what are ‘things’ and what is the public?

But stated as missing: a negation of representational politics in respect of the generally tendencies to include outsiders would provoke …

Finally Anthony Iles took the effort to review ‘Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy’ in metamute – and ends not very positively to state as main point a missing critical access in addressing the definition of power.
The term of ‘assembly’ obviously not only was the main expression focused on, but finally became as well the initiating force for both exhibition and book:

‘In this show we simply wanted to pack loads of stuff where naked people were supposed to assemble simply to talk.’

So far one could have the impression that no one really dared to look at the overwhelming project with the somewhat limited or allover access it finally allowed. Both seemed to make it difficult to allow for the grasping of critical aspects as the project attempted to be cover its theme quite generally from very diverse angels – but always accurately according to the layed out definition. And exactly this delivers one major point for the critic of A.Iles:

The attempt to include the excluded subject of democracy as excluded is precisely what turns it, in Georgio Agamben’s terms, into a ‘machine of death’. The unified body of ‘the people’ is predicated on the divided body of the foreigner and the subaltern. Frustratingly, Latour employs this as an argument for rather than against mediation.’Making Things Public’ is proposed as the study and improvement of mediators, material and human. There are no end of examples of the failures and aporias of scientific and democratic thought, but none that could not be solved through better mediation through closer understanding of the things that animate and are animated by networks. It is a myth that the politically challenged should feel that they owe democracy anything when it is precisely the system of democracy that strips them of agency, disempowers and excludes them. Then what exactly they owe democracy is a moot point that Latour nor his colleagues are prepared to discover. The smoothing of the material world into so many things elides the reality of material as property, commodity, use or exchange value. Things are alienation as much as they are facilitation. Latour’s analysis ignores the reality that asymmetry of means and of access is structured by power, by the designated assembly, protected and affirmed by the rule of law and of property. Until this changes there remains room in the theory of the public thing and the expanded assembly for the unequal actor, but in the network there are also ‘rights, duties, or responsibilities’ and fewer ways out of them than ways in. Just as actor network theory in its reductionist mode, could be criticised for further reifying an existing social order, so this book continues to confirm and reproduce the regime of power, property and work that it takes for granted.

.. continue with review here
Further links:
Assembling Things by Kristian Hvidtfelt Nielsen (review of exhibition)
weekly incite

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2 thoughts on “what are ‘things’ and what is the public?

  1. I found Iles’ politics to be so reactionary that they weakened his critique. He was right on track when he called the book a doorstopper, and he could have taken the book to task on its almost total impenetrability for students and the like, and he could have spent more time outlining the difference a performative or practice-based (rather than representation-based) politics can make, but he chose to focus his dismay on the fact that the collective/collected stance sought to improve democracy rather than deny it (and of course he doesn’t provide the reader with what alternative there might be). And I don’t know what book(s) he read, but I truly don’t see where he gets this:

    “Latour’s analysis ignores the reality that asymmetry of means and of access is structured by power, by the designated assembly, protected and affirmed by the rule of law and of property.”

  2. all good points – thanks!

    “At least a critique was undertaken .. and that was already more than I had found otherwise on the net…”

    too true!

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