[iDC] "recursive publics"

David M. Berry D.M.Berry at swansea.ac.uk
Fri Jul 10 14:21:06 UTC 2009

A useful way to reconceptualise the debate and avoid the problems of a 
metaphysical concept like 'justice' is to think in terms of assembling 
or making, that is of justification. Here a useful discussion of this as 
a way of reconceptualising Michael Walzer's notion of 'Spheres of 
Justice' is in Boltanski and Thevenot (2006) /On Justification: 
Economies of Worth/. They use the notion of six 'cities' (renamed 
'worlds' in Boltanski and Chiapello (2007) /The New Spirit of 
Capitalism/) and discuss the way in which different 'cities' construct 
different notions of how a justification is made and with reference to 
what (in this case 'tests of worth'). The six cities are civic, market, 
inspired, fame, industrial, and domestic, and they are legitimated 
through a range of tests that orient the actors towards a notion of the 
common good (that is, the common good within the discursive framework of 
a particular city/world). They later add a seventh city/world, the 
'projective world' in /The New Spirit of Capitalism/, which is 
particularly relevant to the kinds of discussions taking place on this 
list. What is key, I think, about this conceptualisation is that these 
city/worlds exist simultaneously and are in constant tension with each 
other, so that actors are continually mobilising different worlds, and 
attempting to undermine alternative justifications in order to deploy 
and stabilise particular projects.

A good example might be the way in which free software advocates use the 
notion of a 'civic world' (e.g. citizenship, community) against 
notionally similar actors in the open-source movement who tend towards 
an 'industrial world' for justification (e.g. productivity, efficiency), 
which is in contrast to Creative Commons which tends towards 
justification based on a projective world (e.g. flexible networks, 
projects). As these city/worlds are based on tests of worth, they must 
constantly be renewed and reapplied (in a recursive sense) and this 
gives a dynamic to the process of justification, and (argue Boltanski 
and Thevenot) a dynamic to capitalism which requires justification in 
some form of another (a la Weber) to operate successfully. What is 
fascinating about this approach is that it does not assume a hegemonic 
form of ideology, nor a homogenous group acceptance, rather the process 
of justification is a process of building alliances around the 
acceptance and performance of tests -- which really reminds me of the 
example of David Clark's phrase 'We reject: kings, presidents and 
voting. We believe in: rough consensus and running code', in other words 
the 'test of worth' of functioning software together with the witnessing 
of that performance which will give a technical consensus to the 
solution to a (usually) technical problem. This I think helps unpacks 
the notion of 'justice' within particular spheres and allows us to look 
for moments when a test is being made, and whether that test has 
legitimacy and is accepted by the participants.


Dean, Jodi wrote:
> Jodi says:
>      Another way to put this: the justice of the market is not the same as political justice.
> Chris replies:
> okay, i'll bite, what is the difference?
> Jodi:
> in a market, the agreement of buyer and seller makes something just; this is understood as price (under the assumption that markets achieve equilibrium).
> there are different versions of political justice. some of these versions meet up and conflict with price, so:
> --justice requires that some things not be sold, that some things have no price
> --justice requires an equal outcome
> --justice requires participation in the constitution of the site of exchange
> --justice requires basic conditions that come prior to exchange
> --justice requires mindfulness of the long term/future generations
> with the last one, we get into different kinds of justice
> --justice in rectifications
> --justice in the distribution of responsibilities and rights
> --the characteristics of just laws and procedures
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Dr David M. Berry

Media and Communications Department
School of Arts
University of Wales Swansea
Wales, UK

Email: D.M.Berry at swansea.ac.uk
Tel: x2633
Web: http://www.swansea.ac.uk/staff/academic/Arts/berryd/
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