Wednesday, October 14, 2009

USC Rhetorical Theory Conference

Here is my position paper for the USC Rhetorical Theory Conference this week. A couple of good ideas, though, it is mostly first thoughts toward my lecture for the Common conference here at the U when I get back from Chicago in November. Any comments, therefore, are much appreciated.

Institutional Thought(s): Diagrams of Power and the Constitutive Power of the Multitude
Ronald Walter Greene, University of Minnesota
Position paper prepared for the University of South Carolina Rhetorical Theory Conference
October 15-17, 2009

Institutions play an important role in my theoretical and historical work. Warranted by the uptake of Foucauldian approaches to policy and government in cultural policy studies, institutions have been a key point of contact between power and discourse for exploring the process of subjectification. My work is awash in claims about institutions. For example, theoretically, I have argued that a material approach to rhetorical effectivity must focus on the institutional uptake of trope, arguments, and technologies (Greene, 1998, 1999, 2009). A theoretically claim that I have historically performed by focusing on how Malthusian modes of reasoning interact with both state and global institutions, whether they be the U.S. Presidency or the United Nations International Conferences on Development (Greene, 1999). Moreover, my critical histories of rhetorical pedagogy have been motivated by an effort to resist claims that attention to the practices of persuasion in everyday life means one should abandon a study of the institutional history of rhetoric, an institutional history located squarely within formal educational institutions, like college debate programs, but, also informal educational institutions like the YMCA or PCI-Media Impact (Greene & Kuswa, 2002; Greene, 2004; Greene & Hicks, 2005; Greene & Breshears, forthcoming). More recently, I have claimed that the interface between the rhetorical and the institutional may be a crucial site of articulation for exploring the mobility of some “technologies of public persuasion” to circulate while others may not (Greene, 2009). However, while such an institutional move is meant to link texts to their external coordinates more than their internal dynamics, a reliance on institutions as sites for the reception of discourses and the production of arguments, tropes and technologies becomes precariously dependent on the archival tendencies of particular institutions.

One advantage of an institutional analysis has been to make concrete how institutions produce subjects through the rituals, practices and actions they call on the subject to rhetorically perform to become subjects of the institution. But such an institutional approach may not escape the critique of functionalism and may authorize a rather unfoucauldian interest in the internal mechanisms of institutions. To follow Foucault is to displace the institution. His resistance to an institutional-centric approach is expressed in a lecture dated 8 February 1978: “In short, the point of view adopted in all these studies [of the disciplines] involved the attempt to free relations of power from the institution, in order to analyze them from the point of view of technologies; to distinguish them also from the function, so as to take them up within a strategic analysis; and to detach them from the privilege of the object, so as to resituate them within the perspective of the constitution of fields, domains and objects of knowledge” ( 2007, p. 118). Three methodological displacements of the institution: First, look outside the institution to account for its insertion into a technology of power; second, describe the strategies and tactics that produce and activate the institution as much because it fails than despite its failures; third, resituate the institution into a field of knowledge to displace the institutions own measurements inherent to its functional object. The aim is to allow the institution to become a site to which the technology of power finds “expression, intensity and density” at the same time as the institution partakes in a “whole network of alliances, communications, and points of support” (p. 117). One may start with the rhetorical products and/or subjects of an institution but one should end with a diagram of the lines that traverse a dispositif (Deleuze, 1989, p. 159). Whether one then translates a dispositif as a technology of power as an apparatus, or as an abstract machine, the implications are similar: there is a broader context to which one is supposed to insert the institution; an outside that the institution is inside.

A couple of questions: might the dispositif run the risk of becoming the determining feature, the structure or logic to which the institution activates. Has the institution in its expression of the technology of power become the superstructure to the dispositif’s mode of production? By signaling the “network of alliances, communications and points of support” as the point of a genealogical analysis do we risk becoming “institutionally indifferent” (Bennett, p. 91) to the particulars of the institution under investigation? If so, this would displace how Foucault’s methods allowed one to speak of the birth of the asylum, the birth of the clinic and the birth of the prison from the bottom up, from the microphysics of power traversing the institution and proliferating beyond its walls. The institution cannot merely be an instrument of the general economy of a technology of power; an institution has its concrete forms that while owing much to its outside nonetheless has its own configuration and set of constitutional coordinates. For example, while one might point to how the clinic, prison and asylum might share in a general technology of discipline by sequestering and enclosing populations, the public museum, in contrast, did not work to sequester and enclose populations, but encouraged the “mixing and intermingling of publics” (Bennett, p. 93). Moreover, even in light of the disciplinary similarity between the clinic, prison and asylum, they nonetheless work with different substances (the prisoner, the mad, the patient) and have different functions. There is a difference between the exile of the leper and the partitioning of the plague victim (Deleuze, 1989, p. 42). What is external to the institution is the diagram. As Deleuze reads Foucault: “the diagram or abstract machine is the map of relations between forces … [it] is like the cause of the concrete assemblages that execute its relations; and these relations between forces take place not above but within the very tissue of the assemblages they produce” (1988, pp.36-37). One methodologically performs an externalization to assess the immanent relationship between the diagram and its concrete assemblages. Put differently, only in the effects of the concrete assemblages can the diagrams causality be distinguished. In trying to clarify the meaning of an institution we have added another concept to the mix: not simply the diagram/abstract machine/apparatus but the concrete assemblage.

Reading Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, Deleuze notes D&P gives a positive character to what was described negatively in Archeology of Knowledge as “non-discursive environments such as ‘institutions, political events, economic practices and processes’.” (p. 31). The prison exists as one of these non-discursive environments that is now given concrete existence as a “form of content where the content is the prisoner).” A form of content is never too far from a form of expression. The form of expression takes the place of statements previously described in Archeology of Knowledge. Thus, the form of expression referred to by the prison is penal law and its statements about delinquency. But, the form of content manifested in the prison is not an order of discourse as it is with a form of expression but, as Deleuze remarks, a system of light. The form of content works visually while the form of expression works linguistically. While the form of content and form of expression refer to one another they are not homogenous; “they do not have the same form, and do not have the same formation.” What we have is a “mutual presupposition operating between the two forms, yet there is no common form, no conformity, not even correspondence” between the visible and the articulable. If one can, without stumbling, identify the prison as an institution we do so because the institution as a form of content is a system of light we know as panopticism. From such a conceptualization, an institution exists as a visual rhetoric making some things visible and invisible while forms of expression manage to create new objects of knowledge. Two different lines Deleuze refers to as lines of visibilities and lines of enunciation (1989, p. 160) are embodied in the form of content and form of expression. In both cases, form organizes matter and it finalizes functions. As such, a form of content and a form of expression both have within them an organized matter and function. For example, Deleuze writes, “Not only the prison but the hospital, the school, the barracks and the workshop are formed matter. Punishment is a formalized function, as is care, education, training, or enforced work” (p.33). Since a form of content and a form of expression intermingle, one might suggest an institution exists within the concrete assemblage produced by the mutual interaction of the form of content and the form of expression. The diagram is the abstraction of the forms and functions from the concrete assemblage. Following Deleuze’s reading, Foucault does not then place the diagram in a position of the transcendental sovereign because “the diagrammatic multiplicity can be realized and the differential of forces integrated only by taking diverging paths, splitting into dualism, and following lines of differentiation” realized in the divergence or differentiation of the form of expression and a form of content. Because the diagram is an abstraction of form, it is informal; it requires its realization in the form of visible matter and articulable functions. The non-place between the form of content and form of expression is the “place” where the informal diagram is “swallowed up and becomes embodied instead in two different directions that are necessarily divergent and irreducible” p.1988, p. 38). A history of assemblages exists in the encounters between the visible and the articulable as each of “these forms neither enclose nor interiorize anything; they are ‘forms of exteriority’ though which either statements or visible things are dispersed” (p.43). To put it in a rhetorical idiom, we do not go from outside in (context to text) but go from inside out to learn how the outside makes the assemblage.

A lot of conceptual work goes into the answer what is an institution? First and foremost it is a visual rhetoric, visible matter that makes the visible and invisible articulated to an expressed set of functions, purposes and aims discursively oriented to an object of knowledge. But it is always approached from a position of exteriority; first in terms of the institutions formal content and them with the encounter between the form of content and a form of expression. The concrete assemblage of the differential forms is than externalized again as the articulation of the realized effect of the pure form and function of an abstract diagram. Yet, before rushing to the diagram, work needs to be done on those encounters between the visible and the sayable, those moments when a formal content interacts with a formal expression. It is in these encounters that a living substance finds its form in a concrete assemblage. As such, perhaps the rhetorical is useful as a name for this encounter.

To draw a contrast to the foucauldian-deleuzian sketch of an institution, I want to highlight the category of institution as it exists in Anglo-American social sciences. In an oft-cited paper, Geoffrey Hodgson (2006) defines institutions as “systems of established and prevalent social rules that structure social interactions. Language, money, law, systems of weights and measure, table manners and firms (and other organizations) are thus all institutions.” Beginning with the idea that institutions are social rules, Steven Fleetwood (2008) argues that “recognition that (a) rules are similar to conventions, norms, values, and customs, and (b) that institutions consist of rules, allows me to augment my initial definition thus: institutions are systems of established rules, conventions, norms, values and customs; institutions consist of, or are constituted by established rules, conventions, norms, values and customs” (p. 247). In this case, institutions are not reducible to the formed matter of an organization because they express social rules, norms and conventions that traverse any given organization at the same time as any one organization exists as an institution (in the sense they create social rules that structure interactions of those within the organization). These rules are not necessarily spoken, in fact, for rules to be effective requires that they “never be purely or fully matters of conscious deliberation” (Hodgson, 2006, p. 4). But, why might people follow the rules? A central answer provided is the role of habit. For example, Hodgson writes: “habits are the constitutive material of institutions, providing them with enhanced durability, power and normative authority. In turn, by reproducing shared habits of thought, institutions create strong mechanisms of conformism and normative agreement (p.7). The social-cultural dimension of institutions is primarily located in this process of habituation by which actors internalize the norms and rules of institutions, which preceded their existence. Institutions, Hodgson argues, have “the capacity to change aspirations instead of merely enabling or constraining them. Habit is a key mechanism in this transformation. Institutions are social structures that can involve reconstitutive downward causation, acting to some degree upon individual habits of thought and action” (p. 7). Human agency is not held hostage to the rules of institutions because habituation is primarily a psychological process that makes possible the objective and subjective character of institutional norms.

Once we note the distinction between institutional structure and human agency that exists in the social science literature we can appreciate the distinction between the new and old institutionalism. As Berk and Galvan (2009) argue the old institutionalism emphasized the power of institutions to create order while the new institutionalism “shifted analysis towards the conditions under which institutions emerge, function, and change”(p. 545). Yet, Berk and Galvan note a lingering structural bias in the new institutionalism manifested in the tendency to read agency off of structural gaps to explain institutional change (p. 548). In contrast, Berk and Galvan offer a strong sense of human agency grounded in Dewey’s concept of habit. Berk and Galvan write: “Habits, in our view, stand in for rule-in-action. They anchor an experiential account of how people follow rules, use rules, and perturb rules in ways that are never exactly the same. Habits live and thrive in ambiguity. And they cannot help but necessitate deliberation and their own transformation” (p.551). From this standpoint, habits do not provide the psychological link between the objective and subjective dimension of institutions; they provide the experiential base for the creative adaption, use and transformation of the institutional norms, rules, customs and values. Habits and institutions begin to change when impulse “overflows the structure of existing habits, sometimes refuse to be domesticated, and is central to how we understand the reformulation of habit itself” (Berk and Galvan, 2009, p. 554). Beck and Galvin then identify three key modes of impulsive motion: raw action, creative deliberation and routine. They privilege creative deliberation for producing the creative syncretism underwriting the agential power behind institutional change. This creative deliberation is, of course, a favorite place to access the rhetorical.

Berk and Galvan’s strong theory of human agency, expressed in moments of creative deliberation, is a more likely place to discover the rhetorical in an institutional analysis than the encounter between the forms of content and the forms of expression that make up a complex assemblage. But lets take advantage of the subjective dimension provided by Berk and Galvan’s turn to habit and impulse, but do so with an eye less toward the rhetorical subjectivity of the orator and more toward the production of the common. For Hardt and Negri, the pragmatist interest in habits provides an important resource for understanding the production of the common because “habits create a nature that serves as the basis of life … habits and conduct are shared and social. They are produced and reproduced in interaction and communication with others. Habits are never really individual or personal. Individual habits, conduct, and subjectivity only arise on the basis of social conduct, communication, acting in common. Habits constitute or social nature” (2004, p. 197). Hardt and Negri insist on the common ontology of habits and not their individual characteristics: “habits are living practice, the site of creation and innovation … that from the standpoint of social communication and collaboration, we have in common enormous power to innovate … Habits are the common basis of which all creation takes place. Habits form … an ontology of social practice in common” (p. 198). While not sufficient, the pragmatic notion of habits allows Hardt and Negri to posit the concept of the multitude as arising from this social ontology of common production. In a passage that deserves more unpacking than I can provide here, Hardt and Negri argue, “Singularities interact and communicate socially on the basis of the common, and their social communication in turn produces the common. The multitude is the subjectivity that emerges from this dynamic of singularity and commonality” (p. 198).

As I have argued elsewhere, one cannot bring Dewey forward to the present conjuncture to craft a deliberative citizen without also recognizing that the very pedagogical dimensions offered for such a rhetorically sensitive subject are the very skills of immaterial labor required of postfordist capitalism (Greene 2003). A strong individualist sense of human agency underwriting rhetorical subjectivity merely provides capitalism with a standing reserve willing to sell his/her labor power as rhetorical capital to corporations of public persuasion (Greene 2003). Hardt and Negri, posit the name Empire to describe the new diagram of power operative today that increasingly organizes itself by learning how to exploit the production of the common. In the immanent unfolding of empire the concrete assemblages of common production differentiate, break into two, positing the vampiric tendency of empire on one side and the activate potential of the multitude on the other. It is this active potential that is capable of producing empire’s outside from the production of the common. What is to be done, then, is not so much the multitude’s institutionalization as its organization.

Bennett, T. (1995). The birth of the museum: History, theory, politics. London: Routledge.
Berk, G. & Galvan D (2009). How people experience and change institutions: A field guide to creative syncretism. Theory and Society, 38, 543-580.
Deleuze, G. (1988). Foucault. Sean Hand (Trans.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Deleuze, G. (1991). What is a Dispositif? In T. Armstrong (Ed.), Michel Foucault Philosopher (pp. 159-168). London: Routledge.
Fleetwood, S. (2008). Institutions and social structures. Journal of the Theory of Social Behavior 38, 241- 265.
Foucault, M. (2007). Five: 8 February 1978. In Michele Senellart (Ed.) Graham Burchell (Trans.) Security, Territory Population: Lectures at the College de France, 1977-1978 (pp. 115-134). New York: Palgrave.
Greene, R.W. (1998). Another materialist rhetoric. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 15, 21-41.
Greene, R.W. (1999). Malthusian Worlds: US Leadership and the governing of the population crisis. Boulder, CO: Westview.
Greene, R.W. (2003). John Dewey’s eloquent citizen: Communication, judgment and postmodern capitalism. Argumentation and Advocacy, 189-200.
Greene, R.W. (2009). Rhetorical materialism: Rhetorical subjectivity and the general intellect. In B. Biesecker and J. Lucaities (Eds.). Rhetoric, materiality and politics (pp. 43-66). New York: Peter Lang.
Greene, R.W. & Kuswa, K.D. (2002). Governing Balkanization at home: Liberalism and the rhetorical production of citizenship. Controversia: An International Journal of Debate and Democratic Renewal 1, 16- 33.
Greene, R.W. & Hicks, D. (2005). Lost convictions: Debating both sides and the ethical self-fashioning of liberal citizens. Cultural Studies, 19, 101-127
Greene, R.W. & Breshears, D. (forthcoming). Bio-political media: Population Communications International and the governing of reproductive health. In P. Suakko and L. Reed (Eds.). Governing the female body: Health, gender and networks of power. Albany: SUNY Press.
Hardt, M. & Negri, A (2004). Multitude: War and democracy in the age of empire. New York: Penguin Press.
Hodgson, G.M. (2006). What are institutions? Journal of Economic Issues, XL, 1- 25.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Rhetorical Intensity and Health Care: or the Affect of Biopolitics

It has been awhile, and friends have begun to ask questions, so it is time to see if I can get this up and running again.  From my perspective, the on-going health care "debate" in the United States provides an object lesson in how political economy and biopolitics are one and the same.  Or in less academic language, money and life are rendered equivalent.  A primary motivation of this blog is the identification and analysis of these equivalents.  First, the current recognition that an outrageous amount of lobbying money (forgive me, lobbying money is redundant since lobbying is money) affects the substance of  health care rhetoric is being made explicit by FiveThirtyEight and the New York Times.  It is not the implied quid pro quo of  money for votes that should be troubling but the systematic distortion of public debate into monetized forms of persuasion whether those monetized forms of persuasion exist in the form of PAC contributions or media ad buys).  Second, and of particular concern today, is the way the more face to face relationships between congressional representatives and their constituents is being played out in "town hall" meetings on Health Care.  As my friends at toxic culture put it: " We have a massive orchestrated campaign by the far right to simply yell and disrupt civil proceedings."  These rhetorical happenings leads Krugman to ask the question: "will Intimidation kill health care reform?"  Perhaps. But, what I wanted to highlight was another passage from Krugman's op-ed:

"But right now Mr. Obama's backers seem to lack all conviction, perhaps because the prosaic reality of his administration isn't living up to their dreams of transformation.  Meanwhile, the angry right is filled with a passionate intensity."

In other places, (warning: big file). I have written about conviction and how conviction is managed as a problem of liberal democratic theory and practice.  What i find useful about Krugman's description is how conviction and "passionate intensity" define one another. Conviction is a passionate intensity.  The Obama administration may be said to be rhetorically failing in this moment because they are unable to activate a passionate intensity (conviction) for change.  However, Obama's desire for a new politics to replace the "politics as usual" is  motivated by a desire to cool the passionate intensities he needs to promote change. In other words, his rhetorical intensity may inspire and direct the desire for change, but it does so in the name of legislative process and compromise.  A conviction for compromise is not very inspiring. 

To get scholastic:  The passionate intensity of conviction is best suited for a hegemonic politics, it does not lend itself to a dialogic politics.  Moreover, the health care debate expresses a biopolitics, it is politics about life.  As the "Town Hall Mobs'" illustrate,  the right understands the affective dimension of biopolitics (health care); they understand that if they can tie "government health care" to the "dialogic reasoning" of the State, they win.  Obama needs an enemy, quick.  Start naming names.  The insurance companies and the drug companies are a good place to start as well as those congressional leaders in the back pocket of these companies.  Politics and sports have one thing in common: win or go home.  Its time for Obama to get the crowd back into the game.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Grey Literature

Some may have noticed a recent request by the journal Cultural Trends to seek out reviews of grey literature. One of the goals for this blog is to explore terms of art used by the state and other organizations for rhetorical practice because these ways of describing rhetorical practice have specific histories, and are often regulated in ways that require much more scrutiny. For example, lobbying and Electioneering Communication are two ways public policy conceptualizes rhetorical practice. Grey literature would be another term of art used to describe rhetorical practices. Grey literature would seem to be a world wide object of study as there have been ten international conferences on grey literature, the most recent one in December 2008.

In 1995, the U.S. Interagency Gray Literature Group defined Grey literature as "foreign or domestic open source material that usually is available through specialized channels and may not enter normal channels or systems of publication, distribution, bibliographic control, or acquisition by booksellers or subscription agents." The Fourth International Conference on Grey Literature defined it as "That which is produced on all levels of government, academics, business and industry in print and electronic formats, but which is not controlled by commercial publishers." According to Irwin Weintraub the goal of grey literature is "to disseminate current information to a wide audience." As the call from Cultural Trends suggests, grey literature informs policy making and its informational content is often put to persuasive ends.
Finally, the Wikipedia entry notes that grey literature has particular relevance to the "intelligence community, librarians and medical and research professionals."

Since grey literature seems to be such an important genre for creating social knowledge and shaping public opinion and public policy, rhetorical scholars might want to add grey literature to their professional concerns as well. For those with an interest in keeping track of grey literature Greynet looks to be an important resource.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bio-Capital and the Social Relations of Reproduction

Today's campus newspaper reports that there has been a "25 percent increase in the number of women applying to be egg donors, a trend some experts attribute to college students looking to make an average of $5000 in a rough economy." The gendering of the entrepreneurial self. Yet, it would seem the preference is for more regulation to better ensure that the psychological motives for donation are more "altruistic" than financial. My favorite line is from the medical ethicist: "We are not commodifying human beings." We're compensating people for their trouble and their time." Note the abstraction from the particulars of the body: people not women, and the "trouble and time," not eggs. Time is money and the ethical here is re-formulated to support an abstract social relationship of exchange predicated on the proper psychological, medical, and physical disposition of the donor. We might call the cultivation of this proper disposition learning to labor in the reproductive economy.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What do boy's want?

I wonder whether or not pornography is a genre of money/speech.  On that theme I note the following juxtaposition in the NYT today April 14, 2009.  Front page: What do Boys Want? She Digs into the Minds and Closet to See.  This is an article about Kelly Pena's research on 12 year old boys for Disney.  Turn Page to A 18: Obituary: Marilyn Chambers, 56, Sex Star Dies.  Quote from the Obit: "Behind the Green Door" was more than just a parade of sex scenes, said Steven Hirsch, the co-chief executive of Vidid Entertainment Group, which makes adult films,  Even thought MS. Chambers did not actually have any lines in the film, he said, she brought it to life." What was the question again? 

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Work Stoppage at Uptown Jimmy John's

Workers walk off the job at minneapolis Jimmy John's (uptown) after boss allegedly hits worker!

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Ethos of Finance capitalism

As the debate about nationalizing the banks heats up, I thought I would share another book I am reading: Ian Baucom's Specters of the Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery, and the Philosophy of History.  To start with the philosophy of history, Baucom is decidedly in Benjamin's camp, and argues that our current conjuncture is  closely related to the financial capitalism that made possible the slave trade in the eighteenth century.  This is similar to how Benjamin identified the closeness of the 17th century to the 19th century as an intensification of commodity capitalism.  There is much to share, but, I wanted to highlight the paragraph that emphasizes how an economy of credit requires a phenomenology of trust; a situation we are all too familiar with as trust tends to dissipate in the current crisis:

To accept a ... circulated bill of exchange was not only to accept a form of paper money but to express trust in one's own ability to read character and trust in the capacity of one's fellow citizens to do likewise.  If the system were to survive, it depended not only on the soundness of the slave markets for the Caribbean but on the stability of this network of mutually invested trust, and, ideally, on some means of training individuals in how to read one another's character, trustworthiness, and credibility. An accounting innovation, "a modern method of remitting a Guinea cargo," clearly was not, by itself, enough.  For that method to survive and extend itself, it required a complementary social practice and a complementary practice of social reading, a habit of intersubjective analysis that would train readers to read not only the face value and negotiable worth of the bills they were exchanging but the credibility of their partners to these exchanges and the credibility of this system of exchange itself. Commodity culture, Benjamin reveals, is the practical expression of a particular phenomenology of things. The same is true of the speculative culture of finance capitalism. A system of credit encompasses more than just a set of accounting protocols, more than just a table of debts. It demands a phenomenology of transactions, promises, character, credibility (p.64).
We should not trust zombie banks. While others will argue that the phenomenology of trust broke down when the banks started loaning money to the "wrong people," the more significant breach of the current system was the process by which mortgage debt was securitized and made available for speculation. I would argue that the opacity of these financial instruments doomed the intersubjective reading protocols required for finance capital to maintain itself.  If Baucom's philosophy of history is illustrative, then the current crisis may be of such magnitude that we may witness a turn away from the primacy of finance capital and the re-emergence of commodity capitalism. In other words, the long twentieth century, that begins with the financialization of the slave trade in the 18th century may be coming to an end in the first decade of the 21st century. Given the amount of US debt held by China the end of the long twentieth century may also signal the Pacific as the hegemon of global capitalism. 

I should add this book has some marvelous ideas about re-situating parts of public address history within a less nationalist frame. For those of us interested in models for a post national public address (for one attempt, see Greene and Kuswa 2002), this book offers a useful way into the Atlantic as the political-economic-cultural space of consideration and, as I just suggested, the likely importance of the Pacific for the rest of this century. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

In praise of the common

A book for all those interested in communist political philosophy: Cesare Casarino & Antonio Negri, In Praise of the Common: A Conversation on Philosophy and Politics.  Two concepts -- conversation and friendship -- play important roles in CC's introduction. I was glad we found time to renew both last night at dinner.  

Monday, February 16, 2009

Communicative Communism

With all the talk about socialism in the USA, talk that has nothing to do with socialism but is a misnomer for describing finance capital's war of maneuver to drain more money from the public, I thought I would share a scaled back and re-edited version of something I presented last October to the USC Rhetorical Theory Conference in Columbia, South Carolina. A paper with the title of "Communicative Communism."

Everyday life expresses a commonality, a common humanity that exceeds the control and precarity of complex social systems. However, the ability of everyday life to provide a common ground for a critique was increasingly foreclosed by its organization into what Lefebvre calls the “bureaucratic society of controlled consumption." For Lefebvre, communication provided the connective tissue organizing the control of everyday life and, then, through a world market in information communication globalized everyday life.

To think then with Lefebvre, the idea of a global everyday life would refigure the common humanity expressed at the intersection of work, family, and leisure, as the daily life made planetary by the merger of capitalism and communication. The global financial panic of 2008 reveals more clearly what Randy Martin (2002) described as the “financialization of daily life.” Martin describes how over the last thirty years financialization become a key technique for managing the risks and contingencies of daily life. The global trade and speculative bubble in mortgage based securities is illustrative of how the merger of communication and capitalism envelopes daily life into the world market.

My tendency is to agree with Hardt and Negri (2000) that the world market is the diagram of power that orients the production and governance of postmodern subjectivity. As such communication is increasingly the infrastructure by which capitalism attempts to produce and consume daily life. Jodi Dean (2004) describes the merger of capitalism and communication as “communicative capitalism” and argues it risks foreclosing the possibility of democratic politics. It does so because communicative capitalism, as Agamben (2000) argues, promotes communication without communicability. Massumi (2002) agrees with Agamben to observe how communication and capitalism merge together into a new model of power based on usurpation. Massumi writes: “What is being usurped here?” The very expression of potential. The movement of relationality. Becoming-together. Belonging. Capitalism is the global usurpation of belonging [as such] “belonging per se has emerged as a problem of global proportions. Perhaps the planetary problem” (88).

Communication should not be left to the world market and capitalism's modulation and usurpation of belonging. We must begin the work of illustrating how, as Stuart Murray notes, new forms of life, new ways of belonging, are possible through the “art and labour of speech” (2005, 2). As Levebvre notes, “the project no longer consists in unfolding daily life to disclose what is concealed in it … or in an effort to transcend it … but in a metamorphosis through action and works –hence through thought, poetry, love” ( 166-167).

One name for this metamorphosis of daily life is communism. For once we have knowledge of daily life at the intersection of capitalism and communication, “we must leave it without hesitating” (Levebvre, 166). The potential of communicative communism might then be appreciated as an exodus of communication from the capitalist control of the common belonging of daily life and the rhetorical expressions of new forms of life to better communicate a life in common.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Quote of the Day

Letting us in on the swanky new digs for the So. Cal Film School, the NYT had this nugget from one of the film school's sugar daddy's George Lucas: "The only way you are going to get respect on a college campus, or a university campus, is to build something that is important," Mr. Lucas said of his reasons for backing the complex.  "Schools and universities mainly understand money."

Just wanted to share.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Cynicism that is Money/Speech: One more on Daschle

If we accept that lobbying exists as a rhetorical practice, one inextricably linked to the peculiar world of money/speech, we might also begin to explore how money/speech functions to constitute a cynical relationship to government.  Lets take one more look at Daschle and how the policy of lobbying makes its distinctions. While Daschle was removing his name from nomination, Time ran a report on his unofficial lobbying.  This is how Michael Scherer put it in his essay for Time:

Although he never registered, Daschle, in fact, made millions of dollar after he left government doing stuff that looks, smells and tastes a lot like lobbying  ... it is this ethical gray area Daschle's advisory work represents that call in question Obama's promise of changing the culture in Washington.

According to the article, Daschle did not so much make official lobbying contact with any one, but he did advise groups on how to make those contacts, and did participate in what are termed "lobbying activities." By law one does is not a lobbyist unless one registers as one and makes lobbying contacts not simply lobbying activities. 

To be sure, I need to do more work on those distinctions, but fine tuning rhetorical policy to distinguish a lobbying contact from a lobbying activity gives legal cover but does not improve public perceptions about government.  A general cynicism is cultivated by lobbying and the machinations of policing it.  What money/speech produces is cynicism and it may be time to turn our attention to these affective dimensions than the transparency movements' concern about undue influence.  As Tom Waits would sing: Everybody knows.

In a recent review of Robert Kaiser's So Much Damn Money, a book about lobbying, The New Yorker says: "Kaiser's account dwells less on blatant corruption than on what is perfectly, depressingly legal.  Lobbyists, for all their policy-shaping aspirations, come across as simple bagmen, conveying cash between buyers in the private sector and all-too-willing sellers in Congress"  (January 26, 2009: 73).

So, in the end, the legal distinction between lobbying contacts and lobbying activities may be moot, so long as the money talks. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Taxing Ethics

Today's New York Times highlights the difficulty of squaring ethical principles with the political culture of money/speech.  Everywhere President Obama turns for expertise (Treasury, Defense, Health) his appointments run counter to his rhetorical policy about lobbyists and the ethical contours of public service.  President Obama has lost one major player, Tom Daschle, and a smaller one, Nancy Killefer because of their failure to pay taxes.  Part of President Obama's difficulty will be the perception of opportunism as his ethical policy norms interact with  the specific case.   Regarding taxes, the rule of thumb seems to be:  a Treasury Secretary can avoid taxes but not a Health and Human Services Secretary nor a White House performance officer.  

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Lobbying and the Myth of Technical Reasoning

Thanks to political cotton candy for the tip.  Treasury Secretary Geithner is responding to outrage over the cozy relationship between lobbyists and the release of TARP I and TARP II (bank bailout) funds by setting up new restrictions on the the ability of Treasury employees to contact those corporate and political interests advocating for a piece of the pie.  The regulations are also going to make the contacts between lobbyists and public officials more public. Interestingly, the Times refers to Geithner's motivation as being one of "preventing political interference with decisions about which companies received bailout money."  Not surprisingly, a constitutional law scholar was brought in to remind folks that it would be unconstitutional to prevent a lobbyist from contacting a public official, but not unconstitutional to regulate who a public official can talk too.  If I am reading this correctly, the public employee has fewer constitutional protections than the lobbyist. It would be worth learning more about the rules over tax law that the Secretary plans to model in the case of TARP II lobbying and how public employment law interacts with free speech law. 

As a cautionary point, I am suspicious of wanting to decrease political interference. Barney Frank noted in a New Yorker that the Obama Administration downplays the importance of ideological differences. One wonders if this is why Frank's name appears  in a way that implies he was  participating in undue political interference. I am a little unsure why we want to "prevent political interference"  but rely  on "investment criteria and the facts of the case." Isn't  this the same assumption about technical reasoning  of   financial wizardry that got us into this problem in the first place?  The politics are on Obama's side, he should  lead with a plan not failed financial algorithms.  Of course we want policy based on our best knowledge and best practices and I respect that Obama's consent to lead is based partly on competence; but, we should not go running into the belly of technical reasoning, especially if that technical reasoning got us into this trouble in the first place.  Such algorithms exist to disguise the political interference done by finance capital they do not remove politics from the equation, only the people's politics.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Rhetorical Policy Studies: The Lobbying Example

Robert Reich's Monday Jan 26 update to his blog notes the interaction between lobbying and campaign contributions affecting current policy making over the roll out of the second round of the financial bailout  (wonks call it T.A.R.P II; TARP is the acronym for Troubled Asset Relief Program). Political contributions and lobbying, I would contend, are two genres of money/speech that deserve much more attention from rhetorical studies.  President Obama's recent executive order on Ethics Commitments for the Executive Branch is one of the many ways lobbying is regulated and demonstrates how money/speech is often approached from the standpoint of an ethical problematization. As such, these genres might provide important insights for those pursuing the uptake of Foucault's ethical writings in rhetorical and cultural studies.  The genres of money/speech and their regulations, therefore, suggest the need for a more self-reflexive policy turn in rhetorical studies.

The primary tendency of rhetorical studies is to approach public policy as an object of rhetorical concern.  Whether public policy is welfare policy, population policy or military policy is of little concern.  If it is policy, it is fair game for a rhetorical scholar, especially a scholar that might have found his or her way into rhetorical studies from debate or thinks that public argument is a primary object for rhetorical studies.  Occasionally,  even political scientists have noted the rhetorical dimensions of public policy because of the importance of communication/argument/rhetoric/frames to such policy dynamics as agenda setting.  Yet, except in the area of 1st Amendment scholarship, scholarship that seems rarely raised up as an exemplar of contemporary rhetorical studies, I am at a loss to point to research in rhetorical studies on how public policy regulates the communicative ways in which people  are allowed to influence public policy or participate in elections.  The lesson of turning our attention to rhetorical genres  like lobbying is that they call for a more rigorous policy turn in rhetorical studies than that authorized by the phrase rhetoric of policy.  

Just as my friends in cultural policy studies have turned to how culture has become a site of regulation and social management, so too rhetorical studies should become more sensitive to how rhetoric today exists as a highly policed and contested domain of public policy. To keep the analogical structure in play, let's call it rhetorical policy studies. In such a domain, rhetoric exists within specific terms of art (like lobbying) and, as such, our efforts to be oriented toward a history and analysis of the present requires we know much more about these rhetorical genres and their regulations than we currently do.   Such a policy turn should pay off by providing a more direct path for rhetorical studies to use its knowledge for practical/political effects as well as engage more directly into the critical conversations about the ethical dimensions of (governing/leaving) "communicative capitalism." (See Dean 2004, for the origin of the concept communicative capitalism).

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Obama and Biopolitics: The Malthusian Couple/Family Planning Thread

Elections matter. On 23 January 2009, President Obama signed a presidential memorandum authorizing USAID and State Department to fund NGOs that may use "non USAID funds to engage in a wide range of activities, including providing advise, counseling, or information regarding abortion or lobbying a foreign government to legalize or make abortion available." By lifting the "gag rule," Obama revokes President George Bush's (43) re-instatement of Reagan's Mexico City policy and Bush's extension of those policies. This memorandum places the Obama administration back within the Cairo Consensus in international population policy. The Clinton Administration was a major force in the constitution of the Cairo Consensus. The Cairo Consensus advanced women's empowerment and reproductive health as the cornerstone of population policy.

Obama's memorandum argues Bush era restrictions were "excessively broad" and "undermined efforts to promote safe and effective voluntary family planning programs." The White House released a statement pledging to "restore critical efforts to protect and empower women and promote global economic development" and to work "with Congress to restore U.S. financial support for the U.N Population Fund."

The White House Statement also commented on the state of the debate on family planning assistance arguing it had become a "political wedge issue, the subject of a back and forth debate that has served only to divide us" and that the President has "no desire to continue this stale and fruitless debate." The statement declares "it is time that we end the politicization of this issue." Of course, the New York Times framed the issue exactly in the terms of the "stale and fruitless debate" over abortion.

I would like to know more about what Obama thinks makes a debate "stale and fruitless," though I suspect it has something to do with what Tribe called the Clash of Absolutes (though dated, I should re-read the last two chapters of Tribe's book). Obama believes that he can bypass incommensurability by finding a new point of agreement. In this case, he hopes to get all sides to work together to "achieve the goal of reducing unintended pregnancies." This pragmatic goal will be the shared agreement he hopes will "initiate a fresh conversation on family planning , working to find areas of common ground to best meet the needs of women and families at home and around the world."

We look forward to the new conversation, but, respectfully note that the women's empowerment agenda embraced by the Cairo Consensus does not go unchallenged (see, Greene 2000) and those challenges are not about abortion politics, but about how the focus on women's empowerment to decrease unintended pregnancies does not get at the heart of the economic, social or cultural inequalities built into population/development policy.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Now and Then: MP3 and the Sophists

Back from  Jonathan Sterne's talk entitled: Is Music a Thing?  The thingness of music was approached from the standpoint of the MP3 as a container technology for music.  His historical re-contextualization of the MP3 format  provided  an entry point into the current file sharing debates and the broader cultural claims about whether or not the internet has ushered in a "new gift economy." One of the more provocative claims was his discussion of how the commodity form is still operative even if the exchange value seems less important to the thing. We were reminded of how Benjamin's analysis of the commodity form partly diagnoses bourgeois subjectivity  through the practice of collection and possession. Which means that the celebration of the digital economy as a sharing economy may be missing an important characteristic of the practices associated with the commodity form in terms of possession.  To think about the commodity form, both in terms of monetized exchange and in terms of the practices of possession/ acquisition will be helpful as I  read Fredal's essay about sophists charging fees. Join me, if you have the inclination. I hope to write about the essay next week.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Economics of Rhetorical Rituals: Inaugural Financing

USA Today's Fredrecka Schouten reports on how donations to the Obama inaugural committee generated tickets for special events for the contributors and bundlers. It is structurally noteworthy that "federal law sets no limits on the size or source of inaugural contributions."

The following negative inferences are expressed about the privatization of the inaugural financing: 1. money = perks for donors (special events). 2. money = potential for undue corporate/donor influence on /access to policy makers . 3. money proves hollowness of Obama change rhetoric (this comes out more in the comment section).

In response: Obama people claim process and political advantages:

1. private funding allowed more public involvement in inaugural weekend
donations from big contributors helped to underwrite a slew of events aimed at giving the public access to the historic event, including Sunday's free concert at the Lincoln Memorial featuring Beyoncé, Bruce Springsteen, Garth Brooks and other stars. "You can't do all that for free," Douglass said.
2. Obama process for collecting was an improvement over status quo
Obama voluntarily has capped inaugural contributions at $50,000 each and chose not to accept money from federal lobbyists, political action committees, corporations or unions. He also set a $300,000 limit on the amount of money a fundraiser could collect from other donors.In addition, he has disclosed the names of inaugural fundraisers, along with all donations of $200 or more on the Presidential Inaugural Committee's website.
3. magnitude trumps undue influence
"When you raise $760 million," referring to Obama's record campaign haul, "you don't owe a single individual anything."
4. Obama represents the grassroots (the people not the corporations)
"The president-elect made it clear throughout his campaign that the people who have power in his campaign are the grass-roots"
The process and dispositional advantages of the current administration over the status quo and the Past President are important. However, the distributional pattern of the contributions to the inaugural committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, reveals a tilt toward "finance, insurance and real estate industries." It is this distributional effect that pushes back the claim that the magnitude/democratization of contributions decreases undue influence or that a better process for a bad system is a net advantage over a reformed public financing law.

How the distributional patterns attempt to push back grassroots power deserves our special attention as the articulations of money/speech transfigure themselves into policy.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Economics of Rhetorical Rituals

Eric Boehlert at media matters demonstrates the statistical distortion fueling the controversy over the economic costs of Obama's inaugural. But, the cost figure controversy may be participating in a media logic my comrade Jayson Harsin calls a rumor bomb, as such, the ability of the critical-rational work of media matters may come too late. It is noteworthy, however, to comment on the less controversial figure of 45 million dollars of private funds being raised by Obama's inaugural committee. The "private" financing of rhetorical rituals deserves attention because such financing and lack of controversy reveals how public address partakes in a political economy all too easily relegated to arcane Federal Election Commission regulations, Supreme Court decisions and pay-to-play scandals. Money/speech takes as its primary concern the political economy of rhetoric and the rhetoric of political economy to address the conflict of values embedded in U.S. public culture. It is from such a vantage point that Money/Speech will begin to assess the truth of those values called forth by President Obama as the foundation for our new era of responsibility: "hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism." I am likely to add a few values to the list.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I Begin

As I await President Obama's first inaugural address, In the hope that I hear something similar, I share the following from FDR's first inaugural address: 

The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere economic profit.

Oratorical animal notes the many allusions of renewal in Obama's inaugural and  the following passage expresses a renewed economic emphasis on equal opportunity and regulation:

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill.  Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control -- and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity: on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart -- not our of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.
Alas, it gives much away with its claim that markets expand freedom without qualification and the call to  "extend opportunity to every willing heart" provides rhetorical cover to exclude those not reached because they failed to embrace the new responsibility called for today by President Obama. Alas, this passage suggests a renewal of the cultural wing of neo-liberalism.  In contrast, as a watchful eye, money/speech joins the President's call for a renewal of our better history; one that might begin with the Glass-Stegall Act.