Theorising the use of hope

In document The Use of Hope: Biopolitics of Security During the Obama Presidency (Page 36-38)

The purpose of this chapter is to establish a theoretical framework from which we can study and understand the use of hope not only as an instrumen- tal conscious activity performed by a pre-defined agent, but as a biopolitical practice, a “weapon used in the biopolitical struggle for Being, in which a decision is made each time on the human and the inhuman on ’making live’ or ’letting die’” (1999a: 147). This framework is based on Agamben’s con- ceptualisation of potentiality not as a “logical or epistemological categor[y]”, but as an “ontological operator” (Ibid.) employed to form the human subject. According to Agamben, it is precisely through potentiality that the subject is produced: “’the subject […] is a field of forces always already traversed by the incandescent and historically determined currents of potentiality and impotentiality” (Ibid.: 147-48, emphasis added). The framework is chosen for multiple reasons, one of which is because it engenders critical examination of the relationship between hope and potentiality that Obama repeatedly articu- lates (2006; 2008b; 2009b; 2009c; 2009d; 2010a; 2013; 2015b; 2015d; 2016a). By defining hope as a use object, the framework also directs attention to the biopolitical ramifications entailed in the concept of use – an activity that is operative on the levels of ontology, temporality and subjectification. As such, the framework garners attention, firstly, to hope as constituted through discursive practices. Secondly, to hope as a temporal experience of movement that governs the future’s coming into presence, and thirdly, to how the subject of hope is formed through exclusion.

While this framework borrows heavily from general post-structural in- sights, such as the attention to discourse and to relations of power and exclu- sions, it nonetheless problematizes a certain way that post-structuralist cri- tique of the post 9/11 state of security speaks about hope. Within this cri-

Theorising the use of hope

tique, hope is often referred to as a capacity or an experience of excess which cannot be contained (Rorty, 1999; Negri, 1999; Massumi, 2002a; Derrida, 2006; Anderson, 2006a; Skrimshere, 2008; Burke, 2011; Bourke, 2014). Hope is also commonly taken to signify an embrace of contingency and radi- cal potentiality, a practice that opens the present towards the possibility of a radically different future (Ahmed, 2004; Evans and Reid, 2014; Eagleton, 2015; Solnit, 2016;). In respect to politics of security, hope is often held as an act of resistance, a refusal to accept fear and division as a fixed reality (Hardt and Negri, quoted in Brown et. al., 2002; Atran, 2008; Skrimshire, 2008; Bourke, 2014; McSorley, 2016; Robin, 2017).

As mentioned in the previous chapter, Susan McManus has referred to this manner of speaking as the “hope project” (2011).17 While McManus

speaks of a ’project’, the way of speaking that I will address in this chapter is not as coherent, as instrumental nor as well-defined as the notion of a project implies. The ’hope project’ is not a unified or pre-defined research agenda. Although working in a post-structural spirit, those included in the ‘hope pro- ject’ do not fully share epistemological and ontological foundations. Some advocates for hope, such as Brian Massumi (2002a), Anderson (2006a; 2006b) and Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (quoted in Brown et. al, 2002), base their research on the philosophy of Baruch Spinoza, others employ a Derridean perspective (Skrimshere, 2008). Others still depart from Foucauld- ian biopolitics (Duffield, 2007; Chandler, 2013; Evans and Reid, 2014) or from Levinasian ethics (Burke, 2011). Despite these differences, however, they all contribute to an idea of and a desire for radical hope, one that, I would argue, is not all that different from the narrative of hope offered by Obama.18

The chapter departs with a literature review that focuses on the relation- ship between hope and global biopolitics of security. This review details the use of hope by both modernist frameworks of liberal progress and by what David Chandler has referred to as “postmodern” (2014: 62) forms of human- centred approaches to global security. Following this exposé, I review how these forms of governance have been critiqued from the vantage point of critical theory, in particular critical studies of security broadly defined (c.a.s.e collective, 2006; DeLarrinaga and Salter, 2014). The reason that this critique is presented is twofold. On the one hand, the review aims to tease out the

17Duggan & Muñoz (2009: 275) has similarly observed the privilege afforded to hope in con-

temporary critique.

18Of course, not all post-strutural theory shares the desire for hope, yet it is common. Rorty

includes in his vision of hope, “anti-platoni[c]” theorists as disperse as Heidegger, Sartre, Gada- mer, Derrida and Foucault, but also James, Dewey, Kuhn, Quine, Putnam and Davidson (Rorty, 1999: xix).

Theorising the use of hope

23 ideas of radical hope that this literature is productive of, and, on the other hand, to problematise how this narrative has rendered invisible the identifica- tion of hope as a biopolitical technology. Throughout this review, the discus- sions will focus on how hope’s instrumentality, ontology, temporality and subjectification has been conceived or assumed in and by biopolitics of secu- rity as well as by its critiques.

In order to move beyond the exteriority between hope and security that is often articulated within critical studies of security, the chapter ends with a discussion on the relationship between potentiality and biopolitics as concep- tualised by Agamben. To be sure, Agamben grants no privilege to hope, nor to potentiality, in the attempt to overcome biopolitics of security. According to Agamben, devotion to the future “is not a question of thinking a better or more authentic form of life, a superior principle or an elsewhere” (2014: 74). For Agamben, the experience of a radical excessive potentiality that often is emphasised by critical studies of security is not outside of biopolitics, but complexly imbricated with the workings of both biopolitics and sovereign power. Indeed, Agamben has argued that “a principle of potentiality is inher- ent in every definition of sovereignty” and that “the sovereign state is found- ed on an ’ideology of potentiality’” (1998: 47). Emerging from this discus- sion is a theoretical framework to study how the use of hope attempts to organise potentiality. Like post-structural theory at large, it does this by fo- cusing on the performative use of language, on the constitutive role of exclu- sions and on the regulation of time – but without privileging hope as an un- containable affect or capacity.

In document The Use of Hope: Biopolitics of Security During the Obama Presidency (Page 36-38)