Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

A New Urban Dispositif? Governing Life in an Age of Climate Change

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

A New Urban Dispositif? Governing Life in an Age of Climate Change

Article excerpt

Abstract. In an interview in 1977 Michel Foucault proposed the term dispositif for a heterogeneous set of discourses, practices, architectural forms, regulations, laws, and knowledges connected together into an apparatus of government. Drawing upon later articulations of the concept by Gilles Deleuze and Giorgio Agamben, and exploring a range of innovations in the 'management' of urban life, this paper reworks Foucault's concept as a means for understanding--and potentially contesting--new modes of government that have emerged in response to the crisis of climate change. Against understandings of 'government' in terms of a totalizing plan from which new practices and technologies usher forth, this paper emphasizes the ad hoc, and ex post facto nature of 'government' as a set of diverse and loosely connected efforts to introduce 'economy' into existing relations in response to a perceived 'crisis'. The paper concludes by exploring Agamben's notion of 'profanation' as an adequate political response to the dispositif of resilient urbanism.

Keywords: climate change, cities, technology, government, profanation

Introduction

In a recent essay Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann (2013) set out a provocative schema by which to imagine a range of climate futures and to identify therein a radical alternative to the present: 'climate x'. Based loosely on the work of Japanese philosopher and literary theorist Koji Karatani, the essay sets out four different scenarios, two of which involve action by a sovereign power at the international scale, and two that do not. These are in turn divided into two that sustain capitalism, and two that overturn it. 'Climate Leviathan' assumes a planetary sovereign that acts to control climate change in ways that sustain the accumulation of capital, such as through carbon credits and emissions trading. 'Climate Mao', in contrast, conjures a noncapitalist future in which a sovereign governs climate change through the rule of law. In both imagined futures the emphasis is on the exercise of sovereignty. Against these they imagine two other scenarios. 'Climate Behemoth' retains capitalism, but it does so in the absence of a sovereign power at the international or planetary scale. Wainwright and Mann see this absence of sovereign power as desirable, yet Climate Behemoth is nonetheless characterized in their account by reactionary localisms, not unlike those that dominate the US Republican Party today, and its anarchy remains the anarchy of the market. Against the first three options, they propose 'Climate x', a still-to-be-determined future that is at once non-state and noncapitalist. While they give little sense of what this might be (the future is 'open', after all), and even less sense of what might be done to arrive at such a future, they see this as the only option that can achieve something like climate justice.

Schemas like this have an intuitive appeal, both because of their simplicity, and because of the utopic futures that animate them. While such schemas have value as a heuristic for "leveraging existing understanding into fruitful new explorations", as Larry Lohmann (2012) puts it, the result is an analysis that is at once overly schematic and strangely disconnected from actual climate change policies and practices."' Moreover, by positing an 'on/off' switch to sovereignty and imagining capitalist-noncapitalist as a simple duality, Wainwright and Mann operate at a level of abstraction that may provide far less insight than imagined into political orders being forged today in the face of climate change, or into the new spaces for politics engendered therein. Indeed, despite--or perhaps because of--their focus on sovereignty and the presence or absence of the state, what Wainwright and Mann leave out of the analysis is the very question that this paper seeks to explore: the question of government. Government does not resolve into simple binaries of state-nonstate, or capitalist-noncapitalist but points to something else entirely: the diverse and often divergent means by which life in liberal societies comes to be managed and modulated in the face of an 'urgency' or 'crisis'. …

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