'Decision Time: Neoliberalism Personhood, Popular Aesthetics, and the Inexorability of Agency'
In this talk, I examine the challenges that the hegemony of neoliberal forms of governance presents to our understanding of the relations among time, power and agency. While many such theorizations seek means through which agency might be located or enhanced—Judith Butler’s performativity would be one classic example—the work of many contemporary thinkers has made clear that neoliberal governance works through rather than against individual agency; it constantly requires that people make meaningful choices whose outcomes differ significantly, and it assigns sole responsibility for these choices and outcomes to the individual in question. I consider the effects of this transformation by turning to a series of texts that focus on what I term suffering agency, or the experience of agency as a form of anguished entrapment rather than self-enhancing empowerment. These works, which include texts from Dave Eggers’ novel What is the What to the torture-porn Saw franchise, offer visions of neoliberal personhood in which to be an individual making agential choice appears either akin to or literally a form of torture. I offer an account of how these works map suffering agency and the role that time plays in both generating this experience and in imagining potential alternatives.
Dr Jane Elliott's research focuses on three main areas: post-1945 fiction, with a particular emphasis on the intersection between popular forms and political theory; contemporary theory; and the novel during and after postmodernism. She also has interests in contemporary fantasy fiction and film, ethnic American literature, and contemporary American popular culture.
Dr Elliott's current research explores the conjoined aesthetic and political developments that have emerged since the turn of the 21st century and the waning of the postmodern moment. This interest is reflected in the twenty-essay collection she has recently co-edited, entitled Theory after 'Theory' (Routledge 2011); the second editor for the collection is Derek Attridge. The collection draws together a diverse body of thinkers from various disciplines, including Rey Chow, Roberto Esposito, Simon Gikandi, Brian Massumi, Elizabeth Povinelli, Bernard Stiegler and Eugene Thacker, in order to examine the ways in which theory has taken on new forms that challenge some of the fundamental intellectual stances that once defined ‘Theory’. Dr Elliott is currently working on a monograph that explores the intersection of neoliberal microeconomics, popular aesthetics and the Left theorization of agency in a variety of American and British novels and films, from the novel and film Never Let Me Go to the horror franchise Saw to Hurricane Katrina documentaries. Essays from this project have appeared in Novel and the collection Old and New Media after Katrina.
Dr Elliott's first book, Popular Feminist Fiction as American Allegory: Representing National Time was published by Palgrave in 2008, and her work on contemporary literature and theory has also appeared in Cultural Critique, Modern Fiction Studies, and the PMLA. In addition, she serves as the Humanities Editor for The Public Intellectual, an online journal devoted to bringing academic insights to a mainstream audience.
I am developing new ideas for a post-globization ethics – an eco/alter ethics. Using ideas rooted in the work of Emmanuel Levinas, I am developing theory for “receptive affection” in which the world creates possibility to make time and space for what is ‘other’ than the desires satisfied by the social and political economy of market liberalism. The pace of economic productivity and development moves at a speed that has little time or space for the rhythms of the natural body and the time it needs to regenerate. The ‘time out’ to care, heal and repair, when it does not exclude, exploit or marginalize, can then take on a diversity of socio-political expression. Patience is the resistance that can pause and wait (a ‘making of time’) despite the imperatives for speed and efficiency. Generosity is the extension of self to alter-positions – others – in which one ‘makes room’ for what remains in marginalized and excluded spaces, in which receptive affections manifest as the ‘welcome’ and the ‘gift.’ A language that seeks world habitability and respect for what is already ‘rooted’ is what I hope emerges out of these efforts, thinking of this also as a post-Holocaust ethics.
I am an Associate Professor of Philosophy at The College of New Rochelle and Chair of Philosophy and Religious Studies. I have my Ph.D from The New School for Social Research. My work is in Continental Philosophy, particularly in Phenomenology and Ethics. I have written on Levinas, Heidegger, and Arendt. My teaching expertise is in feminist theory, environmental ethics and I use critical pedagogy in my Philosophy of Education curriculum. I am beginning to develop and research in disability theory.
Today, power over time is primarily conceptualised as an individual task. Rather than being submitted to collective or institutional disciplinary forces, which impose time regimes that maximally exploit the human body, contemporary individuals aim to discipline themselves, thus imposing self-chosen time regimes on their working and life styles. However, the more free the institutional time orderings are, the more difficult it is to discipline oneself. Today self-discipline seems to become a burden, which ultimately deprives the individual of his/her power over time.
Marli Huijer has a Civis Mundi Chair in Philosophy of Culture, Politics and Religion in the Faculty of Philosophy of the Erasmus University. Huijer studied Medicine and Philosophy (University of Amsterdam). She obtained a doctorate in Philosophy of Medicine in 1996, with a dissertation on AIDS and Michel Foucault’s aesthetics of existence. Huijer was employed as senior researcher in Practical Philosophy at Groningen University, visiting academic at the London School of Economics and Political Science (UK) and from 2002 till 2005 she was extraordinary professor in Gender and Biomedical Sciences at Maastricht University (Center for Gender and Diversity).
Her research focuses on rhythm, culture and religion; time (how social and technological developments transform our experience and dealings with time); philosophy of science and technology; gender and biomedical sciences.
Time and Agency: A Critical Reflection on Marxist Temporalities
Marxists have an ironically contradictory approach to time and the scope of agency in time. Time is the essence of value and the primary expression of what is exploited in the commodified system of production - “As values, all commodities are only definite masses of congealed labour-time.” (Marx 1998 Capital p60). It follows that the re-appropriation of time, the re-evaluation of how time relates to value and the transformation from the quantitative measure of exchange value to measures of value in quality and are central to Marxist critique. Yet critical attempts to subvert chronormativity within post-structural influenced critical temporalities appear to query this radical project in two senses. First it engages time outside of some measure and concept of time outside of subjective experience – as a material condition and variable. Second, it queries the relationship between categories of time, labour, quality, utility, quantity and exchange, and so diminishes the Marxist diagnoses of exploitation and alienation in contemporary capitalism. This double bind in relation to theorising time – in diagnosis and emancipation project, sets an agenda for Marxist engagements with the idea of critical temporalities, and there are fruitful sources from which to engage. Drawing from Marx and critics such as Lukacs, Thompson, Marcuse, Meszaros, Jameson and more recently Negri and Postone, this paper will emphasise the dialectical tensions between chromonormativity and critical temporalities, and argues for a critical temporality that recognised the constitution of time as conjunctural, contextual and phenomenological, yet allows for a materialist basis for time from which a Marxist radical critique can critique both subjective and objectivist notions of time.
Paul taught at Universities in Hull, York and Leeds in areas as varied as political economy, political sociology, public administration, politics and social sciences before taking up a lectureship at Edge Hill in 1992. His current teaching and research reflects his main trans-disciplinary interest in the intersection of ethics and politics with identity and difference, with particular reference to sexuality. Paul leads teaching in the 2nd and 3rd year modules on sexuality and on Marx and Marxism in the Sociology Programme, and leads the 1st year module on social and cultural theory and thinking for sociology, early childhood and childhood and youth programmes, as well as leading the professional practice module in the 3rd year of the childhood programmes. His current writing interests include sexual ethics and politics, focused on the relationship between sexual consent, sexual literacy and sexual well-being, and the problems of sexual law and citizenship, although he also writes on radical intellectuals and the ethics and politics of political radicalism.
Borders and Change: The Temporalities of an Emerging Critical Rhetorical Theory
Claiming powerful conceptions of time is often used to legitimize the growth of an academic discipline. This study analyzes the temporal argumentation put forth in academic journals concerning the growth of critical rhetorical theory in the USA from the 1970s through the 1980s. What time did the scholarly agents presume or argue in favor of when they tried to legitimize rhetoric’s values in relation to other knowledge regimes in academia? The study shows that the various agents assumed a conception of rhetoric that was not only limited with regards to gender, class, race, and to Western liberal democracies, but that it also excluded non-progressive temporalities. The scholars at the time argued that the role of rhetoric was to study how people became good citizens, active in creating a morally sound community in search of either the ideal future or the eternal present that would enable social change. This study shows how the first, the teleological and normative temporality of rhetoric, along with the second, the eternal present temporality, both became tied to values of unity and knowledge borders in the name of change. The study shows that any temporality can become the function or underpinning logic of exclusion of alternative knowledge production when used to gain power. It invites further studies of knowledge producers’ conceptualization of time in order to find less exclusive alternatives.
Frida Buhre is a doctoral fellow in rhetoric at the department of Literature, Uppsala University, Sweden. Her research interests include, but are not limited to: critical rhetorical theory; feminist theory intersecting with postcolonial theory; rhetorical enactments of space and time; nomadism and borders; and knowledge production.
Time-Horizon and Agency
I argue that our subjective sense of remaining time is vital to our agency. The argument, in outline, is this:
(1) A diminishing time-horizon diminishes one’s capacity to self-reauthor.
(2) The capacity to self-reauthor is constitutive of agency par excellence.
(C) Therefore, a diminishing time-horizon attenuates agency.
(1) says that the sense that we are running out of time saps our ability to deliberately change our characters. (2) says that this ability is essential for being creatures maximally in control of what we do. (2) is intuitively obvious: since your actions are partly determined by your character, the more control you have over your character, the more control you have over your actions. The argument for (1) has two stages. First, I argue on conceptual grounds that self-reauthoring requires, at a minimum, the capacities (a) for negative self-evaluation and (b) for long-term planning. Second, I adduce empirical evidence (from Socioemotional Selectivity Theory) that these are precisely the capacities that get eroded with time. If these arguments work, (C) follows deductively: our agency wanes with the waning time-horizon. Thus, if we ignore the integrity of the time-horizon to agency, we will miss both a vital feature of agency and the central tragedy of running out of time.
I obtained my PhD in Philosophy from Cambridge in 2007. Since then, I have held three Philosophy postdocs - in South Africa, Mexico, and currently at Vienna University. Although my areas of specialization are epistemology and metaethics, I have recently become really interested in the philosophy of old age. (A forthcoming publication in the area: ‘Age and Agency’, Ageing and the Elderly, special issue of Philosophical Papers).
Atheist Temporality: The Generic Force of Atheist Time?
This talk attempts to present a summary of a wider research project on the notion of atheist temporality. In that I paper I will attempt to forge a new understanding of what a contemporary and practical atheism might look. Rejecting the progressive notions of linear temporality, and the historical destiny of scientific materialism, I will argue that we need a revised understanding of temporal and social agency. This will involve a retrieval and engagement with of some of the key insights of Nietzsche, Derrida, Heidegger and Bergson. Beginning with taxonomy of the various types of atheism that I am deviating from, I will then proceed to argue that the condition of identities, ethical agency, and human liberation and political subjectivity relies on a discursive notion of temporality. Such a discursive notion of temporality will depend on re-casting our understanding of chronological time towards ecstatic time, everyday temporality towards authentic and engaged temporality, mechanistic temporality towards embodied temporality, a discourse on life towards a discourse on shared mortality and finitude, and the ethical and political in terms of common temporalities and generic solidarity. This paper will thus attempt to provide in sum, an existential atheistic account of atheist temporality, which will argue for a more radical sense of time, with a view to providing the key ethical and political coordinates which combat ethical and political sectionalisation and marginalization.
Patrick is a Lecturer in Philosophy at Nottingham Trent University. His teaching interests are 20th Century European Philosophy, 20th Century French Philosophy, Ethics, and Philosophy of Religion. His research interests are mainly European Philosophy, Phenomenology, 20th Century French Philosophy and the Philosophy of Education. He has written on Derrida, Agamben, Husserl, Badiou and Lucretius. He has published in the Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, Journal of Cultural Research, Southern Journal of Philosophy and Irish Studies Review. On the relationship between Philosophy and Education he has published in Discourse: Learning and Teaching in Philosophical and Religious Studies as well as contributing to the edited collection Writing in the Disciplines: Building Supportive Academic Cultures for Student Writing. His book Derrida: Profanations was released in 2010 with Continuum Press. In 2012 he co-edited a Special Edition of the Journal of the British Society of Phenomenology on Foucault and the relation between power, pleasure and politics.
The Temporal Modes of Maintenance Work
This paper develops a temporal awareness of practices of ‘maintenance’ – practices that seek to sustain the material conditions and the hopes of others, or the belief in anachronistic ideals. It draws on Lauren Berlant’s recent work on ‘cruel optimism’, specifically her analysis of practices such as over-eating that are neither imply acts of resistance to the wearing out of the body brought about by neoliberalism, nor acts of self-destruction, but what Berlant calls ‘suspension’ of the self as a form of self-maintenance. Berlant’s argument is that as the gap between the fantasy of the good life (upward mobility, job security, political and social equality, and lively durable intimacy) and the actual lives we lead have got wider and wider, these acts that suspend the self are forms of maintenance of this frayed fantasy. Maintenance, however, has its own temporal dynamics - it a durational practice, one concerned with the time of suspension, of waiting, of bearing the state of nothing happening, of the inability to bring about tangible or obvious forms of change. Rather than characterizing the time of maintenance as ‘dead’ time, I read Berlant alongside the seminal work of the feminist performance and social artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles. Since the late 1970’s Ukeles has called herself a ‘maintenance artist’, seeking, amongst other things to raise the profile of waste, and also those, such as the City of New York sanitation workers, who work on behalf of the city to process and manage waste. Ukeles links this to a feminist agenda of making visible maintenance work in its temporal dimensions – the ongoing commitment to making the lives of others possible, and to the now ‘anachronistic’ belief in the central role of public institutions in the management of the social fabric. In doing so, Ukeles produces an alternative temporal mode to that of the continuous work time of capitalism, asking us to think again about what has become a degraded object world, and a degraded social system.
Lisa Baraitser joined Birkbeck as a faculty member in 2005, and has been involved in the development of Psychosocial Studies at Birkbeck since then. Her first degree was in Medical Science and Psychology, followed by a Masters in Counselling and Psychotherapy, and a PhD in Psychology. Between 1995 and 2005 she trained as a psychodynamic counsellor, and worked in NHS and third sector settings, thinking through the psychological ramifications of violence, abuse and poverty in the lives of women. During this time, she was also the Artistic Director of an experimental theatre collective known as PUR. Since taking up an academic position, Lisa has developed research interests in gender and sexuality, motherhood and the maternal, feminist theory, psychoanalysis, and philosophies of ethics, affects, materiality, temporality and event.
Time and Agency in the Global Thought of Li Dazhao
Li Dazhao (1888-1927) is well-known as “China’s first Marxist” and founder of the Chinese Communist Party, but he also offers one of modern China’s most sophisticated understandings of human agency, which he understands as a capacity to transform human and non-human environments through the orientation of one’s self to the dynamic passing of time. This paper uses his thought in two ways. First, I show how Li justifies revolutionary action in an understanding of time as an ontological, non-human force that shapes, but also makes possible, human efforts to change their political and social worlds. Li focuses specifically on transforming whole epochs of shared history through the narration of selective pasts, the mobilization of present energies, and the propulsion of human will through progressive time. Second, following Li’s insistence on the capacity of present action to confound entrenched cultural and historical boundaries, I take Li’s work as a precedent for my own theorizing. Li draws on ancient Chinese cosmology, Daoism, contemporary social Darwinism, the materialism of Henri Bergson, and Marxist historical materialism to show how action in the present has the power not only to shape future outcomes but also to reorder the way we view and use past thought. His eclecticism chastens attempts to ascribe to him a classically Marxist worldview, even as it offers a new way of situating his own work within a refigured, global trajectory of thought that generates its own modes of inquiry. I therefore hope to establish Li as both theorist and example of a truly cross-cultural temporal ideology, which resists identification with parochial Western lineages to orient us toward future possibilities of hybridization.
Leigh Jenco (BA, Bard College; MA and PhD, University of Chicago) since 2012 has been Lecturer in Political Theory at the Department of Government of the London School of Economics and Political Science. She was born near Pittsburgh, PA, USA but has since lived for extended periods in Nanjing, Chicago, Taipei, and Singapore. Before joining LSE she was appointed Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Political Theory Project, Brown University, USA (2007-2008); and Assistant Professor of Political Science at the National University of Singapore (2008-2012). She situates her research and much of her teaching at the intersection of contemporary political theory and modern Chinese thought, emphasizing the theoretical and not simply historical value of Chinese discourses on politics. To that end, she has given talks in English and Mandarin across Asia and North America, and has published articles in journals such as the American Political Science Review, Political Theory, Journal of Asian Studies, and Philosophy East and West.
Keywords: Chinese political thought, comparative political theory, global political theory
In this paper I speak to the interrelation of subjectivity and time, asking “what is the effect of the indefinite length of detention on how asylum seekers construct their identities in Australia?” Goffman describes the reduction of strategies of self-preservation available to the inmates of asylums such as mental institutions and prisons. The ways in which people on the ‘outside’ can offer subtle resistance to unpleasant tasks, by evincing sullenness of expression, muttered comments, and so on, reminiscent of the everyday forms of peasant resistance described by Scott (1987) is more closely monitored inside a total institution (Goffman 1961, p. 41). The importance of effecting small forms of resistance becomes magnified as a method of retaining some degree of autonomy. This analysis sheds light on the behaviour of one man I was visiting in detention. In order to effect the slight feeling of autonomy afforded by minor resistances, he no longer participated in what Goffman calls removal activities, activities such as excursions, field games and the like, which are intended to make the inmate oblivious for a time to the inexorable passage of institutional time. However Goffman’s comment on removal activities “if the ordinary activities in total institutions can be said to torture time, these activities mercifully kill it” (p. 67), relies on an assumption that the inmates know when they will be released. The sometimes hourly count of time until their release date is unavailable to asylum seekers in detention. This opens up to critical theorising the relation between subjectivity and time, through Grosz’s critical re-understandings of the relation between the two that show clearly that the two are bound up in each other (Grosz 2005).
Laurel Mackenzie is a PhD candidate writing on the question of how refugees and asylum seekers in Australia construct their identities, using a narrative research methodology that relies on an intersubjective approach to the hermeneutic phenomenological analysis of interviews with research participants. She currently works as an associate Lecturer in RMIT's School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, teaching an undergraduate course in social constructionism. Her research interests include Critical Theory, Gender Studies, Post colonialism, Phenomenology, and Language and Identity.
from our workshop on Power, Time and Agency held in Manchester, January 2013