Heterogeneities net

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The Problem2, Helen Verran tells a story that has been retold by many3. In a power saturated set of relations stretching over 200 years Australian Aboriginal people have. been systematically excluded from the land upon which they lived Genocide and policies of cultural. incorporation have been followed too but the land rights issue turns partly around the question of. ownership Did Aboriginal people own the lands over which they walked or not The English terra. nullius doctrine determined that Aborigines were not settled they didn t cultivate the land and. neither did they parcel it up Then it argued that since they didn t do these kinds of things it. followed that the lands were empty, So why didn t aboriginal people parcel up their land The answer has been well rehearsed It is that. they saw they see the world very differently In Aboriginal cosmology this isn t a volume or a. surface with features or a space to be occupied by people Instead it is a process of creation and re. creation The world including people but also what Europeans would think of as topographical. features plants animals ritual sites and ancestral beings are all necessary participants in a process. of continuing creation And if this doesn t happen then the world starts to hollow itself out It stops. So here s the difference in a European or a Northern way of thinking the world carries on by itself. People don t perform it It s outside us and we re contained by it But that s not true for Aboriginal. people The idea of a reified reality out there detached from the work and the rituals that constantly. re enact it makes no sense Land doesn t belong to people Perhaps it would be better to say that. people belong to the land Or perhaps even better still we might say that processes of continuous. creation redo land people life and the spiritual world altogether and in specific locations. Over the last two decades this grim historical Australian tragedy has been slightly undone In the. teeth of opposition from a series of vested interests the terra nullius doctrine has been overturned. That s the crucial political bottom line of this story though it is still being frustrated and contested. But also significant politically and intellectually is the work that Verran and other post colonial. scholars in Australia in Latin America and among the First Nations in North America have been. doing to re think this kind of encounter And this is the core question that they ask Are we dealing. with matters of belief Are we simply saying that white people believe one thing and Aboriginal. people believe something different Or is something different going on The new post colonial. In this section I use Helen Verran s work to explore a position that has been developed more generally in. post colonialism Work in this tradition that has shaped my understanding of the issues includes the following. Blaser Feit and McRae 2004 Blaser 2010 Chakrabarty 2000 Conway 2008 de la Cadena 2010 Escobar. 2008 Noble 2007 and Verran 2001 Less directly anthropological work on cosmologies that enact the. world differently have also been good to think with See for instance Eduardo Viveiros de Castro s writing on. Amerindian perspectivism 1998 which needs to be distinguished from the perspectivalism mentioned in. this paper the work done by Marilyn Strathern with relational configurations and ruptures derived from the. practices in Papua New Guinea see for instance Strathern 2002 and the issues raised by taking objects. seriously considered for instance in Henare Holbraad and Wastell 2007 Finally I am also drawing on a. conversation with Wen Yuan Lin a part of which has appeared in print Law and Lin 2011. Verran 1998, response is that the differences are not simply matters of belief They are also a matter of reals. What the world is is also at stake Here s how the reasoning goes. If we say that Aboriginal people believe one thing and we believe something else then we may not. realise that we re doing this but in effect we are buying into a version of the terra nullius doctrine. This is because we re saying that the world let s get big and say the universe is really something like. a large space time box that goes on by itself And then we re adding that there are people with. different beliefs living in this space time box If we re liberal then we will respect the differences and. we won t try to impose our own version of the world on those who see it differently But even so. and however nice we are we haven t abandoned our basic commitment to the idea of a single all. encompassing reality Neither have we really stopped assuming that Aboriginal people have got it. wrong Their idea the idea that the world is a set of differently woven specific and heterogeneous. creating practices is a story but it isn t the way things actually are The idea that reality is a set of. contingent enacted and more or less intersecting worlds in the plural perhaps we might call it a. fractiverse may indeed be a nice story but is indeed just a story. So that s what is at stake Is it simply that people believe different things about reality Or is it that. there are different realities being done in different practices If the first of these positions is right. then we re in the business of beliefs perspectives and epistemologies If it s the second then we re. being backed into issues of ontology Here s the analytically radical nature of this second position. We re in the business of treating reals as effects of contingent and heterogeneous enactments. performances or sets of relations, And here in turn is why this is politically important If we live in a single Northern container world. within a universe then we might imagine a liberal way of handling the power saturated encounters. between different kinds of people But if we live instead in a multiple world of different. enactments if we participate in a fractiverse then there will be there can be no overarching logic. or liberal institutions to mediate between the different realities There is no overarching Instead. there are contingent local and practical engagements. The implication is that if we are to work well in post colonial encounters we will need to craft ways. of doing so that are themselves contingent modest practical and thoroughly down to earth ways. of proceeding that acknowledge and respect difference as something that cannot be included So. that is the problem Whether to assume the world is one and we re all inside it Or to wrestle with. the implications that worlds in the plural are enacted in different and power saturated practices. Closer to home, I start by talking of aboriginal practices because once we make the journey back to the North from.
the post colonial places of contact in the South it tends to become difficult to see the importance of. ontological difference 4 Instead the latter tends to look like an elaborate and self regarding. intellectual game for intellectuals who aren t interested in getting their hands dirty You will. understand given what I have just been saying that I think this is profoundly wrong This is because. what we might think of as single reality doctrines were one worked up in the North two. For certainly it can be found ontological difference As can what one might think of as ontological work. Work that makes this argument includes Mol 2002 and Law 2004. embedded in Northern practices three reproduced and re enacted in those practices and then. four they were transported to the South and imposed on reluctant First Nations The corollary. seems to me obvious In the North we have our own set of post colonial questions that urgently. need to be addressed First how on earth did one world doctrines get to be so powerful for us. Second how do they retain their grip And third how might they get shifted. There s a self sealing response to the first two of these questions It says that since there is only one. world it s scarcely surprising that most people see it that way That s why one world doctrines are. so powerful It is simply that they re right Obviously this is a position that is metaphysically self. contained and it is of course precisely what the Northern imaginary tells itself It s also why. questions about fractiverses about multiply enacted realities tend to look eccentric or self. indulgent when they re raised in the North After all this is important single reality doctrines are. endlessly being done in the daily practices of Northern life as well It isn t just philosophers who. think in this way, But here s the point even in the North we do have a choice And if we don t go that way if we don t. opt for a one world metaphysics then this opens up a whole field of intellectual inquiry that is at the. same time a field of political intervention As I have just noted it becomes possible indeed urgent. to inquire about the practices that enact one world realities It becomes urgent to inquire about the. practices that Other multiple world realities It becomes urgent too to pick through the practices. within the north that multiply realities even as they insist on a universe rather than a fractiverse 5. And it becomes important to ask how fractiversal realities might be freed up. So those are the challenges But how to tackle them. We are not without resources No doubt these come in many forms but we find them in the. humanities and social sciences including anthropology and post colonialism and my own discipline. science technology and society or STS Here s what STS has done It has tackled what are perhaps. the exemplary institutions of the North science and technology And it has sought to understand. how they are able to pronounce with so much power about the nature of the real To be clear and. fair to other scholars I should make it clear that much of STS is precisely built upon a one world. metaphysics and its practitioners wouldn t buy into the arguments that I want to make At the same. time parts of it do bite on this particular fractiversal bullet These include the writing of feminist. technoscience scholar Donna Haraway6 and so called actor network theory together with its. successor projects7 ANT and Haraway have in common that they assume that heterogeneous. relations enact realities and therefore that different practices enact different realities Neither is. committed to a one world metaphysics, I am drawing here on a large STS literature The problem is perhaps first and most clearly spelled out in Bruno. Latour s We Have Never Been Modern 1993 in which they messy heterogeneities of practice are contrasted. with the purifications that distinguish the social and the natural an argument on which I draw below The issue. of ontological multiplicity is very clearly worked out in Annemarie Mol s The Body Multiple Mol 2002 Note. that the term pluriverse comes from William James For discussion see Latour 2010. The term appears in her essay on situated knowledges Haraway 1991 but informs all her work See for. instance her most recent work which is on companion species Haraway 2007. For a concise account of some of the many literatures that go into actor network theory and after see Law. How to catch this Perhaps it might help to put it this way The feminists used to say that biology is. not destiny In this STS line of work let s call it material semiotics we might extend perhaps distort. this feminist slogan It is reality that is not destiny And in what follows I will try to show why this. might make sense and I ll do by touching briefly on four exemplary STS case studies. Reality is not destiny, I start with an argument made by STS scholar Harry Collins who wrote a paper in 1975 about an. attempt to detect gravity waves8 Collins position let me add is rather far from the material. semiotics that I am advocating He tells us that cosmologists believe that gravity waves were. created at the time of the big bang but that by now they are so faint that they are undetectable His. paper describes an attempt by a minority group to move against this orthodoxy and detect their. presence The experimentalists in question suspended an aluminium bar in a vacuum at a very low. temperature The idea was that the bar would be set resonating by the residual gravity waves The. experiment worked by insulating the bar from other noise that might also set it resonating Collins. describes the experimental trials and tribulations of the group and also records that the experiment. ended in controversy the experimenters thought they had detected gravity waves and everyone. else thought otherwise So why was there disagreement One answer is that the experiments done. by other physicists were slightly different Reasoning that the work of first group of experimentalists. was flawed they sought to invent better experiments but their attempts to do so met with failure. and they concluded that gravity waves were undetectable Controversy ensued and it rumbled on. but in the end almost everyone said that whatever it was that had set the bar in the first experiment. ringing it wasn t gravity waves, So that s the story But how does it show that reality is not destiny The answer is that the. controversy was about three things all ravelled up together First it was about which experiments. were working properly and which were not Second it was about the competence or otherwise of. different experimenters about scientific expertise and authority So how was this sorted out It s. tempting to say that reality was the judge but Collins shows that this is wrong because there was no. Heterogeneities DOT net What s Wrong with a One World World 1 John Law ESRC Centre for Research on Socio Cultural Change Department of Sociology Faculty of Social Sciences The Open University Walton Hall Milton Keynes MK7 6AA UK j law open ac uk This paper was presented to the Center for the Humanities Wesleyan University Middletown Connecticut on 19th September 2011 This version

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