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Introduction

This book both continues and departs from lines of inquiry I have pursued in earlier work concerned with the relationships between culture and practices of governance. I first engaged with these questions in Culture: A Reformer’s Science (Bennett 1998), partly with a view to defining a place for cultural policy studies within the broader field of cultural studies. This required, I argued, that the concept of culture be rethought so that such concerns might be presented as integral to the field rather than being grudgingly admitted as somewhat extraneous, largely pragmatic, additions to it. I drew for this purpose on Foucault’s concept of governmentality in view of the critical leverage it provided in relation to those uses of the concept of culture – mainly those current at the time within Anglophone cultural studies – in which culture and government were understood as contraries. I took a similar tack in Pasts Beyond Memory (Bennett 2004), but one which placed a greater emphasis on the role of knowledge practices by examining how the museological deployment of post-Darwinian developments in the life sciences, archaeology, and anthropology informed the changing forms of late-nineteenth-century liberal government in Australia, Britain and the United States. I sought, in doing so, to bring the perspectives of governmentality theory into a productive relationship with those of science studies, particularly as represented by Bruno Latour’s work on centres of calculation. This involved a consideration of the respects in which museums operated as critical switch points across different networks: centres of calculation that, in ordering the materials they accumulated from diverse points of collection, produced new entities that they then relayed back out to the world as resources for shaping conduct via their deployment in different networks: the capillary networks of public schooling, those of public spheres or the apparatuses of colonial or social administration. Making Culture, Changing Society connects these interests in the relations

between governmentality theory and knowledge practices to the perspectives of assemblage theory and the more general ‘material turn’ that is currently in evidence across the human and social sciences in order to explore their implications for how we might now best use and interpret the concept of culture. I am, though, less concerned to argue for an interpretation of the concept that would find its primary rendez-vous within cultural studies than

I am to explore whether and, if so, on what conditions the concept is capable of identifying a meaningfully specific and coherently integrated set of concerns. I say ‘if ’ as the continuing value of, and need for, the concept are no longer matters that can be taken for granted. Few of the theoretical traditions that I draw on in this book have a great deal to say about the concept of culture. They have also, between them, rung the death knell for the ‘cultural turn’ as, in essence, a linguistic modelling of the social. This ‘turn’ has proved productive as a counter to the tendency to seek the ‘truth’ of culture in a set of underlying economic and social relations that (in however qualified a way) characterised the Marxist debates of the 1960s and 1970s. Its chief limitation, though, is that of sharing a similar problem space in which the analysis of the relations between culture and society come to pivot on the decipherment of a general set of relations between representations and the real. It is for these reasons that I ask, as my starting question, whether we might

now need to relocate the concerns that have previously been addressed under the heading of culture on an analytical terrain that is ‘after culture’. Although I answer this question in the negative, my reasons for posing it are not solely rhetorical. It is only by probing its limits that the concept of culture can be brought into a productive alignment with a theoretical landscape that is now significantly at odds with many of the intellectual coordinates that have shaped its history. My wager, in what follows, that this might be done involves four main lines of argument. The first is a historical one to the effect that, rather than being equated with

the realm of the symbolic and thus be interpreted as a component of all societies, culture is better regarded as a historically specific set of knowledge practices. I argue that these practices are the product of specific forms of expertise performed in particular institutional settings whose interactions comprise what I call a ‘culture complex’: that is, an ensemble of institutionally embedded knowledge practices that are entangled within, and act on, economic and social relations in varied ways. I work through these arguments by drawing on Michel Foucault’s understanding of the operations of knowledge practices as materially entangled components of dispositifs, and on Gilles Deleuze’s conception of the diagram as a means of understanding the dispersed, decentred intersections of power relations through which the social is constituted in the interactions between such dispositifs. These contentions are closely related to my second main line of argument:

that the mechanisms through which the culture complex is connected to, acts on and shapes the social proceed not through some general mechanism of cultural constructivism but through a distinctive ontological politics of culture. The conception of ontological politics that I draw on here had its original provenance in the field of science studies where – as in Annemarie Mol’s (2002) work on the medical sciences, for example – it refers to the capacity of scientific practices to produce and perform new realities through the alignments of the relations between both human and non-human actors that they effect. It has now, however, acquired a much broader currency, particularly in

its application to the performative capacities of the social sciences. There have been two main fields of application here: the ‘cultural economy’ tradition that, taking its primary cue from the work of Michel Callon and his collaborators (Callon, Millo and Muniesa 2007), has demonstrated the role that the various sub-disciplines of economics play as forces intervening in the makeup of their objects of study (markets), and work on ‘the social life of methods’ that has investigated how social science methods produce and perform new realities. There has, though, been little attempt to apply these perspectives systematically to the social role of cultural knowledges: art history, aesthetics, archaeology, literary studies, anthropology and so on. This is the endeavour that I seek to contribute to here. I do so by considering how far Bruno Latour’s contentions regarding the ways in which scientific practices produce new collectivities of actors (human and non-human) whose agential capacities arise from the orchestration of their inter-relations can illuminate the social lives of cultural knowledges. While I indicate how the concepts and arguments I propose are more generally applicable, my historical focus is, for the greater part, on the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, while the knowledge practices I devote most time to are aesthetics and anthropology. The reasons for this have to do principally with the third line of argument

that runs through the book. This concerns the respects in which the knowledges and institutions comprising the culture complex form parts of a historically distinctive regime of government, which, in ordering freedom, also distributes it differentially through the social body, as well as across the relations between different types of society. The historical and theoretical coordinates for this argument are derived from Michel Foucault’s general formulations of liberal govement and, in particular, from the arguments he put forward in The Birth of Biopolitics (Foucault, 2008) regarding how liberal forms of government work by and through the distinctive kinds of freedom that they produce. Foucault is clear that these freedoms are made up through the operation of distinctive regimes of veridification or truth practices that, among other things, regulate the (unequal) distribution of the capacities for freedom that they produce and enjoin across different populations. How have the knowledge practices of anthropology and aesthetics been tangled up in the exercise of these forms of liberal government? How have they been implicated in the makeup and distribution of different kinds of freedom both within metropolitan powers and across the relations between these and colonial contexts? A part of my answer to these questions depends on my fourth and final

general line of argument. This concerns the role that cultural knowledge practices play in producing what I call different ‘architectures of the person’ as their routes into the direction of conduct. Again, the provenance for my argument here is broadly Foucauldian, drawing on the ways in which Foucault’s work on technologies and practices of the self proposes an internal partitioning of the self in order to provide the differentiated spaces across which the action of self on self can take place. However, it also looks, as did Foucault, to the work of Pierre Hadot (1995), whose analysis of the role of spiritual exercises

in the conduct of philosophy as a distinct ‘way of life’ has had a broader influence on the distinctive forms of personhood associated with different kinds of scientific and intellectual practice. Lorraine Daston’s and Peter Galiman’s (2010) account of the different organisations of the scientific self associated with the transition from Enlightenment conceptions of ‘truth to nature’ to mid-nineteenth-century conceptions of objectivity is a case in point. My interest in ‘architectures of the person’ is focused on how intellectual practices in the social and human sciences lay out differentiated components of personhood and orchestrate their relations to one another in ways that provide intellectual authorities with conduits into the regulation of conduct. They provide points of leverage through which distinctive forms of cultural expertise access and enable specific capacities; and they do so, I shall argue, in ways that differentiate populations depending on the degree to which the architectures of personhood attributed to them afford, or deny, a capacity for freedom. By pursuing these concerns in relation to the role that habit is accorded within different architectures of the person, I explore how the distribution of a capacity for freedom is articulated across a liminal zone between the human and non-human.