Nigel Thrift Routledge Taylor & Francis Group london and new york



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Non-Representational Theory
Space | politics | affect
Nigel Thrift
Routledge

Taylor & Francis Group

LONDON AND NEW YORK
Founded by Karl Mannheim

Editor: John Urry

First published 2008 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN

Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada by Routledge 270 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016

Transfered to Digital Printing 2008

Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an information business
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Library of Congress Catalog in Publication Data

A catalog record for this book has been requested

SBNlO: 0415-39320-5 (hbk) SBNlO: 0415-39321-3 (pbk) BNlO: 0-203-94656-1 (ebk)

13: 978-0-415-39320-1 (hbk) BN13: 978-0415-39321-8 (pbk)

3: 978-0-203-94656-5 (ebk)

Preface vii

Acknowledgements ix
1 Life, but not as we know it
PART I 27

2 Re-inventing invention: new tendencies in capitalist

commodification 29

3 Still life in nearly present time: the object of nature 56

4 Driving in the city 75

5 Movement-space: the changing domain of thinking resulting from the development of new kinds of spatial awareness 89
PART II 107
6 Afterwords 109
PART III 151
7 From born to made: technology, biology, and space 153

8 Spatialities of feeling 171

9 But malice aforethought 198

10 Turbulent passions: towards an understanding of the

affective spaces of political performance 220
Notes 255

Bibliography 279

Index 314

This book summarizes and extends a batch of work carried out since the late 1990s concerned with what I call non-representational theory. On one level this is a book about the dynamics of susceptibility and about how we are being made susceptible in new ways. Of course, we are continually being made into new creatures by all kinds of forces, but it is surely the case that as the world is forced to hce up to the damage done, so we can no longer move along the same cul-de-sacs of practical- cum-conceptual possibilities. Other possibilities need to be alighted upon for thinking about the world. That requires boosting inventive attitude so as to produce more contrary motion.

Then, on another level, this is a book about apathy. Given what has to be faced, it seems important to find a way of expanding the capacity for action in a world in which action is severely circumscribed. But it is not the heroic, individualized and autonomous action of a certain kind of activist -'self-confident and free of worry, capable of vigorous, wilful activity' (Walzer 1988: 313) -that I want to concentrate on in this book. Rather, rediscovering, at least to an extent, seventeenth-century notions of agency and selfhood, it is an action that can be associated with passivity, but a passivity that is demanding, that is called forth by another (Gross 2006).

In days when the Iraq War, Afghanistan, 9/11, 7/7 and other such events often seem to have claimed total occupation of the Western academic psyche, and many academics have reacted accordingly with mammoth statements about warfare, imperialism, capitalism, global warming, and numerous other waypoints on the road to perdition, it is difficult to remember that other kinds of political impulse might also have something to say, something smaller and larger, something which is in danger of being drowned out. Instead this book keeps faith with the small but growing number of determined experimentalists who think that too often we have been asking the wrong questions in the wrong way: those who want to re-materialize democracy, those who want to think about the exercise of association, those who want to make performances in the interstices of everyday life, those who are intent on producing new and more challenging environments, those who want to redesign everyday things, those who, in other words, want to generate more space to be unprecedented, to love what aids fantasy, and so to gradually break down imaginative resistance. Rather like Darwin's restless earthworms, slowly going about the work of tilling the soil (Graham and Thrift 2007), they are attempting

viii Preface
to make progress in reworking the background by producing new and more productive entanglements. The intent is to produce a political genre in much the same manner that, in the history of painting, the work of the assistants who carried out the painting of the background gradually comes into the light. What was formerly understood as the cheap stuff to be inserted by the apprentices is gradually foregrounded as the genre of landscape painting. The side panels take to centre stage.

Of course, all of this is very easy to misread, especially if you want -even need -to do so. Surely we should all be concentrating our attention on the millions without food or water, the terrible wars, the multiple oppressions that characterize so many people's lives. But this kind of linearization of intent, classically associated with those who want to configure a centre that thinks radical practices (Colectivo Situaciones 2005), too often elides the complex, emergent world in which we live, in which it is by no means clear that everyone could or should suddenly reach a point of clarity and unanimity about means and ends, yet alone a state of com- passion. This is a world that is simultaneously monstrous and wonderful, banal and bizarre, ordered and chaotic, a world that is continually adding new hybrid inhabitants, and a world in which the human is consequently up for grabs as 'human nature (the phrase already innocent, nostalgically distant) is melting, running off in unpredictable directions' (Rotman 2000: 591.l

Those involved in the kinds of projects that I have mentioned certainly see the imprints of power but they do not believe that everylung enters the machine: for example, there can be moments of relation of which no residue remains upon which therefore we may not easily be able to reflect but which can still have grip. Nor do they believe that everyone enters into a contract as an 'individual' with her own body and can therefore easily manifest intention. Rather there are flows of what is and is not subjectivity (WaU 1999) making their ways across fields of flesh, touching some parts and not others, and it has become clear that these flows of subjectivity need to and do involve more and more actors -various kinds of things, various other biological beings, even the heft of a particular landscape -in a continuous undertow of matterings that cannot be reduced to simple transactions but can become part of new capacities to empower.

In days when the Iraq War, Afghanistan, 9/11, 7/7 and other such events often seem to have claimed total occupation of the Western academic psyche, and many academics have reacted accordingly with mammoth statements about warfare, imperialism, capitalism, global warming, and numerous other waypoints on the road to perdition, it is difficult to remember that other kinds of political impulse might also have something to say, something smaller and larger, something which is in danger of being drowned out. Instead this book keeps faith with the small but growing number of determined experimentalists who think that too often we have been asking the wrong questions in the wrong way: those who want to re-materialize democracy, those who want to think about the exercise of association, those who want to make performances in the interstices of everyday life, those who are intent on producing new and more challenging environments, those who want to redesign everyday things, those who, in other words, want to generate more space to be unprecedented, to love what aids fantasy, and so to gradually break down imaginative resistance. Rather like Darwin's restless earthworms, slowly going about the work of tilling the soil (Graham and Thrift 2007), they are attempting

Acknowledgements

One of the banal but still important principles of non-representational theory is that all work is joint: the idea that such a thing as a single author is there to be named is faintly ludicrous. Rather, all books seem to me to be in the nature of treated novels like Tom Phillips's wonderfbl(2005 [1980]) A H~mzment,fdl to the bh with the thoughts of a host of others, alive and dead. I would like to name and thank some of these others who have commented on one or more of the chapters in this book: Jeremy Ahearne, Ash Amin, Jakob Arnoldi, Andrew Barry, Ryan Bishop, Virginia Blum, Dede Boden, Scaren Buhl, Geof Bowker, Chris Castiglia, Tom Conley, Verena Andermatt Conley, Gail Davies, J-D Dewsbury, Stuart Elden, Chris Gosden, Steve Graham, Pad Harrison, Kevin Hetherington, Ben Highmore, Alex Kacelnik, Baz Kershaw, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Steen Nepper Larsen, Bruno Latour, John Law, Beverly Lear, Celia Lury, Derek McCormack, Gregor Maclennan, Bill Maurer, David Midgley, Brian Morris, Meaghan Morris, Dana Nelson, Melissa Orlie, Tom Osborne, David Parkin, Claire Pearson, Victoria Perks, Dag Petersson, John Phiilips, Chris Philo, Paul Rabinow, Alan Read, Nikolas Rose, Richard Sennett, Michael Sheringham, Peter Slojterdijk, Bent Scarenson, David Stark, Helen Thomas, Grahame Thompson, Frederik Tygsmp, John Urry, Deb Verhoeven, Valerie Walkerdine, Sarah Whatmore, Martin White, Steve Woolgar, and Katharine Young.
Chapter 1: for this book
PART I

Chapter 2: first published in 2006 in Economy and Society (reproduced courtesy of Routledge)

Chapter 3: first published in 2001 in Body and Society (reproduced courtesy of Sage (0 Sage Publications, 2000) by permission of Sage Publications)

Chapter 4: first published in 2004 in Theory, Culture, and Society (reproduced courtesy of Sage (Sage Publications, 2000) by permission of Sage Publications)

In days when the Iraq War, Afghanistan, 9/11, 7/7 and other such events often seem to have claimed total occupation of the Western academic psyche, and many academics have reacted accordingly with mammoth statements about warfare, imperialism, capitalism, global warming, and numerous other waypoints on the road to perdition, it is difficult to remember that other kinds of political impulse might also have something to say, something smaller and larger, something which is in danger of being drowned out. Instead this book keeps faith with the small but growing number of determined experimentalists who think that too often we have been asking the wrong questions in the wrong way: those who want to re-materialize democracy, those who want to think about the exercise of association, those who want to make performances in the interstices of everyday life, those who are intent on producing new and more challenging environments, those who want to redesign everyday things, those who, in other words, want to generate more space to be unprecedented, to love what aids fantasy, and so to gradually break down imaginative resistance. Rather like Darwin's restless earthworms, slowly going about the work of tilling the soil (Graham and Thrift 2007), they are attempting
x Acknowledgements
Chapter 5: first published in 2005 in Economy and Society (reproduced courtesy of Routledge)
PART II
Chapter 6: first published in Environment and Planning. D: Society and Space (reproduced courtesy of Pion)
PART III
Chapter 7: first published in 2004 in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers(reproduced courtesy of the Royal Geographical Society, courtesy of Blackwell Publishing)
Chapter 8: first published in 2004 in GeorajskaAnnaler (reproduced courtesy of Blackwell Publishing)
Chapter 9: first published in 2005 in Transactions of the Institute of British Geopaphers(reproduced courtesy of the Royal Geographical Society, courtesy of Blackwell Publishing)
Chapter 10: for this book.

1 Life, but not as we know it

When it was enthusiastically pointed out within memory of ow present Academy that race or gender or nation. . . were so many social constructions, inventions, and representations, a window was opened, an invitation to begin the critical process of analysis and culmd reconstruction was offered.. . . The brlliance of the pronouncement was blinding. Nobody was asking what's the next step? What do we do with this old insight? If life is constructed, how come it appears so immutable? How come culture appears so natural?

(Taussig 1993: mi)

'production7' then7 is used according to the meaning of its etymological root

(i.e. Latin producere) that refers to the act of 'bringing forth' an object in space. (Gumbrecht 2004: xiii)

a knowledge of arrangement or disposition is, of all others, the most useful. (Humphrey Repton 1803, cited in Wall 2006: 6)

But can we really assume that the reading of such texts is a reading exclusively concentrated on meaning? Do we not sing these texts? Shodd the process by which a poem speaks be ody carried by a meaning intention? Is there not, at the same time, a truth that lies in its performance? This, I think, is the task with which the poem confronts us.

(Gadamer 2000, cited in Gumbrecht 2004: 64)

we can and we may, as it were, jump with both feet off the ground into or towards a world of which we trust the other parts to meet om jump. (James 1999 [1911]: 230)
Introduction
Since the early 1990s I have been engaged in an attempt to develop what I call non-representational theory. The chapters in this book are some of the later results of that project, following on in a direct Line from Spatial Formations (Thrift 1996) and Knowing Capitalism (Thrift 2005a). Indeed, the three books should be considered together: they are all part and parcel of the same economic-cum- cultural-cum-political venture.

Life, but not as we know it 2
How to characterize this particular book's contents, then? Stripped to its bare s, this is a book about the geography of what happens. In large part, it is therefore a work of description of the bare bones of actual occasions but it does not, I hope, adopt a passive stance to its object of enquiry: what is present in experience. And not just because -as I have tried to make clear here and elsewhere -the content of what is present in experience has changed radically. For this is also a book about how these actual occasions, howsoever they may have been altered, might be enlivened -made more responsive and more active -by the application of a series of procedures and techniques of expression. In other words, it is intended as the beginning of an outline of the art of producing a permanent supplement to the ordinary, a sacrament for the everyday, a hymn to the superfluous.

If that sounds too tentative, a little bit tortuous, or even rather portentous, then I am afraid that that is how it will have to be. This is a tentative book because it is not entirely clear what a politics of what happens might look like -indeed, given that so much of what I want to outline is avowedly experimental, perhaps too much in the way of clarity should not necessarily be counted as a good thing2 (although straightaway I can hear the criticisms from those who believe that theory should slide home like a bolt). It is a little bit tortuous because there is a lot of ground-clearing to do, a lot of hacking back of the theoretical undergrowth in order to get to the nub of the matter. And it is portentous because it involves taking some of the small signs of everyday life for wonders and this involves all manner of risks, and not least pretentiousness. All I can say is that I think that the risk is worth it in order to achieve a diagnosis of the present which is simultaneously a carrier wave for new ways of doing things.

Certainly, in order to achieve its goals, this book has to be three things at once. First, it has to be a work of social and cultural theory. The book builds on a series of cognate traditions in order to construct what I hope is a convincing account of how the worlds4 are, given that encounters are all there is, and their results cannot be pre-given (although they can, of course, be pre-treated). Complex trajectories rather than blurred genres, as Strathern (1999: 25) puts it. But, second, the book also has to be a diagnostic tool. It is intended to be a work that takes some of the specificities of the present moment and weaves them into what might be called a speculative topography. The contours and content of what happens constantly change: for example, there is no stable 'human' experience because the human sensorium is constantly being re-invented as the body continually adds parts in to itself; therefore how and what is experienced as experience is itself variable. Then, third and finally, the book is intended as a political contribution to the task of reconsidering our hopes for ourselves. This is, after all, a time in which the invention of new 'everyday' forms of democracy has become a part of the political ambition of many people, in which the 'local' and the 'global' have become increasingly awkward political terms but no satisfactory alternative to the connected separation they imply seems to exist, and in which 'what each of us feels capable of (Ginsborg 2005: 7) is perceived as a vital political issue. The small offering that this book attempts to make to these three debates, and especially to the last

Life, but not as we know it 3
one, is an opening up of new political domains which it is then possible to make a corresponding political rumpus about. The book is, most especially then, an attempt to produce an art of the invention of political invention by putting hard questions to the given in experience, the overall intent being to call new publics into existence who will pose questions to politics which are not yet of politics (Rajchman 1998) -whilst recognizing that this questioning can never be more than an inexact science6 (Stengers 2002a). Bloch (2000 [1923]) called this 'build- ing into the blue'. That is not a bad description for the kind of resource I am trying to construct.

But I need to severely qualify each of these goals. To qualify the first, like many, I think that, in certain senses at least, the social sciences and humanities suffer from a certain kind of over-theoretization at present. There are too many theories, all of them seemingly speaking on behalf of those whose lives have been damaged by the official structures of power.7 A cynic might think that the profusion of 'fast' theories created by academics is simply a mirror of the rise of brainy classes, who are able to live a life of permanent theoretical revolution whilst everyone else does the dirty work. That would be too harsh. But the criticism is not therefore with- out any force at all (Rabinow 2006). It seems to me, to qualify the second goal, that this task is a necessary one in a time in which a globalized capitalism based on the rise of the brainy classes has become ever more pervasive, and democracy is in danger of becoming something of a sham, enacted as part of what Sloterdijk (2005~)calls an authoritarian capitalism.
The mass of the population is periodically doused with the rhetoric of democracy and assured that it lives in a democratic society and that democracy is the condition to which all progressive-minded societies should aspire. Yet that democracy is not meant to realise the demos but to constrain and neutralize it by the arts of electoral engineering and opinion management. It is, necessarily, regressive. Democracy is embalmed in public rhetoric precisely in order to memorialize its loss of substance. Substantive democracy

-equalizing, participatory, commonalizing -is antithetical to everything that a high reward meritocratic society stands for. At the same moment that advanced societies have identified their progressive character with perpetual technological innovation they have defined themselves through policies that are regressive in many of their effects. Democracy is where these effects are registered. By virtually every important official norm -efficiency, incentives to unequal rewards, hierarchical principles of authority, expertise - it appears anachronistic, dysynchronous. The crux of the problem is that high-technology, globalized capitalism is radically incongruent with democracy.

(Wolin 2000: 20)
What seems to me more valuable, to qualify the third goal, would be to try to construct practices of vocation8 that can begin to address the deficit of felt powerlessness and to chip away at 'our capacity to interiorize power relations, to delimit by ourselves the realm of the possible' (Ginsborg 2005: 20). These practices would

Life, but not as we know it 4
not be permanent solutions. Rather, they would be oriented to escape attempts, some of which would take root: a series of fireworks inserted into everyday life which could confront or sidestep the 'behavioural codes that are not unilateral or totalitarian or especially disciplinarian, and which furthermore appear to offer great freedom of choice, but which none the less convey us effortlessly into a life of normalcy and convention' (Ginsborg 2005: 20). At this point, I am often stuck for words to describe what I mean, so let me take someone else's instead Greil Marcus's homily on Robert Johnson as a force, and not just a mirror:
At the highest point of his music each note that is played implies another that

isn't, each emotion expressed hints at what can't be said. For all of its elegance

and craft the music is unstable at its core -each song is at once an attempt

to escape from the world as everyone around the singer believes it to be,

and a dream that the world is not a prison but a homecoming. . . .Johnson

is momentarily in the air, flying just as one does in a dream, looking down in

wonder at where you are, then soaring as if it's the most natural thing in the

world.

(Marcus 2005: 103)
Now I am well aware that the cultivation of this form of knowledge may be interpreted as an irredeemably middle-class pre-occupation, the equivalent in theory of Bromell's (2000) characterization of white middle-class teenagers as insiders who long to be outsiders, the kind of consciousness of the world that too quickly falls into a call for 'a quick revolutionary fix that will please everyone and just reinforce a cosy feeling of powerlessness' (Lotringer 2004: 18)? But I think there is more to it than that, much more. For it suggests that there may be a more general means of opening up an allusive field in which 'the listener's attention is seized and dropped and held and released by possibilities of meaning that amuse and interest but do not quite come into being' (Bromell 2000: 133). This is what I mean by a politics of hope,1å the prospect of constructing a machine for 'sustaining affirmation' (White 2000), of launching an additional source of political nourishment and responsiveness and imagination in a time when so many forces militate against it, of locating and warming up the technology of questioning and non-questioning 'by which attention forms and experience crystallizes' (Connolly 2005: 166). In other words, I want to try and add a distinct co- operative-cum-experimental sensibility in to the mix of the world that will help us 'engage the strangeness of the late modem world more receptively' (White 2000:

153). In turn, we could perhaps live in a less 'stingy' (as Connolly (2005) puts it) and more playful way, overcoming or at least bypassing some of the cringes that have been sewn into the fibres of our being as we have learnt how to be embodied. The net outcome would be that the texture of the feel and outcome of the everyday could be reworked as traditional forms of expression were slowly but surely readied differently (Abrahams 2005).

What is then at issue is what form these practices would take. There is nothing automatically leads them towards such forms of generosity, after all. In a sense,

Life, but not as we know it 5
this quest/question about questioning is precisely what the rest of this book attempts to do.

In the remaining pages of this introductory chapter, I will introduce some of main themes that will be taken up in the chapters of this book. I will begin by outlining some of the main characteristics of non-representational theory some of the key contemporary issues that non-representational theory highlight. Next, I will consider some of the theoretical and practical issues that the book throws up. Then, finally, I will parse each of the individual chapters, bringing out some of their common problematics.



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