The Politics of Decisions 2. The Disappearing ”Political”

The second overlapping distribution effaces certain forms of being, and then, more importantly, effaces the fact that they have been ef­faced. This, to be sure, is something that has concerned all those who ever wrote about ideology or the one-dimensionality of the political. But the difference is this: I have no particular notion about what is being effaced and I want to make the argument empirically. This jour­ney will take us first into an inquiry about what is not being effaced and how it is distributed. So how does this work?

The answer is that it varies. It may come in discursive, mathemati­cal, tabular, or pictorial form: any of these may generate one form 148 Decisions or another of a list. But if we stick for now with the discursive, then

in the present case each of the exhibits performs relations between a series of options. Each performs relations that distribute these op­tions within the class of realities, distribute them as more or less desirable. It may do so directly as, for instance, in exhibit 7.5, or in­directly and by implication, as in exhibit 7.6.

EXHIBIT 7.6 ”The decision has been taken after a thorough review of all the infor – mati on that can be made available. The basic facts are that the TSR.2 i s too expen­sive and has got to be stopped. The planned programme for the TSR.2 would have cost about £750m. for research, development and production.” (Defence 1965, para. 2)

So such discursive moves operate to rank options. But this is just the beginning, for we are not dealing with a single discourse, a single mode of distribution. Rather, options are being mounted, performed, and ranked in several ways and in several discourses: indeed, within a multidiscursive space. For instance, the last part of exhibit 7.5, and exhibit 7.6 (again taken from the Ministry of Defence press re­lease) both talk of costs. They say that the F111A is cheaper than the TSR2. But the earlier part of exhibit 7.5 argues on quite different, strategic grounds—hinting that under certain circumstances both the TSR2 and the F111A might compare unfavorably with alternative British aircraft10 (a possibility obliquely picked up by Crossman in exhibit 7.7).

EXHIBIT 7.7 ”We are cutting back the British aircraft industry in order to concen­trate on maintaining our imperial position East of Suez. And we are doing that not because we need these bases ourselves but because the Americans can’t defend the Far East on their own and need us there.” (Crossman 1975, 156)

And there are further kinds of discursive distributions, for instance, to do with the viability of the British aircraft industry or the national balance of payments (see exhibit 7.1), but since I am concerned with the similarities and the interferences, we do not need to go into these here. For if each is mobilized to perform difference, to construct and distribute aircraft options, and to rank those options, then this all de – pendsonthevery possibility of comparison. Each difference depends

on making judgments, judgments between options, judgments that depend on their similarity. It thus involves the performance of a series of homogenizing moves. This may sound odd, given that we are deal­ing with one of the most controversial decisions in British defense policy since the Second World War—or, indeed, that we are dealing with a multidiscursive or at least a fractionally discursive rather than a monodiscursive space (a point to which I shall return). Nonetheless, the performance of these differences is framed within the possibility of accountability. It depends on, it could never be mustered without, the performance of a framing of similarity, of singularity.11

Two points.

(1) Decision making tends to perform itself as the cockpit of differ­ence. It is where, as it were, different options are brought together and focused. Nowhere is this clearer than in High Politics, where the dif­ferences that are said to be important are worked out in debate. But though all of this is right, it is right only to the most limited degree be­cause the performance of discursive difference precisely depends on the performance of discursive similarity. The making of difference, the kind of difference performed in decision making, thus demands and rests upon, the possibility of accountable similarity. That which cannot be said, or at any rate cannot be said in the right place, re­moves itself from the place of the Political becoming something quite Other.12

(2) This follows from the first point. If decision making tends to perform itself as the cockpit of important difference, then it performs not only a distribution between what may be said in important places where big decisions are made and what may not, but it also denies that anything ‘‘important’’ (or, for instance, politically serious) has been effaced. In other words, it performs most of the relations in the world as Unspeakable because they are ‘‘technical,’’ a matter of ‘‘detail,’’ or ‘‘aesthetic,’’ or ‘‘personal,’’ or because they belong to the realm of‘‘fic – tion’’ or whatever.

And this is the second great technology of important decision mak­ing, another product of interference and collaborative overlap be­tween different performances. It is one that we have come across in other guises—for instance, in the form of delegation of the pictorial into the ‘‘merely illustrative.” But now we can see that it increases its 150 Decisions size by effacing the fact that it effaces almost everything that might in

another world be counted as important.13 Or, to put it a little differ­ently, in the context of big important Politics it deletes almost all of what we might call ‘‘the political’’ when this is understood as a tex­ture of distributions and distributive possibilities performed in and through all relations.

The Politics of Decisions 3. Collusions about the Importance of Place

Real decision makers are (made) powerful. For instance, they com­mand obedience and, then again, they make ‘‘decisions.’’ Both of these traits imply the performance of further distributions that have to do with agency. For real decision makers are made as agents. They act, and, in the extreme case, they are not acted upon. This may sound obvious but should not be taken for granted—for there are other con­texts in which, for instance, the TSR2 is endowed with the power to act. We have seen circumstances and locations in which the tech­nology, the machine, is performed as mobile, active, virile. We have seen how virility is built by distributing to passivity features of cul­ture such as other agents (the enemy or the home) or parts of nature (such as landmarks or clearings in the woods), which (since the effect is one of contrast) means that these wait, wait to be acted upon by the aircraft.

But this is not what is happening here. The distribution is quite the other way round. It is people, specific people or particular collectivi­ties of people, who are being performed as active. So we have cabinet ministers, these are made to be active. And then we have the cabinet itself, which is certainly being performed as an entity with the power to act. At the same time various aircraft, and in particular the TSR2 (but no doubt such other actors as the F111A) are being rendered pas­sive as they wait for the decisions of cabinet ministers and the cabinet.

Such, at any rate, is one of the distributions being performed in all the early exhibits. Indeed, so thoroughly and pervasively is it being performed (in this world who could imagine an aircraft making a de­cision?) that it is never said in as many words, but simply taken for granted.14

So to talk of‘‘decisions’’ is to perform ‘‘decision makers’—here poli – ticians—as agents. They act, but they also act in the right place at the right time; for otherwise their acts are ineffectual or they are not Decisions 151

“important decisions.’’ And here, to be sure, the right place at the right time means ‘‘the cabinet’’ or (to make similarities out of differ­ences) ‘‘the government” (or ‘‘Her Majesty’s Government”). To borrow a phrase from actor-network theory, these are the obligatory points of passage fashioned to be the center of the political universe, the places through which everything is made to pass.15

This is all very straightforward. Indeed it is obvious to the point of banality. The problem is that its very banality tends to deaden our critical faculties. So we need to remind ourselves that ‘‘the right place’’ and the ‘‘right time’’ are not given in the order of things, but that they are rather conditions of possibility made within sets of rela­tions, generated in difference.16 So, like the other differences we have discussed, powerful places are to be understood as the effects of the interferences between distributive performances, even (or perhaps one might add especially) in the divisions performed by those who do not like what they hear about the decisions emanating from those times and places.

Look, for instance, at the distribution performed in exhibit 7.8, which is a parliamentary motion from the Conservative opposition

EXHIBIT 7.8 ”[I beg to move] that this house deplores the action of Her Majesty’s Government in cancelling the TSR2 project.” (Crossman 1975, 132) party. It objects to the cancellation of the TSR2, which means that indeed it makes a difference. It makes a difference between govern­ment and opposition. But, at the same time, it performs ‘‘Her Maj­esty’s Government” in a way that would excite no dissent from Her Majesty’s Government’s most partisan supporter. So ‘‘Her Majesty’s Government” is being made as an obligatory point of passage, the rele­vant obligatory point of passage. In this way of telling, nowhere else is it right to perform the cancellation of the TSR2: the government is made, assumed, to be the place where it is possible to perform that cancellation, where it is appropriate so to do. And all this is being done in a performance made by the ‘‘loyal opposition.’’

This, then, is the third great interference or overlap that produces important decision making and thus the decisions of High Politics. It 152 Decisions is a performance of place, of sociotechnical location. The effect is to

produce a distribution between center and periphery, and to efface the possibility that there are other locations that might escape the gravitational pull of that center—or, indeed, the possibility that the world might perform itself without the need of special centers. But such a thought is, as they say, a fantasy.

The Politics of Decisions 4. ”Important Decisions” and ”Mere Detail”

Now I encounter a methodological problem. This is because I want to make an argument about discretion. I want to argue that the big places where ‘‘decisions’’ are taken, make themselves, are made, discretion­ary.17 As a part of this I also want to suggest that such places are per­formed as seeing further, that they are turned into places where mat­ters are centered or (to use Bruno Latour’s phrase) ‘‘drawn together’’ (Latour 1990). Or at any rate, I want to say that they are performed as having the capacity to act in a far-seeing discretionary manner, even if they are sometimes said to get it wrong, which is what the Con­servative opposition was claiming about the decision to cancel the TSR2. To use a jargon, they are created as centers of translation or calculation.

Discretion and its performance: look again at exhibits 7.9 and 7.10 (the two form a pair). Crossman’s complaint is that he is a cabinet

EXHIBIT 7.9 ”The papers are full of reports about the TSR2 and discussion of whether we are going to cancel it or not. Day after day I read this in my morning paper but as a member of the Cabinet I know absolutely nothing about it. Even on Thursday when we had Cabinet the issue wasn’t discussed. I read in the papers that it was being discussed in Chequers this weekend, with George Wigg and his pals present and people like me completely excluded.” (Crossman 1975, 132)

EXHIBIT 7.10 ”Actually, I am not against what is going on and I shan’t complain; but it is true that when the issue comes up to Cabinet for final decision, those of us who are not departmentally concerned will be unable to form any opinion at all.” (Crossman 1975, 132) minister and that no doubt he will have to vote about the TSR2 one way or another, but that he is not where the action is (which is a ver­sion of the point made earlier about central places). In particular, he

is complaining that he is not where the necessary information is to be found, which means that he is not being performed as a proper, dis­cretionary, decision maker, someone who can take an overview and weigh up the merits of the options. He will not (he says somewhat in­consistently, having just expressed a quite specific view) be able to form ‘‘any opinion at all.’’

So Crossman describes something about the proper performance of discretion and its location, and performs himself in a different, nondiscretionary place. But once again these performances overlap, for there are endless examples allocating discretion to the cabinet, to government. For instance in exhibit 7.8, the censure of the opposi­tion assumes that the government could have acted otherwise and re­tained the TSR2. So, though the difference between government and opposition is real enough, it rests upon the performance of a shared assumption: that the government indeed has discretion in this matter.

But what is the methodological problem? The methods by which cabinet ministers or cabinets are generated as discretionary centers of calculation is difficult to uncover and would require a study unlike the one I’m attempting here. The two points are somewhat related, but I will deal with the second first.

The problem may be succinctly stated. We are here located in the public domain and are watching the performance of a more or less public Politics. To be sure, the boundary between what is ‘‘public’’ and what is “confidential” is a construction (I explored a closely re­lated distinction in chapter 2) and is, even when built, always blurred and subject to renegotiation (Crossman’s diaries record and repro­duce discussions that are scarcely ‘‘public’’). Nevertheless, what I am not doing here is offering the ethnographic or historical material that would be needed to show how the space of discretion—the various aircraft options—is built. I’m not exploring how the discursive ar­guments that rank them are constructed as an effect of the distribu­tions recursively performed within the networks of the administra­tive apparatus. Instead, I am simply reproducing a very small portion of that apparatus, which, let it be noted, in some measure reproduces the position in which the discretionary cabinet ministers find them­selves as they wade through their briefs (see exhibit 7.11 which is by the Ministry of Defence Chief Scientific Advisor).

154 Decisions This, then, is the first version of the methodological problem. I am

EXHIBIT 7.11 ”A few weeks after. .. [Denis Healey] took over, he asked me. . . for a personal appreciation of the TSR2 project, of which, when in opposition, he had been highly critical. As a basis, I used the report that I had prepared for Watkin – son [an earlier Minister of Defence], amending it in accordance with what I had learned in the three years that had followed, and consulting only my own files. Healey went over the report line by line, with me at his side, and in my mind’s eye I can still see him underlining passages.” (Zuckerman 1988, 219) neither in the right place nor undertaking the right kind of study if I want to tell stories about the administrative performance of the cabi­net as a center of translation or explore the performative character of what is sometimes referred to as ‘‘governmentality.’’18

But there is a second and more interesting way of conceiving of the difficulty. This is to say that I am running aground on another distri­bution that is relevant to the performance of decision making—and in particular the decision making of High Politics. Indeed, the traces of such a difficulty are not hard to find in what I have been talking about. For instance, I mention ‘‘the public domain’’ and contrast this with what is “confidential”; and then I talk of the need for a ‘‘detailed’’ ethnographic or historical study; and finally I refer to the ‘‘adminis­trative apparatus.’’ But these are distributive tropes that come straight out of the discourses that perform a centered version of High Politics.

And, like the other instances we have looked at, they perform their distributions asymmetrically in at least two different ways.

First, the division between the public and the confidential operates to (try to) conceal almost everything that might be said about the basis of government and, in particular, about the way in which High Politi­cal discretion is generated. True, as mentioned earlier, the boundary between the public and what is ‘‘properly’’ confidential is permeable.

Crossman’s diaries breach the divide (though they did not do so at the time the events were taking place). And, more generally, the talk of ‘‘leaks’’ bears witness to the frequency with which the divide is breached. But this very way of talking strengthens my point because it also performs the division between that which should be public and that which should not. For (as is obvious) a leak is matter out of place, a displacement of secret fluid that should have stayed in its

container.19 Decisions 155

Second, the division between political decision making and ad­ministration operates, in a hierarchical manner, to distinguish be­tween that which is Politically important in terms of Big Decisions, and that which is not. “Operations,” “administration,” “accountancy,” “technology,” these are terms of contrast. They stand in contrast with ‘‘Political decision making,’’ and this is a contrast that works in at least two ways. First, it works to efface the politically distributive character of technology, administration, and all the rest by implying that these are essentially nonpolitical. This reproduces another version of one of the distributions discussed earlier—the performance of a narrow and specific version of the political, one that indeed limits itself to High Politics. And second (which perhaps amounts to much the same thing) it relegates that which is not told as important decision making to a ghetto, a ghetto that is henceforth called ‘‘detail.’’ We have en­countered this before in several different forms, for instance, in the division between technics and aesthetics and in the organization of the brochure. But this time the divide is posed, at least in part, in terms of interest. It is posed in terms of what counts as interesting and what does not. This argument tells of and performs the command­ing heights of Political decision making while relegating to the distant foothills of detail such routine matters as administration, technology, or illustration.

Discretion and discretionary places are created in a ramifying net­work of representational distributions. They do not exist in and of themselves. But the way in which such representational distributions perform discretion is in large measure concealed, performed as non­political, and imagined as essentially uninteresting technical ‘‘detail.’’ So this is the fourth distribution of decision making, another place of overlap and interference. It is the performance of a distinction be­tween means and ends that graces important decisions, including those of High Politics, with a special place at the top of the greasy pole where the big and important decisions are taken, while effacing all the routines, the politics, that make this distribution possible in the first place.20

The Politics of Decisions 5. Effacing Difference

Earlier I made an assumption about the overlaps between difference 156 Decisions narratives or performances. I assumed that the various ‘‘options’’ per-


Ex. 7.1

Ex. 7.2

Ex. 7.3

Ex. 7.4

Ex. 7.5

Cancel outright





Cancel and order F111A

Cancel and take option on F111A

Cancel and order F111A and Phantom






Cancel and order a British aircraft



Make no decision until strategic review Continue with TSR2





formed in the early exhibits may be mapped onto one another, that they are indeed sufficiently similar that their differences may be ig­nored. But now I want to ask whether this is right. And then I want to pose a much more interesting question that follows from this: If we ignore or, alternatively, attend to the differences between the narra­tives, then what exactly are we doing? This matter takes us to a theme that has recurred in a number of guises: to the politics of difference and their relationship to similarity.21

Table 7.1 performs a similarity by displaying the various options performed by the cabinet in the period March to April 1965 — exhibits 7.1 to 7.5. I shall inquire into the basis of the similarity performed by the table shortly, into what is being done or effaced, in making this list. But first I want to look at the differences that it performs—differ – ences that I earlier more or less elided.

Perhaps there are two ways of treating the divergence between that earlier listing and this table. One is as a question of method. We might argue that the shorter listing was flawed because it ran together im­portant differences between options. Or, as against this, we might ar­gue that the table is unnecessarily fussy. For instance we might insist that some of the distinctions that it draws rest on an unduly literal reading of the various exhibits. Thus we might say that Crossman’s description (exhibit 7.1) of Healey’s position on the F111A is really consistent with that of taking an option on the F111A—and if this is the case then we can collapse these two options together.

The fact is that there is no right answer: any possibility is defeasible in principle.22 Nevertheless, the disagreement maybe understood in two broad ways. On the one hand, we may imagine trying to create a better narrative, one that more closely accords with the events as Decisions 157

these actually took place. In this case we treat it, so to speak, as an issue of method or epistemology, which is what I have been doing in the preceding paragraph. On the other, we may ask what would hap­pen if we abandoned the idea that the exhibits describe a single set of options and instead stick with the idea that they are performing different distributions.

The first approach distinguishes between realities and representa­tions, so it treats the various exhibits, in the way I described earlier, as perspectives: perspectives on a particular event or process, the cabi­net meeting that examined the options, or the options themselves, distributions as they actually were. Historians work in this way daily, and so do detectives, journalists, sociologists, and students of techno­science. We all do so, for different perspectives are to be expected. But why would there be different perspectives? A number of responses suggest themselves—and are commonly deployed:

1. People may forget what happened—for instance, that it was an option on the F111A that was being sought by the government rather than an outright purchase.

2. They may perform differences as unimportant or irrelevant— again the difference between option and purchase. This would fit with a theory of social interests, one which says that knowledge is shaped by social concerns. Looked at in this way some mat­ters, some differences, are simply uninteresting from a given stand­point.

3. They may not know fully what was going, being located, for in­stance, in the public domain rather than in the domain of confiden­tiality. Perhaps Healey’s biographers are in this position.

4. They may deliberately obscure the facts. Exhibit 7.5, the press release, certainly does not say everything that it might have said about the background for cancellation. (Such an explanation would again be consistent with an account in terms of social interests.)

5. And finally, circumstances change so what appears to be contra­diction may simply represent change. Indeed the difference be­tween exhibit 7.9 on the one hand and exhibits 7.1 and 7.2 on the other may be understood in this way (exhibit 7.9 dates from Janu­ary 17,1965 and the others from April 1).

These moves explain difference by assuming that behind difference there is in fact a unity—for instance, in the form of a single cabi­net meeting, a single set of options, a single distribution. They as­sume and perform the perspectivalism discussed earlier; that is, they assume that more or less adequate perspectives can be obtained on events and objects that are out there and independent of their descrip­tions. We are thus in the realm of epistemology and of method. We are in the business of assessing which description or combination of de­scriptions is most satisfactory and is most likely to accord with what really went on.

All of this is standard in the social sciences, not to mention life. But now we might note this: these perspectival, methodological, or epistemological moves would work equally well precisely to conceal lack of unity, to conceal the possibility that there is difference (as one might say) all the way down—and to efface the prospect that there is nothing out there that is independent of the methods through which it is described. Which, to be sure, makes the move toward ontology and performativity developed in chapter 2—while explaining why it is that matters appear to have to do with epistemology, perspective, and method.

In this way of thinking the world, the worlds, are being made in interference between performances and narratives. They are being made, in part, in coordinations or resonances between performances and narratives. And this is what we have witnessed here—for simi­lar distributions make themselves through the various exhibits that I have discussed. Listing, generating discretion, distinguishing be­tween reality and fantasy, effacing that which is turned into ‘‘detail,’’ and then effacing the fact that there is effacing—all of these are per­formed in the more specific narratives and allocations of the cancel­lation decision. And the differences between these narratives, real though they are, tend to distract attention from their commonali­ties: from their tendency to enact similar ontological work—that of making a discretionary center.

But there is something more to be said. The hypothesis would be that places of discretion, decision-making centers, exist because, in the kind of oscillatory motion I have explored in earlier chapters, they are able to enact a distribution between the performance of narra-

tive coherence and simplicity on the one hand and noncoherence and multiplicity on the other. This argument comes in two parts. First, such centers (appear to) make firm decisions because they (appear to) draw things together in a coherent manner—and indeed they do so, because that is what any particular performance enacts. Richard Crossman is clear enough about the options and so too is Harold Wil­son, which suggests that firm decisions are indeed being made. It is just that their lists do not coincide. But this is the second point— they are able to make firm decisions at all because they are, indeed, per­forming many different decisions. All at the same time, and in paral­lel, decisions that are then coordinated and performed as if they were the same, as if they were a singularity.23

I am being cautious. I am not saying that what is being coordi­nated—all these different decisions or lists of options—is incoherent. To say so would be to make a move within the distributions of cen­tered decision making. Rather I am saying that it is noncoherent, that it is complex, and that part of the politics of centered decision making rests on this by now familiar double trick of managing the simulta­neous performance of singularity and multiplicity, of, so to speak, being singular while performing multiplicity, or (it works equally well the other way round) of being multiple while performing singu­larity. So I am suggesting that here there is a kind of double play, a double looseness, another form of heterogeneity, another version of absence/presence, the simultaneous performance of solidity and flu­idity.24 At any rate, the possibility of ‘‘decision making’’ and, indeed, of High Politics rests in an interference, an overlap, where the perfor­mance of similarity depends on difference, and the performance of difference depends on the enactment of similarity.

Such, then, is one strategy of coordination or (it amounts to the same thing) one mode of interference. An interference that makes a fractional object, a decision, that is more than one but less than many.

End Words

In this chapter I have described some of the politics of decision mak­ing, and in particular of High Political decision making. In doing so I have set ‘‘politics’’ with a small p against ‘‘Politics’’ with a capital P. I have argued that big important decision making may be understood 160 Decisions as a somewhat overlapping set of strategically and asymmetrically

ordered performances that enacts a distribution about what is to be acted as political and what is not. It thus legislates most of what (after Michel Foucault) we think of as the textures or the microphysics of the political out ofPolitics. And it also effaces the fact that it is doing so, thereby rendering other possible versions of politics, other kinds of relations, fantastic, unpolitical, irrelevant, unimportant, or inco­herent and hence, unperformable; they are not in the right place at the right time because they do not perform themselves within the great cockpits of debate and contest, those special places of disagreement made within organizations of all kinds, including Politics.

Can we escape the asymmetries performed by the bias to the cen­ter? Let’s admit that this is difficult, for these are real effects, these asymmetries. They are real effects that perform themselves in many places and in many different and interfering modalities. They do so in words, but also in concrete, steel, titanium, in the actions of police­men and students of economics, sociology, politics, and techno­science. They do so in a range of different genres. So they are real enough, and they cannot be wished away. They have, instead, to be performed away. So I repeat the question. Can we escape the asym­metries of the distributions performed by the bias to the center? Might we perform them away? For if we were to do so, we would discover other political worlds to be thought and made, thought and lived.

I believe that the answer is yes, but with difficulty. In the places where noncoherence butts up against coherence, in those places where it can be turned against coherence, slowly the tools are being made, the tools that begin to erode the clean and simple asymmetries of the distribution to the center and detect and decode the erasures that generate centering. These tools will restore difference, multi­plicity, and—most important and most difficult—the oscillations of fractionality. We can tell stories of precursors, in which case I would choose to tell the story of Michel Foucault who discovered or created the contemporary episteme. But we can also tell stories that are closer to home, for in technoscience studies we too are making forms of dis­tribution that begin to escape the methods of centering, alternative ways of knowing that are also alternative forms of politics. And these politics or orderings come, as one might expect, in the form of nar­ratives that only partly overlap, as distributions that (per)form only partial connections.

These forms of politics, these forms of ordering? They acknowledge rather than repress the noncoherence of multiplicity and difference — as in the work of Annemarie Mol. They perform monstrous and par­tially connected beings into new kinds of realities—as in the cyborgs and coyotes of Donna Haraway, the fractional and holographic per­sons of Marilyn Strathern, or the quasi-objects, neither human nor nonhuman, of Bruno Latour. They play in the places between fantasy and reality by translating the epistemic imaginaries of the Australian aborigines—as in the work Helen Verran. They exist in decentered indigenous knowledge traditions—as explored by David Turnbull. They oscillate through ambivalences and cohesions in the health initiatives explored by Vicky Singleton, Anni Dugdale, and Ingunn Moser. Or they dance with great effort—as in the body ontologies de­cried by Charis Cussins.25

So there are spaces, diverse places for performing distributed and interconnected relations. Relations that do not collude with the cen­ters made by or for decision making in or outside High Politics. Alter­native politics that put aside the tired questions of epistemology and begin to imagine worlds where knowing and being recognize the com­plexities of the ways in which they overlap and interfere, celebrate their performativity, and take responsibility for the fact that they are also ontological.

You set about opposing the rhizome to trees. And trees are not a metaphor at all, but an image of thought, a functioning, a whole apparatus that is planted in thought in order to make it go in a straight line and produce the famous correct ideas. There are all sorts of characteristics in the tree: there is a point of origin, seed, or centre; it is a binary machine or principle of dichotomy, with its perpetually divided and reproducing branchings, its points of arbo – rescence; it is an axis of rotation which organizes things in a circle, and the circles round the centre; it is a structure, a system of points and positions which fix all of the possible [sic] within a grid, a hierarchical system or trans­mission of orders with a central instance and recapitulative memory; it has a future and a past, roots and a peak, a whole history, an evolution, a de­velopment; it can be cut up by cuts which are said to be significant in so far as they follow its arborescences, its branchings, its concentricities, its mo­ments of development. Now, there is no doubt that trees are planted in our heads: the tree of life, the tree of knowledge, etc. The whole world demands roots. Poweris always arborescent. — Claire Parnetin Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet, Dialogues

Подпись:Подпись: ARBORESCENCESThe narratives and enactments of decision making perform, and at the same time presuppose, conditions of possibility. They distinguish between—and demand the distinction between—reality and fantasy. They efface what, after Foucault, we have come to think of as the “microphysics” of power, while simultaneously presupposing its operation. They enact and presuppose that there are special and privi­leged Political places. They distribute between what is henceforth to be imagined as important and what is relegated to the supporting role of mere detail. And they presuppose—and indeed require—the sin­gularity of decision making while effacing what they equally require for singularity, namely its simultaneous multiplicity.

Behind this, then, there are two related suggestions. The first is a version of the argument I have made throughout and concerns the co­herence of the oscillation between singularity and multiplicity and

the interferences that it entails. This, then, is the trick of modern/ postmodern alternation and slippage. But the second has to do with what one might think of as the “collusive” character of the interfer­ences between multiplicities: how they efface the ontological work that they perform, and how they conceal the way in which they re­enact the conditions of singular possibility. “Collusion” is a strong word, and I need to be clear that I am not accusing those who tell stories of bad faith. Instead I am interested in the ways narrative fram­ings enact and reenact themselves—and this is the issue that I attend to, in particular, in this chapter. I argue that (apparently) singular nar­ratives collude to produce a (seemingly) singular world with certain attributes such as chronology and scale, a world populated by (osten­sibly) singular sets of objects, and that these conditions of possibility are made rather than given in the order of things. As a part of this ar­gument, I explore the performative character of both academic and nonacademic storytelling more systematically and use the distinction between arborescences (which are grand narratives), and rhizomes (which look more like a tissue of little narratives). First, then, a grand narrative.1

A Grand Narrative

There’s a section of the RAF called the Operational Requirements Branch. We’ve come across it from time to time along the way.

It isn’t very large. Or at any rate, in 1954, it wasn’t very large. The job of the officers seconded to the Operational Requirements Branch was to think long term, to think about the needs of the RAF ten or more years ahead, and to try to imagine the form that ‘‘the threat’’ might take geopolitically—which as we know at that time meant the Russians and their allies in the Warsaw Pact, together with the possible aspirations of new powers in what is now called the ‘‘Third World.’’ They also thought technologi- cally—in terms, that is, of the likely innovations that would be made, in particular by the most advanced of these threats, the Soviet Union.

There was talk throughout the RAF. But papers defining a change in the threat started to emerge from the OR Branch be­tween 1953 and 1955, and what they said is this: the life of the 164 Arborescences British nuclear bomber force is limited.

At this point, to make the narrative work perhaps I need to offer some background, to make some context, some scenery.

Britain was in the process of becoming a nuclear power. It was working toward atomic weapons and was also planning hydro­gen weapons. These were free-fall bombs, weapons designed, in the first instance, to play a strategic role, though they would later be developed for tactical use, to be carried by Canberras. The idea was deterrence. An enemy could be held back by threatening to drop bombs on major cities. These bombs were to be carried by aircraft, by the so-called V-bomber force. We have come across the V-bombers. These were subsonic, medium-altitude aircraft that would fly from bases in the UK or Germany to the Soviet Union. Their existence, together with the nuclear weapons them­selves, provided the British nuclear deterrent.

The life of the British nuclear bomber force was limited. Why?

This is something else I have discussed. The OR Branch feared the advent of surface-to-air, radar-guided missiles. These would, or so it imagined it, be located around major targets such as Mos­cow. And as the technology developed, Britain’s V-bomber forces would become increasingly vulnerable. The Soviet Union was developing surface-to-air missiles, but the technology would take some time to mature and even longer before such missiles were deployed in numbers sufficiently large to make any sub­stantial difference. Nevertheless, the writing was on the wall. By the mid 1960s, ten or more years off, the V-bombers would have become obsolete and Britain would no longer have a nuclear de­terrent—unless something was done.

This, then, is one of the possible branches. Perhaps it isn’t the most immediate for the aircraft project that was to become the TSR2—the aircraft project first called General Operational Requirement (GOR)

339 and subsequently by the more specific Operational Requirement (OR) 343. But it’s important even so.

Unless something was done—but what? If the UK wanted to re­tain its nuclear deterrent (and this was never in doubt, at least in the Royal Air Force and government) then perhaps there were

three possibilities. Arborescences 165

First, it might develop ballistic missiles. Launched from the UK or Germany, or in some versions from aircraft based in these countries, such missiles would be targeted on the great cities of the Soviet Union. And, because of their speed, like the Nazi V2 missiles they would be quite immune to counterattack by surface-to-air missiles.

Second, it might develop a very high-speed, manned bomber. This aircraft, which would also fly at high altitude, would be too fast for surface-to-air counterattack. And, like the first option, would (or so it was suggested) outfly any likely fighter aircraft that were sent up to intercept it.

Third, it might develop an aircraft that would fly very low. So what was the rationale? Such an aircraft would be difficult to spot. If the surface-to-air missiles, or for that matter the intercep­tor fighters, were being guided by radar then the radar needed to be able to ‘‘see’’ the incoming attack aircraft. But radar could only see long distances at medium or high altitudes. Because it worked only along direct lines of sight, and the curvature of the earth, together with unevenness in the terrain, meant that an air­craft flying very low would not be detected until the last moment.

Each of these possibilities was to be explored. Each was, to some extent, to be developed. But the project that embodied the second option was canceled at a very early stage, which left the first and the third—and the third was to turn into GOR 339.

With some modifications. For instance, there isn’t any need to fly low all the way from Germany to the Soviet Union. A radar around Moscow can’t see into Germany and, in any case, it also uses a lot of fuel to fly at two hundred feet. So the proposal be­came this: the aircraft should cruise subsonically and economi­cally at medium altitude while far from its target; then it should fly very high and very fast (Mach 2), before descending to low- altitude subsonic or transonic flight for the approach to the target.

How much detail do we need? How long is a story? How long is a piece of string? How much context is necessary, organizational, stra­tegic, or technical? I’ve told something of each of these. Now here’s another branch to the story. It has to do with ‘‘procurement.’’ As I 166 Arborescences noted in an earlier chapter, procurement is the word they use to talk

about procedures for conceiving, designing, and in particular acquir­ing military aircraft.

In 1945 Britain was still a great power. It had been exhausted by years of war, but it still had a global role, global colonial posses­sions, and global military responsibilities and ambitions. Only with benefit of hindsight was the established wisdom to become that the world was changing, that the economic dominance nec­essary to sustain Empire was no longer a reality, and that geopoli­tics were shifting in favor of the Soviet Union and especially the United States.

So there was a combination of factors: there was the need for global military reach; the years of a war economy that gave the highest priority to procurement; the relative cheapness of Sec­ond World War aviation technology, at least compared with what was to follow; the existence of many aircraft manufacturers in the UK, again built up and sustained by urgent need in the Sec­ond World War. This combination led to a particular pattern of aircraft procurement. The government would order prototypes from several companies expecting that they would be tested and improved. Then, the most satisfactory—or in some cases several of the most satisfactory—would be put into production. This is one of the reasons that there were three quite different types of V-bombers, not just one.

In 1945 the government guessed that a major military threat was at least a decade off, which meant that there was plenty of time to undertake major projects, slowly. They called this the ‘‘long step’’ approach: big technological advances and long time horizons. But then, in 1951 came the Korean War and with it the fear of another global war. This concern led temporarily to a large increase in the numbers of aircraft ordered. Prototypes were rushed into production with sometimes troublesome re­sults. For instance, large numbers of at least one type, the Swift, were never properly put into service at all because the technical problems were not resolved. It was also discovered that although aircraft flew satisfactorily without equipment, they encountered difficulties when armaments were installed or fired. The Hawker Hunter was a case in point.

What was the diagnosis? What was the character of the pro­curement problem—apart, that is, from the rush to rearm brought on by the Korean War? The answer to these questions led in 1955 to two policy decisions about the procurement of mili­tary aircraft. We have encountered the first of these already: that aircraft should be treated as ‘‘weapons systems.’’ They should be designed and built as an integrated system, including weapons, equipment, and airframe, rather than as a ‘‘weapons platform’’ for carrying weapons that were to be bolted on, as it were, afterward —at which point experience suggested that insuperable difficul­ties might emerge. The second was that the development and the production processes should be integrated. A large ‘‘develop­ment batch’’ of aircraft would allow problems to be identified and resolved more quickly, thereby eliminating the bottleneck caused by a limited number of prototypes, and the development aircraft could then be brought up to standard and introduced into service.

Stories about procurement methods. Now back to strategy.

In 1957 the Minister of Defence was Duncan Sandys, a man we have already encountered. Sandys wasn’t much admired by most people in the RAF. They talked, behind his back, of the “shift­ing, whispering Sandys,’’ and we have already seen the reason for this—it was that he was committed to missiles. These, he be­lieved, were the technology of the future. Because the United States and the Soviet Union were developing them, it was appro­priate that Britain should do so too. So he issued a government policy statement, a ‘‘White Paper,’’ in which he boldly announced that the government would no longer develop most forms of mili­tary aircraft. There was certainly no room for manned bombers because the UK would henceforth commit itself to ballistic mis­siles in order to secure its nuclear deterrent.

And what of GOR 339?

Now I need to provide some more context. I need to go into the question of tactical warfare, into a line of storytelling that will dis­place the arguments about nuclear deterrence and procurement. I 168 Arborescences need to describe how GOR 339 really had more to do with tacti-

cal strike and reconnaissance aircraft than with the grand strategic themes I’ve mentioned so far. Tactical strike and reconnaissance: hence the acronym TSR.

Tactical support. This meant bombing bridges, roads, railways, factories, ports, columns of tanks, and airfields. Now we need to distinguish between two forms of tactical support, one on or over the battlefield and the other in the form (to use the jargon) of ‘‘deep interdiction,” which involved bombing targets such as those I’ve just listed, which are miles, even hundreds of miles, behind the battlefield. We have seen that there was an aircraft in service that played this role. This was the Canberra. But it couldn’t fly terribly low and it was subsonic, which meant that many of the same arguments about the vulnerability of nuclear bombers also applied to it. Hence there was need for a ‘‘Canberra replacement,” the GOR 339 aircraft, to play the role of deep inter­diction.

Another branch in the story is reconnaissance. There was need, or so they said in the OR Branch, for an aircraft that could recon – noiter, look and see, and detect military movements and concen­trations, again, miles behind the front line. In an ideal world with limitless resources this would be another project, a different air­craft altogether. But how about combining this requirement with deep interdiction? This was the OR Branch proposal.

Now there is yet another branch in the story, one that I earlier left in the air. This has to do with what we now call the Third World.

Much of the Third World was, at the time, part of the British Em­pire or its client states. We have come across this role, this need to fly, this responsibility for acting ‘‘East of Suez,’’ in countries such as Malaya or Aden. But there wasn’t any need for nuclear deterrence in the ‘‘colonial theater.’’ Third World countries did not yet have nuclear weapons. There was plenty of room, how­ever, for aircraft that could attack tactical targets and undertake reconnaissance in so-called ‘‘brush fire’’ wars. This, at any rate, was the argument of the OR Branch as it reflected on the length­ening shelf life of the aircraft that were currently playing that role.

Now we can rejoin the main narrative. Deterrence and ballistic mis­siles, tactical strike, reconnaissance, procurement and organization: as we have seen, the stories start to come together.

April 1957. This is a crisis point for the RAF in general and for GOR 339 in particular. The Minister of Defence, Duncan Sandys, has announced the cancellation of all new bombers and fighters for the RAF. They will be replaced by ballistic missiles. One or two aircraft types have crept through. One, designed to fly from aircraft carriers, a machine we met in chapter 4 and will en­counter again, is called the NA 39 or the Buccaneer. But what is the future for GOR 339? This is an aircraft that at this stage isn’t even properly on, let alone off, the drawing board.

If you look at the official papers for 1957, they reveal a flurry of correspondence between, for instance, the Minister for Air (who was in charge of the RAF) and the Minister of Defence (who was responsible for all the armed forces). When he promulgated his policy about missiles, the Minister of Defence thought he was canceling all RAF combat aircraft. The Minister for Air thought that the reconnaissance GOR 339 was to be saved—though as with the cancellation decision discussed in the previous chapter, the fact that they were not taking the same decision was not clear at the time. After a flurry of official paperwork and a good deal of sweat, the Minister of Defence ended up by saying, I can be reluc­tantly persuaded that missiles can’t act in a reconnaissance and tactical strike role. But why do we need a new type of aircraft for this role? Why do we need a new type of aircraft when the Royal Navy already has its Buccaneer under development and indeed, this is at quite an advanced stage? Would this not do for the air force as well?

So this is another actor, another branch in the story. That of the Buccaneer. But how much do we need to know? In the present con­text, perhaps not so much. Let’s just say that what followed, the nego­tiations that took place in the corridors of the government machine (negotiations which included aircraft manufacturers and the pro­curement branch of the government, confusingly called the Ministry of Supply and later the Ministry of Aviation) fits the kind of pattern

imagined by those who study bureaucratic politics. Moves that catch the flavor of the 1957 debates would look like this.

Navy: You ought to use our aircraft, the Buccaneer.

Air Force: No. It’s too small, vulnerable, and it’s underpowered. It can’t fly far enough. And it doesn’t have the precision electronics we need.

Treasury: But it would be much cheaper to have one aircraft rather than two.

Ministry of Defence: Hear, hear!

Air Force (to Navy): All right. That makes sense. So how about both of us having GOR 339?

Navy: No way: Your aircraft is years off. Ours is already being made. In any case, yours is far too big to fit in an aircraft carrier. Air Force: If you say so. But there is no way your small, slow air­craft will ever meet our specification. Two engines are essential for safety and reliability. We must have our own aircraft.

Vickers Armstrong: But we can make a small version of GOR 339 that would be just as good as the big one, and it would fit in air­craft carriers too!

Air Force: Certainly not! We’ve already said that our plane needs two engines!

Navy: Let’s be serious. Your small GOR 339 won’t see service for goodness knows how long while our Buccaneer is nearly ready.

A plane in the hand is worth two. . .

Ministry of Aviation: Excuse me, but there’s something else going on here. While you’re bickering about the aircraft you want, we also need to be thinking about the future of the aircraft industry.

It needs pruning, sure, but we shouldn’t go too far. . . we need some orders.

(Short silence)

Ministry of Defence: All right. I don’t like this disagreement be­tween the Navy and the Air Force. Not at all. One aircraft would be much better than two. But if you absolutely insist you need a large aircraft for the Air Force then I suppose I’ve got no choice. I’m very unhappy about this, but reluctantly I’ll let you build your GOR 339.

Ministry of Aviation: And it will be built by a consortium. This will allow us to rationalize the aircraft industry.

Treasury (aside): But we’ll do our best to stop it along the way if we can, by putting up obstacles.

Parts of the Navy: And we’ll do everything we can to put a spoke in the wheel too. The whole idea of another aircraft is a nonsense when we’ve got the Buccaneer.2

So in the autumn of 1957 the aircraft manufacturers were told that they should prepare outline designs for GOR 339. But they had to do so in collaboration with one another. Individual pro­posals were not allowed.

In January 1958 these designs were submitted. Toward the end of 1958, after close study and a great deal of further bureaucratic infighting, some of which I discussed in chapter 4, it was an­nounced that a contract to design and manufacture a GOR 339 weapons system would be awarded to a consortium of two com­panies, English Electric and Vickers Armstrong. Subsequently, the relevant parts of these two companies were to merge to form the British Aircraft Corporation (later British Aerospace). It was indicated that Vickers would be the dominant partner in the GOR 339 project, both because it had more systems expertise and be­cause it was believed that it had stronger management. And the expectation was that, at a subsequent point, a development batch would be ordered.

That is a narrative of the conception and design of the TSR2, some of the various branches that led to the decision to build. Subsequently the project, as they say, “progressed’’—and a narrative of that progress might run as follows:

The doctrine of missile dependence did not long survive Duncan Sandys’s quite brief incumbency at the Ministry of Defence. Brit­ain abandoned its own attempt to build long-range ballistic mis­siles and after various vicissitudes, bought American Polaris mis­siles to carry British nuclear warheads and install in submarines built in the UK. At the same time the TSR2 began to play an in­creasingly strategic role in the minds of defense planners. In part, 172 Arborescences this was because the distinction between tactical and strategic

nuclear weapons was becoming increasingly fuzzy in the 1960s as smaller nuclear weapons were becoming available.

The first TSR2 aircraft flew in September 1964, well over a year behind schedule and very substantially over budget. In the mean­while it had become clear that no foreign government would buy the aircraft, and we know, of course, that in April 1965, after a change of government, the aircraft was canceled. An option was taken on an American aircraft with some similar properties, the General Dynamics F111A. This option was abandoned in 1967 as a result of a sterling currency crisis. In the end the RAF obtained a number of kinds of aircraft, none of which fully matched the specifications of the TSR2. These included a developed version of that original naval aircraft, the Buccaneer, which saw active service in the 1991 Gulf War, nearly forty years after it was first conceived.


This is the story that I haven’t told you. It is the story that I have avoided as I have taken empirical cuts through the project in earlier chapters. On the other hand, it is the kind of story that I might have told had I wanted to write a ‘‘plain history,’’ a social history, or a version of the social shaping of the TSR2 project. Though it catches something to call this story a grand narrative, this would no doubt be unfair, both to the story itself and to Jean-Frangois Lyotard (1984b).

So perhaps it would be better to find a way of pinning down some­thing about its specificity. To do that we might use the language of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari and call it an arborescence. In other words, it is a form of storytelling that is treelike in structure. ‘‘The first type of book,’’ they write, ‘‘is the root-book. The tree is already the image of the world, or the root the image of the world-tree. This is the classical book, as noble, signifying, and subjective organic in – teriority (the strata of the book). The book imitates the world, as art imitates nature’’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1988, 5).

Deleuze and Guattari are playing on more registers than I want to handle here. But if the TSR2 story isn’t a book—it isn’t long enough for a start—then it is certainly arborescent. It is a root narrative that seeks to imitate the world. For as the story strings itself out across

the lines and pages, it builds ‘‘a whole apparatus that is planted in Arborescences 173

thought in order to make it go in a straight line’’ and ‘‘a hierarchical system or transmission of orders.’’ Things, events, and considerations are made to stand in relation to one another, asymmetrically, within a structure of branching points. Events govern other events. More dis­tant branches come together to form a story and make a conclusion in the shape of, that shapes, the aircraft. Organization, strategy, tech­nology, procurement, geopolitics, tactics, colonialism, bureaucratic politics—on this count there are at least eight major branches leading to ‘‘the decision’’ to build the TSR2 and then to build it in the particu­lar shape that it had.

So like the tree of Jesse, the tree is hierarchical: one set of things, events, factors, is related to another. Layer is laid upon layer. But there is something else. This technoscience arborescence also reflects and maps the passage of time: ‘‘it has a future, a past, roots and a peak, a whole history, an evolution, a development.” To say this is to note that it works by describing (some version of) cause and effect; that it tells what precedes what. True, there is also space. Simultaneity, different events, different branches or roots of the tree, the processes that make these up occur at the same time. The diachronic and the synchronic, they are both assumed in the story. So the arborescent narrative grows in, presupposes and creates, the kind of three – or four-dimensional Euclidean time/space container imagined in chapter 4. Like a bon­sai tree, it’s a smaller version, it tells a smaller version, of what there is already, out there. It grows continuities and coordinations in the form of roots, branches, and relations, but it also performs what these presuppose, the conditions of its possibility: on the one hand, thepas – sage of time, the greatest hierarchy, the greatest asymmetry of them all; and, on the other, the machinations that spread themselves across space.


How does telling stories make a difference? Having made an arbor­escent narrative that is also a description of the TSR2 project, this is the next question I want to explore.

In one way we already know the answer. It is built into the semi­otics that subjects perform objects and objects perform subjects. It is built into the structure of the book. Telling always makes a difference 174 Arborescences of one kind or another. But if some stories make more of a difference

Cultural Bias


Reading an earlier version of this book, Bruno Latour suggested the following thought experiment.

Would it be possible, he wondered, to build a sense of ”the project as a whole” out of a set of bits and pieces, little stories that had to do with this or that project-related matter? Would it be possible to build the present book in this way by offering a series of small stories and then, at the end, to have generated a chronological time-space story of”the project as a whole”?3

Until this last story I’ve largely resisted the arborescence of project narrative. So a possible question is whether you, the reader, have built a chronologically and spatially ordered narrative out of the bits and narratives that have composed the earlier chapters: whether you have supplied your own project-relevant arborescence.

If you have indeed done so then we have learned a little about the distributions of narrative, about the relations between what Deleuze and Guattari call the arborescent and the rhizomatic. Or, to put it in another language, we have learned something about the character of cultural bias: about a tendency to find smoothness and coherence, and the possible character that coherence might take. About our aversion to noncontinuity. Or noncoherence. Or to sensing the oscillations be­tween continuity and discontinuity, the interferences that make sin­gularity out of multiplicity in a movement that is continually deferred. Perhaps, then, we have learned something about the current perfor­mance of the conditions of possibility.


176 Arborescences

than others, then we need to think harder about interferences and the conditions of possibility. And if we start to ask questions of this kind—and in particular about interferences—then we blunder into a place inhabited by linguistic philosophers, and in particular a place that is occupied by the words ‘‘I do.’’

Philosopher J. L. Austin (1966; 1970, 235) argued that if these par­ticular words are uttered at the right moment and in the right place, under what he called “felicitous” circumstances, then they are also actions and not just words. But what is the ‘‘right place’’? In this con­text, it is a properly constituted marriage ceremony where, for in­stance, neither of the prospective partners is already married. Under these circumstances if I say ‘‘I do’’ at just the ‘‘right moment,’’ I end up married. Such is his definition of the performative: it is a word or a set of words that is also an action.

Let’s displace the example a little. Staying with the humanist theme of romance, if I say ‘‘I love you’’ to a person in ‘‘real life’’ (to be sure, the definition of what should count as real life is precisely one of the issues at stake), then this has another kind of effect. In Austin’s terms it would be a constative; that is, it states something. It is a descrip­tion, which means, at least in the paradigm case, that it is either true or false. But it is also in some sense performative, and this is what’s important here. The question is, what is it performing? If it were said in good faith and all the rest, it would be a performance of love. But it might also (and here the uncertainties crowd in) be the start of a love affair, or (no doubt equally uncertain) its reaffirmation. Or, if it were said in the ‘‘wrong way’’ or under the ‘‘wrong circumstances,’’ it might be the end of a love affair or a friendship.

So what do we learn? The answer is that to say ‘‘I love you’’ is prob­ably performative too. Like ‘‘I do’’ it also makes a difference. It enacts something and it has force. But at the same time it is also clear that the focus of attention has started to shift from a relatively clear set of conditions that secure a specific form of performativity (‘‘I do’’), a specific outcome, to a whole lot of uncertainties both in degree and in quality—which uncertainties are interesting, indeed crucial, if we are concerned to make a difference and think about the kind of dif­ferences that are made when stories overlap.

Let’s displace the example once more, or better, replace it with something entirely different. If I say, ‘‘The government has fallen,’’

then this is different again, isn’t it? If I’ve just heard it from the BBC news (as opposed to a novel by Anthony Trollope), then something else is happening. Commonsensically, we could say that I’m report­ing on a state of affairs or the affairs of state. This means that it is a constative and not a performative at all. Thus we could also add that what I say doesn’t make much difference, indeed perhaps no differ­ence at all, not, at any rate, to the government. This is because the toppling of the government has happened, as it were, ‘‘out there,’’ and my words simply report on something. They are not (how to say this?) a part of the action. They perform, instead, a kind of perspectivalism and belong to epistemology instead of ontology.

Let’s make one further displacement, again on the political theme to do with the falling of governments. If I say ‘‘the government will fall tomorrow,’’ then here we have something different yet again. Once more it sounds a little like a report, a perspective taken on something that is out there—or will be out there. This sounds like the world of the constative, but the difference between ‘‘is out there’’ and ‘‘will be out there’’ is crucial, for now we are starting to move back toward the earlier declarations of love. The prospects are uncertain, and, as a part of that, the declaration itself may turn out to be performative—as it was when, for instance, tens of thousands of brave people stood and clinked their keys in Wenceslas Square in Prague on what turned out to be the eve of the Velvet Revolution. ‘‘Your time is up,’’ they clinked.

And the clinking (it turned out) performed the departure of that sad and vicious government. ‘‘The government will fall tomorrow’’: these words have become, albeit uncertainly, a part of the action. Consta­tive and performative both, they are constative precisely because they are performative.

I don’t much care for such armchair examples. Michel Foucault’s work teaches us that philosophy is better pursued by empirical means, which is why I have written this book in the way that I have, as a book ‘‘about’’ an aircraft. But before we move on, look at what happens if we put the four ‘‘philosophers’ examples’’ that I’ve created side by side (table 8.1).

This helps to make the story that I’m trying to tell clear, or so I hope. Sometimes words, stories, and no doubt pictures are also ac­tions. That is, they make the worlds that they describe. And some­times they aren’t, and they don’t. And then again (a somewhat differ – Arborescences 177

”I do” ”I love you” ”The government ”The government will fall tomorrow” has fallen”










ent but equally important distinction), sometimes words and stories act in clear and unambiguous ways, and sometimes they don’t. Such is the space that I would like us to investigate, the performativity of narrative, as overlap and interference with other narratives.

Back to the empirical.

Little Narratives

Perhaps we could agree, for the moment, that the arborescent project narrative isn’t an action and say that it’s simply a report.

Now look at this:

Sir Cyril, emphasising that he spoke with the full authority of the absent Minister, got straight to the point which was that only one military aircraft project had (so far) survived the 1957 White Paper, and that was OR 339—the Canberra replacement. There was no certainty of further military aircraft projects and, assum­ing OR 339 went ahead, the contract would only be placed with a group of firms, or with two or three firms acting in co-ordination and with one designated as the leader. The Government hoped for eventual rationalisation and amalgamations. . . . How the in­dustry so grouped itself was its affair, but group itself it must.

The reaction of the heads of industry to this ultimatum was strong and virtually unanimous. For the industry to remain viable at all in any form, there had to be an on-going military pro­gramme, not just the rather dubious carrot of a possible Can­berra replacement. Further, the airframe industry could not (re­peat) not possibly exist on civil work alone. Sir Cyril said that there was certainly no hope on the military side unless there were major amalgamations or rationalisation on the lines he had 178 Arborescences sketched out as a condition for submissions for OR 339. He could

only repeat that it was, therefore, up to the industry to arrange their own affairs and pick their own partners if they wished to put in a submission. (Gardner 1981, 23-24)

So here we have another aircraft story, a smaller narrative. It is a narrative that interacts with the arborescent story with which I started this chapter. It describes, as they say, ‘‘in more detail,’’ the mo­ment when the government told the aircraft industry that it should rationalize.4 One of the branching points. So it’s another report, an­other constative.

But shift focus. Attend instead to the story told to the industrialists by the big-shot civil servant, Cyril Musgrave, for this too is a story, a narrative. ‘‘It will,’’ he was saying, ‘‘be like this. My story, the Musgrave story, is that this is how it will unfold, the future history of the British aircraft industry.’’ These are constative words, but they are words that are also actions. They are words that will make and distribute, indeed redistribute social, economic, and industrial relations.

So there is a difference between my story and Gardner’s on the one hand, and Musgrave’s on the other. To say it briefly, Musgrave’s story makes a difference, it’s performative, whereas mine doesn’t and isn’t, and neither does (or is) Gardner’s. They don’t (as is sometimes said)

‘‘belong to the real world’’ but rather seek to describe it (though what we mean by the ‘‘real world,’’ what counts as ‘‘reality,’’ is precisely what is at stake).5

Well, perhaps Musgrave’s story makes a difference, but only per­haps. Because the passage continues so: ‘‘After the meeting had ended, Denis Haviland, who was present as Under Secretary (Air),

Ministry of Supply, recalls that Sir Cyril Musgrave turned to him and said two words, ‘We’ve won’’’ (Gardner 1981, 24).

Interesting, isn’t it? Musgrave watched the big-shot industrialists leave and then turned to his sidekick and said ‘‘We’ve won.’’ This tells us, as is obvious, that he wasn’t sure he was going to win and that things might have been different, that Musgrave’s story might not have been performative in the way he intended. His story might not have redistributed the world, it might have had no effect or indeed had some other unintended consequence. We’re discovering that at the time he gave it, his little speech didn’t necessarily fall into the ‘‘I do’’ category but rather into the class of‘‘I love yous,’’ into the class Arborescences 179

of the ‘‘I love yous’’ that aspire to be turned into ‘‘I dos.’’ Or the class of‘‘the government will fall tomorrows’’ that hope to turn themselves into ‘‘the government has fallens.’’ This is an aspiration that, as his­tory (or the narratives that make history) tells us, was achieved by Musgrave. But this wasn’t clear, not beforehand, not at the time.6

Making a Difference

Musgrave’s story made a difference. It helped to bring what it de­scribed into being. If we want to pick through the entrails and ask how it achieved this, we could use various theoretical vocabularies for talking of interference effects. We might talk of intertextuality— for here, certainly, we have one form of talking that interacted with others, those, for instance, of the industrialists, to produce the effect of reordering the aircraft industry. Again, we might talk, like the actor – network theorists or Donna Haraway, of the performance of materio – semiotic relations,7 and then we might remind ourselves that narra­tives work themselves through a range of materials. So we’d note that it certainly wasn’t the honeyed power of Musgrave’s voice that per­formed the industrialists into submission, that made the difference by reordering the distributions of British industry. He might just as well have croaked like a frog, and the outcome would still, might still, have been the same.

So be it. Such is the character of interference: it comes in many forms and operates in many ways. It may be told of too, performed, in many ways. But what about my arborescent narrative? What about the stories of the technoscience student? Or those of Gardner, the com­pany historian? How are they working? And how do they intersect?

We agreed pro tem to lodge these narratives in the ‘‘report’’ pigeon hole, the place where we put ‘‘the government has fallen.’’ This place is inhabited by constatives in the realm of epistemology. The reason is that, notwithstanding all the strictures about subjects and objects that make themselves together, these stories don’t seem to be making any difference. They aren’t acting upon, or better, within whatever they report.

But this distinction doesn’t really work, does it?

‘‘Was O. R.343 a Valid Concept?’’

180 Arborescences ‘‘Should a Short-Step Aircraft have been Produced?’’

‘‘Was a Sophisticated TSR Aircraft Necessary?’’

‘‘Was the Cancellation Justified?’’

‘‘Was a TSR-2 Aircraft Necessary in 1965?’’

‘‘Was the Aircraft Industry too Large?’’

‘‘Had TSR-2 to be Cancelled to Further European Airspace Collabo­ration?’’

These are chapter and section headings taken from a small book called Crisis in Procurement: A Case Study of the TSR-2, which I’ve already cited several times (Williams, Gregory, and Simpson 1969).

This publication appeared in 1969, four years after the cancellation, but the headings give the game away. They tell us that it is not simply a report. It is rather a document that’s trying to answer policy ques­tions.

Some more citations from the same source:

By quantifying the quantifiable, therefore, the 1965 TSR-2 deci­sion can be shown to be correct, though the gains from its can­cellation were so small that a slight alteration of estimates could easily have produced a contrary argument. However, when the unquantifiable elements are added, the issue becomes an even more open one, so much so that it is difficult to arrive at a clear – cut answer by rational analysis. . . .

However, had the normal accounting conventions been altered in the way that has been suggested, and greater account taken of the increased reliability and availability of TSR-2 as a weapons system, it would have been valid to argue that the TSR-2 ought not to have been cancelled for the F111K. It is interesting to spec­ulate, however, how far these detailed arguments were presented to the decision-makers concerned in terms of a dispassionate analysis of the alternative assumptions involved, and the related probable outcomes. If they were not, no truly informed deci­sion was possible, and the decision taken would automatically be a bad one in decision-making terms. (Williams, Gregory, and Simpson 1969, 66)

So this is another recommendation about the distributions proper to centered decision making. Which is another way of saying that it is also a policy report: ‘‘In the preceding chapters the difficulties which Arborescences 181

beset the TSR-2 project have been analysed. . . . An attempt will now be made… to relate these difficulties to the production of future British weapons systems’’ (Williams, Gregory, and Simpson 1969,67). It is a policy report that, no doubt, aims to make a difference. It is an ‘‘I do,’’ or at the very least a version of ‘‘I love you’’ or ‘‘the govern­ment will fall.’’ So it is all about performativity. It is about making. Like Musgrave, it’s about uncertain performativity, a description of how it was, how it is, how it should be, how it might be. It’s about the performative uncertainties that arise when (as is almost always the case) the character of the interferences between different stories is uncertain.

Williams and his friends are thus different from Musgrave. We want to say, don’t we, that Musgrave was ‘‘more deeply involved,’’ more of a participant than Williams and Co.? On the other hand, we’re also learning, or so it appears, that overlap and participation is a grada­tion. Or better, we’re learning that whether or not the author of a narrative—or perhaps better a narrative itself—participates in what is being narrated depends on how the line is drawn between inside and outside, which is perhaps a way of talking about how the over­laps between performances are built and rebuilt.8 We might want to say, for instance, that Williams and his friends were outsiders to the TSR2 project, but not to the ‘‘defense policy community’’—ex – cept, of course, we’d also need to add that such a distinction is itself performed, an effect. It is a patterning of narrative distributions that makes similarity and difference in the slippery place between ‘‘I do’’ and ‘‘I love you,’’ between ‘‘the government will. . .’’ and ‘‘the govern­ment has…,’’ between the descriptions of simple epistemology and the world making of ontology. Which is, no doubt, where we all are, where all stories are to be found, multiply distributed in the fractional interferences between telling and doing.

So there are four narratives in play: the arborescent story of the social shaping of technology with which I opened this chapter; Charles Gardner’s narrative, the story of the British Aircraft Corpo­ration as written by the historian; Cyril Musgrave’s story, the account offered by, or on behalf of, the senior civil servant; and there are the recommendations of the policy analysts, Williams and his friends. At which point the density of these intersections begins to become some – 182 Arborescences what overwhelming. But that is how it is.


The following citations come respectively from my summary story,

Gardner’s story about Musgrave, and Williams’s account written with his friends.

So he issued a government policy statement, a ‘‘White Paper,’’ in which he boldly announced that the government would no longer develop most forms of military aircraft.

The Government hoped for eventual rationalisation and amal­gamations. . . . How the industry so grouped itself was its affair, but group itself it must.

By quantifying the quantifiable, therefore, the 1965 TSR-2 deci­sion can be shown to be correct.

We’ve established some of the differences between these. ‘‘Plain his­tory,” participation, policy, certainly they perform differences, and if they are performative then they perform different TSR2 projects.

Multiplicities. But then the question we’ve been wrestling with all along recurs: Do they not also interact together in ways that tend to create a single object, a single project?

The question is rhetorical. The answer I want is that they indeed intersect. They intersect in terms of specificities. They coordinate themselves by talking of ‘‘the same’’ events, or ‘‘the same’’ project, but as they frame and perform these specificities they also make ‘‘the same’’ conditions of ontological possibility-singular conditions. I said that my narrative is arborescent in character, that it is like a bon­sai tree, existing in and making a literal and metaphorical Euclidean space-time box. But if it is a little version of a large tree, an arbo – rescence, then it also makes roots and branches. It performs places where different lines come together, junctions that are more or less important, closer to or more distant from the trunk. It makes bifurca­tions and confluences to create this developing project-plant.

In the way that I have told the story, I have attended most of all to the place where the decision was made to build the aircraft and to build it in a particular form. To a smaller extent I have also described the decision to cancel. The tree makes, most of all, a project beginning and a project end. The story that I told organized itself around these:

the joining of the twigs into branches achieved their status, their sa – Arborescences 183

184 Arborescences

lience, their hierarchical import, in relation to the beginning and the end.

The smaller narratives, however, are also built to the same pattern. It is possible to be more precise. They are all about the decision points that appeared in my narrative, important bifurcations. They all per­form ‘‘aspects’’ of those decision points. They tell us, ‘‘in more detail’’ about places where particular twigs came together to form branches, or particular branches came together to form the trunk. They explain why the decisions took the form that they did, why the tree grew in this way rather than that. So no doubt it is possible to read them in other ways, but within the project-relevant, bonsai, space-time box of my arborescent narrative, these smaller narratives perform the same pattern. It is just that they do so at a higher level of magnification. In­crease the magnification and what do we get? The same bifurcations at greater length. Or an expanding pattern of further bifurcations and sub-bifurcations that go toward making the larger branching point. Branchings and more branchings—the interferences between the dif­ferent narratives are treelike in form. They make a stable pattern of interference as they overlap because they are self-similar. Branches go on appearing as magnification increases: in their structure they are scale independent.9

So time and space are arborescent effects. But so, too, is scale. In­deed, space, time, and scale are made together. To make a space­time box is to imagine the possibility of looking at the contents of the box ‘‘as a whole.’’ As singular. In this way the notion of ‘‘the whole’’ achieves some sort of possibility. But to make wholes is also to make parts. It is to allow—indeed to call for—magnification. Better, it is to imagine magnification as a possibility that gives it some sort of sense. This is what makes it possible to say that Cyril Musgrave’s narrative is a ‘‘detail’’ of the ‘‘larger’’ narrative with which I started this chapter. This would make it possible to locate Musgrave’s narrative, from the point of view of ‘‘the whole story,’’ in a footnote. To put it in a black box. Like the subsections of the brochure in the table of contents, it makes it possible to say that his story is a ‘‘detail.’’ But which also, and in the same movement, makes performative the distributions of size. Including the performance of my ‘‘larger’’ narrative as, indeed, ‘‘the story as a whole.’’

Arborescence is a hierarchical structure, a system of points and

positions, an axis—I am simply using Claire Parnet’s metaphors— that domesticates particulars by locating them, without potential limit, in a salient and scaled space-time grid. It is a location that performs Haraway’s god-eye trick, which makes a four-dimensional view from nowhere. It defines and performs the conditions of pos­sibility for particular stories. And it is this potential to locate that shapes the nature of interferences between specifics. It also defines two great questions: the epistemological question, which asks whether this story is real, and the occluded ontological question, which asks about performativity as a function of interference, defer­ral, and the structures of possibility.

The tree is one of the great metaphors for disciplining interfer­ences. ‘‘The whole world demands roots.’’ I take it, however, that there are other relations and overlaps. That it is possible to perform other interferences.