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.