Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Latour Pokes the Hornets' Nest

Bruno Latour proposes to speak truth not only to power but also to les soi-disant contre-pouvoirs. Whether he will succeed in doing so is doubtful, however, given his rhetorical strategy: he compares striking university professors to taxi drivers blocking streets to defend their "corporatist" interests. Perhaps this is accurate; perhaps it isn't. But it is sure to provoke.

Nevertheless, Latour does perform a useful service by attempting to deconstruct the word "autonomy" and showing how both sides in the conflict abuse its vagueness. He asks, pertinently, why France, alone in the world, insists on maintaining a distinction between chercheurs and professeurs. He wonders about the confusion of dependency on the state with liberty and about the insistence that, because some critiques of the status quo are deliriously excessive, the status quo should therefore be defended tooth and nail. All of these criticisms are pertinent, as well as percutantes.

The rub is that Latour is really just as vague as those he criticizes about how power should be apportioned in the wake of reform, which is really the crux of the matter. Who will evaluate professors? On what grounds? Who will have the power to apportion their time among various activities and responsibilities? Who will make hiring decisions? How will some of the acknowledged deficiencies of the French system of recruitment be remedied? He doesn't really have answers. His questions are good, but they would be better if framed in a way that would encourage the adversaries to hear them. As it is, they are likely only to raise the decibel level and drown themselves out.


It's always interesting to watch the fissures develop in the Socialist Party. It's almost a geological process. Each aspirant is a tectonic plate moved by the immense pressure of his or her ambitions. For a time a couple of these plates may move in tandem, but then an opposing force impinges from some odd angle, subduction occurs, and one begins to witness surface changes: a ridge or wrinkle developing here, a fissure there.

No sooner did Martine Aubry open the party leadership to a dozen or so Royalistes than we witness the emergence of a first fissure: Manuel Valls, only recently among the most vociferous of the Royalistes, called on the ex-candidate to stop stirring the pot, eschew polemic and controversy, and show the world the face of a "cool leader" rather than pursue a career as "spokesperson for the suffering" as she is doing in Guadeloupe. Wasn't it only yesterday that Valls was pledging to take the PS to court to block the election of Aubry? Apparently the former hothead of Reims has now anointed himself the "cool leader" from Evry.

To continue the geological metaphor: Will this friction trigger a volcanic eruption in the tropics?

Political Football

Larguée, l'Amara? À la dérive? It's true that we haven't heard much from the secretary of state for urban affairs in recent months, and the celebrated Plan Banlieue seems to have been swallowed up by the crisis sinkhole. But here she is on the job: in partnership with the Fédération Française de Football hard at work on "le dispositif Permis, Sport, Emploi," whatever that is.