Conference: Technosciences of Post/Socialism

This looks like a great STS conference, bringing together research into socialism, post-socialism, ‘the political’ and ‘the economy’. To be held later this year in Budapest. More info through here. A brief summary, below:

Technosciences of Post/Socialism

Budapest, Hungary – 3-5 September 2015

Supported by EASST

Despite the widespread popularity of Science and Technology Studies (STS), the field has remained remarkably silent about the plethora of experiences offered by the former socialist bloc connected to technoscience. While the grand experiment of constructing ‘socialism’ heavily relied on the ambitious promises of technoscience, this aspect is absent from the discussions of postsocialism and ‘transition’. On the other hand, various approaches in the social sciences (e.g. political economic, post-colonialist) focusing on Eastern Europe have often treated knowledge production and technology in relatively underconceptualised and often quite instrumental terms. Connecting these approaches to STS with the aim to contribute to our understandings of technoscience, materialities and knowledge production under post/socialism remains an important theoretical challenge. In addition, empirical studies from the Eastern European region may extend the conceptual framework of STS towards alternative conceptualisations of the ‘macro’, the ‘global’, the ‘political’ or the ‘economy’.

The aim of our conference is to address three main questions stemming from the above issues:

  • How does our perspective on the socialist and postsocialist conditions change when studying the technoscientific projects, materialities, and modes of knowledge production in Eastern Europe?
  • In what ways were socialist societies assembled through various technologies and materialities with different spatio-temporal legacies, manifesting in both utopistic projects or mundane objects?
  • Were there any specifically ‘socialist’ regimes of knowledge production in Eastern Europe, and in what ways can the continuities or ruptures of epistemological endeavors and technopolitics change our understandings of academia, political governance, and everyday lives after socialism?

Barter & Petrobarter

‘Barter’, as US anthropologist David Graeber (2011) and others have noted, is not an economic technique that pre-exists capitalism. The commonly assumed teleological subsumption of barter into money, neatly subordinates alternate political economies to the economic metaphysics of the North Atlantic. This should be avoided, as should just about all theoretical subsumptions… Instead, barter should be seen as coeval to other forms of exchange to which it may relate, supplement or stand in opposition. Indeed, Douglas Rogers, another US anthropologist, will speak of “barter articulat[ing] with currency” (2014, p. 133) and in this fashion alludes to the manner in which ‘petrobarter’ may contribute to the making of complex economic realities. This is an important theme that should allow us to show how petrobartering enacts, through the Venezuelan backed Petrocaribe oil energy cooperation program, a particular economic reality. Rogers has for several years studied petrobartering in the Russian context in the early years after the fall of the Soviet Union.

The image makes a direct reference to the exchanges between Venezuela and Nicaragua, and Dominican Republic, where black beans or caraotas and black gold have been at the centre of the novel economic practice between all three countries. In the case of the Dominican Republic, after several years, Venezuela agreed to sell the $4 billion owed to it by the Dominican Republic for $1.7 billion to Goldman Sachs in January 2015.

I have taken the term ‘pertrobartering’ from Rogers and intend to develop in a somehwat broader manner, not only in relation to the Venezuelan case of Petrocaribe, where exchanges are clearly visible, and barter is more or less spoken about in direct terms, but also with reference to the now defunct Ecuadorean case of the Yasuní-ITT Initiative, where less visible ane controversial exchanges premised on oil where also at stake.

For its original formulation, see Douglas Rogers, “Petrobarter: Oil, Inequality, and the Political Imagination in and after the Cold War,” Current Anthropology 55 (2014), 131-153.

PhD Course on Interconnections of Finance and Security

A course organised by the Research School on Peace and Conflict and the SOURCE Societal Security Network

This does look good:

Research School on Peace and Conflict invites applications for the course Interconnections of Finance and Security, 8th -10th October 2015. The course is organized by Nina Boy (PRIO). Course lecturers include Marieke de Goede (University of Amsterdam), Martijn Konings (University of Sydney), Daniela Gabor (University of the West of England), Andreas Langenohl (Justus Liebig University Giessen) and Emily Gilbert (University of Toronto).

The course presents the state-of-the-art of the finance-security literature and features guest lectures by some of the leading scholars in this emerging field. The cross-disciplinary problematic will be relevant for graduate students in the disciplines of security studies, international political economy, international political sociology, economic geography and cultural studies. The course features a roundtable on conceptualizing finance-security relations, offering participants the possibility to follow and contribute to cutting-edge discussions.

The deadline for applications is 20th July 2015. For further information about the course program and admission, please visit the research school course page.

The call was sent by Maral Mirshahi, the Administrative Coordinator of the Research School on Peace and Conflict at the Peace Research Institute Oslo

Panama in Petrocaribe?

Panama Canal, image from World Maritime NewsDuring the recently held Organization of American States (OAS) 7th Summit of the Americas in Panama, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro voiced the opinion that the host country should become a member-state of the Petrocaribe Economic Zone.

Speaking on Venezuelan State television from Panama, Maduro described Petrocaribe as a ‘project for integration, cooperation and solidarity for the peoples of the world’, emphasising that ‘it is not about domination’.

Another good statement from Maduro:

‘Petrocaribe is a reality, it is not a trick, it is not a project to dominate and conquer countries via transnational corporations. Petrocaribe is a project to liberate pueblos, it is a project of solidarity’.

Here Maduro purposefully defines Petrocaribe against another and more recent project that would seek to dominate and colonise via multinationals. He is, of course, referring to the US Caribbean Energy Security Initiative (CESI) which US Vice-President Joe Biden launched on 26 January 2015 in Washington, though in the pipes for much longer.

I wonder how Juan Carlos Varela’s government reacted to the Petrocaribe invitation?

Though the people of El Chorillo, with whom Maduro spoke prior to the Summit, were pleased with the prospect of greater ties between Venezuela and Panama. There Maduro promised he would present a letter to US President Obama, drafted by the Panamanian Commitee of Victims, stating the demands of those who suffered the 1989 US invasion.

In this context, a few days earlier, Obama had visited Jamaica to meet with CARICOM leaders. TeleSUR emphasises the significance of this trip by outlining the fact that this will be the first visiti by a US president to the island since Ronald Reagan’s 1982 visit, which was widely interpreted as an occasion for the US to mitigate the influence of the Cuban revolution in the region.

More, through here, here, and here.

Critical oil politics / Governing oil in left turn Latin America

My research into ‘critical oil politics’ and the ‘governing of oil’ through ‘21st century socialist’ or ‘left turn’ oil policies and programs in South America —chiefly, Venezuela’s Petrocaribe and Ecuador’s Yasuní-ITT Initiative—, focuses on the role played by a series of novel technical and economic artefacts or devices born of socialist expertise that have emerged together with these programs’ equally innovative oil political practices (e.g. ‘petrobartering’ and the ‘oil moratorium’). The research project is concerned with both the novel technical or ‘technopolitical’ economic knowledges and petro-formulas that calculate distribution or produce forms of value and debt, and, more generally, construct a specific reality for political economy or socio-technical world, and with the equally innovative oil political practices the latter accompany. These practices, knowledges and technical artefacts embody, I claim, a socialist or left turn ‘language of value’ for oil. Furthermore, the governing of oil (i.e. the deployment of these novel practices, techniques and the development of these forms of expertise) puts into play particular forms of enacting and assessing the relations between ‘nature’, ‘society’ and ‘the economy’.

In addition, the governing of oil in the cases of Petrocaribe and the Yasuní-ITT Initiative embodies and deploys specific ‘processes of equalisation’ between the particular constructs of ‘nature’, ‘the social’ and ‘the economy’ present in the practices and knowledges the projects assemble. I refer to this general phenomenon as the ‘distribution of the political’. It is in this manner that my research while focusing on the technical knowledges and expertise translating and innovating 21st century socialist oil governance, seeks to analyse the making political of oil and the making of the political through oil.

The research project is interdisciplinary in nature and builds theoretically and methodologically on critical international political economy (IPE), science and technology studies (STS), social studies of the economy, and is itself a contribution to Latin American studies and postcolonial modes of inquiry in international relations (IR).

Disciplinary areas

Political science, international relations, international political economy, science & technology studies, social studies of the economy, Latin American studies, social and political theory, postcolonial studies

Reading Venezuela

Turmoil, Betsy Jones
The situation in Venezuela is, once again, being analysed in the political media as things heat up. Greg Grandin in The Nation has asked a couple of well-known Leftist researchers on Venezuela to briefly offer their perspectives on the current situation. Over in The Conversation, Marco Aponte-Moren and Lance Lattig offer a different assessment that echoes the more common portrayal and narratives on Venezuela.

I certainly think it is important to underscore the difficult and real day-to-day situation Venezuelans live in the name of a democracy to come, but writings on Venezuela cannot merely do this. It is critical to emphasise the broad shift in doing politics that has taken place and what is indeed politically at stake in Venezuela after 15 years of ‘revolución bolivariana’. The current set up may well be muddling 21st century socialism for the many versus rentierism + neoliberal wealth for the few; we can work with and critique the former, but only resist the latter.

The hopeful analysis, here, and the sobering reading through here.