Issue 15.3 features two articles, one on will, the other on the state. Each is an original and significant redeployment of a fundamental category in a new political and theoretical setting. Tracing the work of its category in various literatures and fields—for example, Lucretius, Pascal, and homonationalism, for Ahmed; Foucault, pluralism, and neoinstitutionalism, for Biebricher and Vogelmann—the articles opening this issue of Theory & Event challenge contemporary theorists’ assumptions regarding the salience of certain concepts—there is more life left in them than many of us have thought.
Sara Ahmed constructs a powerful willfulness archive. What is it that incites the charge of “willfulness”? Who is willful and under what conditions? How are some made to bend to the will of others in the name of getting straightened out? Ahmed’s archive starts with the child, and then with the arm of the child, to explore the modes of authority, inclusion, and participation that close attention to willfulness reveals. The willful child becomes the feral, inner-city waif of London’s riots, the state both requiring and assuming that willfulness must be stamped out (the language of press and politicians reacting to the events of August 2011 echoes eighteenth century injunctions not only to discipline but to beat, even to break). Ahmed attends as well to an additional kind of force, one that doesn’t just make another act against her own will but that operates more directly on the will itself, rendering the consequences of failing to will what one insists that one will too much to bear. Institutions may embody, instantiate, and enact this insistence on a particular will with the effect that those whose raced, sexed, and queer difference fail to conform, comply, or go with the flow are nearly automatically rendered willful.
Thomas Biebricher and Frieder Vogelmann throw down a provocative challenge to theorists embracing the Foucauldian concept of governmentality. What’s new about it? How does it succeed where other theories of the state have failed? Most appropriations of governmentality quickly dismiss previous accounts of the state, as if they were all written by idiots or apologists. A more thorough consideration of the literature on the state—which Biebricher and Vogelmann clearly and concisely provide—demonstrates that interest group theorists, systems theorists, and neo-Marxists all had insights into operations of power that have been falsely considered unique to Foucault. So are Biebricher and Vogelmann enjoining us to forget Foucault (or perhaps operating as covert Habermasian hitmen)? No. On the contrary, they make a compelling argument that Foucault advances a new form of state philosophy. To this end, they treat governmentality as an archaeological category, a move that enables them to emphasize “governmentalities as discursive formations, as specific self-images of the state that require a particular knowledge about the state generated through appropriate technologies (e.g., statistics).” This enables them to specify the importance for Foucault of “a philosophy that has political effects without becoming political and that offers strategic knowledge” rather than knowledge to be used by the state.
Producing an issue of Theory & Event is a collective effort. It involves not only the work of the authors and editors, managing editor, and book review editor, but also that of readers, reviewers, and the editorial board. Issue 15.3 is even more of a collective product than usual in that it includes a symposium guest-edited by Neil Roberts and a special supplement guest-edited by Darin Barney, Brian Massumi, and Cayley Sorochan. Each responds to pressing contemporary events. Roberts brings together an array of contemporary theorists to consider the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida last spring. With pieces from Anna Marie Smith, Anne Norton, Michael Hanchard, Stephen H. Marshall, Ange-Marie Hancock, Mark Reinhardt, Christopher J. Lebron, and George Ciccariello-Maher, this symposium demonstrates the ongoingness of theorizing, the ways we are always to an extent in the middle of the events we endeavor to understand. The symposium introduction is open access at MUSE. Click HERE to access the article.
With their collection of articles, some written both in French and English, Barney, Massumi and Sorochan analyze and intervene in the contemporary Red Square struggles in Quebec. Opening with a chronology of the Quebec Student Strike written by Cayley Sorochan, the supplement to Issue 15.3 includes contributions from an array of theorists and activists: Alia Al-Saji, Olivier Asselin, Normand Baillargeon, Érik Bordeleau, Thomas Lamarre, Diane Lamoureux, Dominique Leydet, Krista Geneviève Lynes, Erin Manning, Brian Massumi, Jonathan Sterne, and Daniel Weinstock. The supplement to Issue 15.3 will remain open access for three months. Click HERE for the supplement Table of Contents. We invite you to circulate the link to Issue 15.3 and its supplement widely, exploiting all the forums, blogs, posts, and social media outlets available, to keep theorizing moving in pace with these events.
Issue 15.3 concludes with seven reviews: Jill Stauffer reviews Bonnie Honig’s Emergency Politics; Stacy Douglas reviews Mark Rifkin’s Erotics of Sovereignty; Milo Sweedler reviews Simon Critchley’s The Faith of the Faithless; Tamkin Hussain reviews Timothy C. Campbell’s Improper Life; Isis I.O. Leslie reviews William T. Cavanaugh’s Migrations of the Holy; Tracy B. Strong reviews Henry Kissinger’s On China; and with thanks to our guest review editor Kennan Ferguson, Marc de Wilde reviews James R. Martel’s Divine Violence and Textual Conspiracies.