An Inquiry Into Modes of Existence Workshop
Chancellor Day Hall: Common Room, 3644 rue Peel
Monday March 24, Tuesday March 25, 9am – 5pm
Proposal by Peter Skafish, Eduardo Kohn and Richard Janda:
We plan to stage an AIME workshop at McGill University among diplomats who each inhabit conceptual universes corresponding to different modes of existence and who have undertaken attempts at translating them into the terms of other universes and/or contesting the terms of the latter. The workshop will consist of two events: (1) a discussion, to take place on Monday March 24, devoted to introducing and commenting on the AIME book’s overall conceptual framework and notion of interlocution with respect to the problem of the global environmental crisis, and (2) a simulated diplomatic encounter, scheduled for Tuesday March 25, whose goal will be to explore what kind of format would allow for “intermodal” diplomacy apropos the problem explored the previous day.
Despite the different realities these diplomats have learned to inhabit, they share in common the following: (1) they take the unprecedented global ecological crisis to be THE political (political-ethical-scientific-technical-etc., or, following Viveiros de Castro, metaphysical) problem facing our times; (2) they feel that the ontological realm they inhabit can furnish unique conceptual tools that can be brought to bear on this problem; (3) they recognize other modes of existence, capable of furnishing other conceptual tools, as well as the need to find ways to move among such disparate modes to establish a new form of collectivity able to face this crisis; (4) and of great importance, they will be thoroughly conversant with the framework provided by the AIME project and are committed to exploring their ontological universe via it; and, finally, (5) they will each present a proposal concerning how their mode of existence, now de-familiarized through AIME, can be re-imagined in the Anthropocene.
The Monday discussion will be aimed at examining and refining the overall AIME project with respect, again, to both its overall project and the relation between the specific modes to be examined. Presentations done by chief participants will show how their own attempts to deal with ontological divergences are both aided by and can contribute to what might be called (in light of Chapter 3 and 4’s argument against treating the particular [REP·REF] conjunction attributed to science as “reality”) the “polyrealism” proposed by the AIME book: If it is now possible to decisively show that there is neither a core reality to be referred to nor a privileged mode of speaking about or configuring “it,” then what sorts of practices of dialogue, translation, and public assembly will open up a “common language”/interlocutory situation in which the best concepts and/or practices each mode has to offer can be accorded equal weight and legitimacy? How can living beings, ecosystems, and “spirits” intervene in our discussions as much as (actual) scientists and the law, and what kind of practice might allow for that to happen in fact and not just in principle or in the imagination? To address these questions, participants will comment on how their own work has attempted to do precisely this with regard to certain modes/conjunctures of modes, offering as they do, constructive feedback on the definition of them offered in the AIME book as well as on the framing of their relations. Furthermore, participants will present their work in a (good humored) polemical spirit in order to bring out the ontological/modal divergences among themselves. A further goal of this Monday event will be to have these presentations function as introductions to the AIME framework accessible to an audience not necessarily familiar with the book.
The goal of the Tuesday simulated diplomatic encounter will then be to work out, amongst ourselves, outside the format of proper academic discourse, the ontological/modal discrepancies brought out the previously day. That is to say, we will push each other to acknowledge exactly where we remain resistant to acknowledging the legitimacy of each other’s modes; for example, can [LAW] accommodate a thinking forest [REP] or extraterrestrial spirits [MET], and can the advocates of the latter two modes really accord [LAW] legitimacy? Can [LAW], [REP] and [MET] respond to Gaia, which is now confronting us is real time?
The aim here will be to expose how we ourselves are necessarily committed to acknowledging only certain kinds of “reality,” and to then work collaboratively toward conceiving how we might accommodate more reality (i.e., become more polyrealist). On that basis, we might hit upon some elements of a workable format for conducting the diplomatic encounter in actual situations not proper to academia. Since we presume Latour and the AIME team will intervene forcefully in the discussion, it would seem that our proposition should yield some results of interest to all parties. Recalling that the environmental crisis furnishes the situation/problematic at the center of the discussion, these results may also be of use to concrete diplomatic efforts that concern it.
For the purposes of this encounter we are proposing to explore in detail four modes that, in the idiom of the AIME project can be recognized as [LAW], [MET]amorophosis, [REP]roduction, and [REF]erence. Richard Janda will assemble a team of diplomats representing [LAW] in its relation to [REP]. Peter Skafish through his engagement with the conceptual universe of channels will represent [MET], and Eduardo Kohn will think with forests to explore [REP] and [REF]. In addition, we will recruit other community members, all diplomats in their own right, who will either add to these modes, or in certain instances either add other necessary modes or allude to absent modes (This will not be an exhaustive exploration of modes, and we hope that there will be a logical cohesion and a productive synergy among the subset of the modes we will explore).
Participants from McGill and other Montréal universities include:
Ron Niezen (Anthropology and Law, McGill) [LAW]
Vincent Forray (Law, McGill) [LAW]
Katherine Lemons (Anthropology, McGill) [LAW]
Thomas Lamarre (East Asian Studies, Art Hist. and Comm., McGill) [REP·REF]
Jeremy Stolow (Religion, Concordia University) [MET]
Kregg Hetherington (Anthropology, Concordia University [LAW/POL/REF]
Setrag Manoukian (Anthropology and Islamic Studies [REF/REP/FIC]
V.K. Preston (Performance Studies, McGill) [MET]
Eric Méchoulan (Université de Montreal, French Literature, [FIC]
Jay Ellis (Faculty of Law, McGill University.) [LAW]
Annalise Acorn (University of Alberta, Law) [LAW]
Anne Saris (Law, UQàM) [LAW]
Peter Brown (School of Environment, McGill) [LAW]
Angela Fernandez (Faculty of Law, University of Toronto) [LAW]
AIME team members: Bruno Latour, Christophe Leclercq, Pierre-Laurent Boulanger, Patrice Maniglier
Logistics and Format:
We envision approximately fifteen members to complement the five or so AIME team members that Bruno Latour plans to bring. We also envision an audience who will not directly participate in the encounter but whose commentary will be solicited following the encounter proper.
After an initial introduction of the format, goals, and stakes of the workshop by the organizers and Bruno Latour, Skafish, Kohn, and Janda will offer succinct, approximately 40-min. presentations that (1) outline how elements of their respective researches demand considering the disparity between certain modes of existence, as well as a metaphysical framework for making such a comparison, and (2) spell out, in a provocative spirit, possible disagreements between them arising from this disparity. Although these papers will be thoroughly intellectual, their overall purpose will be to be to expose existing ontological conflicts between workshop participants that will then be negotiated. In short, these papers will at once comment on the particular mode they immediately concern while also setting out their authors views of the “rights” belonging to inhabitants or affiliates of these modes, the grievances they might have with those of other modes, and the terms they would like acknowledged by any parties with whom they might enter into discussion.
A two-hour discussion will follow in which another group of participants, each of whom will again have expertise on one of the three modes most under discussion, will offer extemporaneous statements reacting to the impingements onto their modes made in the morning papers. We would ask that these speakers take up precisely the propositions forwarded in the initial papers while also commenting on them via material about their own research. Overall, the goal of this segment will be to further refine and even multiply the divergent positions on the table. Jeremy Stolow will speak for [MET], Thomas Lemarre for [REP], and others on behalf of [LAW]
With all the disagreements, divergences, misunderstandings, on the table, Tuesday will be entirely devoted to the diplomatic “negotiations” proper, which will take place through a series of sessions devoted, respectively, to the [REP·MET], [LAW·REP], [MET·LAW] conjunctures. Each negotiation will, ideally, see a two or three-person group of “representatives” demanding certain concessions from the other while giving something up in turn. The goal will be to broker ontological compromises or agreements in which the character and import of one mode can become apparent from the perspective of another. In this case, participants on one side of a negotiation will be asked to challenge those on the other apropos the latter’s characterization of their own mode, its actual efficacy in addressing environmental crisis, and the strictures it imposes on other modes … and, on the basis of that, to make some demands of it, even as the same process is being imposed on them. Once again, participants are asked to make reference to their own research in order to deepen our sense of the difference modes and their interrelation as well as concretize the diplomatic issues in play.
We anticipate that Bruno Latour will intervene throughout the proceedings, and we ask that he speak after the negotiations are finished and some provisional agreements have been settled on.
Monday, March 24
Introduction from, (1) Janda, Kohn, and Skafish and (2) Bruno Latour and AIME Team. Introductions from all participants.
Richard Janda, 1:30-2:15 ([LAW])
A response from [MET] (on 2:45-3:15); Jeremy Stolow.
A response from [REP] (3:15-3:45); Tom Lamarre
A response from [LAW] (3:45-4:15); Annalise Acorn
Final Remarks/Concluding discussion 4:30-5:00
Tuesday, March 25
Introduction 9:00-9:30; Latour, Maniglier, Janda, Kohn, Skafish
Settling the Balance/Tentative Agreements—Or: Agreeing to Disagree, 3:30-4:00
Final Remarks from Bruno Latour, 4:00-5:00