Political grammars seminar

‘Politics-States-Space’ & ‘Securing against Future Events’ seminar


16 MAY 2013

2pm-5pm Geography West Building Room 205

What is the grammatical form of our contemporary political moment? As rules of structuring and ordering, as a means of arranging combinatorial possibilities, grammars make some political claims possible whilst silencing others. The aim of this seminar is to reflect upon what grammatical readings of the political can illuminate of contemporary life. Understood as the rules that condition the possibility of making sense and being heard in the world, contemporary grammars seem to reassemble relations for non-linear forms of causality and for new claims about humanity. What happens when some configurations become sedimented, as foundations or grounds? For example, what possibilities are foreclosed when specific posthuman grammars claim the end of humanity, or when algorithmic grammars render possible inferential combinations of “if, and, then…”?  Do contemporary political grammars incorporate all potentialities, all future claims, within the tight logic of their formulation? Or are there spaces between the lines, gaps in the conjunctions that open onto an ethics without grounds, onto other potentialities?


Dr Veronique Pin-Fat (Politics, Manchester University)

‘Cosmopolitanism and the End of Humanity: A Grammatical Reading of Posthumanism’

Deploying a ‘grammatical reading’ the paper explores the ways in which specific posthuman grammars produce the ‘end of humanity’. I suggest that those grammars are rendered conspicuous by Stanley Cavell’s reading of skepticism. The paper goes on to explore the implications of this for liberal cosmopolitan commitments and suggests an ethico-political response in the form of a non-foundational cosmopolitanism. I propose that, tricky though it may be, a cosmopolitanism that embraces the end of humanity can be formulated and defended as a moral commitment to humanity. A cosmopolitanism without foundations, I suggest, is one way to overcome the skeptic’s fantasy that we are hidden from each other and with it the belief that our primary relation to the world is one of knowledge anchored to foundational promises of certainty. Instead, a life lived in the world with others is proposed and with it a cosmopolitan commitment to humanity as an unavoidable ethical responsibility.

Prof. Louise Amoore (Geography, Durham University)

‘Security and the Incalculable’

In this paper I explore a specific relation between mathematics and security calculations. Recalling the confrontations between the mathematician Alan Turing and the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein in the 1930s, I am interested in the relationship between intuition and ingenuity. During Wittgenstein’s 1930 lectures on the foundation of mathematics, Turing interjects in order to insist upon the capacity of number: “one can make predictions”. Wittgenstein replies that mathematics “makes no predictions”, but instead is a form of grammar: “taken by itself we shouldn’t know what to do with it; it’s useless. But there is all kind of use for it as part of a calculus”. It is just such a formulation of a calculus or grammar – ‘decision trees’, ‘event trees’, ‘attribute based algorithms’ – that characterises contemporary security. As for Turing, the logic comprises “two faculties, which we may call intuition and ingenuity”. The intuitive realm of imagination and speculation reaches toward a possible solution, while the ingenuity seeks arrangements of propositions. The advent of ‘rules based’ and ‘risk based’ security decisions, then, are always already political because they precisely involve the arrangement of propositions and possibilities.