Posts Tagged ‘friend-enemy’

Categorising archipolitics, parapolitics and metapolitics


Last year (or maybe the year before) I decided to work more closely through the archipolitics, parapolitics and metapolitics distinction. Jacques Rancière uses these labels to mark out what is not actually politics. Archipolitics is most clearly illustrated by the rule of experts (e.g. Plato’s ideal community), parapolitics by institutions and metapolitics by theory (e.g. Marx). Each of these are not politics because they do away with disagreement.

This recent post by Bert Oliver uses this distinction, and brings in work by Slavoj Žižek, to analyse current ‘world politics’. I really like the post and it is always inspiring to see that this ‘conceptual stuff’ can be turned towards unpacking current happenings, even in brief pieces of text.

Oliver brings in Žižek to discuss ultra-politics. To me, this appears to be Carl Schmitt’s friend-enemy distinction. In other words, this analysis could also be offered with the work of Chantal Mouffe.

I have not used ‘ultra-politics’ in my work. I simply use Rancière’s concept of ‘the partition of the sensible’. I suppose there is always a supplement.


Let’s talk about the weather


This is a tongue in cheek response to a Facebook note on the weather suggesting that the city dwellers in Melbourne should, ‘make the most of whatever comes your way.’ While I am all for working with what you have got, I think that there is value in discussion about the weather, even if that means complaining.


It is great that Simon likes all the seasons, moving to Costa Rica does not sound like a bad suggestion, and his witty prose did cause me to hang my head in shame. However, his Facebook note ultimately misses the point in more ways that simply being wrong about parsley liking autumn over summer, spring and winter.

There is much to say about the weather. Why are interesting cities so often places with more challenging weather? In way of example I suggest the way people talk about New York compared with Los Angeles, and Melbourne compared with Sydney. I will leave this discussion to somebody else, because I am not interested in what weather is as much as what experiencing and then discussing the weather means.

Getting by in different weather could, by extension of the work of Fincher and Iveson, be seen as a shared project or labour of the kind to encourage the ‘encounters among strangers (rather than indifference or hostility) [which] are a desirable goal for urban life,’ (Fincher & Iveson 2008: 153).

Weather is available to everybody, although it is experienced in very different ways. If you live a door-to-door car trip away from work, your work and pay is not weather dependent, you have some flexibility with your time so you can wait out a heavy down pour, you do not have to wear a uniform, you can afford heating/ cooling, and you do not suffer with any weather related health conditions then yeah, the weather probably does not matter that much.

So yeah, I guess it makes sense that you live your entire life surrounded by people who do not directly suffer as a result of the weather then you can take the attitude of, ‘I am so aware that I will only assess the weather on its consequences for farmers- except maybe Australian rice farmers because that is an unsustainable practice that should not be encouraged.’ This is a type of exclusion by choice, and we should not automatically accept that it is a superior attitude to take.

At this moment in time, the climate is highly politicised. However, the analysis of Swyngendouw (2010) highlights how the ‘choreographing of climate change’ (213) is a form of govermentality which evacuates dissent (227). It is not a question of whether or not climate change is real, but rather the way that effacement of the political is justified through claims of catastrophe (214), when the contributing factors and impacts are deeply political.

Disagreeing about the weather is not going to tear society apart. In Carl Schmitt’s friend-enemy distinction an enemy – whom you can do anything to without feeling guilt – is not somebody you disagree with, it is somebody to whom you do not have anything to say.

We can discuss our weather likes and dislikes and the health of our parsley* in Facebook comments to our heart’s content. But I do not think when it comes to the weather there is any justification for defining some opinions as being only worthy of ridicule.

* (If you want to know, mine is doing well, except some that has grown over a shrub that died off is looking a bit yellow. Perhaps it is alerting me to something wrong with the soil there?)


Fincher, R. and K. Iveson (2008). Planning and diversity in the city : redistribution, recognition and encounter. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire ; New York, N.Y., Palgrave Macmillan.

Schmitt, C. (1996). The concept of the political. Chicago & London, University of Chicago Press.

Swyngedouw, E. (2010). “Apocalypse Forever?” Theory, Culture & Society27(2-3): 213-232.

Talking matters


Earlier this week, thanks to @mfarnsworth, Twitter and Crikey, I saw ‘The Special Relationship’. It is a dramatised movie (not a documentary) looking at Tony Blair and Bill Clinton’s relationship. The movie starts with Clinton speaking enthusiastically about the potential for progressive politics to change the world for the better, ends with Blair appearing keen to make history rather than to do the right thing, and effectively blames Blair for the Bush doctrine. The acting had me trying to smother my laughter throughout, but it is an engaging film. Many of the scenes are phone calls between Blair and Clinton and the sequence of events seems to suggest that speaking with somebody is more likely to make you want to help them out.

Clearly the significance of dialogue is taken for granted in international politics. Leaders are often called to enter into ‘talks’. Carl Schmitt’s friend-enemy distinction provides one clue why this may be the case. The enemy who is the Other is one who you have nothing to say to. Once they are the Other you no longer need to recognise their humanity and can do all sorts of evil things.

What this has to do with what happens in suburban everyday life is probably a little less interesting to write about, but rather fundamental to my project. Who do we choose to talk to and who do we avoid? Who do we feel obliged to be considerate of or helpful to? One concrete example of the significance of talking is the difference between the reactions received by people who just ask for money compared to people who first try to start a conversation.

Being part of conversation is not only about negotiating a relationship. Conversation has content. Various ‘facts’ can be ‘common knowledge’ within a group, but people may act to stop the information from leaving the group. The clearest example seems to be the relationship between the media and politicians (see for example the commentary on Laurie Oakes disclosure on the release of Cheryl Kernot’s book back in 2002). Just how much information we do not have access to is pretty clear. My favourite rant on this topic is the secrecy that surrounds reviewing the DSM, which is the manual of mental illness.

Sometimes, when it suits somebody’s agenda, we get glimpses of the information we do not have access to. Leaks have certainly been a headline of the week, both internationally with Wikileaks and the Australian Labor Party’s election campaign.

I suppose that social research can be a matter of trying to access who is talking about what. Of course, in ethnographic research this usually means becoming part of the conversation yourself. I do not think it is too much of a problem that to be part of the conversation you have to make sure you are not an Other. After all, if you are not willing to understand a group on their terms why are you including them in your research?

On keeping people safe in research


On the topic of Research Day, I have a half finished post from this morning on my iPhone about my access to immediate communication perhaps short circuiting my process of reflection, so hopefully I end up finishing that some time soon. As you could imagine, this morning I woke up with a slightly different perspective on Research Day.

I found one presentation yesterday, ‘Accessing female participants in family violence research’, very confronting. It was not so much the stories of violence that left me stumbling into the morning tea break with a tight feeling in my chest and an urge to make contact with anybody outside the Health Sciences School. Rather, something about the way she spoke about her male participants really challenged some fundamental assumptions I have about research.

It was the only presentations I wrote any notes down from, and they were mostly direct quotes. She spoke about having to think about, ‘My safety, her [the female participant] safety and the efficacy of the research.’ I wrote down, ‘no mention of men mattering.’ She spoke about ‘thinking this guy wasn’t that bad’ and that people may be ‘seduced’ into thinking they are redeemable.

As somebody who knows nothing about family violence research, the two issues I felt were at the heart of her presentation were those of trying to get access to female participants when workers are reluctant to facilitate this access and, secondly, how do you deal with research subjects not telling you the truth. I was disappointed that she did not explore why these men who had such conflicting accounts to their female partners. This presentation did come up in conversation later and quite a few students currently undertaking data collection made the point that when a man said he had not heard of some agency, he was not necessarily denying that he had contact with them but rather it is very common for interviewees not to know the names of the agencies they have had contact with.

I am not in any way saying that I did not find it credible that she had reasons to believe the females, but I wonder if her suggestion that we need to be privileging the women’s account in research into men’s behaviour change programs is really side-stepping the matter. Mostly I wondered why nobody asked whether or not this was ethical research. If she was interviewing men, only to then prove that they cannot be trusted to give accounts is this really fair?  Sure, knowing ‘the truth’ in cases where there is violence and ongoing risk does matter. However, I have a strong feeling that being open to complexity matters in research. There are lots of not nice things in the world, but perhaps research can help us in understanding what they are, how they come to be and how they continue to remain in place.

A question this raises for me is whether or not I am only feeling so strongly about this because she is enlisting the men as participants. After all, much collaborative research, action research or even rather theoretical research is willing to paint ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’.

Disruptive Spiritual Innovation and Mutual Indifference


Perhaps I really should not post this as my grasp of theory is thin to say the least, and my knowledge of Disruptive Spiritual Innovation is no deeper than my earlier posts on the topic. That being noted, here I go…

I think that I have had a lot of difficulty in processing DSI because it seems to be more of a social vision than anything that speaks to social theory (or, to be honest, at least any social theory that I like). However, after listening to a paper yesterday evening (by John Rundell*) I stumbled across the obvious.

Religion (and religious practices) signal intersections that lead to social meaning and also difference. However, the’ stand in category of religion’ is not necessarily a bad thing as, through putting a line around certain things, it provides an opportunity for ‘mutual indifference’- keeping the discussions alive for another time. In engaging in ‘mutual indifference’ we may miss out on some of the intersections, and so miss out on some possible social meaning. However, not all meanings are compatible, especially when it comes to building a shared bond that can lead to some enforceable and fixed base for politics. Therefore this ‘mutual indifference’ may allow us to get on with life.

I was reminded last night that while religion might be orientated towards making sense, it does not necessarily need control over the social space and the interpretation of modernity itself. It was clearly stated that it is fundamentalism, as opposed to religion, which seeks that control. Perhaps, in breaking ‘jobs that need to get done’ away from meaning, DSI as a project argues for new learnings and social meanings that do not challenge the prior understandings about what it is to be a person and what needs to get done in life? Of course, these prior understandings will not remain unchanged but they can provide the foundational point for engagement.

So, in lieu of a conclusion, I suppose the next question is to what degree do those prior understandings determine the outcomes of the engagement, or does the process of engaging bring about a new cosmopolitan way of being in the world?

* Sorry that I cannot cite an actual paper and my notes are too sketchy to trace Rundell’s use of theory, but the seminar abstract is at

A universal morality for a just war (and yet another employment of the friend-enemy distinction)


I read the transcript of Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize speech, and was going to write a wider ranging post, but the one point I would like to raise here is really the need for a universal morality in any concept of a ‘just war’.

War is a usefully vague term which in political circles tends to describe more the way that people in power want it to be seen than to describe anything happening ‘on the ground’. Not that things do not happen on the ground in war. It is one of the clearest examples of how explanatory models of the world shape strategies for engagement in the world and therefore change what the experience of living in the world is like.

Talking specifically of wars evoked in Obama’s speech, those of the US in Afghanistan and Iraq, the amount of physical and emotional suffering of each American decision is huge. A significant factor in weighing up the costs in each decision (to shoot, not to shoot, to retreat, to advance, to improve infrastructure, to hand over) is the moral cost. Freedom is often evoked, but what counts as freedom worth having is a very messy thing to consider when it is implanted into the real world. Even messier is who gets to decide what sort of freedom is worth having.

Obama’s speech uses words in a very clever way to provide an answer to this dilemma, there is a universal morality. What is right comes from the divine. I do not need to mount a theological argument for the existence of the divine (or even alienate fierce secularists) because it can also be interpreted as the core element of being human. We have evidence that this morality is universal because it can be found in all religions (or at least all religions that matter in this speech), and any religion which denies it is wrong. Ultimately, (my probably poorly informed opinion is that) the legitimacy of the ‘just war’ campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq rely on the test of whether or not the civilians in those countries SHOULD be grateful for what is being done. The obligation for them to be grateful only makes sense if the ethical claims on which the campaigns are based are universal. Those in whose name the conflicts (and the terms of the conflicts) are justified do not need to be grateful. The test does not need to be democratic when there is a universal ethical code, rather it can be logically deduced if one was to have perfect information on the motivation of decisions made.

The limitation which I find so glaring in Obama’s speech is that it provides a space for the Other (with a big-O), in that those who do not subscribe to my morality are not human. This morality has evolved over time, but rather than devolving some people deny their humanity in denying this morality. It is a beautiful speech in many ways, but it still carves out the friend-enemy distinction in Carl Schmitt’s sense. In the call to ‘do unto others as we would have them do unto us’, the others are other humans. In asserting very clearly that there are people who have gotten their own religion wrong because they fail to accept the terms of morality being put forward, Obama is (or his speech writers are) saying that these people have denied their humanness and so are no longer the other of this call, but are now the Others in the friend enemy distinction. While I can understand the motivations to abhor such actions, in reinforcing the distinction it so allows the Other of the American leadership to define America as their Other. In this way the two parties have nothing to say.

Excerpts from Obama’s speech

“War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man. At the dawn of history, its morality was not questioned; it was simply a fact, like drought or disease – the manner in which tribes and then civilizations sought power and settled their differences.”

“…We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations – acting individually or in concert – will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified. … we must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement; pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time.”

Cynical translation: War comes with being human, and really it could be much worse. Look at the bad old days where they did not even think it was wrong. At least I feel like I need to justify war, but really the responsibility is not born by the elite, we will evoke a bit of nationalism. War is really just part of a continuum of tools that we can use to uphold that which we think is right to be right.

“For peace is not merely the absence of visible conflict. Only a just peace based upon the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting.”

Cynical translation: Pacifists are really supporters of oppression.

“At times, it even feels like we are moving backwards. We see it in Middle East, as the conflict between Arabs and Jews seems to harden. We see it in nations that are torn asunder by tribal lines. … Most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam,… Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but the purpose of faith – for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Adhering to this law of love has always been the core struggle of human nature.”

Cynical translation: I know what religion really means, and can interpret it for all people. Anybody who disagrees is failing to engage in the imperative of humans to continually improve.

“So let us reach for the world that ought to be – that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls.”