What a great review here. Although I do not totally agree with the critique, that Mitchell ascribes too much importance to things and not people and their political consciousness, I find the problem of this rather narrow view to be located in the highlighting of his major points, not the entire project itself. Mitchell does not eliminate people’s agency, but rather says that the material structure, the political properties of the energy networks themselves are important, and indeed have obduracy and instill a certain sociotechnical/sociopolitical regime that carries momentum overtime; the sociotechnical systems are co-constituting political order and technical order. Perhaps it gets a bit lost, because his theoretical framework focuses more on the physical dimensions of the system, it is important to remember that these networks are both social and technical, political and scientific, and are necessarily embedded in social relations. This point is essential. Mitchell’s central thesis is that the sources of power and political “stability” associated with democracy have grown up with and are indeed dependent on a sociotechnical system of energy networks, its physicality and resources, institutions and supporting organizations, and now that the resource base is dwindling, the infrastructure is crumbling, we are faced with a situation which mandates new possibilities and alternatives (optimistic reading) of socio-political organization.
Mazen Labban – visiting professor in the Department of Geography at Rutgers University, Antipode author (see here and here) and International Advisory Board member, and author of the excellent Space, Oil and Capital – here reviews Timothy Mitchell’s Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil. It’s an exemplary review – substantive, engaged and critical – and can be read either below, or as a pdf here.
Timothy Mitchell, Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil, New York: Verso, 2011. ISBN: 9781844677450 (cloth); ISBN: 9781844678969 (ebook); ISBN: 9781781681169 (paper)
As Something Animal
“If a lion could talk, we could not understand him” Wittgenstein (1958: p.223) remarks towards the end of the Philosophical Investigations. Lions have a “form of life” different from that of human beings, a form of life inaccessible to human beings, which makes their hypothetical language similarly…
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