I’m extremely pleased to see that Andreling of Intra-Being is posting once again as, given his fascinating work in ethnography and the field, he’s always sorely missed when he’s away. Today he has a great post up riffing on his work in the field, object-oriented ontology, political processes, and my discussions of rice. Here’s a taste:
While humans can clearly play a significant role in shaping how these powers are expressed, it is clearly not a simple matter of humans imposing their will on the rice plant. The rice plant does not – indeed cannot – just do what humans want it to do and, for the most part, humans – even farmers – still don’t know everything about the ins and outs of the rice plant (despite having cultivated it for so many years). Yes, rice has been cultivated and modified by humans over thousands of years but at the same time, rice has shaped human societies reciprocally because of its own very specific needs (in terms of water, nutrients, etc.) and qualities. But despite this ancient structural coupling between humans and rice, neither has the human involvement with rice exhausted rice’s powers, nor has rice’s involvement with humans exhausted the humans’. Rice is an actant along with humans, warring tribes, language, irrigation systems, tools, families, weather systems, religious ceremonies, economies and geological formations and can lend itself quite comfortably to myriad other forms of ‘social’ organisation besides the hierarchical ones that happen to have emerged historically.
But changing practices is no simple feat. The farmers’ powers or capacities are themselves expressed in a selective manner as a result of the way that they are entangled with diverse other objects, both human and non-human, such as those listed earlier. These constellations of objects constitute a regime of attraction, essentially an autopoietic system or larger-scale object, which exerts its own gravitational pull on those partial parts (i.e. elements) that make it up. This larger object (we could call it ‘farming system’) is different and distinct from its parts (families, rice plants, soil, droughts, etc.) even though they compose it. Each part, therefore, exceeds (is withdrawn from) this larger object, just as the larger object exceeds (withdraws from) these parts.
There’s a lot more so be sure to read the rest here. The big gripe I have with what I call “paradigmatic critical theory” is that it often behaves as if it is enough to change ideological beliefs by debunking them to produce social and political change. I am by no means suggesting that pardigmatic critical theory should be abandoned and that ideology critique doesn’t have an important purpose and value, but I don’t think it is enough. There is a stickiness to the things of the world, to the regimes of attraction in which people live, to lives dependent on these things that functions to hold certain social patterns in place. People might be entirely aware that their social and material circumstances stink to high heaven, but they must live, eat, provide for their children, etc. In other words, they’re stuck as if in a spider’s web. Consequently, in addition to ideology critique real social and political change requires the painstaking formation of other assemblages of nonhuman entities that allow people to live in new and different ways and relate to one another in new and different ways. If these alternative assemblages are not created– and again I emphasize that I’m talking about the nonhuman here: geography, resources, food, plants, water resources, technologies, etc, not human collectives –then that change simply cannot come. This is what I have called political “terraism“: the practice of actually building and creating new assemblages of nonhumans coupled with demolishing the flows of energy oppressive assemblages need to continue functioning.