Accepted Paper:

Modelling the State: The Ontological Politics of "Politics as Usual"  


Nicholas Rowland (Pennsylvania State University)
Jan-Hendrik Passoth (Technische Universität München)

Paper short abstract:

How do we understand the ontological politics of “politics as usual”? Of the many possible and plausible answers, we look to literature on modelling from the sociology of science, and reframe the foundational question of state theory (i.e., what is the state) by modelling (not theorizing) the state.

Paper long abstract:

One usually assumes that those items -- actors, ideas, institutions -- that fall into a somehow well-defined category of "politics" are the building blocks of anything deemed political in nature (at least under modern conditions). However, once the focus is placed on any one of these -- and the material practices that enact them -- one cannot help but to but notice that their existence is, in many ways, political too. Over the past decade, a branch of STS research tried to answer one of the oldest questions of political theory, namely, "What is the state?" Whether examining state reform, infrastructuring, or theory, it becomes apparent that whatever the state is, it is neither a conceptual nor a practical thing: the whens, wheres, and hows of "the state" turn out to be usefully captured by STS insight into modeling, in this case, what we might call "state modelling" -- i.e., the making, merging and dissecting of state models in attempts to, as Latour (2003, 149) notes, transform "the several into one, initially through a process of representation … and subsequently through a process of retransformation of the one into several." Exactly that -- the struggle about installing an arena for arranging our collectives -- is, following Ranciere, the "what" of what politics is. Circling around to "politics as usual," based on STS insight from "science as usual", one can recognize that the complex ontological politics of life in the laboratory neatly parallels the complex ontological politics of life in politics too.

Panel T036
Social Studies of Politics: Making Collectives By All Possible Means