Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Some gleanings from browsing around with Lefebvre in mind: Harvey, Foucault, Castells, Acemoglu & Robinson, Lofgren, Thrift, Pundita, Zalman

[UPDATE — May 22, 2014: Edited to make the title more specific and add more gleanings.]

While doing the preceding three posts on Lefebvre’s The Production of Space, I happened across apropos observations while browsing elsewhere. This and ensuing posts — maybe three or four — provide a selection of what I gleaned, in batches. They’re here because of serendipitous happenstance; I just happened to come across these observations — I didn’t try to go through my holdings on Lefebvre or space.

The purpose of my posting about these gleanings is to show that spatial orientations — some Lefebvrian, some less so — crop up all the time, in myriad areas. And in my STA-oriented view, we’d be well-advised to become more sensitive at noticing them and their relations to/with time and action orientations.

The materials I highlight in this first batch, in order of appearance, are from David Harvey, Michel Foucault, Manuel Castells, Daren Acemoglu & James Robinson, Mike Lofgren, Nigel Thrift, Pundita, and Amy Zalman. I’ve grouped them together mostly because the first few are directly linked to Lefebvre, and the latter speak to Lefebvrian points about the organizational nature of the modern state.

* * * * *

Harvey’s observation suggesting a connection between STA and TIMN: Lefebvre’s personal history included being tossed out of the French Communist Party in 1958. According to David Harvey’s “Afterword” in The Production of Space,
“It is hard for most of us to understand what it might mean to be excluded from an organization to which one has belonged for some thirty years. The French Communist Party was not only a political party but the hub of its members' social and daily life (it has sometimes been likened to an extended and very close-knit family structure).” (p. 428)
This resonates not only with STA’s insistence on the significance of spatial/S connections in people’s lives — in this instance Lefebvre’s — but also with TIMN’s insistence on the enduring importance of the tribal/T form. Moreover, Harvey’s observation fits with a point I’ve made elsewhere (e.g., here) that particular experiences — first a disconcerting loss of connections, say through emigration, followed by an attraction to a new set of family-like connections, say in a religious setting — helps explain why some individuals get recruited into extremist groups, and then have difficulty leaving. This is one of the regards in which STA and TIMN fit together.

Lefebvrian resonances in Foucault and Castells: My Part-1 post on Lefebvre’s book noted that his influence extends into the later writings of Michel Foucault and Manuel Castells (not to mention other theorists). A couple of famous quotes I’ve used elsewhere show this:

Foucault builds on the Lefebvrian point that seeing matters in spatial terms is becoming more important than seeing them in temporal terms. Accordingly, Foucault famously (infamously) stated in an article (“Of Other Space,” Diacritics, No. 16, Spring 1986) that:
“The present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space. We are in the epoch of simultaneity; we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed. We are at a moment, I believe, when our experience of the world is less that of a long life developing through time than that of a network that connects points and intersections with its own skein.” (p. 24)
And whereas past theorists saw space primarily in terms of the actors, objects, and structures comprising it, and secondarily in terms of the links and flows among them, Castells argues in The Rise of the Network Society (1996) that this ordering should now be reversed. As a result of the information revolution, globalization, dense financial flows, and the rise of internetted global cities, he says that we should view the world in terms of “a space of flows” rather than a “space of places”:
“… a new spatial logic that I label space of flows. I shall oppose to such logic the historically rooted spatial organization of our common experience: the space of places. … [T]he space of flows … is becoming the dominant spatial manifestation of power and function in our societies.” (p. 378)
Both quotes are quite Lefebvrian. Moreover, to repeat what I said at the end of Part 1 on his book, much of what Lefebvre theorized about spatiology appears to prefigure much that I read today in complexity theory, social network analysis, actor-network theory, and systems theory, not to mention global interdependence and world systems theories — all quite remarkable since he wrote the book in 1974.

* * * * *

Acemoglu & Robinson on Turkey’s “deep state”: I happened across two posts about the so-called “deep state”— a term coined years ago, originally for Turkey, to identify a hidden preservationist power structure, consisting mainly of security and intelligence personnel. The concept seems quite Lefebvrian, though he never used the term.

In the first quote, Daren Acemoglu and James Robinson, co-authors of Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty (2012), observe at their blog that
“Though the Ergenekon trial is a clear miscarriage of justice, there should be little doubt that there is a very powerful Turkish deep state that has a history going back more than 100 years, that has been involved in crimes against minorities in the past, that has killed journalists and politicians, that has been at the forefront of murders, repression and countless crimes against humanity in the Kurdish areas of Turkey, and that may have even been involved in military coups.
“So what is the deep state and where do its origins lie?
“By its nature, the deep state is shrouded in secrecy, so we know relatively little about it. …
“In the narrowest sense, the deep state is a decentralized network setup by NATO in the 1950s as a “stay behind” force, similar to Gladio in Italy. This secretive network was often recruited from members of the security forces, particularly those sympathetic to a nationalist, or in fact ultranationalist, agenda.
“The deep state is not unique to Turkey, but it appears to have become during the politically turbulent years of the Cold War in Turkey uniquely powerful and well positioned to play a defining role in the political trajectory of the country.” (source)
In other words, it could be said that the “deep state” is a hidden space, produced by powerful secretive forces, that is both abstract and concrete by design. That seems in tune with Lefebvre’s spatial thinking about the state.

Lofgren on America’s “Deep State”: Elsewhere, Mike Lofgren, author of The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted (2013), applies the concept to America in a long article titled “Anatomy of the Deep State” for
“Yes, there is another government concealed behind the one that is visible at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, a hybrid entity of public and private institutions ruling the country according to consistent patterns in season and out, connected to, but only intermittently controlled by, the visible state whose leaders we choose. My analysis of this phenomenon is not an exposé of a secret, conspiratorial cabal; the state within a state is hiding mostly in plain sight, and its operators mainly act in the light of day. Nor can this other government be accurately termed an “establishment.” All complex societies have an establishment, a social network committed to its own enrichment and perpetuation. In terms of its scope, financial resources and sheer global reach, the American hybrid state, the Deep State, is in a class by itself. That said, it is neither omniscient nor invincible. The institution is not so much sinister (although it has highly sinister aspects) as it is relentlessly well entrenched. Far from being invincible, its failures, such as those in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, are routine enough that it is only the Deep State’s protectiveness towards its higher-ranking personnel that allows them to escape the consequences of their frequent ineptitude. …
“The Deep State is the big story of our time. It is the red thread that runs through the war on terrorism, the financialization and deindustrialization of the American economy, the rise of a plutocratic social structure and political dysfunction.” (source)
Again, all quite Lefebvrian, presumably without meaning to be so. However, whereas the original concept as applied to Turkey was mainly about public-sector elites and their cronies, Lofgren’s application appears to be about a hybrid of public and private-sector elites, plus their cronies.

Thrift on the “phantom state”: I also came across the concept of a “phantom state”. It’s not particularly Lefebvrian. But it seems apropos, for it was coined by a leading academic behind the “spatial turn” — Nigel Thrift — and reiterated in his book Spatial Formations (1996), as follows:
“It consists of actor-networks which increasingly rely on money power and communicated power without having to call on the degree of bureaucratic administrative power usually associated with the state form. …
“More and more, it might be argued that, in the modern world, money power and communicative power have been able to replace state authority based on administrative power with a discursive authority which is based in electronic networks in particular 'world cities'. This discursive authority is the stuff of a phantom state whose resonances are increasingly felt by all.” (1996, pp. 252-253)
That’s awkward for me to read. But his phantom-state concept seems worth mentioning, even though it has never caught on as a term. It expresses Castell’s “space of flows” quite well. It is more about private- than public-sector power. And more about transnational networks than state-centric institutions. All of which makes for a contrast to the deep-state concept. It also suggests that there may be some situations in which the two conceivably operate in tandem, others in competition if not conflict.

* * * * *

Pundita’s “iron law of departmentalization” as a creator of “chaos”: Blogger Pundita — no Lefebvrian to my knowledge — did a stimulating Lefebvrianesque post about Robert Michel’s Iron Law of Oligarchy and its applicability to the U.S, government, concluding that the real effect is not so much a strictly organized hierarchy as a muddled “chaos” brought on by the endless proliferation of departments and agencies:
“From all this I'd say there's an Iron Law of Departmentalization, which simply stated is that chaos cancels out oligarchy when departments proliferate like rabbits.” (source, bold in orig.)
Her point resonates marvelously with Lefebvre’s “spatial chaos”, and also sounds like a set-up for a kind of “trial by space” (as discussed in Part 1).

In a second post she sounds even more Lefebvrian when she observes that “no more ‘inside’ and ‘outside’” exists within the U.S. government, because it has become so crisscrossed by one or another “superhighway” of subcontractors, lobbyists, and revolving-door employees:
“There is no more "inside" and "outside" of U.S. government; there's a kind of superhighway running through it, a highway made up of millions of subcontractors -- non-employees, non-civil servants. Yet unlike a highway, which is designed by engineers and consciously built, this highway wasn't engineered; it just happened, as departments proliferated like rabbits and hordes of contractors made up the perennial shortfalls occasioned by the fact that there weren't enough people in the civil service to handle all the designated tasks in government. …
“… So while lobbyists aren't part of government they form a second superhighway, also not planned, not engineered, running through U.S. government. …
“The revolving door. Many people working in government, even in high positions, go back and forth between jobs in the private and public sectors.”
That seems Castellian as well as Lefebvrian, for it views government rather like a “space of flows” (see above).

Then, a few lines later, after criticizing bureaucratic “stove piping” and “silo-ing”, she returns to the “chaos” theme anew:
“All this is in addition to a situation famously associated with bureaucracy known as stovepiping or silo-ing, and which can become very problematical when departments in effect weaponize information they control. …
“… But when the daily grind in a federal bureaucracy amounts to navigating chaos, it's time for an overhaul of the system of government before the chaos knocks us all over the cliff.” (source)
Of all the gleanings I’m going to note, hers seems one of the most Lefebvrian (though not on purpose, I’d suppose).

(Her third post about “The Devil and Departmentalization” examines “how various approaches at improving government stack up against the Iron Law of Departmentalization.” The one she favors — a kind of community-level civil-society mutualism — verges on being a +N solution à la TIMN. That’s interesting to me, but it’s not so apropos of STA, so I’ll leave off.)

Zalman on information strategy: Much as I appreciate Pundita’s points, Amy Zalman makes solid organizational points in a new article about the field of information strategy. She decries the elimination of the old USIA, and argues cogently that, to better cope with information-age trends and the challenges they pose, “Every agency should house an office of informational power”:
“During the Cold War/Industrial Age, it served the United States to have a government agency (the United States Information Agency) dedicated to projecting the American story into isolated areas. Today, we need a new model that reflects the fact that all government actions and activities are potentially communicative, and that this situation poses both risks and opportunities. Every agency should house an office of informational power to develop proactive communications risk strategies, to exploit opportunities for mutual engagement — whether military exercises or agricultural exchanges — and to coordinate with other USG agencies.”
Along the way she makes five bulleted points, one of which is beckoningly spatial in that it refers to “symbolic territory”:
“To be powerful in the Information Age takes different skills than in the Cold War. Using information powerfully today requires the ability to: …
• “Navigate the symbolic territory of adversaries, friends, and key stakeholders. By ‘symbolic territory,’ I mean that landscape of historical memory, stories, images, figures of speech, and metaphors through which people understand and relate their experiences.
That “symbolic territory” corresponds quite well to Lefebvre’s “abstract space”. (Zalman’s article also resonates well with Arquilla’s and my past work on noöpolitik (or noöspolitik; 1999, 2007)).

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