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Dimitris Papadopoulos, Experimental Practice: Technoscience, Alterontologies, and More-than-Social Movements

Durham: Duke University Press, coll. “Experimental Futures”, 2018
Mathilde Pellizzari
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Dimitris Papadopoulos, Experimental Practice: Technoscience, Alterontologies, and More-than-Social Movements, Durham : Duke University Press, coll. “Experimental Futures”, 2018, 337 p.

Cet article est une traduction de :
Dimitris Papadopoulos, Experimental Practice: Technoscience, Alterontologies, and More-than-Social Movements [fr]

Texte intégral

  • 1 In Européennes 2019: les listes «gilets jaunes» obtiennent moins de 1% des voix. (2019, May 27) Le (...)

“The French “yellow jackets” rallied in the streets but not in the ballot box.” Le Figaro posted after the 2019 European elections. “The two lists from the social contestation movement, which has provoked the biggest crisis of Emmanuel Macron’s five-year term, collected less than 1% of the votes in the European elections on Sunday, May 26.”1

1The failure of the French yellow jackets to penetrate European institutions is the class of contemporary failures that forms the starting point of Dimitris Papadopoulos’ latest book, Experimental Practice: Technoscience, Alterontologies, and More-than-Social Movements. How can social movements instill social change in existing institutions? How to grasp the substance of social movements in the technoscientific era? The author addresses the question of social transformation, or rather more-than-social transformative movements at the level of matter. At the crossroads of science and technology studies and philosophy, the book explores ways to escape the financialization of everyday life –or biofinancialization– through the crafting of alternative forms of life, what the author calls alterontologies. In other words, autonomous spaces of existence can, and indeed do materialize where matter and technoscience are decolonized from the epistemic principles of the Global North.

2Experimental Practice tackles a problem of collective organization. In fact, the author seeks to bring about new forms of commons, decolonized from biofinancialization. Papadopoulos argues that commons such as knowledge, information and communication technologies, material and ecological commons, everyday sociality, need to escape the current regime of biofinancial accumulation. The book proposes a framework for analyzing alterontologies, showing that existing (e.g. maker and hacker spaces) or past movements (e.g. AIDS activism in the 1980s) can be seen as such, thus opening avenues for more-than-social movements in the future.

3I choose to focus on three aspects of this abundant work. I will first reflect on the means used by the researcher to think outside of the biofinancialized straightjacket. In Experimental Practice, the author embarks on his own epistemological decolonization in order to carry out his investigation. Then, I will unpack the central notion of “experimental”, which nowadays takes on various meanings. In the third section, I will question the assumptions that found the analysis of alterontologies, i.e. the desirability, for the actors of social movements, of alternative modes of existence. I will conclude with a broader reflection on the meaningful shift from “social” to “more-than-social” movements.

Methodology and Engagement, How to Shape an Alternative Knowledge

4Experimental Practice aims to explore alternative forms of existence. The author raises a naive question: how to carry out research and to write social science to allow for a conceptualization of the making of new ontologies? Firstly, Papadopoulos defines himself as a “disciplinary nomad” and he indeed advocates interdisciplinary research. For example, he leads the international EcoSociety program, which focuses on ecological transitions in their multiple dimensions2. To formalize his speculative ambition, the author has developed a methodology called social science fiction. This allows him to speculate, or fabulate3, in order to take part in the experimentation of new ontologies in the course of his investigations.

5In practice, social science fiction consists in turning history into stories, in crafting concepts while showing snatches of empirical information, and in fieldworking actively. Indeed, based on his own activism and research, Papadopoulos proposes an approach he calls baroque fieldworking, which one can easily picture as winding and abundant. He seeks to manage the inevitable excess of fieldwork, without prioritizing any form of material: interviews, photos, concepts are unfold in parallel. In sum, the author invites the reader to think outside of the boxes of research and through one’s own activism.

6Experimental Practice assembles rich investigations, combining historical incidences, conceptual resources, and empirical material –though we can regret that the latter is not made more visible. In particular, Papadopoulos uses a long fieldwork study of the mundane practices of mobile migrants, and he rephrases these in terms of alterontologies that allow migrants to live as being free to move. He also draws from an extensive fieldwork study of maker and hacker spaces in the British East Midlands and beyond. This latter study looks at how an experimental form of technoscience changes the ontological fabric of the world and thus the conditions of knowledge production. For Papadopoulos, “real political disagreements” (Rancière, 1998) are placed at an ontological level, and the challenge he sees in social movements is precisely to manage to constitute “ontological disagreement” (de la Cadena, 2015), that is, to materialize alternative worlds that remain in relation to each other.

Experimental Creation

7Papadopoulos calls experimental practice “all these very diverse activities and ways of being that allow such ontological disagreements to be enacted and set in motion” (p. 207). Lately, experimentation has been used in very different contexts. The author of the book draws on Isabelle Stengers’ notion of “experimental achievement” (2000), which characterizes modern scientific knowledge as the result of experimental testing. Papadopoulos extends the notion to today’s technoscience, characterizing experimental achievement in terms of “distributed experimentation”, or “distributed invention power”.

8The author unfolds his use of the term ‘experimental” in the final chapter, “Crafting ontologies”, focusing on the form that technoscience takes in maker and hacker spaces. The experimental work he observes takes place outside the pressure of innovation, measurement, or the need for spaces, and it results in creation. Papadopoulos relates experimentation to what he calls compositional politics, which leads to the creation of “alternative forms of life that allow the renegotiation of a given constituted order to take place” (p. 154). In the case studied, the maker culture is characterized by its compositional nature as well as a distributed invention power. According to the author, the invention process is a moment of coexistence instead of exchange between actors, marked by the retreat of the self and the emergence of new commons, or rather new forms of being in common. It is “DIWY: do it without yourself” (p. 181).

9However, the notions of being in common and retreat of the self could be problematic in the eyes of the makers and hackers, who could still care about their individual identity and about the purely social aspects that the book tends to neglect in favor of the “more-than-social” qualification.

Do we Want Alternatives?

10The book leaves unanswered the following questions: Where does the “alter” begin? When does practice become alternative? Papadopoulos dedicates one chapter to the constitution of AIDS activism in the 1980s. He does not seek to provide an answer to these questions, but he investigates the roots of alterontologies. The author shows how a spontaneous movement succeeding in significantly reforming existing institutions, in particular clinical trials. He starts from this conclusion and looks back at the conditions that allowed the production of longstanding changes –or alterontologies– within technoscientific networks. The reader understands how AIDS activism transformed the many lives of those concerned in an unprecedented way, including access to treatments. However, the “when” and “where” questions remain open, leaving the stakes of alterontologies difficult to fathom.

11Furthermore, Papadopoulos’ idea of creating alternative forms of existence may clash with the demands of current social movements, such as those of the yellow jackets in France. While the author calls for an “alternative” approach to politics, given the inability of past and present movements to instill transformations in governments and institutions, this call may not resonate with the aspirations of citizens determined to reject existing political and social categories. Indeed, are the demonstrators asking for alternative modes of expression? Rather, encouraging alternatives to the current modes of demand could be an invitation to silence these demands and thus, to accept and stabilize an existing institutional system.

Conclusion

12By putting forward an ontological conception of political disagreements, Papadopoulos shows the importance of rooting divergences in matter, what he calls the creation of “alterontologies”. The book thus opens a reflection on “more-than-social” movements, which bring together social and technoscience. The argument of the book resonates with an ecological approach, that is, a theory of existence as an assembly of human and non-human elements that compose a habitat, a “symbiosis” in the author's terms. “Seeing the work of technoscience as experimental labor reveals how many different types of relations, social groups, species, ecologies, interdependencies, and ways of life participate in the making of knowledge—that is, in the making of ontologies” (p. 189). According to Papadopoulos, it is through the shaping of the habitat that the conditions of knowledge production are transformed, and not through the confrontation of ideas within the material limits of biofinancialization.

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Bibliographie

Bogue, R. (2007). Deleuze’s way: Essays in transverse ethics and aesthetics. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.

de la Cadena, M. (2015). Earth beings: Ecologies of practice across Andean worlds. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Rancière, J. (1998). Disagreement: Politics and philosophy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Stengers, I. (2000). The invention of modern science. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

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Notes

1 In Européennes 2019: les listes «gilets jaunes» obtiennent moins de 1% des voix. (2019, May 27) Le Figaro. Retrieved from: https://www.lefigaro.fr/elections/europeennes/europeennes-2019-les-listes-gilets-jaunes-obtiennent-moins-de-1-des-voix-20190527 [accessed on 14/05/2021].

2 For more information, visit https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/research/research-areas/ecosocieties/our-research/index.aspx [accessed on 14/05/2020].

3 Papadopoulos specifies in note 70 to chapter 2: “From Bergson via Deleuze, “the goal of fabulation is to break the continuities of received stories and deterministic histories, and at the same time to fashion images that are free of the entangling associations of conventional narratives and open to unspecified elaboration in the construction of a new mode of collective agency” (Bogue, 2007, p. 106).”

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Référence électronique

Mathilde Pellizzari, « Dimitris Papadopoulos, Experimental Practice: Technoscience, Alterontologies, and More-than-Social Movements »Revue d’anthropologie des connaissances [En ligne], 15-2 | 2021, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2021, consulté le 22 septembre 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/rac/23428 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/rac.23428

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Auteur

Mathilde Pellizzari

Centre de Sociologie de l’Innovation, Mines ParisTech, PSL University
Email: mathilde.pellizzari[at]mines-paristech.fr

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