Infra-Theory, the State Effect, and the Technopolitics of Oil

Interview published on Theory Talks, with Timothy Mitchell, Theory Talk no. 59, Oct 25, 2013.

The unrest in the Arab world put the region firmly in the spotlights of IR. Where many scholars focus on the conflicts in relation to democratization as a local or regional dynamic, political events there do not stand in isolation from broader international relations or other—for instance economic—concerns. Among the scholars who has insisted on such broader linkages and associations that co-constitute political dynamics in the region, Timothy Mitchell stands out. The work of Mitchell has largely focused on highly specific aspects of politics and development in Egypt and the broader Middle East, such as the relations between the building of the Aswan Dam and redistribution of expertise, and the way in which the differences between coal and oil condition democratic politics.  

His consistently nuanced and enticing analyses have gained him a wide readership, and Mitchell’s analyses powerfully resonate across qualitative politically oriented social sciences.  In this Talk, Timothy Mitchell discusses, amongst others, the birth of ‘the economy’ as a powerful modern political phenomenon, how we can understand the state as an effect rather than an actor, and the importance of taking technicalities seriously to understand the politics of oil.

Question: What is, according to you, the biggest challenge / principal debate in current globally oriented studies? What is your position or answer to this challenge / in this debate?

  • Answer: … However, I suppose with my most recent book Carbon Democracy (2011), in a sense there was a big debate going on, which was the debate about the resource curse and oil democracy. That was an old debate going back to the 70’s, but had been reinvigorated by the Iraq war in 2003. But that to me is an example of the problem with big debates, because the terms in which that debate was argued back and forth—and is still argued—did not seem to make sense as a way to understand the role of energy in 20th century democratic politics. Was oil good for democracy or bad for democracy? The existing debate began with those as two different things—as a dependent or independent variable—so you would already determine things in advance that I would have wanted to open up. In general I’m not a good person for figuring out what the big debates are … //

(full long interview text and links to related articles).

(This is the first in a series of Talks dedicated to the technopolitics of International Relations, linked to the forthcoming double volume ‘International Relations and the Global Politics of Science and Technology’ edited by Maximilian Mayer, Mariana Carpes, and Ruth KnoblichPrint version in pdf – his profile at Columbia University – his books on amazon).


US Infrastructure Spending Plunges, on naked capitalism, by , Nov 1, 2013: I’m normally not big on “one chart says it all” posts, but this one is so striking I made an exception …;

Fed Faces Dangerous Stimulus Levels, Is the Fed Losing Control? on Outsider Club, by Daniella Nicole, Oct 31, 2013;  (The Outsider Club;

New coalition, old demands, on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Ahmed Morsy, Oct 30, 2013: Activists from a number of revolutionary and political forces join together to launch the National Partnership Current;

Supervised injection sites are sensible health care interventions, on Left Foot Forward, by LIZ EVANS, October 31, 2013;

Switzerland: a successful national state model, on Current Concerns, by Reinhard Koradi, Oct 14, 2013: Finding the highest common denominator in the struggle against the global centralists: … In the global world, subtle autonomous structures interfere with the unrestricted access to freedom and self-determination on the part of the international circles of power. In recent decades we have tolerated the concentration of power at the expense of the sovereignty of our nation-states almost silently. The parliamentary debate then talks about “swallowing the bitter pill.” But why do it, if the pill tastes so awful? …;

The citizens vote – Brussels decides, on Current Concerns, by Lukas Reimann, National Councillor (Switzerland), Oct 14, 2013: Our Lives Are Under Threat From Some of the Most Powerful and Richest Entities, Here’s How We Can Fight Back and Win, on ZSpace, by Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben, April 11, 2011;

vu dans

Comments are closed.