What Comes after Entanglement?: Activism, Anthropocentrism, and an Ethics of Exclusion

What Comes after Entanglement?: Activism, Anthropocentrism, and an Ethics of Exclusion

by Eva Haifa Giraud

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By foregrounding the ways that human existence is bound together with the lives of other entities, contemporary cultural theorists have sought to move beyond an anthropocentric worldview. Yet as Eva Haifa Giraud contends in What Comes after Entanglement?, for all their conceptual power in implicating humans in ecologically damaging practices, these theories can undermine scope for political action. Drawing inspiration from activist projects between the 1980s and the present that range from anticapitalist media experiments and vegan food activism to social media campaigns against animal research, Giraud explores possibilities for action while fleshing out the tensions between theory and practice. Rather than an activist ethics based solely on relationality and entanglement, Giraud calls for what she describes as an ethics of exclusion, which would attend to the entities, practices, and ways of being that are foreclosed when other entangled realities are realized. Such an ethics of exclusion emphasizes foreclosures in the context of human entanglement in order to foster the conditions for people to create meaningful political change.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781478007159
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 10/18/2019
Series: a Cultural Politics book
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 262
File size: 385 KB

About the Author

Eva Haifa Giraud is Lecturer in Media at Keele University (United Kingdom).

Read an Excerpt



The power of feminist analysis is to move from the experience of being a non-user, an outcast or a castaway, to the analysis of the fact of McDonald's (and by extension, many other technologies) and implicitly to the fact that "it might have been otherwise" — there is nothing necessary or inevitable about the presence of such franchises.

— Susan Leigh Star, "Power, Technology and the Phenomenology of Conventions"

There is a much more fundamental problem than Big Macs and French Fries: capitalism. ... Alternative and radical ideas have spread throughout society, drawing on past experiences, on present situations, and on people's hopes and practical visions for the future. What are the global alternatives to a system based on profits and power? How can a society be created which is based on the principles of human solidarity and mutual aid, on sharing and co-operation, on freedom, and on harmony with the environment and respect for life? How will people be able to run such a society together? None of these questions are new — there is a wealth of ideas and experiences documented from the past or from more recent struggles and movements which people can learn about and take strength from. That is one of the purposes of McSpotlight. We must continue to develop the ideas and activities which are laying the basis of a new society within the shell of the old.

— "Capitalism," McSpotlight.com

Susan Leigh Star's characterization of feminist analysis does not retain its value purely because of its ongoing relevance to science and technology studies. Beyond the field in which it originated, Star's call to explore how things "might have been otherwise" can be used to illuminate vital affinities — and equally vital tensions — between relational, more-than-human theoretical work and particular activist movements.

The above extract from the McSpotlight website, for instance, seems to share the central concern of feminist science studies in asking what alternatives (in this instance to global capitalism, as crystallized by McDonald's) might look like in practice. At the same time, a closer look at the protest ecologies underpinning this message illustrates some persistent difficulties associated with attempts to articulate alternative visions of the world. It is these everyday barriers to articulation, I suggest, that lie at the heart of tensions between political practice and contemporary theory that seeks to move beyond the human.

A number of challenges faced by anticapitalist activists are outlined throughout this chapter, ranging from resourcing issues to sociolegal arrangements and questions of public engagement. Such difficulties speak to a specific point: the setting in which political action unfolds can often undermine activists' attempts to convey the complex relationships among interrelated issues, here the intersection of environmental, labor, and animal welfare concerns. These everyday challenges often place activist practice at odds with a theoretical commitment to an ethics grounded in the recognition of relationality and irreducible complexity. Seemingly mundane difficulties in activist organization, in other words, are not merely practical matters but hold conceptual significance.

As I illustrate throughout the chapter, what makes things especially hard is that everyday challenges within activism can be actively exacerbated by the modes of cultural politics offered by theoretical attempts to respond to entangled worlds. Constraints on practice, for instance, often produce particular identity positions, tactics, and affective logics that are at odds with the tenets of theoretical work but are nonetheless valuable in making interventions. In light of these constraints, an insistence on emphasizing complexity and relationality can — in certain contexts — make it difficult to speak at all.

Issues that make it difficult to realize relational modes of ethics are often interpreted as problems that need to be negotiated in order to offer a clearer sense of how such approaches can emerge in practice. These tensions are, in other words, often framed as practicalities within activism, or problems generated by common modes of advocacy, which need to be overcome in order to realize more nuanced, multifaceted articulations of issues. This chapter, in contrast, argues that tensions between strands of theory and activist practice are not always things that can — or indeed should — be worked through in order to enact theoretical demands. Tensions between conceptual work and activist practice do not necessarily speak to problems within practice (or at least they do not just do this) but can be used to elucidate deep-rooted theoretical issues associated with relational, more-than-human modes of ethics.

Throughout this chapter I foreground informative points of tension between theory and practice, arguing that these tensions do not just indicate a need to complicate existing relational approaches but illustrate why an alternative ethical orientation is needed. In doing so, the chapter lays the foundation for the rest of the book and its exploration of how a focus on exclusion can help to provide this orientation.

Anti-McDonald's protest is a valuable site to turn to because of its capacity to foreground, in ways that speak to contemporary theoretical work, the difficulties that have recurred in subsequent large-scale instances of anticapitalist protest. Now over twenty years old, the McSpotlight website, for instance, was originally a hopeful symbol that represented the power of anticapitalist counternarratives to contest sociotechnical arrangements that fostered inequality. Though these hopes have since waned with the decline of the global justice movement, anti-McDonald's campaigning, as a key forerunner of campaigns that linked anticapitalist concerns with environmental and animal activism, created important legacies for contemporary activism (to the point that it is now almost seen as an anticapitalist cliché!). Important lessons can nonetheless be learned from revisiting early anti-McDonald's protest, not only due to its legacy for more contemporary movements but due to insights provided by its own rich history. In particular, the campaign speaks to difficulties that can arise when activists seek to move beyond "single-issue" politics to instead articulate the complex relationships among different issues. It is this question of articulation that I focus on here, because it offers a productive means of grasping the stakes of the frictions that can exist between theoretical work and political practice, even that which seems to aspire to the same ends.

McDonald's and McLibel

What became known as the McInformation Network was predated by anti-McDonald's campaigning that had been occurring on a small scale in the United Kingdom throughout the 1980s (notably, the first International Day of Action against McDonald's by the London Greenpeace campaign group was held on October 16, 1985). The campaign emerged and grew exponentially after McDonald's attempted to sue two activists, Helen Steel and Dave Morris, for distributing a six-page fact sheet that was critical of the corporation, serving libel writs against them in 1990. The fact sheet's original purpose was to draw together long-standing concerns about the corporation held by activist groups working in different contexts: criticisms ranging from environmental damage to animal welfare concerns, and from advertising targeted at children to workers' rights.

The company's decision to sue Steel and Morris (who were to become "the McLibel Two"), somewhat ironically, transformed the series of UK-based demonstrations into an international campaign. In addition to a McLibel Support Campaign being established to support the UK activists, a transnational McInformation Network was founded in order to gather and document further critical information about McDonald's (with the McSpotlight website ultimately serving as the hub for this material). The decision by McDonald's to undertake legal action, in other words, is what elevated the protest to the global stage befitting the issues it was addressing. The company's actions gave the campaign unprecedented levels of publicity, as the trial itself lasted almost three years (from June 28, 1994, to June 19, 1997) and the solidarity website McSpotlight was allegedly accessed 2.2 million times on the judgment day. Indeed, when McSpotlight was launched in 1996 it received media attention in its own right and, as touched on in chapter 2, gained broader academic and activist attention in elucidating the internet's potential to support dissent. As conveyed by the McSpotlight quote that opened the chapter, productive dialogue can exist between elements of the campaign and theoretical work that has emphasized relationality as the foundation for situated ethics. The first half of the chapter, accordingly, focuses on tactics used during anti-McDonald's campaigning and the McLibel trial that resonate with theoretical work (particularly within feminist science studies and new materialisms). Anti-McDonald's activism is especially valuable in drawing out these affinities due to being contemporaneous with theoretical work that emerged in the early 1990s — including that of Star and Donna Haraway — that has gone on to shape the contours of debate both within feminist science studies and across related fields.

As argued by Star, when dealing with cultural phenomena such as McDonald's, feminist analyses go beyond mapping "the enrolment and interessement of eating patterns, franchise marketing, labour pool politics, standardization and its economics" to both ask who bears the brunt of these relations and contest their inevitability. The story of anti-McDonald's campaigning has informative parallels with the mode of politics outlined by Star (and not just due to maintaining a common focus); the very purpose of these campaigns was to reveal what Star describes as "invisible work," the everyday exclusions and processes of marginalization that enable an actor like McDonald's to exist.

Tactics engaged in by activists also have broader affinities with conceptual work, in seeming not only to offer potential to realize less hierarchical modes of campaigning but also to lend themselves to less anthropocentric praxis. To intervene in existing norms instantiated by McDonald's, for instance, it was necessary to denaturalize the infrastructural arrangements of McDonald's through articulating the liveliness and agency of actors — human and nonhuman — who were bound up with these arrangements. This approach often involved foregrounding frictions within the infrastructures of McDonald's itself, in order to denaturalize these arrangements and articulate the possibility of other forms of organization. As I go on to outline in the first half of this chapter, the tactics of critical articulation that activists engaged in thus appear to segue with theoretical calls to create space to ask whether problematic norms "might be otherwise."

Yet, despite its success, the campaign also suffered difficulties, and it is these difficulties that offer points of tension with theoretical work that hold (perhaps unexpected) conceptual significance. As I go on to argue in the second half of the chapter, activists' opportunities for developing critical articulations of McDonald's were constrained by particular legal apparatuses and media arrangements, which made radical-participatory communicative tactics difficult to realize. Mundane barriers relating to financial restrictions, legal requirements, and the dynamics of activist media ecologies meant that it was often difficult to involve the actors who were most affected by McDonald's infrastructures in the work of articulating these relations. These restrictions also meant that it was difficult to articulate the complexity of the issues at stake in a way that met the requirements of legal evidence.

At first glance many of the obstacles that constrained participatory forms of protest appear to be decisively practical issues, related to money, resourcing, and technical problems, but these obstacles nonetheless carry conceptual freight due to lying at the root of tensions between critical-activist perspectives and theoretical work. The McLibel case and McSpotlight website are thus helpful in foregrounding issues that inhibit a wholesale departure from representational modes of advocacy in order to embrace more multilayered modes of articulation. These difficulties were made all the more profound when those being represented were not human (as with the environmental and animal welfare issues at the heart of the campaign). To better understand these tensions — and the broader theoretical provocations they offer — it is useful to first sketch out the modes of articulation that have been called for in theoretical contexts as a point of comparison.

Anthropocentrism, Representation, and Articulation

The tensions surrounding articulation that I focus on within this chapter relate to a broader theoretical concern with contesting paternalistic modes of advocacy that seek to speak for others. Thinkers such as Haraway have repeatedly drawn attention to the dangers of advocacy work that "pleads the cause of another" because it instills "a power relationship not unlike those of guardianship or parenthood." This line of argument has proven not just long-standing but influential and deserves attention because it lays the groundwork for subsequent conceptual perspectives that have displayed even greater suspicion of certain forms of advocacy work. Though it comes to the fore in her work on companion species, Haraway's own wariness of representational advocacy is set out most forcefully in an earlier essay where she describes this approach as a "political semiotics of representation." She characterizes this politics as a representational approach to advocacy that insists that it is necessary to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. This aim is often thought of as innocuous, or even necessary in certain contexts, but can lead to inadvertent forms of political ventriloquism that reinscribe inequalities rather than overturning them.

Haraway's arguments are explicitly grounded in postcolonial commitments. For instance, she illustrates the danger of representational forms of advocacy by drawing on a series of deeply problematic representations of the Amazon rain forest from the late 1980s and early 1990s to interrogate how certain campaigns depicted Indigenous Kayapó communities as vulnerable to industrial encroachment and in need of protection. Though some of these campaigns are now thirty years old, Haraway's critique is still relevant, as a similar logic has persisted in more recent initiatives. For instance, the importance of remaining suspicious of a political semiotics of representation is underlined by a more recent internet meme entitled "This Image Should Be Seen by the Whole World," which emerged in 2011 but continues to circulate today. This brief, widely disseminated social media post contained a photograph of Chief Raoni Metuktire in tears, accompanied by text that read:

While magazines and TV chains report about the lives and love affairs of movie actors and actresses, football players and other celebrities, the Chief of the Kayapo tribe heard the worst news of his entire life:

Mrs. Dilma, the president of Brazil, has given her approval for the construction of an enormous hydroelectric central (the world's third largest one).

This means the death sentence for ALL the tribes living at the shores of the river because the barrage will flood more or less 988,421 acres of the forest. More than 40 000 natives will have to find other living surroundings where they will be able to survive. The destruction of the natural habitat, the deforestation and the disappearance of several species of plants and animals will be a fait accompli.

We know that a simple image is the equivalent of a thousand words, it shows the price to be paid for the "quality of life" of our so-called "modern comforts." There is no space in the world anymore for those who live differently. Everything has to be smoothed away, that everyone, in the name of globalization must lose his and her identity and way of living.

If this enrages you, I urge and implore you to "SHARE" this message to all your friends, relatives and acquaintances.

Thank you in the name of life, nature and biodiversity.

This text, and its attendant imagery, crystallizes the central features of a political semiotics of representation. For Haraway, what lend support to problematic modes of representation, like those employed by the above post, are sharp bifurcations between ontological categories (such as nature versus culture) and the ethical and epistemological hierarchies these categories are entwined with. Here "life, nature and biodiversity" are constructed as needing to be spoken for, and it is presented as the responsibility of those in the Global North to speak up for the Kayapó (and communities in the Amazon region) in order to preserve their "way of living." The approach taken in the meme thus rushes to denunciate industrialization and offer straightforward solutions to the social and environmental problems it engenders but, in doing so, forces entangled concerns to fit neat ethical narratives. In addition to adhering to a logic of representation that reproduces hierarchical orderings of relations, this form of representation undermines the work of those closest to the situation at stake. Alongside the meme's paternalistic sentiment, for instance, the accompanying photograph echoes Haraway's wariness of the way images used in advocacy often strip those being depicted from their "constituting discursive and non-discursive nexuses," enabling them to be "relocated in the authorial domain of the representative."


Excerpted from "What Comes After Entanglement?"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Duke University Press.
Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction  1
1. Articulations  21
2. Uneven Burdens of Risk  46
3. Performing Responsibility  69
4. Hierarchies of Care  98
5. Charismatic Suffering  118
6. Ambivalent Popularity  142
Conclusion: An Ethics of Exclusion  171
Notes  183
Bibliography  225
Index  241

What People are Saying About This

Cyberprotest: Environmental Activism Online - Jenny Pickerill

What Comes after Entanglement? is an exciting and novel book. It is unique in its combination of innovative theoretical explorations of activism and social change with suggestions for practical political interventions. Crucially, Eva Haifa Giraud explores the messy practicalities of activism. The findings and significance of her book go far beyond the case study focus on a broad variety of animal activism since the 1980s, which weaves together different times and places in really interesting ways.”

Death of the PostHuman: Essays on Extinction - Claire Colebrook

“Eva Haifa Giraud does not accept relationality theory without question. The force of her work is her seeing theory as in need of a thinking-through that does not simply apply it to situations, but instead sees the situated work of activism as rendering our notion of theory and relationality in a more nuanced fashion. I don't know of any other text that follows through on the activist potentials in the theories Giraud draws from as much as this one does. An impressive work.”

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