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

Hay que apoyar a Podemos

Los argumentos y discusiones entorno a Podemos de cara a las elecciones generales del próximo 20 de diciembre giran en gran medida en torno a cuestiones propias al momento particular que vive España hoy: moralidad en la vida pública, desigualdad social, marco institucional del Estado, política económica. Pero la oportunidad que representa Podemos, la fuerza política que se formó a principios del año pasado a raíz del Movimiento 15-M, debe entenderse y defenderse también desde un punto de vista global y en cierto sentido más grave: el del papel singular y excepcional que puede jugar Podemos frente a la evolución catastrófica que vive hoy el tejido político de Europa, y su reverberación a nivel internacional.

Europa se convierte en un lugar políticamente irrespirable. El repliegue entorno a ideales de identidad nacional se entremezcla con el desmantelamiento de las políticas de bienestar, abriendo la vía a un fortalecimiento abiertamente belicista de la noción de frontera y a la justificación de estados más o menos permanentes de competición, segregación y excepción. La marea de inhumanidad que se vislumbra en el Mediterráneo no deja de ser, al menos en parte, una consecuencia de este síndrome europeo. Tras el fracaso de la alternativa que representó Syriza hasta hace escasos meses, Europa y el mundo que la rodea necesita un movimiento político que pueda servir de vehículo masivo y eficaz a un ideal de democracia abierta e internacional. Podemos es claramente la única vía disponible ahora.

Existen, claro está, otras opciones  inmediatamente disponibles, que la actualidad política en Francia ilustran perfectamente. Tras la catástrofe ideología orquestada por el gobierno anterior encabezado por Nicolas Sarkozy y por el actual presidido por François Hollande (referencia constante a unos “valores republicanos” de contenido fantasmagórico, esencialmente “franceses”, que exigen, para cobrar sentido, la figura cada vez más presente de un “enemigo del interior”), una franja muy importante del electorado ha optado, naturalmente, por lo que Marine Le Pen a justamente llamado la “versión original” : el Frente Nacional que lidera es efectivamente, tras las elecciones regionales francesas de este mes de diciembre, el primer partido político de la República Francesa. Ninguna de las otras principales fuerzas políticas parece capaz de explicar clara y serenamente porqué no hay que votar Frente Nacional, prefiriendo simplemente impedir que la gente lo pueda hacer. Esto es lo que hay, y esto es lo que se puede esperar para toda Europa con las consecuencias que conllevará.

Esto es lo que hay, claro está, si no se ocupa con otro mensaje el espacio político que la gente, con razón, ve vacío entre las dos más temibles alucinaciones políticas preferidas de Europa: la tecnocracia y la nación. Con Podemos, España puede constituir ese espacio: no solamente a través del peso estratégico que este país tiene a la hora de definir en qué puede consistir Europa y el Mediterráneo, pero también mediante una transformación de las instituciones democráticas internacionales, empezando por el Parlamento Europeo. Es posible ocupar ese espacio desde Podemos para transformarlo. Apoyar a Podemos es preparar una Europa respirable.

Por esta razón, el 20 de diciembre votaré a Podemos.

— Fabián Muniesa

Fabián Muniesa, sociólogo, vive y trabaja en París, Francia. Esta nota de opinión se publicó inicialmente en castellano el 14 de diciembre de 2015 en provokedeconomy.net, blog dedicado a la publicidad de su libro The Provoked Economy (Routledge, 2014).

Capitalizing on Madrid

Readers attentive to the twitter account of The Provoked Economy know already that the author has been active on the customer service front these past months. Special mention to two events next week in Madrid, to be handled in (rusty) Spanish. It’s Wednesday, 29 April 2015. At 12.00am, a conference on “Capitalizar, capitalizar, capitalizar: por una antropología de las finanzas” (“Capitalizing, capitalizing, capitalizing: for an anthropology of finance”) at the Facultad de Ciencias Políticas y Sociología, Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Then at 7.00pm, a chat at Medialab-Prado on “La economía provocada” (yes, that would be “The Provoked Economy”).

The Word of Critique

Another slip of the pen! This paragraph from The Provoked Economy is explicitly about the grammar of critique:

“If being critical means saying that things are bad (which is one way critique is predominantly understood in the social sciences today), then it looks like there is plenty of choice in our dubious economic world (depending of course on the ‘we’ who talks). If it means considering truth from all possible angles (in the often forgotten philosophical sense of the world), it is also clear that there is still a plethora of things to be studied about the connections and contradictions that govern our thought (also with a caveat on ‘our’). If it means setting κρίσις (krísis) in motion (instituting a distinction, drawing a separation or, more prosaically, just changing things), then we surely need to acknowledge the countless interventions that purposefully aim at marking our economic reality (and our political deictics too).” (p. 130)

Why then taking the “word” for the “world”?

Foregrounding References: Another One

The Provoked Economy is controlled, implicitly and explicitly (as its author Fabian Muniesa is), by the debt owed to Javier Izquierdo (also known as A. Javier Izquierdo Martín in plain national Castilian, or as J. Izquierdo Antonio, an absurd nom de plume he claimed was his official credit card name). His old personal website is still on-line at the UNED (the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, in Madrid), with tons of papers on statistical reflexivity, financial forgery, metaphysical pranks, space tourism, cargo cult, football pragmatics and video theology. Here is a clarification from “Javier Izquierdo and the Methodology of Reality”, a short piece in which the humble disciple remembers the teachings of the master, after is death in 2010:

“In 1995, Javier Izquierdo (Colmenar Viejo, 12 June 1970 – Colmenar Viejo, 2 July 2010), then a doctoral student in sociology, initiated a liberal seminar for undergraduate students at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid […]. One of the seminar’s purposes was to have people with whom to discuss the readings he was gathering for his own research. The seminar was titled ‘La gramática de los precios’ (‘The Grammar of Prices’) and consisted of an illuminating exploration of scholarly work that was not, at that time, part of the canons of sociological education. […] The thread running through the seminar concerned the potential foundations for a moral sociology of pricing and forecasting that would take into account the technicality, artificiality and reflexivity of social reality. As the social-scientific observation of social reality in part constitutes what social reality is, so methods of measurement, valuation and accounting were to be treated as the very stuff the sociologist ought to scrutinize.” (p. 109)

It’s impressive how many references used in The Provoked Economy actually come from that foundational seminar. As it all was there already! Without surprise, it must be said, the most prominent topics that gave shape to the promising field of the “social studies of finance” in the early 2000s were already prefigured in the doctoral work that Javier Izquierdo concluded in 1999: the moral ambiguity of financial devices, the dangers of technocratic escalation, the meanders of techno-scientific reflexivity, the pragmatics of financial forgery, the politics of government through money, including the premonition of financial catastrophe. Delitos, faltas y premios Nóbel: ingeniería financiera y el sentido común de la justicia en las sociedades tecnológicas avanzadas (Crimes, Misdemeanours and Nobel Prizes: Financial Engineering and the Common Sense of Justice in Advanced Industrial Societies) is the title of the book manuscript (sadly unpublished) that came out of that work. His lucid obsession with hidden camera pranks (see here and here) translated in a most unusual argument on Las Meninas (literally considered as the “making of” documentary of a hidden camera prank). More obscure is his last manuscript, published posthumously as Marcianos, melanesios, millonarios, mochileros y murcianos: De la perdición económica o el turista espacial (Martians, Melanesians, Millionaires, Backpackers and Guys from Murcia: From Economic Perdition to Spatial Tourism, see also this):

“The book is a unique attempt at developing the potentials of a surrealist viewpoint in sociological work. It tackles the topic of Spain, especially the expression and self-observation of ‘Spanishness’ throughout the so-called Spanish touristic miracle of the 1960s onwards. The persona of the foreign tourist is presented as the candid victim of an anthropological prank (the production and display of the cultural singularity of Spain), but also as the vehicle of a very peculiar economic cargo cult (Spain’s access to economic modernity through the reception of the proverbial foreign tourist).” (p. 111)

Interested in the genealogy of The Provoked Economy? Well, it starts here.