Stranded Review

Discovered this week (but actually published in 2015) another review of The Provoked Economy: long, thorough and detailed, authored by Bruno Ambroise, a specialist on Austin, speech acts and the pragmatics of language, but alas controlled by the author’s will to find in these pages an instance of his specialty. He rightly complains about the fact that the book does not care about that. “Who cares about Austin” could indeed have been a fair subtitle for a book that, yes, has the P word in it but that certainly does not abide by Austinian rules and certainly does not use the word as a concept (Ambroise does not want to engage with the concepts that are actually proposed in the book, which are certainly located elsewhere). Ambroise suggests that it is wrong to collapse language into technologies, things into signs, but, as it is clear from page one, that is unfortunately not a conceptual error but the exact purpose of the book. Too bad! But it is therefore quite understandable, as Ambroise signals, that the empirical investigations at the core of the book do just that.


Speculative Review

A follow-up on this: José Ossandón took the test on The Provoked Economy further and dared to compare it with Boltanski’s Mysteries and Conspiracies and Latour’s Reassembling the Social in a piece titled “¿Cómo escribir teoría social después de la performatividad y sus obstrucciones?” (“How to write social theory after performativity’s obstructions?”) as part of a special issue of Cuadernos de Teoría Social on the problem of “writing the social”. The key hypothesis there is that The Provoked Economy is, in fact, exercising a lesson learned from Lars von Trier‘s obstructionist methodology (e.g. The Five Obstructions). Totally. Perhaps.

Rabbit Review

The Provoked Economy bows before the Journal of Cultural Economy. The journal assembled a review symposium in which Aaron Z. Pitluck (here), José Ossandón and Trine Pallesen (here) and Alberto Toscano (here) very seriously and very generously engage with the book’s drawbacks, limitations and anxieties. In an attempt at using all this as fuel for more explicitness, the author provides in a piece titled “You must fall down the rabbit fall” a few constructive suggestions: to drop economics, to breach critique and to squash performativity.

Flat Review

Oh, The Provoked Economy got the chance of being reviewed for a reputable, plain sociology journal — here in the European Journal of Sociology — by the astute sociologist Dan Hirschman! Disappointing, though. Disappointing for the reviewer, first and foremost, who visibly got pretty bored: “Has performativity lost its punch?”, he asks, dreaming of last decade’s hits (here and here) and hoping for a nice “return-of-the-son-of” sequel. But even more disappointing this is for the book itself, who did not find there an engagement with its content proper. Here are the two sentences that actually talk about what’s in the book:

“Performativity, Muniesa argues, is not exclusively, or even primarily, about finance, nor the activities of professional economists. Rather, performativity is about how economic things must be described, provoked, simulated, and made explicit in order to function as such.”

But that’s pretty much all. What the book means by that (and what the reviewer may think about it) is for the reader to guess. Hirschman warns indeed the reader so thoroughly about “a relatively high barrier to entry” (Chapter 1) that we just do not know what the entry is the entry of. The reviewer is more concerned with the book’s enigmatic “lack of engagement with political economy”, which is enigmatic indeed, perhaps even more enigmatic than the widespread use of this classic and elegant synonym of “economics” — “political economy” — that the progressive academic literature is, oddly enough, clinging to. True, The Provoked Economy couldn’t care less about political economy (and the book is certainly not about economics, as the empirical studies clearly show). If at all, it would care about “the critique” thereof: that is, about a frontal questioning of the categories of economic reason (Chapter 2). And it certainly insinuates a preoccupation about the consequences of that. As Hirschman goes on to cite his favorite authors on financialization — Greta R. Krippner and her brilliant Capitalizing on Crisis — or the economic drive in university science — Elysabeth Popp Berman and her remarkable Creating the Market University — one could perhaps fail from noticing that the book’s empirical parts are very much preoccupied, indeed as these authors are, with the spread of a culture of capitalization, which is considered as something quite problematic (Chapter 6), and with the managerial drive in public science, which is analyzed in the terms of a fatal tension between, precisely, the economic and the political (Chapter 7).


Campaigning for Democratic Europe

Blog readers following this website’s twitter account may have already noticed the favorable penchant of the author of The Provoked Economy for Podemos, the political movement that was formed in Spain in early 2014. In a recent post titled “Hay que apoyar a Podemos”, Fabian Muniesa is calling explicitly for a vote for Podemos for Sunday’s general elections. Translation to English:

Arguments about Podemos in the context of the call for general elections in Spain on 20 December 2015 revolve mainly around topics of relevance to the country’s situation today: morality in public life, social inequality, institutional frame of the state, economic policy. But the opportunity represented by Podemos, the political force that emerged last year as a consequence of the popular movement known as “15-M”, needs to be understood and defended from a wider, global angle: that of the role that Podemos can have in order to counter the catastrophic evolution of the political fabric of Europe, and its reverberation worldwide.

Europe becomes today a politically unbreathable place. The call for ideals of national identity intermingles with the dismantling of welfare policies, opening the path to an openly belligerent strengthening of the notion of border and to the justification of more or less permanent states of  competition, segregation and exception. The inhuman tide that is now visible in the Mediterranean is, at least in part, a consequence of this European syndrome. After the failure of the alternative represented by Syriza a few months ago, Europe and the world surrounding it is in need of a political movement that can serve as a massive and effective vehicle for an idea of open and international democracy. Podemos may be the only way available today.

Of course, other options are immediately available, options that news from France illustrate at best. After the ideological catastrophe orchestrated by the former government headed by Nicolas Sarkozy and the current one presided by François Hollande (with constant reference to so-called “republican values”, which are apparently “French”, filled up at best with phantasmal content, and requiring more and more, in order to make sense, the idea of an “enemy from within”), a vast portion of people has opted, naturally, for what Marine Le Pen would justly call “the original version”. The Front National is, under her leadership, the first political party of the French Republic after this month’s regional elections. None of the main alternative political forces is capable of explaining clearly and convincingly why people should not vote for the Front National, preferring simply preventing them to do so. This is what there is, and this is what can be expected for Europe in general, with the consequences that can follow.

This is what there is, unless another message occupies this political space that has been left void, as people very well see, between the two most daunting European political hallucinations: technocracy on the one hand and nation on the other. With Podemos, Spain can build this alternative space: not only though the leverage that this country has for the definition of what Europe and the Mediterranean should consist of, but also through a transformation of international democratic institutions, starting with the European Parliament. It is possible to occupy this space from Podemos in order to transform it. To back Podemos is to prepare a breathable Europe.

For this reason, on December 20th I will vote for Podemos.

— Fabian Muniesa