chapter  6
23 Pages

Understanding Hybrid Identities: From Mechanical Models to Complex Systems

WithNikos Papastergiadis

BODIES AND THEIR PARTS: NATIONS AND THEIR SKINS Tolerance thresholds are critical for the well being of bodies and engines. To puncture the skin and contaminate organs, or to flood carburettors and overheat pistons, would lead to bleeding, infection, choking, and explosion. That much is true for bodies and engines. How far can such organic and mechanistic analogies be extended to explain the function of politics and society? In classical German political theory the conception of the political entity is based on an anthropomorphic organism. From Kant to Marx, they all drew on an image of the political body as if it had three key parts-a head that commands, arms that fight battles, and organs that fulfill specific functions (Cheah 2003). Most of the dispute within political theory has not revolved around the validity of this analogy, but has focused on the position of the head in relation to the rest of the body. The absolutist traditions equated the sovereign with the will of God, elevating the head slightly above the rest of the body, whereas the republicans defined the sovereign through a negotiated social contract, and so the head was submerged in the body. While the threat of invasion is intrinsic to maintaining the unity between head and body, the blindspot in this union is the nature of skin.