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—

Подпись: It is a trope of the poststructuralists to talk of "play." ''Just gaming" (Lyotard and Thebaud 1985). How to think about this? As an Other to that which is serious? Per-haps. But then remember that to talk of play, for instance in an engi-neering structure, is to refer to looseness, capacity to shift, in what may otherwise appear to be a rigid structure. In which case ''too much" play may be undesirable. But insufficient play is likely to be disastrous. This suggests that a single structure is made possible because it is, at the same time, not a single structure but an assemblage of partially connected pieces. More than one and less than many.

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

What is it to make a political decision?

In chapter 7 I deconstructed the decision to cancel the TSR2. It would be better to use quotes: I deconstructed ”the decision” to can­cel the TSR2. For it turns out that this decision was several different decisions. Each of the relevant cabinet ministers was making his own decision. While each at the same time believed that he was making a single, collective decision. In putting it this way, I am refusing the ”dominant narrative thesis” which would insist that there was indeed a single decision—and then a set of misunderstandings or different perspectives. Two points about this.

First, the dominant narrative thesis is performative. The commit­ment by cabinet ministers—and everyone else—to the idea that they were making a single decision meant that they were, indeed, able to take ”a decision.”

Second, and more important in the context of the politics of inter­ference, it is the differences between the decisions, the fact that it takes (at the very least) some effort to order them into a dominant narrative, that secures the strength of”the decision”in the first place. This is what I mean if I talk about”obdurate interference." If it had all been narratable as consistent, then the cabinet ministers would never have been able to make their ”decision” in the first place.


where I want to end this account, to stop the juxtapositions that I have made on my version of the uncomfortable pinboard.

What I believe is something like this. TSR2 was an immensely ob­durate object, a huge modern military project, one that employed tens or hundreds of thousands of people. It was, as we know, even­tually destabilized—and the consequence was a conventional politi­cal scandal of considerable proportions. I’ve noted that as I worked my way into the project and collected material I was charged, in one way or another, with the responsibility of narrating the project and Pinboards 201


Подпись: In Irreductions Bruno Latour tells a story about colonialism. The merchants hated the bureaucrats. The soldiers were contemptuous of the cartographers. The priests despised the hacienda owners and the engineers. But this noncoherence made colonialism stronger rather than weaker. Atheism, the collapse of the markets, the failure of the bureaucracy, no particular breakdown necessarily played itself through to undermine colonialism ''as a whole.''There was no Leninist''weakest link.'' Instead there were partial connections which operated to perform an established disorder in an oscillation between singularity and m ultipli city.

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.


Technical Struggle

I am suggesting that the front cover performs and distributes agency in three distinct and overlapping sets of contrasts. The overlap de­rives from the way in which they share the common propensity of distributing active agency in favor of the aircraft and away from fea­tures of its ‘‘context’’—that is, from nature and culture. And the differ­ences derive from the specificities of the various contrasts performed.

Nature and culture are being made passive. They are being rendered mundane. And finally, they are being made vulnerable. By contrast, technology is by turns being made active, powerful, skillful, heroic, vulnerable, and invulnerable. No doubt there are various connections between these distributions; indeed the way in which the distribu­tions interfere with one another is probably crucial. But it is also im­portant that they are distinct. As we have seen, the possibility of dif­ferent, somewhat incompatible, and coexisting distributions is not necessarily a problem at all. Rather their interferences may repre­sent a source of strength rather than of weakness: where one dis­tribution seems uncertain, there is tension, ambivalence, and dis­placement into another: singularity thereby grows out of noncoherent multiplicity.20

So there are three overlapping distributions. But if we now open the brochure and attend to its contents, we will find many more. Nature appears in exhibit 6.2, but this time the contrast between the techno­logical and the natural is different: if the aircraft is still endowed with Aesthetics 125

Technical Struggle

EXHIBIT 6.2 ”The flightplan is initially defined in terms of fixing landmarks and the latitude and longitude of all turni ng points and objectives so that specific tracks are flown.” (British Aircraft Corporation 1962, 26) agency, then this has started to change in character. Now it is “practi­cal” or ‘‘technical,’’ a performance or a distribution as a skill holder or perhaps as a puzzle solver, while nature has been distributed beyond the boundary of skill, into the realm of utilizable resources—which, to be sure, indexes and reproduces a large set of themes in Western and, in particular, Enlightenment thought.22

Here, then, we have removed ourselves from the realm of the “aes­thetic” and been inserted back into the world of the ‘‘technical.’’ For the surrounding passages explain how this ‘‘fixing’’ is done, albeit only in limited ‘‘detail’’ (remember that this is a sales brochure, not a technical manual). So there is difference but also similarity, one con­sistent similarity in which the narrative echoes the message of the front cover. The aircraft remains active, while nature is being ren­dered passive. For instance, in exhibit 6.3 the work, the intricate and

EXHIBIT 6.3 ”The digital computer continuously calculates instantaneous posi­tion using ground speed and drift from the Doppler, and heading and velocity from the inertia platform.” (British Aircraft Corporation 1962, 26) skillful work of the TSR2 is detailed. It acts in this way and that, while nature does nothing. Indeed, nature does so little that in this particu­lar passage it has been effectively effaced. There is no need to detail the way in which landmarks don’t move or how the features of the ter­rain reliably reflect the Doppler radar signals. The inactivity of nature, its stolid persistence, takes the form of routine, of a kind of brute dura­bility, such that in the theater of aircraft action it is simple scenery.

Or, to put it a little differently, the distribution rests on, presupposes, and reproduces realism.23

Activity/passivity: this similarity strengthens my original method­ological conviction that it makes sense to treat the aesthetic and the technical symmetrically. For though the specifics of their distribu­tions are different, they overlap and coordinate in ways that interfere Aesthetics 127

with one another, and if we don’t look at the distributions performed by nontechnical means, then we hobble ourselves. It is as if we were trying to reconstruct the sound of Mozart’s Requiem while denying ourselves any knowledge of the woodwind.

But what of the differences between the contrasts? Much might be said of the distributions performed in exhibit 6.4. For instance, it

EXHIBIT 6.4 ”The forward screen provides for head up display projection and with­stands the hot air blast used for wi ndscreen clearance, i n additi on to havi ng ade­quate strength to withstand impact of a 1 lb. bird at transonic speeds.” (British Aircraft Corporation 1962, 34) simultaneously locates the proposed performance of the windscreen of the aircraft with respect to human, technical, and natural actors.24 But perhaps it is the nonhuman actor—the intrusive presence of the bird—that is most interesting here, for the bird maybe understood as an expression of nature. This means we’re watching a further rework­ing of contrast between machine and nature; for, like the landmark, the bird is scarcely being performed as a resource. And if it is being made vulnerable, then this is not because it deserves protection like some endangered species. Instead the distribution is the other way round. The vulnerability of the bird is of no interest at all; it is rather an implicit threat, for no pilot, we understand, wants a bird hitting him in the face at high speed: shades of fear and sweating bodies. This suggests, all of a sudden, that nature is capable of action: the birds are fighting back.

In fact it is more complicated, though interestingly so. Two points. First, if the distribution of agency has shifted from aircraft to bird, then this is because of the extreme speed of the aircraft. In other words, it is precisely the performance of technological action that has also endowed nature with the capacity to act.25 And second, it is the role of the windscreen to protect the aircraft and its pilot from the ac­tivity of these newly empowered birds, a distribution that is indeed effected in the text. So we are witnessing a process in which tech­nology passes out agency with one hand while taking it away with the other, a trope, perhaps, of domestication. It allows the possibility of 128 Aesthetics nontechnological action but only within the constraints of the tech-

EXHIBIT 6.5 ”The results of vibration and other rig tests on human subjects showed that with the aerodynamic design of T. S.R.2 for minimum gust response, no special seating provisions are required.” (British Aircraft Corporation 1962, 38) nical and thereby sustains the active/passive distribution and, in par­ticular, the performance of aircraft invulnerability.

This distributive mechanism recurs. For instance, in exhibit 6.5 nature (in the form of gusts) is again being performed as a potential threat by virtue of the actions of the aircraft (for the gusts would be no problem if one were standing still). But, in the same move, they are domesticated into a form of unproblematic passivity.

But what would happen if the bird weighed two pounds, a kilo? Or the gusts became extreme? Wouldn’t this imply a redistribution of agency? This question is always elided in the brochure, though it is, to be sure, endlessly implied. Indeed, given both its contents and what we know of air-force thinking and practice in the early 1960s, one way, a very important and relevant way, of reading the brochure is precisely as an exercise in threat containment. For why else would the distributions endlessly perform the mastery, the agency, and the invulnerability of the aircraft? The answer is straightforward: this in­vulnerability is quite uncertain and the methods that it performs to secure whatever invulnerability it has achieved are (as they say) at or beyond the cutting edge of technology, which is another way of say­ing that they are iffy, open to doubt, and might break down, rendering the aircraft vulnerable.26

But if the vulnerability is not admitted directly, if it is distributed to nature—or to culture in the form of the enemy-then how is it ad­mitted indirectly? The treatment of the birds and the gusts establishes the paradigm procedure. Vulnerability is admitted indirectly by per­forming the agency of the Other only if it can be countermanded and agency can be redistributed back to the aircraft. This is visible in ex­hibits 6.6, 6.7, and 6.8. The potency of agents other than the aircraft

EXHIBIT 6.6 ”Although provision is made for medium altitude bombing, in attack­ing a defended target it is desirable to remain at low altitude in the target area.” (British Aircraft Corporation 1962, 12)

Technical Struggle

EXHIBIT 6.7 "Typical Loft Manoeuvre” (British Aircraft Corporation 1962, 13;

© Brooklands Museum)


is implied in exhibits 6.6 and 6.7 without being explicitly performed. Exhibit 6.6—and certainly this would have been understood by any likely reader of the brochure in 1962 — implies that at medium alti­tudes the aircraft is vulnerable to surface-to-air, radar-guided mis­siles but that this isn’t the case at low altitudes (at which point the desired distribution of agency is reaffirmed). And, as we know, the aircraft flies low, which means that invulnerability is performed yet again.

But there is a tension, for if exhibit 6.6 performs invulnerability, then exhibit 6.7 depicts a typical method for nuclear bombing, a ‘‘loft manoeuvre.’’ In this maneuver the bomb is lobbed in an arc from some distance away onto the target so that the aircraft can escape destruc­tion in the subsequent explosion. To do this the aircraft is flown up­ward at a predetermined speed and angle and the bomb is released at a precisely calculated moment. The picture, exhibit 6.7, shows this. The maneuver is tricky, but it works to distribute potency in favor of the aircraft and vulnerability to the target. Such is the effect of exhibit 6.7, in which we observe a conventional depiction of a large explo­sion in a factory—while the aircraft has turned away and is already making good its escape.

So there is a distribution that makes aircraft invulnerability and tar­get vulnerability. On the other hand, the loft maneuver contains and domesticates one possible self-induced vulnerability (here, nuclear

EXHIBIT 6.8 ”The serious exposure of the aircraft to ground fire which occurs when release angles of more than 90 degrees are used can be avoided by using a ‘but­ton hook’ manoeuvre. In this attack the pilot flies over the target and returns to conduct a shallow loft attack from another direction. Vulnerability studies indi­cate that this is preferable to the use of over-the-shoulder loft attacks.” (British Aircraft Corporation 1962, 13)

self-destruction) but induces a second,27 for when we look at exhibit 6.7 we discover that at only two miles from the target the aircraft reaches an altitude of four thousand feet. This may not be a ‘‘medium altitude,’’ but is certainly more than the recommended two hundred feet and so reorganizes the vulnerability/invulnerability equation yet again such that both the aircraft and its target are destroyed. This cer­tainly poses a serious problem for the economy of vulnerability, and the problem is treated overtly in exhibit 6.8, one of the few passages in the brochure that distributes military vulnerability quite explicitly back to the aircraft. But (here is my proposition) it does so because the risk of vulnerability can be contained and defused. For in this pas­sage the ‘‘button hook’’ maneuver plays the role of windscreen and the distribution accordingly, once again, contains the threat.

Leakages, Redistributions

Technics is about that which is “serious.” This is the first characteriza­tion, the first distribution, that has allowed us to distinguish between that which is performed as technical and that which is performed as merely aesthetic. But my argument has been that the struggling dis­tributions of technics need all the help they can get, especially in the context of a state-of-the-art military technology. Technics are greatly assisted by the mobilization of aesthetic reinforcements and their fur­ther distributions of agency and passivity in favor of technology. One might add that the border disputes between the social and the tech­nical (for instance, among sociologists of science and technology) are precisely about the distribution of seriousness.28

So technics is about “seriousness.” But (and here we revisit a form of heterogeneity we have already discussed) technics is also about deferral. Such would be a second possible characterization of tech­nology. Not, of course, deferral ‘‘in general,’’ for this is a chronic con­dition, but rather deferral away from technical agency. For within technology the sky, as they say, is the limit. Anything is possible. Any­thing should be possible. Within the pragmatics of technology; limits are acknowledged only if they can be immediately redistributed back to the Other, the Other of nature or the Other of culture. Or, perhaps most of all in the optimism of the Enlightenment, to the Other of the future (see exhibit 6.9) in the form of the projectile that throws itself ahead, ordering the present by turning it into the means of the future. Aesthetics 131

EXHIBIT 6.9 ”Provision is made for carriage of the guided and stand-off nuclear weapons under development. Use of these weapons will improve the accuracy of delivery, decrease the likelihood of the aircraft being damaged by defence fire, and will provide air-burst of the weapon without any increase in aircraft altitude above terrain following height.” (British Aircraft Corporation 1962, 13)

This is what we’ve seen for the TSR2, though this movement, one might observe, is the general form of deferral within which the re­search and development industry has created its profitable niche.

Seriousness, the deferral of limits, and the denial of agency—this brochure distributes active agency away from nature and culture in multiple ways. For instance, there is one moment (I think only one) when the distribution seems redolent of rape (exhibit 6.10).29 Much

EXHIBIT 6.10 ”It is capable of penetrating to target at high subsonic speed.” (British Aircraft Corporation 1962, 8) more common is the use of the anodyne, a smooth and matter-of – fact language of practicality or impersonality. For instance, the term ‘‘delivery’’ (exhibit 6.11) seems to connect as much with the routines

EXHIBIT 6.11 ”This flexibility is enhanced by the wide range of delivery ma­noeuvres available to the pilot, each fully automatic if required, and which may be selected to give optimum weapon performance.” (British Aircraft Corporation 1962, 13) of the postal service as with the broken bodies of warfare.30 Again, phrases such as ‘‘optimum weapon performance” work to locate bombing within the realm of the balance sheet, the calculation of costs and benefits. And finally, its various drawings and sketches visualize the depicted explosions as destroying toylike buildings or vehicles in which, one might add, people do not appear (see exhibit 6.12).

Well, this is standard albeit lethally important stuff. Most of those who criticize the industry of modern warfare complain of the de – 132 Aesthetics humanizing character of military talk. And, to be sure, the enemy is

EXHIBIT 6.12 H. E. Weapon Accuracy (British Aircraft Corporation 1962, 15;

© Brooklands Museum)


Leakages, Redistributions

indeed being technicized here, that is, constituted as set of practical sources of possible resistance that can be overcome or contained— like the birds hitting the windscreen. (Human) agency is therefore being distributed away from the enemy, which is turned into a set of objects; indeed the role of human agency throughout is being mini­mized. So the enemy has no capacity for successful or important action in general, and the effects of the “punishment” it receives are impersonal rather than personal.

Posed in this particular way this argument is theoretically human­ist, but the argument that I want to make doesn’t draw on the well – springs of humanist orderings. I am keen to avoid assuming that cer­tain distributions—for instance between humans and nonhumans —are given in the order of things.31 The distributions that we’re wit­nessing are more complicated and ambivalent, with contrasts that shift, human and nonhuman, object and subject, with complex rela­tions and occasional reversals of polarities. Thus if human beings are complex and heterogeneous, it turns out that technologies are simi­larly complex distributive effects, complex and heterogeneous. They are made technical, made technical in a variety of different ways, but they also overlap, leak across the boundaries, and end up being per­formed, albeit in less obvious ways, as partaking of nature or culture, as heroic or childlike.

Heroism we have seen. This was performed by the front cover of the brochure. But exhibits 6.13 and 6.14 are pictures of the aircraft on the ground and they accompany text that describes how the TSR2 may be

Leakages, Redistributions
Подпись: The austere view insists that it is proper to stay close to the ma-terial: that there is, as it were, no quality control when interpretations multiply in this way—a position that was forcibly expressed to me on a number of occasions. An alternative view is that something interesting is going on. This is that (cultural) products are complex and multiple in their effects, and that this—and the interferences that go with it— is a phenomenon in its own right. It may be, then, that this divergence is a feature of the performance of the ''established (dis)order,'' of the chronic oscillation between multiplicity and singularity. We have come across the latter view at a number of points in the earlier chapters of this book. Here it is, expressed again: ''The pos-sibility of different, somewhat incompatible, and coexisting distribu-tions should not necessarily be seen as a problem. Rather their inter-ferences may represent a source of strength rather than of weakness: where one distribution seems uncertain, there is displacement into another.''

flown from dispersed airstrips. So the narrative distribution is again about vulnerability and invulnerability. Though it is not explored in the brochure, the narrative implies that in the event of nuclear war, large air bases will be destroyed in the first few minutes of conflict.

Thus one of the virtues of the TSR2 is that it can operate indepen­dently of such bases for considerable periods of time, taking off from short runways or rough airstrips. And, with some specially designed additional equipment (including the vehicle that is also featured in exhibits 6.13 and 6.14), it can refuel and maintain itself.

This, then, is the point of these two drawings. They illustrate an ar­gument about independence, a version of the colonization described in chapter 2, and therefore, like the front cover and much of the text, they help to perform the machine as invulnerable. But the drawings perform that invulnerability in an interesting way, by juxtaposing the aircraft with nature in a manner quite unlike that of the front cover. Aesthetics 135

Leakages, Redistributions

EXHIBIT 6.13 Rapid Reaction Standby (British Aircraft Corporation 1962, 21;

© Brooklands Museum)


The drawings do this partly because the static/dynamic distinction has disappeared. The aircraft is at rest; indeed, it is inactive. And (this is the point) it has made itself invulnerable precisely by virtue of this inactivity. So it hides in the bushes that therefore act to conceal it. Nature is no longer reduced to frozen immobility but has been turned into an active agent in its own right. It is acting as a shield in a manner not unlike the TSR2 in the iconography of the front cover. A reversal has occurred.

This, then, is a ‘‘technical’’ way of narrating the redistribution. But other things are also happening. In particular, iconographically and distributively, the contrast with earlier narrative and other pictorial representations in the brochure could hardly be more striking. (Com­pare exhibit 6.15.) For, yes, the movement, the power, these have dis­appeared. But what should we make of those bushes? Of the contrast between the bucolic scenes surrounding the aircraft and the aircraft itself? And of the pipes and people that populate the scene?

One answer is that in their conventional naturalism they offer a realist guarantee to an argument, the pragmatic argument, being made in the text. For these depictions are quite unlike the front cover in style. Though certainly conventional, they represent a range of everyday objects: trees, bushes, meadows, a lowering—perhaps men­acing-sky. These are recognizable representations, representations that juxtapose themselves (perhaps rather startlingly, but no doubt that is the point) with the aircraft and its apparatus. But the juxtaposi­tion, and in particular the pictorial realism of the depiction of nature, suggests that it is entirely realistic to imagine what might otherwise

Leakages, Redistributions

be unimaginable: the aircraft under such bucolic circumstances. The drawings may therefore be imagined as a kind of guarantee, a further warranty for the possibility of dispersal. The promise of refueling in the backwoods—this is a promise that can be fulfilled.32

But there is something else. The front cover performed contrasts between the active and the passive, the transcendental and the mun­dane, and between the invulnerable and the vulnerable. In each case the ground, nature, and culture, were distributed into the latter half of these pairs. But now there seems to have been a radical change. In the new drawings the technological, the aircraft, starts to partake of the features of nature and culture, to partake of passivity, mundanity, and vulnerability as opposed to excitement, heroism, and action in the air.

So it is that we see a surround of soft meadows, trees, and bushes. For by drawing a gentle landscape it becomes a place of rest and nur­ture, with all the tropes that this carries. For instance, there is hus­bandry. What is it, one might ask, that grows in this particular gar­den? What fruits does it bear? Is it dragons’ teeth? For what grows is a weapon, a weapon of war or, more abstractly, a potential, a potential for action. Thus the aircraft is something that grows, grows quietly in potential and (it is understood) its quiescence is merely a stage, a mo- ment—as will be revealed when it leaves the garden and that potential is unleashed.

So husbandry is one possibility but domesticity is another, perhaps related, gender trope. For on the front cover the aircraft was removed from the domestic. Indeed, we never saw it pictorially represented at all. But here, now, it returns for a time when there is need (as the tech­nicians might put it) for resupply. But this distribution, which may indeed be proposed in technical terms, butts up against and interferes with the tropes of domesticity that both complement and escape it— tropes that have, for instance, to do with nurturing. We thus appreci­ate, without it having been said in as many words, that any man (or is it boy? or is it technology?) needs to return home at the end of a hard day’s work and war to be sheltered, enveloped, protected. To be cared for, at any rate, by a putatively female figure.

Except that there are further complexities. Look at the human fig­ures in exhibit 6.13. Those that we see appear to be men, men with pipes and equipment. Yes, we can tell that they are technicians. That is the story that the practical narratives of the technical will recount. But other contrasts and divisions are also being made, divisions that have to do with the distribution of gender. For, or so it appears, (parts of?) nature are being rendered male.33 Or, perhaps better, nature is being displaced yet again, as if, for instance, instead of going home at the end of the day’s work, the aircraft were rather being sent to the garage. Or, more pointedly, to the intensive care unit with its array of monitors, cables, bags of fluids, and drips as it enacts an intense and interventionary agency—that treats the body precisely as a (failing) system.34

But there is yet another possibility that has to do with gendering. This says that in certain instances patriarchal culture endows that 138 Aesthetics which is female with potency. One of these—and one of the most

visible—is in the performance of bodies. It may be found, for instance, in those distributions which constitute woman as a dangerous form of sexuality, dangerous that is, to man, for instance as the femme fatale, the source of forbidden knowledge, of forbidden power, a danger. In the iconography, this is a source of power constituted alongside and uncertainly held at bay by that other great patriarchal myth, woman as innocent, gentle, innocuous. All in all, as a source of virtue, either bland and passive, or active but in the form of nurturing.35 In exhibit 6.13 we are not dealing with gendered or sexualized human bodies. But even so, it seems that something similar is going on; that is, we see an analogous alternation between innocence and blandness on the one hand, and dangerous physical potency on the other. An alter­nation in which blandness and one-dimensionality seek, with only partial success, to efface the dangers of materiality.

Blandness we have seen. It is everywhere in the bowdlerized and anodyne language of the technical. But it is also in the language of systems that permeates the brochure as well as other aspects of the project. We have seen that this is a colonizing language that says everything is normal, everything is under control, and everything is being monitored, calculated, and corrected. So there is the ubiquitous performance of the anodyne. But not very far away, albeit partially effaced, there is also the performance of danger. For the aircraft is a dangerous tool. It is, to be sure, a danger to the enemy. It is danger­ous to those who fly it, testing as it does the limits of their heroism and skill. And finally it is dangerous to us all since its nuclear use would no doubt lead to consequences that would extinguish every­one. So these pictures show it sitting on the ground hiding from the threat, but they also show it embodying a risk to those who surround it, to those homelands it is precisely intended to shield. For this is a machine with potential, the potential for destruction, not only of the enemy but also of the power that wields it.

In which case the distributive dynamics become explicable. For now it appears that the superficial blandness is no longer simply a technical matter. Rather it is a device that, to a most limited degree, hides the knowledge of the dangerous and self-destructive potency of a weapon that would, if ever used, wreak havoc not only on its in­tended targets but also on those who deployed it. This hidden knowl­edge is what makes it possible to argue that this aircraft is also per-

formed as if it were a woman, a dangerous mistress, in a distribution that connects through complexity with some of the performances of patriarchal sexual difference.36

Perhaps, then, the aircraft is ambivalent in terms of gendering, or even in terms of sexuality. Perhaps it is gendered or sexed, sometimes performed as one thing, sometimes as another. If this is right then the distribution of potency, of agency, is sustained in part by such abrupt redistributions of gendering. By their interferences with one another. And so it is that the ‘‘aesthetic,’’ out of place in the ‘‘techni­cal,’’ reappears. It reappears in the form of the ‘‘illustrations’’ that, by demoting themselves to the status of‘‘illustrations,’’ are precisely able to propose distributions that strengthen the shifting performance of the aircraft as agent. But they are able to do so in a way that excites no comment, by other and technically outrageous means.


If agency is a matter of multiple distributions, and those distributions are effected in many different coordinations and contrasts, then to understand the character of agency it becomes necessary to explore the character of these interferences. It becomes important to explore the ways in which they overlap or don’t. And it also becomes impor­tant to explore the Others that are generated in the course of setting up those contrasts—which means, predominantly, the distributions of passivity and their corresponding interferences.

The specific conclusion I want to draw in this chapter is that the performance of technological agency is complex. Perhaps technolo­gies are indeed predominantly characterized by their capacity for action in a series of partially related contrasts. In the present case we have come across a series of pairs: activity and passivity, invulner­ability and vulnerability, transcendence and mundanity, resource­using and constitution as a resource, containment and contained threat, rapist and victim, technical controller and technical outcome, man and woman, and woman and man. All of these are different (in some cases considerably so), but they all tend to perform the tech­nology as an active and controlling agent and to distribute those con­trasts in a way that simultaneously performs the passivity and vul­nerability of (aspects of) nature and culture.

140 Aesthetics I am arguing, then, that the distribution being built by the brochure



One way of insisting on the rigor of "interpretation" is to work with materials that appear side by side. One would look, for instance, to references about gender in the materials under study before making any argument about gendering.

There are no explicit references to gendering in the TSR2 brochure. The austere view is that this renders it impossible to talk of gendering in this context. An alternative view is that this requirement is unnec­essarily restricting: that if we allow only those categories which are to be found in the materials to form part of the analysis then we are limiting the ways in which we may juxtapose materials to generate effects.

The austere response in turn to this is that if we are allowed to juxtapose, for instance, a text by Griselda Pollock (1988) on gendering in pre-Raphaelite and impressionist art with the illustrations in a mid­twentieth-century aircraft brochure, then the effects are of a juxta­position that we have made, which might therefore be made in quite different ways by others: that we are, in short, in danger of seeing what we want to see.

In the context of distributions such as gendering this is an ever­present difficulty: that, so to speak, we know what we are going to find before we start looking. Hey presto, there it is again! The countervail­ing pull is, however, the sense, which is simultaneously a blessing and a curse, that gendering is indeed endlessly performed.

There is no way to resolve this tension. But it is possible to make it more complex by refusing to imagine that gendering is a single dis­tribution, or indeed a limited set of distributions and allocations, but rather is embodied and performed, as Stefan Hirschauer, Annemarie Mol (Hirschauer and Mol 1995), and Ingunn Moser (Law and Moser 1999) suggest, not as gender in the singular but rather in endlessly complex and partially connected genderings and genderings-relevant performances (all ungrammatically but deliberately put in the plural).


is strong precisely because of its complexity. It is a complex of inter­ferences between different and partially connected strategies for dis­tributing agency and passivity. For if the distributions are different, indeed so different that in places they appear to be in direct contra­diction, those contradictions are problematic only if they are brought together. But this does not happen. Often they work to reinforce one another, but because they are distributed, kept apart, even their in­consistencies are not necessarily troubling. In a multiple or a frac­tional world constituted from partial connections,37 there is no great premium on “overall” consistency—for there is no overall viewpoint, no god-eye view. Thus the division between the ‘‘purified’’ realms of the aesthetic and the ‘‘strictly technical’’ is precisely a source of poten­tial power. For if these are said to have nothing to do with one another, then they can work in quite contrary ways to generate mutually sup­porting distributions or singularities. This helps to explain why the aesthetic might be so deeply removed from and subordinated to the technical in modernism and yet also remain so important to it. For the aesthetic entertains contrasts that are impossible within the tech­nical or the pragmatic, contrasts that are discursively inconsistent or outrageous but that often enough work with those of the technical to produce singularity.

So agency, including technical agency, is performed in both techni­cal and aesthetic distributions. But if these strategies for coordination have their specificities (and of course it is consistent with the argu­ment that this is the case) we need to study both.38 It becomes impor­tant to avoid treating the aesthetic as ‘‘merely illustrative’’ while at­tending to what is taken to be ‘‘serious,’’ for to do so is to set draconian and quite unnecessary restrictions on our understanding of the dis­tributions made by technical agency and its Others. But the converse is also true: we also need to attend to that which calls itself‘‘techni – cal.’’ It is important to avoid restrictions that perform purity while, all around us, we are being distributed by impurities in ways that simply pretend to purity.

In short, once again, we are witnesses to the operation of an oscil­lation between singularity and multiplicity, an oscillation that juxta­poses multiplicities in a pattern of interferences that are the neces­sary condition for the strength of singularity thereby generated.

Soyez realiste! Demandez I’impossiblel—Text of French student poster at the time of the 1968 French evenements

S’il y a une tradition quinous singularise, c’est, me semble-t-il, celle quia nom ”politique.” La question de savoir ce qu’est la cite, quiluiappartient, quels droits, quelles responsabilites traduisent cette appartenance, et les mouvements de lutte, inventant des exigences, des obligations et des identi – tes nouvelles, transformant les modes de’appartenance, sont ce quisingular – ise d’abord notre histoire.—Isabelle Stenders, ”Le Medecin et le Charlatan,” in Tobie Nathan and Isabelle Stengers, Medecins et Sorciers


So there are multiplicities, multiple subjects and multiple objects. There are interacting performances. And there are many distribu­tions between subjects and objects. Or simply between different ob­jects. And then there are overlaps, resonances, alignments, coordina­tions, and interferences. Performances, multiplicities, distributions, and interferences come together as a package: it is not possible to talk about one without, at least by implication, talking of the others. And the singularities of ‘‘the modern project’’ arise from the interfer­ences between multiplicities produced in that characteristic oscilla­tion between one and many. Singularities arise even if the interfer­ences and the multiplicities are effaced in deferral—are rarely visible, except perhaps as a technical problem to be addressed and resolved in the next bout of problem solving, the next attempt to render ‘‘truly singular.’’

Подпись: •vjПодпись: DECISIONSIn this chapter I explore the coordinating interferences of politi­cal decision making. I’m interested in capital P Politics, the kind of politics that calls itself‘‘Politics,’’ that makes itself big and important, the methods by which it assures its distributions. And at the same time I am concerned with the overlaps and interferences implied in a notion like ‘‘decision making.’’ My case is the 1965 cancellation of the TSR2 project. Behind schedule and much more expensive than an­ticipated, cancellation, long debated, became a real possibility with the election of a Labour government in late 1964—a government that replaced thirteen years of Conservative administration.

EXHIBIT 7.1”The discussion showed there had been a certain divergence amongst those concerned. James Callaghan, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, wanted to can­cel the plane altogether for purely financial reasons. Ranged against him were (a) Denis Healey, who wanted to cancel the TSR2 and to substitute the American F-111-A, which would mean a certain saving of money but an enormous increase of outlay in dollars; and (b) Roy Jenkins, who wanted to cancel the TSR2 and re­place it with a British plane—which was roughly George Brown’s view as well; and (c) George Wigg, who held the view that we might have to cancel both but we musn’t make any decision until we had finished the strategic reappraisal which would show what kind of plane was required.” (Crossman 1975, 190-91)


Exhibit 7.1 is a record, one of several, of the cabinet meeting that led to the cancellation of the TSR2. It is drawn from the diaries of one of the participants, Cabinet Minister Richard Crossman (1975). Crossman was Minister for Housing in the government at the time of the deci­sion to cancel—though perhaps in saying this I have already given too much away But never mind. Let’s attend to Crossman and what he writes. So what should we make of this?

No doubt there are many possibilities, but first I want to note that this is another distribution. We know the semiotic version of this argument: objects are being made, realities brought putatively into being. It is a performance and not simply a description. So Crossman generates, inter alia, four locations, places, or possibilities, each with its own specific attributes. He achieves this in various ways, but most straightforwardly, he does so by simply arraying them in the form of a list. This maneuver tends, as I shall shortly argue, to perform their equivalence for certain purposes.

What, then, of the specifics of Crossman’s list? It is very impor­tant to say that his array is not idiosyncratic, some kind of invention unique to its author. For if narratives are indeed performative, then it is important to ask how much, to what extent, where, and how, the distributions that they entail are being performed, which implies a series of questions about interference that demand empirically com­plex answers. These answers will have us both attending to the dif­ferences between distributions just as much as their similarities and 144 Decisions referring to material forms quite other than talk.11 shall touch on both

of these issues in what follows. But in the present context we can simply say that Crossman’s division performs, or at any rate assists in the performance of, a version of a distribution that is also being enacted in a wide variety of other locations—and indeed, by a wide variety of participants and observers. It is, in other words, not some strange aberration.

Let me give some examples of other related lists or arrays.

—Though, since it comes from the same source, this is not the strongest form of evidence, a little later in Crossman’s own narra­tive we come across another, similar, distribution (exhibit 7.2).2 —Harold Wilson, who was Prime Minister and chaired the cabinet meeting, performs his own array that roughly coincides with the first two (exhibit 7.3).

—Though exhibit 7.4 does not reproduce the list in full, observers close to Denis Healey, the Defence Minister, describe a choice that maps on to those performed by Wilson and Crossman (exhibit 7.4). —An extract from a Ministry of Defence press statement released on the day the TSR2 cancellation was announced generates a fur­ther distribution that can, again, be related to Crossman’s (exhibit 7.5).

So it is important that these lists perform themselves in ways that tend to overlap—though we will need to attend carefully to the ways

EXHIBIT 7.2 ”In the end, after another confusing discussion, Harold Wilson summed up: there were three possi bilities. Possi bi lity 1 was to cancel TSR2 with­out taking up the American option. Possibility 2 was to cancel while taking up the option. And possibility 3 was to keep TSR2 for the time being and make our final decision after we had finished the strategic reappraisal.” (Crossman 1975, 191)

EXHIBIT 7.3 ”But we had to have a decision, and the Cabinet was called again for 10.00 p. m. By midnight I had to resolve a difficult. . . decision. The Cabi­net was split three ways; some favoured continuing with TSR 2; some favoured its outright cancellation; and the third group supported the Defence Secretary’s view that TSR 2 should go but that its military role should be taken over by an order for American Phantoms, together with one for a number of F 111As.” (Wilson 1971, 89-90)

EXHIBIT 7.4 ”The conclusion that TSR-2 was expendable was made possible be­cause a low-cost substitute exi sted in the high performance multi -mi ssion F-111, which the American government was prepared to sell to Britain. Had this aircraft not been available then TSR-2 might have been saved. One of Healey’s top plan­ners admitted that ‘the F-111 made cancellation of TSR-2 possible.”’ (Reed and Williams 1971, 183)

EXHIBIT 7.5 ”It will not be possible to define. . . [operational] tasks precisely until the defence review is completed later this year. This review may show that the number of aircraft required with TSR.2 performance characteristics may be substantially below the existing TSR.2 programme. On certain hypotheses about long term commitments it might even be possible to re-shape our defences in such a way as to dispense with this type of aircraft altogether. We shall make every effort to see how far existing or planned British aircraft. . . will meet the whole or part of the requirement. In order to ensure that our Services have appropri­ate aircraft in sufficient numbers H. M.G. have secured an option from the United States Government on the F.111A aircraft at a price per aircraft which even on a full scale programme would represent less than half the estimated total TSR.2 research, development and production cost.” (Defence 1965, para. 5) they fail to overlap in due course. It is also important that they over­lap, or don’t, in a number of different locations—though here, to be sure, I have considered only linguistic distributions while the perfor­mance (or otherwise) of dispersal across space and time in alternative materials is equally relevant.

Nevertheless, it is significant that various aircraft—the TSR2 itself, the F111, the F111A, the Phantom, and (here unnamed) British war – planes—keep on reappearing. It’s going to be significant because what we usually think of as decision making—and here Political decision making—may be understood as the performance of certain forms of overlapping distribution. These distributions resemble one another or may at any rate (and the nuance is vital) be made to resemble one another. Though multiple, they share, at least in some measure, cer­tain strategic features, features that help to render them also as sin – gular.3

So what, then, are those strategic features? What are the ‘‘technolo – 146 Decisions gies’’ of decisions, or Political decisions—that make themselves im-

portant? What kinds of distributions do these attempt? These are the questions that I now want to tackle.

The Politics of Decisions 1. Reality and the Disappearance of Fantasy

The first distribution is more than a distribution. It is another of these great dualisms, the performance of a great divide between reality and fantasy. None of the exhibits actually says anything about this, pre­sumably because there is no need to. But look, nonetheless, at the way this is done. For instance, all the exhibits take it for granted that the possibilities on offer are mutually exclusive, that they are in­deed just that, “options’’—which means that decision makers need to make a choice between possible scenarios, with the possibility of one, but only one, future reality. Thus the need for ‘‘hard choices’’ is per­formed for, and by, the British cabinet,4 and the possibility of what the poststructuralists sometimes call ‘‘undecidability’’ disappears. Or, if it doesn’t disappear, it is at least severely circumscribed and treated as a ‘‘technical’’ matter to be dealt with by (temporary) postponement, in the form of deferral that I have already discussed.5 Pursuing more than one option is thus performed as a fantasy.

But even before the four ‘‘options’’ are brought into being, a distri­bution has already taken place, one that frames the list, reduces it.

This is a distribution between that which is possible, and that which is not. For it is perfectly possible to imagine other possibilities, in principle. One might imagine, for instance, keeping TSR2 and buy­ing an American aircraft, or doing away with the whole lot, TSR2 and any of its alternatives, or abandoning NATO, joining the Warsaw Pact and buying Russian aircraft, or, for that matter, abandoning any form of military defense at all. Such options are not inconceivable. But by the time the decision is being considered, these and any other op­tions have been removed from the universe of possibilities or, perhaps more likely, were never conceived as options in the first place. They have thus been performed as imaginary rather than real.6

Fantasy and reality. They say of politics that it is the art of the pos­sible, a place where ‘‘hard decisions’’ are made. But this itself is a per­formative distribution. It is performed in each of the exhibits cited earlier. It is an interference, an overlap. Or it is a coordination. If I were being aggressive I would add that it is also self-serving because Decisions 147

it works to distinguish between so-called “dreamers” and ‘‘realists’’ — in favor of the latter, to be sure, who are thus built up as hard-headed heroes. Perhaps, however, it would be better to say more evenhand- edly that a commitment to the importance of taking ‘‘hard decisions’’ —in Politics as elsewhere—is the art of enforcing the very distinction between reality and fantasy and of insisting on the division as one of the foundations of things. This division, for instance, confines fan­tasy to fairy tales or the dreamier realms of the academy and reality to the world, and then, to be sure, allocates specific possible futures between these two classes.7

So this is an ontological performance—the particular definition of the conditions of possibility that frames and also enacts decision making. For even in performances that make quite different specific allocations to reality and fantasy, that disagree about the reality or otherwise of the possibilities being debated, the great division be­tween reality and fantasy is being performed and sustained—col – laboratively, so to speak.

Debate in High Politics, this performance of the art of the possible, thus turns around boundary disputes: about what might be classed as real and what might not, but never about the existence of the bound­ary itself, or, indeed, the existence of these two great regions.8 So this is the first great distribution, the first coordination, the first great technology of decision making. It is the abolition of the space that exists between fantasy and reality and the abolition of the possibility of living in that space.9

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.