion must be out of step with the times, actively participating in the suppression of this dimension of ontology, or oblivious to the real material-kinetic presuppositions of their practice (144). These are the errors that Nail scrupulously avoids.

The second task of Being and Motion is to “turn this kinetic perspective back on the practice of ontology itself.” Nail’s theory of motion is not “fundamental” ontology, he says, but “historical.” (19) It advances a “minimal” (but still “transcendental”) claim about the history of past being, about what “previous reality” must have been like in order to produce our present. Thus it makes no assertions about the future and even leaves open the possibility that other names of being will eclipse “motion.” Moreover, in addition to examining historical descriptions of being—primarily, but not exclusively, texts from the history of Western philosophy—with a view to redescribing them in kinetic terms, Nail also pays meticulous attention to the types of inscription or graphism that materially condition the content of those descriptions: speech, writing, the codex, and the keyboard.

Nail’s thesis is that in four distinct periods of Western history, both ontological description and inscription followed the same “regime of motion.” That is, they described and inscribed a real “pattern of being’s motion,” which existed at the time (24) and made it possible for being to appear as something other than what it is—other than motion. This is not to say that historical ontologists were simply wrong to name being “space,” “eternity,” “force,” or “time.” “Reality actually moved differently in each period” (139), and this is what such descriptions referred to. In the Neolithic period (10000–5000 BCE), a centripetal pattern of motion dominated, while in the Ancient world (5000 BCE–500 CE), it was a centrifugal pattern. The long Middle Ages, including the Early Modern period (500–1800 CE), were characterized by a “tensional” regime of motion, and in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, motion became increasingly “elastic.” These kinetic patterns organize Being and Motion itself, particularly the second half, and demonstrating their existence and dominance in their respective historical eras lies at the heart of the project.

One of the challenges inherent in Nail’s project arises from his reasoned commitment to describing the patterns without explaining them. Nail rejects the pretense of causal explanation involved in both “idealist” reductionism, according to which inscriptions about being are completely explained by the thoughts they contain, and its obverse, which makes ontological descriptions the simple products of “technological, material, or media” conditions. (20–21) Since talking about “causes” is always a non-explanatory “short-cut” for longer accounts of matter in motion (103), Nail prefers terms like “coordination, or synchronization” (21), “historical coemergence and constant conjunction” (23), and “kinetic resonance” (140) to capture the relation between description and inscription. And though he does not explain it, Nail increases the scope of this “resonance” with dominant patterns of motion: it also characterizes the relations between ontology, politics, aesthetics, and science. (140)

Despite the centrality of kinetic forms or “patterns” to his argument, Nail classifies the ontology of motion as a kind of materialism. He defines his “process materialism” in contrast to what Marx called the “crude materialism” of the empiricists and the “contemplative materialism” of the idealists, which makes of matter a “concept or logical category.” (47–8) To avoid that misstep, Nail aims to ensure that the term remains as undefined as possible: “Matter is the historical name for what is in motion, but what matter is is in process and thus must remain ontologically indeterminate.” (46) Again, instead of explaining, Nail prefers to describe: “The best way to describe what it is is by what it does, or how it moves.” (49) To this end, he devotes the rest of Book I: The Ontology of Motion.

This theory of motion constitutes the “kinetic deduction” Nail promised of historical being’s minimal features and a kinetic redescription of inherited ontological concepts. For example, Nail calls the intersection of a continuous flow with itself a “fold” (83). The cycle or periodic motion that follows from folding makes it possible for motion to achieve a state of relative stability that Nail uses to conceptualize identity, unity, existence, necessity, sensation, quality, quantity, and thinghood. (85–99)

The dominant “patterns of motion” that characterize the history of ontology and give rise to being’s main names are not folds but “fields.” The difference is that a field does not intersect with itself, yet “binds together and organizes a regional distribution of flows.” (109) One question this raises is how a field does so, if indeed it doesn’t move the way a fold does—that is, if it has no period, cycle, and so on, and by extension no identity, qualities or thinghood of its own. Nail might deny that fields explain the folds they organize and resist answering such a “how” question, but even so, the concept of the kinetic field is less well-developed than that of the fold—which is a shame, considering how important a role fields play in the historical analyses of Book II.

Book II: The Motion of Ontology is by some margin the longer section of Being and Motion. It is divided into four subsections, each devoted to a period of ontological history and that period’s associated concept of being. Each of these parts is, in turn, subdivided into three “resonating” analyses—of the dominant pattern of motion (kinos), the content of ontological descriptions (logos), and the ways in which ontology was inscribed (graphos). Book II is the product of massive synthetic ambition, and Nail brings together an impressive amount of material under his conceptual framework. In this review, I cannot do justice to it all, so I neglect his intriguing discussions of inscription entirely, as well the prehistoric centripetal and ancient centrifugal periods, in order to focus on what he says about modern European philosophy.

Probably the most unusual feature of Nail’s history of Western ontology is the length of the period he calls “medieval,” dominated by the “tensional” pattern of motion. It spans from about the traditional date of the fall of Rome to the publication of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason in 1781. Although this regime remains dominant well into scientific modernity, it originates, Nail says, as a response to the kinetic problems introduced by the transcendence of God at the centre of the prior, centrifugal regime. (274–75) Such problems are particularly acute in the Christian traditions because of the necessity of accounting for the incarnation, as a result of which God is both an absolutely separate creator and a particular human being. (320–21) Thus Nail defines “tensional” motion as involving at least two fields, connected by a mediating flow or “rigid link [that] keeps them both together and apart.” (274) Medieval theologians, philosophers and scientists theorize the link between God and created nature in various ways—for example, in terms of the Trinity, aether, impetus, and conatus—but Nail perceives an underlying continuity, because being tends to be defined predominantly as transferable force. In this context, Spinoza develops the regime’s timeliest ontological description with his unapologetic ontology of power. (314)

The transition from the tensional regime and the ontology of force to its successor, Nail continues, occurs “in the face of a brutal empiricist critique” (368)—namely, the critique of metaphysics inaugurated by Berkeley and Hume. (318–19; 280–81) One recognizes the conventional story Kant himself tells of being awoken from dogmatic slumbers, which inaugurates a philosophical revolution. Nail identifies post-Kantian phenomenology as the dominant form of modern ontology and “elastic” motion as the regime it kinetically presupposes. “Elasticity” here describes a field in which between any two ordered folds, there is an indefinite number of subfolds. (370; 373) The field can thus expand and contract in a way that has been described predominantly in terms of temporality and subjectivity—for example, the retention of the past, the anticipation of the future, and the expansiveness of the lived present. Nail interprets Kant’s transcendental subject as an elastic circulation conditioning all appearances whose form of inner sense is time, and he makes Husserl, Heidegger, and Derrida the regime’s other descriptive touchstones, since they each elaborate on the association between temporality and subjectivity, consciousness, or being-there.

With the claim that modern phenomenology and the ontology of time become “dominant” in the recent past, Nail must face up to a structural or methodological challenge. He admits that fields of motion not only change over the course of history but become increasingly hybrid or mixed as they approach the present. (26; 453 n.14) The attempt to isolate the dominant patterns or to consider patterns separately must therefore become progressively less adequate to the reality of the fields themselves.

Nail’s core argument climaxes with the suggestion that the phenomenology of time has brought ontology to a tipping-point. He concedes that it closely resembles the view he advocates, as “the whole of being seems to be caught up in a more primary flux or flow of time,” but in another sense ontological elasticity “could not be more different from the real flux and continuum of motion.” (369) That’s because “the structure of time presupposes that being is primordially divided, intervalic [sic], fragmentary, and thus static.” (420) It is divided into three tenses: past, present, and future (367), and, finally, into the differences or “intervals” that Derrida shows to be the condition for the givenness of time. (416–17) In other words, the flow (of time) is not a continuous flow at all. Since the most contemporary ontologies are so close yet so far from a truly kinetic one, Nail aims to seize the moment, come down on one side of the issue, and tip the balance away from the legacy of phenomenology one finds in Heidegger, Derrida, and their acolytes (420)—but also in Deleuze.

Deleuze and the Deleuzians appear prominently in Being and Motion as “related contenders” to Nail’s process materialism and ontology of motion (32) and as the clearest targets of his criticism, the thrust of which is that their descriptions of being are ontological throwbacks, out of step with the times. According to Nail, Deleuze not only (like Derrida), “models his theory of difference [in Difference and Repetition] on time, following the phenomenological tradition” (419), but he is also a neo-Spinozist ontologist of force. (43; 37–38; 48–49) In other words, Deleuze’s descriptions of being presuppose either the elastic regime of motion, which Nail encourages us to move beyond, or the tensional regime that has not been dominant for centuries. Deleuze’s claims are “historically limited in certain ways [he] could not see beyond.” (41)

Nail also attributes to Deleuze—in contrast to his own kinetic materialist monism—an “inclusive and pluralistic ontology in which all the great names for being are said equally and univocally of the same being,” identified with becoming or differential process. (36) From this perspective, Nail’s complaint is that Deleuze failed to live up to his promise of pluralism and inclusiveness by treating some of the supposedly equal names of being (like “force”) as more equal than others. (37–38) Still, if the present-day fields of motion, by Nail’s own admission, are the most complex and hybrid, then perhaps a consistent pluralism that undertakes to be equally so would also be a candidate for the ontology of the present.

Being and Motion is a singular achievement, but it ends by recognizing its limitations. The need to isolate dominant patterns in hybrid flows, for example, represents the “mixological” limitation of the work. Nail also acknowledges its “geographical narrowness” as the price to be paid for “historical breadth” (445), and he looks forward to future research expanding the kinetic analysis to non-Western and colonized contexts, where motion may be differently periodized and resonate in other patterns. (446–47) Nail’s compelling book might indeed move others to build on its groundwork or, equally, provoke vigorous debate. It is a substantial contribution to contemporary philosophy, which I expect to make a wide-ranging impact.

 

 

 

 

 

Theory of the Image (OUP, 2019) OUT NOW!

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The book is now available from Amazon and shortly with OUP (30% off code: AAFLYG6)

Read the introduction here.

Read the Conclusion below.


The Mobile Image

 

We live in the age of the mobile image. Today, more than ever before, we are surrounded by hybrid images of all kinds that circulate freely and mix with contemporary images. This incredible mobilization and proliferation of images forces us to rethink the basic structure and definition of the image itself—as something fundamentally kinetic. The advent of the digital image, defined by a continuous flow of electricity, forces us to see that the image is not and never has been a representation of a static model. Images have always had a material agency. Movement, and not representation, has always been central to the image, making possible a new materialist aesthetics. This book thus has made three main contributions to the philosophy of art and aesthetics.

 

THE KINETIC THEORY OF THE IMAGE

Its first contribution is to offer an original kinetic theory of the image. Traditionally, the image has been viewed as either objectively or subjectively derived from something else. A relatively static object, subject, or human structure was assumed as primary and the image was what moved in between them. Even when the image has not been treated explicitly as a representation, it has typically been thought of an expression or production of something else. Even contemporary theories of images as a copy of copies or copies without originals, still miss the point. The image is not a copy and there was never a model to have gone missing. In contrast to these previous theories, this book proposes a new definition of the image as a reflection, a duplication, or a fold in moving generative matters. All images are sensuous and all sensations are images. Images both sense and are sensed. The image is thus not something strictly visible. There are images of sight and sound, just as there are images of taste, smell, and touch. The image is also not unique to humans or to organic life.

 

The original contribution of part I, then, is to have provided a kinetic and materialist theory of the image defined by the flow, fold, and field of sensitive matters. As such, it reorients the central problem of aesthetics and art history, moving it away from the question of representation and anthropocentric constructivism, whether linguistic, social, psychological, or otherwise, and toward the distribution and analysis of regimes of moving images with their own material agency and generativity.

THE HISTORY OF THE IMAGE

The second contribution of this book is that it offers an original conceptual and historical methodology for the study of art and art history. If the study of the image is not a question of representation but, rather, of kinetic distribution, then we need to understand what kinds of distributions have been invented and to what degree and with what mixture they persist in the present. Part II of this book thus presented neither a universal ontology of affect nor a merely empirical history of works of art but, rather, a study of the kinesthetic patterns or historical regimes of aesthetic motion.

Unlike merely empirical art histories, kinesthetic regimes of motion prefigure, persist, and mix well beyond their initial empirical manifestation, making their analysis much more broadly applicable to the study of art, art history, and sensation widely construed. Thus, the kinetic method of this book makes no attempt at an ahistorical ontology of sensation, affect, or image; rather, it offers a regional ontology from the perspective of the early twenty-first century. Based on the apparent primacy of mobility revealed in the digital image, it proposes an answer to the simple question: What must images at least be like for them to be capable of this kind of motion? In doing so, it thus discovers a previously hidden dimension of all hitherto existing images: the primacy of their motion.

 

THE CONTEMPORARY IMAGE

The third major contribution of this book is its offer of an original theory of the digital image defined by its materiality and mobility. In contrast to the first wave of new-media scholarship that defined the digital image as largely immaterial and virtual, this book provides an analysis of the material and kinetic dimensions of the digital image and its conditions of circulation. While more recent new-media scholarship seems to be taking the material dimension of the digital image more seriously, this book adds to this literature a complete conceptual and analytic framework that connects the study of the digital image with the rest of art history and the structure of affection more broadly.

The electrical flow that defines the digital image is historically novel in some ways, but not in others. The digital image thus allows an incredible degree of hybrid mobile images, but in a more general sense, electrical flows also pervade all material images. The digital image is not just about hybridity and remediation; it is also about the creative pedesis and feedback of the electrical flow itself: its generative power. This includes both contemporary digital and historical nondigital generativity. The digital image thus presents the twenty-first century with an incredible aesthetic decision: how and to what degree to treat the digital image as an instrumental tool for merely replicating images or as a means for releasing a more generative flow in all matters, thus generating completely new images.

Being and Motion, Thomas Nail (2018) Published Dec 10th

Being and Motion is officially published and available today.

Buy at Oxford

Buy at Amazon

More than at any other time in human history, we live in an age defined by movement and mobility; and yet, we lack a unifying theory which takes this seriously as a starting point for philosophy. The history of philosophy has systematically explained movement as derived from something else that does not move: space, eternity, force, and time. Why, when movement has always been central to human societies, did a philosophy based on movement never take hold? This book finally overturns this long-standing metaphysical tradition by placing movement at the heart of philosophy.

In doing so, Being and Motion provides a completely new understanding of the most fundamental categories of ontology from a movement-oriented perspective: quality, quantity, relation, modality, and others. It also provides the first history of the philosophy of motion, from early prehistoric mythologies up to contemporary ontologies. Through its systematic ontology of movement, Being and Motion provides a path-breaking historical ontology of our present.

Migrant Cosmopolitanism (A Talk Given at Lund University, Sweden)

 

Here is the talk I gave today at Lund University, Sweden.

Image result for no one is illegal

Introduction

The twenty-first century will be the century of the migrant. At the turn of the twenty-first century, there were more migrants than ever before in recorded history. Today there are over 1 billion migrants. Migration has risen by nearly 50 percent since the turn of the 21st century and more than 56,000 migrants have died or gone missing worldwide over the last four years. More than ever, it is becoming necessary for people to migrate due to environmental, economic, and political instability. In particular, climate change will significantly increase international migration over the next forty years [although figures on this are too complex to know]. What is more, the percentage of total migrants who are nonstatus or undocumented is also increasing, thus posing a serious challenge to democracy and political representation.4

[EX: I think we will see a lot more movements like the migrant caravan in the future. Complex causes: It is partially caused by climate change, US imperialism, political violence, poverty, etc. vs. right wing nationalism. Trump has brought 6,000 national military violating posse commitatas. He has said they will shoot, he has declared a “refugee ban,” “invasion.”]

The phenomenon of migration thus presents a unique problem for political theory. If citizenship and legal equality are the concepts by which many nation-states and liberal democracies understand the political agency and rights of a people, what does this mean for the 15–20 percent of people living in countries like the united States, for example, without full status? It means that a continually increasing population of migrants with partial or no status are now subject to a permanent structural inequality—the lack of voting and labor rights, possible deportation, and other deprivations, depending on the degree of status. This is difficult to reconcile with almost any political theory of equality, universality, or liberty. The fact that hundreds of millions of human beings are currently living outside their country of origin as a result of migration and frequent relocation should dramatically challenge the conditions of political life assumed by political philosophers.

Unfortunately, much of political theory has either been unwilling to acknowledge the structural nature of this exception with respect to the territorial nation-state. If we want to understand the prospects for a truly global community, we have to move beyond the critiques of citizenship, nationalism, and liberalism, and propose an approach that will not structurally exclude the millions of migrants and refugees of the world. We must create what I propose to call a “migrant cosmopolitanism.”

Thesis           

In this paper I want to do three things: Part I: Give a brief history and criticism of political theory (Aristotle) and modern cosmopolitanism (Kant and the Republican tradition). Part II: Propose two defining features of what I call “Migrant Cosmopolitanism” or “social transformation from below.”: (Sanctuary and Solidarity).

 Part I: From Polis to Cosmopolis

 Aristotle

Aristotle articulates an exclusion at the heart of Western politics clearly. For Aristotle, political status is fundamentally tied to one’s inclusion in the polis. for those who do not have a polis, Aristotle reserves the term βάρβαρον(barbaron, barbarian). The Greek word βάρβαρος(barbaros) originates from the onomatopoetic sound of the babbling of the foreigner who does not speak Greek. In this way, the determination of the “nature” of the barbarian migrant is already relative to a geographical and political center: the Greek polis. Barbarism is thus a political determination. With respect to the center, the periphery is barbarian, mobile, migrant, diffuse, inferior, unintelligible, and so on. Accordingly, the antonym for the Greek word barbaros was civis or polis—both words that applied to cities. The barbarian is the “non-Greek, noncity-dweller.”

But what makes the barbarians inferior is not only their non-Greek status (although most non-Greeks also did not speak Greek), but their inability to use political speech and reason (logos) that were politically bound to the specifically Greek logos. Thus the figure of the migrant barbarian unites three concepts tied to the polis: (1) the inability to speak the language of the polis (Greek), (2) the inability to use the reason of the polis (logos), and (3) an excessive geographical mobility in relation to the polis.

Above all, the term “barbarism” designates a political inferiority: a natural incapacity for proper speech and reason that disallows political life [ex: national anthem in Spanish]. If people do not have a city-state, then they cannot possibly have political rationality, and vice versa. for Aristotle, barbarians are those whose temporary encampments, mobility, and even geographical distance from the polis create a natural inferiority. As Herodotus states, “[i]nstead of establishing towns or walls, they are all mounted archers who carry their homes along with them and derive their sustenance not from cultivated fields but from their herds.” The barbarian is the social figure whose inferior migrant motion outside the polis is ultimately enslaved in order to expand the rising political and military power of the state.

However, if the origins of politics are found in the exclusionary walls of the polis, the origins of cosmopolitanism can be found conversely in the opening of the city walls—and of political membership itself—to the entire world. In contrast to the parochial polis or walled city, the kosmopolis is the political community that is open to the world. There are at least two major types of modern cosmopolitanism. unfortunately, both types fail to fully account for the inclusion of one of the fastest growing groups of disenfranchised peoples in the world: migrants.

 

Kant

The first modern theory of cosmopolitanism was developed by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant in the eighteenth century. Kant argues that the progress of human history can be defined precisely by our capacity to increasingly open up our city walls so “that which nature has as its highest aim, a universal cosmopolitan condition, can come into being, as the womb in which all the original predispositions of the human species are developed.” Since the invention of the ancient polis, human societies have slowly become more inclusive and should continue to do so, Kant argues.

Unfortunately, Kant’s cosmopolitanism is limited by his privileging of history and time over the figures of migration and motion. For Kant, historical progress is accomplished insofar as humans struggle through their natural antagonisms with one another and as a result, “advance [their use of reason] gradually from one stage of insight to the next.” Through this antagonism, “the greatest problem for the human species, to which nature compels it to seek a solution is the achievement of a civil society which administers right universally.” However, this same unsociability that compels humans to abandon the lawless state of savagery and enter civil society also compels them to abandon the “barbarous freedom of the already established states” and establish “law-governed external relations between states.” Thus humans develop this “concealed plan of nature” through the two interlocking forms of right: constitutional right and international right. But what of migrants, nomads, and those without or between states? How can universal right be realized while there are still people who exist outside these laws or as nonmembers of states?

The third form of right that Kant creates to deal with these people is cosmopolitan right—achieved through universal hospitality. While Kant is quite clear that migrants do not have the “rights of a guest . . . (which would require a special, charitable contract stipulating that he be made a member of the household for a certain period of time),” the migrant does have the right to visit, to which all human beings have a claim, to present oneself to society by virtue of the “right of common possession of the surface of the earth. Since it is the surface of a sphere, they cannot scatter themselves on it without limit, but they must rather ultimately tolerate one another as neighbors, and originally no one has more of a right to be at a given place on earth than anyone else.” universal cosmopolitan right or “the right of everyone to the surface” is essential for the historical progress of humanity. If states or persons ignore this right, then they reject the universal progress of human reason.

However, while Kant’s gesture of visitation seems more inclusive than Aristotle’s, its exclusion is actually much more radical. for Aristotle, alien migrant residents can still reside in the polis, and they can even participate in office via prostatēs (sponsors).28 for Kant, migrants, nomads, and strangers are not even guests allowed inside a household, much less allowed to participate in political life; they are only visitors to the spatial exterior or “surface of the earth.” Just as time is the inner form that provides the unity of the subject in Kant’s transcendental aesthetic, so political time (history) provides the unity and progress of reason. for Kant, migrants, nomads, and other non-citizens are only allowed temporary access to the territory of a state: visitation (Besuchsrecht), not residence (Gastrecht). Kant’s right of cosmopolitan hospitality may protect nomads and migrants from slavery but only through their ahistoricity at the hands of the true movers of cosmopolitan history: citizens and states.

Therefore Kant’s theory of cosmopolitanism does not resolve the structural exclusion of migrants; it only alleviates it temporarily. contemporary proponents of the “federation of democratic states and societies,” such as David Held, encounter a similar problem. More often than not, cosmopolitan institutions composed of nation-states exist to protect the interests of citizens and states above and at the expense of migrants and the stateless. for example, the united Nations, an institution similar to what Kant had in mind, defines the right to leave a territory as a human right, but not the right to enter a territory. In short, powerful nation-states want to protect their wealth from the global poor. Another example: the united Nations Migrant Workers convention, signed by many states, provides basic rights and protections for migrants with status, but deliberately excludes rights for nonstatus migrants for the same reasons as above.30 Thus the cosmopolitanism of nation-states is not enough to protect or include all global migrants.

 

Republican cosmopolitanism

In response to this, the second major type of cosmopolitanism proposes that global institutions such as nongovernmental organizations (NGos) and transnational corporations would be more capable of implementing a civic set of cosmopolitan laws based on global justice and shared humanity than nation-states biased by their own parochial interests. This “civic cosmopolitanism,” however, only displaces the problem of requiring benevolent and knowledgeable lawmakers in these institutions as the sufficient condition for cosmopolitan inclusion. It is certainly true that NGos and other global institutions are capable of following principles of global justice, and in some cases, better than nation-states. But the proliferation of global migrants and refugees cannot be resolved by NGos like the Red cross in tent cities and refugee camps. In fact, rather than increasingly including migrants and refugees in political membership, humanitarian camps accomplish precisely the opposite: they depoliticize migrants and refugees by treating them as mere human beings. Refugee camps provide food and shelter, but they do not provide political voice and agency for their populations. Global institutions do not have the power to include stateless people in political membership. This is the danger of cosmopolitan institutions—that everyone becomes a mere human body to be managed in a camp. It is true that global institutions provide an important cosmopolitan role that should be increasingly regulated, but global institutions alone are not sufficient to protect or include global migrants.

A third option would be to combine both democratic and civic cosmopolitanism into a “three-tiered system of political authority.” Political decision making could come from subnational entities like cities, nation-states, and supranational institutions like the European union and the united Nations. Many theorists have formulated some combinatory version of this thesis.

However, the combination of multiple cosmopolitan law-creating institutions, while important, in principle still does not allow us to understand the most basic aspect of how those without the “rights to have rights,” like many migrants, come to attain cosmopolitan rights in the first place: through political struggle. Any theory of cosmopolitanism that focuses exclusively on the power of democratic leaders and their institutions to create laws of inclusion for dispossessed peoples is fundamentally inadequate. cosmopolitanism is not just about the creation of globally fair and inclusive laws and institutions; it is more importantly about the popular struggles required to demand and win those laws in the first place.

Part II: Migrant Cosmopolitanism

Sanctuary

The first major tactic of this migrant cosmopolitanism is sanctuary. Before any larger social or legal changes are instituted, sanctuary will likely be required to defend migrants, and provide the first sites of collective resistance. Migrant sanctuary has a very long history, going all the way back to the fourth century, originating as a religious institution. Even today it is churches, more than anywhere else, that have maintained a space of juridical exception where the law of the state does not apply and where the police are not allowed, either by law or by historical convention. Related to but distinct from this religious tradition, the proliferation of sanctuary cities around the turn of the twenty-first century is a clear indication of a growing social desire to protect undocumented migrants and refugees seeking asylum. Sanctuary cites are cities that limit their cooperation with federal immigration enforcement in one way or another. On one end of the spectrum there are cities like Denver which does not officially call itself a sanctuary, but is still considered by ICE to be a sanctuary city because it does not enforce immigration policy or ask people about their legal status and share that information with ICE.[i]On the other side there are cities like San Francisco that not only make it illegal for municipal entities to cooperate with federal immigration but also forbid city employees to limit city services or benefits based on immigration status.[ii]

In 2017, President Trump signed an executive order to remove federal funding to all sanctuary cities. The recent rise of sanctuary spaces of all kinds, #SanctuaryRising, #SanctuaryCampus and others after President Trump’s aggressive proposal to deport millions of migrants from the U.S., and executive orders to defund sanctuary cities and block refugees to the US, are an important continuation of this very basic gesture of protection that had its first major political demonstration in the 1996 French Sans Papiers(without papers) movement.[iii]

One of the most important recent historical events of migrant cosmopolitanism is the sans papiersmovement in France. In 1996, the first autonomous organization of undocumented migrants was formed in France against the anti-immigrant Pasqua Laws. On March 18, 1996, 324 Africans, including 80 women and 100 children, occupied the church of Saint Ambroise and demanded the regularization of their immigration status. Four days later, on March 22nd, the police evicted the sans-papiersfrom Saint Ambroise, an action authorized by the church. Soon after, there were two large public demonstrations in Paris in support of the sans-papiers, and in June the government regularized twenty-two of the original Saint Ambroise demonstrators. Because of the clear public support for the Saint Ambroise sans papiersand their partial regularization, their struggle lead to the creation of more than twenty-five sans-papierscollectives in France. In Lille and Versailles, hunger strikes were conducted that in some cases led to regularization.[iv]However, by far the most well-publicized sans-papiersoccupation was the occupation of Saint Bernard Church in Paris later that year, beginning on June 28th. Three hundred undocumented Africans occupied the church and demanded regularization. Ten men went on hunger strikes in the church for fifty days, and set up the Coordination Nationale des Sans-Papiers (Sans-Papiers National Coordinating Committee). Saint Bernard Church was occupied from June 28th until August 23, 1996, until riot police violently broke down the church doors with axes, using tear gas on mothers and babies, and dragged everyone out. That night, 20,000 people marched in the streets to support the sans-papiers. By January 1997, 103 of the original 324 had received temporary papers, 19 had been deported, and 2 were jailed.[v]

After the Saint Bernard occupation, sans-papiersoccupations only increased across France. As the left and right political parties prepared for elections in June 1997, the right attempted to distinguish its party with the anti-immigrant Debré laws. Among other things, these laws required anyone who allowed a foreigner to stay in their residence to report this to the local town hall or they would be charged with aiding and abetting a “illegal” (clandestine). Following the first application of this law by a French woman living with a sans-papiersin Lille, sixty-six filmmakers called for a massive civil disobedience protest against the Debré law. Soon after, daily newspapers published lists of writers, artists, scientists, university teachers, journalists, doctors, and lawyers, all offering to accommodate foreigners without asking for papers. On February 22, 1997, 100,000 people demonstrated in Paris against Debré. In March 1998, the sans-papiersoccupied the Notre Dame de la Gare and Saint Jean de Montmartre churches, and later others marched from Toulouse to Paris, demanding “Regularization for all!” Cosmopolitanism did not happen in the voting booths; it happened in the streets and emerged from sanctuary spaces.

After many years, the sans-papierswon several important battles for their papers, rights, and inclusion in French society, yet there is still much to be done. These rights were not won simply because of beneficent leaders with broad ideas about cosmopolitan justice; these rights were won by starving migrants who were publicly beaten, experienced racial discrimination, and expelled by the police. These rights were won because hundreds of thousands of French people said they would rather break the unjust laws against harboringsans-papiersthan turn their back on their fellow humans. This is migrant cosmopolitanism.

 

Solidarity

The second major tactic along the path to migrant cosmopolitanism is solidarity. By solidarity, I mean not only a feeling of kinship, but specific tactics that go beyond the non-cooperation and protectionism of sanctuary practices. In particular, I mean the active organization of migrant justice social groups and demonstrations by migrants and allies including, but not limited to, the extension of social service provision to partial and non-status migrants such as free clinics, Doctors Without Borders, Lawyers Without Borders, safe houses, food and water provision like No More Deaths, Casa de Paz, No Borders camps, and many others; providing cell phone maps to help Mexican migrants survive the desert and avoid border patrol like the Transborder Immigrant Toolin the U.S. and the InfoAidApp to help refugees navigate their way through Europe. I use the term “solidarity city” or “solidarity organizations” to distinguish groups that actively help, support, or treat as equal in one way or another, partial and non-status migrants. In other words, while many sanctuary cities and organizations in the US do not require city employees to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement, not all cities actively make this illegal and not all (non-municipal) organizations in the city actively provide services to non-status migrants or publicly support them. Instead of waiting for a borderless world the solidarity city is an attempt to start making one now.

The creation of solidarity cities for migrants is of course continuous with the sanctuary legacy. The creation of sanctuary cities and asylum is as old as slavery itself; today cities all over the world choose not to enforce federal and state immigration laws in their cities. The solidarity city is a more radical incarnation of the practice of modern church sanctuary that emerged across North America in the 1980s, in response to U.S. foreign policy and civil war in Central America. The idea of entire sanctuary cities has now spread to thirty-one cities in the United States and many others around the world. While top-down “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) city immigration policies may be legally binding at the local level, they often do not stop police, service providers, and individuals in the city from reporting non-status persons directly to federal immigration enforcement. So while many sanctuary cities of the United States may directly discourage police from helping immigration officials because it is “not their responsibility,” they often can and do. DADT is thus a precarious policy that always risks betrayal to the federal level. This is why DADT must become a matter of solidarity, similar to the underground railroads of the United States in the nineteenth century. Sanctuary practices that merely discourage working with federal immigration are not enough. We need solidarity practices that seek out ways to help non-status migrants through active city provisioning of services, a culture of popular antagonism against federal immigration enforcement, and specific organizations dedicated to supporting non-status migrants.

One recent attempt to coordinate this kind of effort and move beyond mere city sanctuary ordinances began in Toronto in 2009 and spread to Montréal and others.[vi]In 2013, Toronto became the first Canadian city with a formal policy allowing undocumented migrants to access services regardless of immigration status.[vii]The solidarity city movement is a migrant justice movement to (1) ensure that all city residents, including people without full immigration status, can access essential services, such as housing, health, education, social services, and emergency services, without fear of being detained or deported; (2) ensure that municipal funds and city police are not used to support federal immigration enforcement; and (3) ensure that residents of the city are not required to provide proof of immigration status to obtain services, and if such information was discovered it could not be shared with federal immigration enforcement. But the goal of the solidarity city is not just a legal formality—it is a social and political project to network with other community organizations to establish organizations that actively assist non-status migrants, including clinics, schools, food banks, and women’s shelters that will (1) provide access to anyone regardless of status, (2) have frontline staff who adhere to this commitment and will be sensitive to non-status issues, and (3) create a larger culture of antagonism with federal immigration enforcement and solidarity with precarious migrants.[viii]

The density and diversity of migrants in the city of Toronto make it a particularly fecund milieu for the creation of a solidarity city network. With over eighty different ethnicities and more than half of its city population born outside the country, Toronto is demographically the most diverse city in the world.[ix]An estimated 500,000 non-status persons live in Canada, and Toronto is home to more than half of them.[x]The Toronto migrant justice group, No One Is Illegal,has taken the idea of sanctuary cities one step further. NOII first began in Germany in 1997, inspired by the sans-papiersorganizations in France, and has spread to countries all over the world. NOIIcalls for the regularization of all non-status persons, an end to deportations, an end to the detention of migrants and refugees, and the abolition of security certificates.[xi]NOII’s strategy is pre-figurative insofar as it is aims to build a solidarity city in which all the institutions and people of the city agree to serve and protect everyone, regardless of papers. The aim is to mobilize the whole population of the city in collective civil disobedience against the Canadian government’s immigration policies, effectively building the cosmopolis that they envision without waiting for the state.[xii]

This is what we need to try and do now for the migrant caravan in the US.

 In conclusion, republican cosmopolitanism is only part of cosmopolitanism— the most reactionary part. The true agents and movers of cosmopolitan history and politics have always been, and continue to be, migrants.

 

 

Notes

[i]“But in some key ways, Denver has taken a moderate tack. Most notably, the measure agreed upon this month by Mayor Michael Hancock and its City Council sponsors maintains the sheriff’s practice of giving U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement a heads-up before releasing inmates wanted on a detainer.” Noelle Phillips, Denver Post, September 28, 2017. http://www.denverpost.com/2017/09/28/denver-immigration-sweep-arrest-sanctuary-city-ice-hancock/

[ii]http://sfgov.org/oceia/sanctuary-city-ordinance-0

[iii]An earlier “sanctuary movement” occurred in the US during the 1980s to house central American political refugees in churches.

[iv]Teresa Hayter, Open Borders, 144.

[v]Teresa Hayter, Open Borders, 144.

[vi]Earlier efforts to radicalize the sanctuary city by provision ordnances can also be seen in US cities like San Francisco and New York that actively forbid city employees to work with federal immigration and to withhold social services. Thomas Nail, et al. “Building Sanctuary City: No One is Illegal–Toronto on Non-Status Migrant Justice Organizing,”Upping the Anti: A Journal of Theory and Actionno. 11 (2010): 149–162.

[vii]Nicholas Keung, “Toronto declared ‘sanctuary city’ to non-status migrants,” The Toronto Star. Fri., Feb. 22, 2013. https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/02/21/cisanctuarycity21.html

[viii]DADT policies still need solidarity.

[ix]Nicholas Keung, “A city of unmatched diversity,” The Toronto Star. Wed., Dec. 5, 2007. https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2007/12/05/a_city_of_unmatched_diversity.html

[x]According to No One is Illegal’s website: http://toronto.nooneisillegal.org/node/274.

[xi]A “Security Certificate” is a mechanism by which the Government of Canada can detain and deport foreign nationals and all other non-citizens living in Canada.

[xii]As NOII states, “The Solidarity City is about bypassing the ideas behind nation-states and centralized governments.” Thomas Nail, et al. “Building Sanctuary City: No One is Illegal–Toronto on Non-Status Migrant Justice Organizing,”Upping the Anti: A Journal of Theory and Actionno. 11 (2010): 149–162, 159.

Political Geology: Active Stratigraphies and the Making of Life (Palgrave 2018), ed. Adam Bobbette and Amy Donovan

Image result for Political Geology Active Stratigraphies and the Making of Life

“This book explores the emerging field of political geology, an area of study dedicated to understanding the cross-sections between geology and politics. It considers how geological forces such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and unstable ground are political forces and how political forces have an impact on the earth. Together the authors seek to understand how the geos has been known, spoken for, captured, controlled and represented while creating the active underlying strata for producing worlds.

This comprehensive collection covers a variety of interdisciplinary topics including the history of the geological sciences, non-Western theories of geology, the origin of the earth, and the relationship between humans and nature. It includes chapters that re-think the earth’s ‘geostory’ as well as case studies on the politics of earthquakes in Mexico city, shamans on an Indonesian volcano, geologists at Oxford, and eroding islands in Japan. In each case political geology is attentive to the encounters between political projects and the generative geological materials that are enlisted and often slip, liquefy or erode away. This book will be of great interest to scholars and practitioners across the political and geographical sciences, as well as to philosophers of science, anthropologists and sociologists more broadly.”

This looks like a great collection!

Table of Contents

Political Geology: An Introduction
Adam Bobbette, Amy Donovan

Political Geologies of Knowledge
Front Matter
Pages 35-35

Genealogies of Geomorphological Techniques
Rachael Tily
Pages 37-69

Baroque Soil: Mexico City in the Aftermath
Seth Denizen
Pages 71-104

Geo-Metrics and Geo-Politics: Controversies in Estimating European Shale Gas Resources
Kärg Kama, Magdalena Kuchler
Pages 105-145

From Becoming-Geology to Geology-Becoming: Hashima as Geopolitics
Deborah Dixon
Pages 147-165

Amodern Political Geologies
Front Matter
Pages 167-167

Cosmological Reason on a Volcano
Adam Bobbette
Pages 169-199

Against ‘Terrenism’: Léopold Sédar Senghor, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and the Fear of a De-spiritualised Earth
Angela Last
Pages 201-217

How the Earth Remembers and Forgets
Bronislaw Szerszynski
Pages 219-236

Political Geologies of the Future
Front Matter
Pages 237-237

Attention in the Anthropocene: On the Spiritual Exercises of Any Future Science
Simone Kotva
Pages 239-261

Political Geologies of Magma
Nigel Clark
Pages 263-292

Politics of the Lively Geos: Volcanism and Geomancy in Korea
Amy Donovan
Pages 293-343

Epilogue
Front Matter
Pages 345-345

Encountering the Earth: Political Geological Futures?
Adam Bobbette, Amy Donovan
Pages 347-371
Back Matter
Pages 373-379