I’m currently working on a book titled “Beyond Perpetual Politics: A Radical Culture caught in a Skeptical Loop”.
The premise of the book is that, during the last 50 years, the critique of market society, techno-politics and neoliberalism has led socially-minded academics to advocate for a more political approach to government and policy making to the point of reifying politics itself. Critical thinking in the social sciences and the humanities increasingly conveys the problematic assumption that the problem of global social justice can be addressed by exacerbating the clash and competition between political interests, whether in the agonistic style of perpetual reform or the antagonistic one of perpetual resistance.
The argument is that, at the heart of this contemporary predicament, there is a shared historical problematic of humanist skepticism, one that has long remained unresolved but that is not necessarily unsolvable. Through an original genealogical reading of the modern art of intervention, the first half of the book translates what is a rather philosophical impasse into a simple technical diagnosis. In practical terms, policy makers are stuck between two grand categories of intervention whose use comes with the risk of causing counter-productive power effects over time: incentives and commands. Thus, the task of the second half of the book becomes that of articulating a new category of intervention that is irreducible to these traditional policy paths in any of their possible combinations, regardless of how counterintuitive the result may turn out to be.
A Truly Invisible Hand: The critical value of Foucauldian ironyCritical Times: Interventions in Global Critical Theory,
2021, vol. 4(1): 48-72. [In press]
This paper identifies why modern economic knowledge is so susceptible to extreme political appropriations.
It does so by reconstructing the founding insight behind modern economics and testing its internal limits of critical consistency. The argument has not only political but also methodological implications, as hinted in this passage:
“If ‘scarcity’ is not the same as ‘limited resources,’ if it is a critical tool we conceptually use to question a population’s relation to its material potential—as even Malthus thought and Hayek was keen to remind market socialists through an argument about competitive production—then assessing the policy needs of any economy that is trying to deal with this critical matter deserves, in every context, a fully relational analysis.”
Symbiosis and the Humanitarian Marketplace: The changing political economy of ‘mutual benefit’Theory, Culture & Society
[The abstract can be found here. The pre-print can be found here]
This paper offers a way of critically appropriating the contemporary tendency towards a philanthropic capitalism.
It achieves this by contrasting the biopolitical logic of market exchange with the distributive logic of “symbiosis” as an increasingly conceivable mode of human collaboration that is, ironically, not naturally balanced:
“The reason the biopolitical appropriation of symbiotic imagery has had such a level of success comes down to its seemingly natural apolitical dynamic. Yet ‘symbiosis’, even culturally, has never implied a sense of fairness that is strict as to the equivalence of the benefits received. In everyday use, it is fair to say, a symbiosis is simply thought to be a happy discovery, a found complementarity that is positive to the extent that it creates a synergy, not an even plateau.”
Reasoning with the Exclusionary Other: Classical scenes for a postradical horizonCritical Inquiry, 2019, vol. 46(1): 97-117.
[The abstract can be found here. The PDF can be found here]
This paper contributes a key piece to the puzzle of how Western culture managed to adopt a liberal humanism that suddenly aspired to prioritize the rights of humanity as a whole.
My account shows how important it was for the foundational thinkers of modernity to find a moral common ground with a humanitarian skeptic so that everyone could be held accountable regardless of their exclusionary sentiments:
“Rousseau would immediately agree with Diderot if he thought that, were he somehow a skeptic, he could be converted by simply reading or hearing about Diderot’s exhortations on the rightfulness of humanity as a natural law. Yet since he cannot find any self-evident reason in this text or elsewhere for his inner skeptic to follow such a general will, he must assume that the humanitarian perception is, in spite of his own common sense, a rather rare sensibility. Smith and Rousseau do not need to go as far as becoming humanitarian skeptics. For the time being they must remain skeptical humanitarians.” (p. 112)
Freedom can also be Productive: The historical inversions of “the conduct of conduct”Journal of Political Power, 2018, vol. 11(2): 252-272.
[The abstract can be found here. The PDF is available here for the first 50 downloads]
This paper addresses the long-standing concern that as individuals we may have no real “agency” or capacity to change how things are.
I tackle this concern of contemporary social theory through a historico-philosophical discussion of Foucault’s influential depiction of power as “the conduct of conduct”. The force of the argument comes from an appreciation of skepticism as a productive critical attitude:
“In principle, a ‘skeptical’ attitude could be seen as a void, as a position that, already lacking any content itself, goes on to empty of meaning and value whatever discourse, theory or opinion it confronts… Foucault went beyond this extreme interpretation, endowing the capacity for skepticism with a certain general value, yet he still rejected the possibility that a skeptical subjectivity could come up with any content of its own … Even if it is the case that the large majority of individuals have a certain freedom to be skeptical as part of their ontological condition, the expression of that skepticism, for Foucault, cannot in itself be productive.” (p. 84)
Society, like the Market, needs to be Constructed: Foucault’s critical project at the dawn of neoliberalismHistory of the Human Sciences, 2018, vol. 31(1): 74-96.
[The abstract can be found here. The PDF is available here ]
This paper adds a new layer of interpretation to the old insight that everything is “socially constructed”, urging political activists and policy makers to think more strategically about social constructivism.
My reading of Foucault is far from literal, but for those who are interested in his work, I have extracted the passage that best explains the innovative way I read his take on neoliberalism:
“Even if Ferguson’s Essay on the History of Civil Society is known as the first modern text on the topic, its political ideas do not precede or directly influence neoliberal thinkers, or at least that is not what Foucault is implying. Rather, he attempts to show that Ferguson’s text has a certain perspective on the social which, suddenly, becomes relevant and elucidating for an unfamiliar neoliberal present. The point of reference for this reading of civil society is not a developing past, but a surprising present in the future. What is at stake is not the genealogy of a historical event in the West as much as the ‘architecture’ of an enduring political project.” (p. 84)
Volunteer Tourism, Development and Education in a Postcolonial World: Conceiving global connections beyond aidJournal of Sustainable Tourism, 2010, vol. 18(7): 861-878.
[The abstract can be found here. The PDF can be found here]
This paper counter-balances the claim of volunteer travel as “neo-colonialism” by stressing how colonial-like it is to judge young volunteers under the assumption that they should be striving to bring about development.
I wrote this paper a long time ago as part of my master’s degree in applied anthropology. It has been influential in the interdisciplinary field of tourism studies as well as mentioned in a number of public forums:
“Carlos Palacios, Ph.D., of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, argues that voluntourism is the only type of travel that’s vilified as colonialistic. Programs that describe themselves as service learning, cultural exchange, or educational tourism ‘have not got into this kind of trouble’, he notes. I came to see myself more as an intern than a volunteer: someone who did small but necessary work—dish washing, data entry, trash collecting—while receiving an education about a place and its challenges.” Kevin Budd, National Geographic.