Clive Barnett on varieties of ‘the political’

In a recent post over on his blog, Pop Theory, Clive Barnett has written an excellent critical reflection upon the meanings and uses of ‘the political’ in social scientific discussion and political philosophy, as well as the various ways in which politics and the political are characterised, frequently dyadically. The post is set in the context of reflecting upon the growth in the supposition of the ‘post-political’ and Barnett’s healthy skepticism about it. I particularly like this passage:

Methodologically, the analysis of our post-political condition depends on a weird slippage – when one finds an example of partisan political action making use of consensual rhetoric, or of a political action culminating in a decision being made in the favour of some interests rather than others, or at the expense of others, then what you have found, it turns out, is not politics being done at all, but the end of politics, the closing down of the properly political. One would have thought that it’s not that difficult to recognise that politics is a game that turns on different ways of relating the partisan and the common, the partial and the universal, the specific and the general, at the level of rhetoric and action; dare one say it, even the consensual and the a(nta)gonistic (that’s what compromisebargainingdeal-making are after all). One might also think that the literature on the politics/the political distinction has some interesting ways of understanding the dynamics of those relations. One would have thought, too, that the fact that some people end up being better at politics than others – that it’s a game of winners and losers – could be understood as an important part of the game, worthy of some analytical attention, and not just interpreted as being an effort to end of the game.

I found the three varieties of discussion of the political that Barnett characterises a useful analytic for reflecting upon my own work and how I’d situate it, not least in terms of Barnett’s critique of the trend towards studies of “the politics of–”, of which I am certainly guilty. Its also interesting to reflect on what it might mean to talk about politics on the context of research given the increasing pressure to make knowledge ‘exchangeable’ and ‘transferable’…

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