If the pinboard makes complexity in a way that narrative does not, then this book makes complexity in a way that a historical or technoscience ‘‘story of a technology” would not. That’s it. It makes complexity. For though the complexity of the pinboard was always there alongside the linear travel of storytelling, and the purificatory narratives of modernity were always both dangerous and dangerously misleading, to narrate and to juxtapose have an effect. Narration is not separate from what it narrates. And neither is the pinboard. Both are performative. So making something like a pinboard helps to perform pinboard objects into being. More or less. It talks down the eliding performances of consistent narrative. More or less. It performs objects, more overtly, as collages or pastiches, as multiplicities or frac – tionalities that escape the possibilities of singular narrative.6 In short, it makes a difference to that mirror-image pair, modernism and postmodernism, and the dualist politics that they imply—the choice between a smooth ordering or a set of disconnected fragments. Making a pinboard escapes those binarisms and practices something that might be imagined as an ontological politics—a politics about what there is in the world (Mol 1999 and Law 1996b). What there might be in the world. An interference in the conditions of possibility for the kinds of things that might exist in the world. Between the singular and the plural. Homage, then, to Michel Foucault for teaching us that there is no innocent knowing. For to know is to perform, to participate. To make a difference, one way or another.
So far, so good. But now I want to deal with the question of political responsibility and irresponsibility. What is the character of this problem? It is sometimes said that to work with something like the logic of the pinboard is to simply to play at being ‘‘postmodern.’’ It is to refuse to take matters seriously. No doubt the argument comes in various forms. There are questions to do with rigor, methodological questions. There are issues arising in theory to do with what methodology looks like if simple narratives and conclusions are not possible.
198 Pinboards And then there are ethical or political questions. For the suggestion—
no doubt it is sometimes an accusation—is that this kind of exercise is a form of politically irresponsible play. Or, again, that it merely indulges in a form of aesthetics. To make pastiches may feel good. It may even look good. But it is not really serious. And, in particular, it doesn’t engage with the real political problems of the world.
To specify, the criticism is that if we don’t tell powerful stories about the great distributions—for instance ethnicity, gender, or class —then we stand precious little chance of making a difference to those distributions. Instead we are simply playing from a privileged position.
No doubt there is something in all this. Pinboards don’t work in the same way as stories, and politics is no doubt often well pursued through essentialisms—strategic essentialisms?—made in, and helping to make, larger stories. But there is an alternative view. It is that large stories, with their requirement for overall coherence, miss out on important features of the world. They miss out on the oscillation between singularity and multiplicity, on fractionality, which I have already discussed. But they also miss out on distribution.
Perhaps an analogy will help. In 1980 three sociologists, Nick Abercrombie, Stephen Hill, and Bryan Turner published a book called The Dominant Ideology Thesis (1980) in which they explored the Marxist use of the term ideology. They argued that society in its various antagonistic modes was not, as many Marxists believed, held together Pinboards 199
by a dominant ideology. If there were a dominant ideology, it was rarely important in keeping working people in order; at most it tended to help hold dominant groups together by securing certain attitudes to property—though even this was uncertain, at least in modern times.
If Abercrombie, Hill, and Turner were wrestling with the dominant ideology thesis, then perhaps what we are wrestling with here is something that is even more powerful. Perhaps we are running up against what we might think of as the dominant narrative thesis. I’ve already made this argument in other terms: the dominant narrative thesis proposes that behind appearances is a narratable unity. It also supposes—in its political or ethical forms—that unless we narrate that unity we are simply playing games while the powerless continue to suffer. But while there is no doubt game playing, the accusation of moral or political indifference is wrong. Indeed, it is dangerously wrong because the great distributions are sustained as much in the complex and fractional logics of pastiche as they are in the coherent narrations and processes of inequalities. And if this is indeed the case, then it is vital to explore the logic of the pinboard if we want to understand even quite conventional political inequalities instead of colluding with them by performing them again in their splendid singularity.
The great stories about distribution and inequality narrate coherences, for instance, in the forms of global capitalism, patriarchy, and ethnicity. Indeed it is precisely their capacity to relate deep coherences that turns them into great stories. But in the last twenty years we have also learned to be cautious. Zygmunt Bauman (1989) has taught us that the grand narratives of what we call ‘‘modernity’’ are ambivalent: to garden is also to make ‘‘weeds.’’ But now we need to imagine something more, something yet more difficult. This is the possibility that inequalities may be sustained in the play of noncoherent interferences. In what I want to call obdurate incoherences.
And this is a third scandal, which after the substantive and the methodological scandals, we might think of as the political scandal: many inequalities and distributions are fractional effects of noncoherence. Because of this they cannot be addressed and captured in single stories but can only be addressed through a series of different stories that don’t add up very well. Or, if they do, they do so indirectly, as 200 Pinboards it were allegorically, through the logic of the pinboard. And here is
its downfall. ‘‘Why,’’ I was being asked, ‘‘did it go wrong? And what can we learn?’’ This was uncomfortable. But I now believe that it was uncomfortable not only for the obvious political reasons but also because it implied the need for a single narrative, a dominant narration.
If we turn the question around and ask, rather, how it was that the project managed to hang together for as long as it did, then the answer cannot be narrated in a single story at all. Yes, there are stories, many stories about how it held together. Mostly top-down, managerialist stories, stories about control, ordering. I don’t doubt that those stories tell us something important. There was plenty of narratable control and ordering. But neither do I doubt that they miss something. They don’t, or so I am arguing, simply miss out because they are incom – plete—though no doubt this is always the case. They also miss out because the project was held together by interferences between the narratives that cannot be properly narrated within those narratives themselves.
This is the point of talking about ‘‘obdurate interferences’’ or ‘‘obdurate incoherences” and why it is important to mobilize a metaphor like that of the pinboard. For it is the case, or so I am asserting, that the distributions of the social world—project distributions, political distributions, but also the more classic distributions of ethnicity, gender, or class—are sustained as much in narrative incoherence as they 202 Pinboards are in narrative coherence. Are sustained as much in interference be-
tween multiplicities as they are in successful and singular enactment. Thus the need—the great need—is to create sensibilities and toolkits that will allow us to sense, to work upon, and to interfere with those distributions once they escape the possibilities of single stories and enter the logic of oscillation.
There are, of course, many straws in the wind. Old stories about the ways in which reeds bend before the hurricane that destroys mighty oaks. Newer stories about the fluidities of successful social and technical forms, the ways in which these change themselves, never standing still long enough to draw their boundaries or narrate themselves into a single structure. There are the metaphors of fractionality, of partial connection and Donna Haraway’s accounts of the current disorder. So there are many straws in the wind. And this is, indeed, encouraging. For this is where I stop this particular story. In the firm belief that a concern with noncoherence, the logic of the pinboard, the play of the fractional, which is more than one but less than many, is not some irrelevant aberration. It is not simply a game invented by intellectuals to make their discourses yet more complicated and inaccessible. Rather, it is the invention—or the reaffirmation—of ways of knowing that are simultaneously modest and complex, ways of knowing that are necessary if we are to imagine and interfere successfully in the workings of the current disorder. To imagine ways between the singularities and multiplicities of modernism and postmodernism.
The era of the pinboard is upon us. Our simplicities will no longer serve.