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At the Edge Author(s): Wendy Brown Source: Political Theory, Vol. 30, No. 4, What Is Political Theory?

Special Issue: Thirtieth Anniversary (Aug., 2002), pp. 556-576 Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3072621 Accessed: 06/08/2010 16:12
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WENDY BROWN Universityof California,Berkeley

Here lies the vocation of those who preserveour understanding of past theories, who sharpenour sense of the subtle, complex interplaybetween political experience and thought,andwho preserveour memoryof the agonizingeffortsof intellectto restatethe possibilities and threatsposed by political dilemmasof the past. -Sheldon S. Wolin, "PoliticalTheory as a Vocation" In the same way in which the great transformation of the first industrialrevolution as well as the legal categoriesof the ancien destroyedthe social and political structures regime,termssuch as sovereignty,right,nation,people, democracy,and generalwill by now referto a realitythatno longerhas anythingto do with whatthese concepts used to designate-and those who continue to use these concepts uncriticallyliterally do not know what they are talking about. -Giorgio Agamben,Means withoutEnds: Notes on Politics Looking obliquely at the edges of things, where they come togetherwith otherthings, can tell you as much aboutthem,often, as can looking at themdirectly,intently,straight on. -Clifford Geertz,"TheNear East in the FarEast"

criticaltheoryteaches thatidentityis createdthroughborContemporary ders and oppositions. The outside constructsthe inside and then hides this work of fabricationin an entity that appearsto give birthto itself. Thus to inquire"Whatis political theory?"is to ask aboutits constitutiveoutside as well as its techniquesof dissimulatingthis constitution.Whatdoes political theory position itself against and by what discursive means? What does it imagineitself not to be, to be differentfrom?Whatepistemological,stylistic, and ontological conceits denote its significantothers,its scenes of alterity?
AUTHOR'SNOTE:Thanksto RobynMarascofor researchassistance and to Stephen White, JudithButler,and Gail Hershatterfor their critical readings. POLITICAL Vol.30 No.4, August 2002 556-576 THEORY, ? 2002SagePublications 556



Explicit answersto these questionshave variedover the severalmillennia of political theory in the West. For Socrates,the epic poets and the sophists contouredthe edges of politicaltheory;for Machiavelli,it was Christian morthe for moral for for alists; Hobbes, scholastics; Nietzsche, theorists; Weber, political ideologues; for Arendt, social and economic theory; for Sheldon Wolin,methodism;for IsaiahBerlin, science. This partiallist remindsus that orthatconwhatis cast out is also thatwhich rivalsor displacesthe enterprise tains the specter of its colonization. What defines political theory for any its dissoluepoch or thinkeris also conceived, at least in part,as threatening tion. This becomes even clearer when we leave the consideration of epistemological concerns for ontological ones: across its disparatemodaliof the relative ties, politicaltheorytakesits bearingsfroma tacitpresumption boundednessandautonomyof the political.The existence of politicaltheory qua political theoryhas dependedheavily on definingthe political as distinguishable(if not distinct)fromthe economic, the social, the cultural,the natNor does contentexhaustthis project ural,andthe private/domestic/familial. of differentiation: life is also political tacitlycircumscribed by its theoristsin terms of a distinct ethos or sensibility,differentiated(albeit not necessarily sequestered)from the emotional,the psychic, the erotic, the poetic, the literary,andat times, the moral.Forpoliticaltheoryto claim singularityandclaim proprietyover a territoryof concern, it must set itself off from these other domains, practices, and sensibilities. But like political theory's epistemological others,each laps at the shore of the political, promisingto subvertor undo it if certainpolicing measuresare not undertaken. All of which is to say the familiar:if the very existence of political theory depends on contingentdesignationsof what is not political and what is not theoretical,then political theoryis a fiction, constitutedby inventeddistinctions and a range of rivalries and conceits, all of which are mutable and and vary across time and place, not to mentioninvestmentand puncturable interest. To identify political theory's contrivednature,however, does not it helps to set the stage for considerreduceor devaluethe enterprise; rather, the and it faces in a particular time andplace. An ing possibilities challenges of what itself understanding political theoryarrays againsttoday,how it differentiatesitself from what is intellectuallyproximateto it, and what wolves it fears at its door,may help us graspnot only whatpolitical theoryimagines itself to be andto be for, butwhatanxietiesanduncertainties it has aboutthis identityandwhatlimits it places on itself to maintaincoherenceandpurpose in the face of its potentialundoing. Antiessentialistperspectivesandan appreciation of the fictionalqualityof knowledgecategoriesarenot the only insightsfrom late moder criticaltheory relevantto ourproblem.Thereis also, for example,the matterof marked



and unmarkedsignifiers. What is political theory ... today? To pursuethe questionwithoutthe temporalqualifierwould be to eschew not only the contingency of identityproductionbut its relentlesslyhistoricalquality.To pursue the question without the temporalqualifieris alreadyto take a stance withinthe battlefor politicaltheory'sfuture,one thataims for hegemonyand refuses to avow its own dependenciesand unconsciousstrategies.To let the temporal qualifier remain unspecified is also to propose to consider the natureand purposeof political theory in terms that disavow its historically constructedandcontingentnaturefromthe startandthus to try to resurrect a truthundoneby the enterpriseof theoryitself. So, then, whatis politicaltheory today ... where?in the Anglo-Americanintellectualworld?in western Europeor its easternstep-sibling?outside the metropolesof modernity?in the academy?in the streets?(whose streets?)To leave these mattersunspecified is to remainblinkeredto the long elite past of political theoryas well as the saturation by colonial Europeanand postwarAmericanhegemony that has conditionedthe identityandcontentsof recognizedpoliticaltheoryin the more recent past. It is also to sustain,unreconstructed, the legacies of these in if the answer. And we our "What is politicaltheory pasts stipulate question, in the American we still need to ask about the workof that today academy?" "is." we for Are the soul of an verb, tiny searching existingpracticeor a possible one? Are we askingwhatwe do now,how we signify to others(whichothers?), or what we might become?' And if we are not forthrightlyblending normativedesire into description-if we really endeavor to describe our activity ratherthan our own particularinvestmentsin it-what sleights of hand are we engaged in then? Still thinking about what contemporarycritical theory might suggest aboutthe questionof "Whatis political theory?"we learnfrom identitycritiqueto inquire,Whatanimatesandinvigoratesthis particular attemptto designate and distinguish a collective practiceor way of life? What might be fearedor hopedfor herethatstipulatedidentityis imaginedto resolve or provide? If identity always entails a certain cessation in what Plato called to consolidatebeing overbecoming,if it 'becoming',if it is alwaysan attempt is always a foreclosureof desire with ontology, of yearningwith naming(of an "I want,"in which the wantingincessantlydeconstructsthe I, with an "I am,"in which the I fantasizesitself as immuneto being undoneby desire),of indeterminacywith a hardenedlist of attributes-if, in short, identity is always both a fall and a set of foreclosures,it may be instructiveto attendto the anxietiesor sufferingsprecipitating the call for identityresolutionat this particularmoment. What vulnerabilityto the inchoate, the impure, or the unknownappearsto be untenableandin need of reprieve? Whatpressureson



or reachbeyonditself appearradically politicaltheoryto yield its boundaries to the and its trench workers? enterprise imperiling Of course it is impossible, in a single essay, to takethe measureof all that these questions open up, but we may nonethelessfeel their disruptivepresence as we pursuea narrowerset of questions. One way to do this involves considering contemporarychallenges to the identity of political theory throughthe frame of borderpolitics. Which of modem Westernacademic political theory's constitutivebordersare currentlyweakening or eroding, from what sources, and with what consequences for the enterprise?Where are these erosions producing fertile transformationsof political theory's andarticulations with otherdisciplinary objectsof study,self-understanding, And of a reactiveidentity where are these the occasion approaches? changes to either as anxious efforts reconsolidate formation-manifesting rapidly liquifyingobjectsof analysis,or as fiercepolicing of wideninggaps in porous boundaries? And where might we see both transformative and reactiveprocesses going on at once? In what follows, I will not considerevery borderor every strandof what has become an ornatelysubdividedfield. I will not look closely, for example, at the changingboundarybetween philosophy and political theory organizandconcernsof moralpoliticalthought,or thatbetweennew ing the territory historicism and political theory configuring historicized interpretations of canonicalworksof theory.And I will not much considerthe borderbetween political theory and the discipline of political science, or political theory's andpeculiarborderwith whathas come to be denominatedas forparticular mal theory.Certainlyeach of these could be the site of a productiveinquiry. But I want to begin more broadly,with considerationof a set of late moder developments that have created substantialchallenges for the particular strandof politicaltheoryaddressedto contemporary politicallife andits possibilities, whether in a conserving, diagnostic, or prescriptivevein. These developmentshave historical-material wellspringsthatin turngeneratecertain intellectual responses, both across academic thought and specifically within the profession of political theory.Provisionallyand somewhatawkwardly, I will denote these late moder challenges to political theory as and"professional" andsketcheachbriefly. "world-historical," "intellectual,"

WORLD HISTORY Worldhistory,the ungainly termby which is signified the emergence of certain forces and the transformationof certain orders of existence that exceed any locally or nationallyinstigatedevents, offers a host of challenges



to the boundednessand autonomy of politics. Here is how it goes today: nation-statesovereignty recedes while economic forces and transnational institutionscome to the fore as majorglobal actors;culturepatentlyshapes political identityand drivespolitical conflict and affiliation;natureemerges as an intenselyagenticpoliticalforce andpoliticizedfield, neitherimmuneto norabsenta politics of its own;the bodily,the ethnic,and humanconstruction the sexual have eruptedas dense sites of local, national,and international conflict; the domestic withers to its smallest possible dimensions and content, where it is denaturalized by relentlesscommodificationand eruptsas a of with relationsof inegalitarianism, saturated domination, province power and exploitation;the social or the civic, ratherthanthe state, is increasingly figuredas the domainof democracy-social movementis the namefor popularpolitical mobilizationandcivil society is the designatedspherefor politiand virtue(its absence is denotedas a "crisis" cal association,participation, for democracy);and finally, historically specific global powers are understood to have diverse local effects, hence the temporallycontingentand the local become sites for theorizingandenactingdemocraticresistanceto these powers. These developments-whether regardedas effects of globalized capitalism or of late modernitymore broadly-are significantfor political theory; indeed, they are almost (but not quite) deadly in their significance. With them, the traditionaloutcasts from the political as it has been widely conceived in Westernpolitical thought-economics, culture,nature,the bodily, the domestic,the social, the civic, andthe local-come home to roost.In this return, theydilutethe distinctiveness,the hypostasizedpurityof politicaltheory,just as surely as the last half-century'smigrationof the colonials to the Man. It undonethe conceit of (pure)(European) metropoleshas irreversibly here:havethese pheis difficultto choose the most aptpostcolonialmetaphor nomena forced an encounterwith the inherenthybridityor impurityof the political, or have they disseminatedand hence unboundedthe political? Or both? Perhapsdifferentdevelopmentsfunctiondifferently,some producing hybrids,as in the fusion of certainculturaland political phenomenaor the expansionof the politicized economy, while othersfigure the dissemination of the political, for example,the construalof manyfacets of domestic lifefromchild careto domesticviolence to the definitionof marriage-as political and legal concerns.What is common within this varietyis the potential identity crisis for political theory threatenedby these developments.If, for as negotiatedat example,democraticpoliticallife is increasinglyunderstood temporallycontingentand spatiallylocal levels, whathappensto the universal and transhistorical signatureof political theory?If politics is in culture betweenpolitandcultureis relentlesslypolitical,whatdenotestheboundary



ical theory and anthropologicalor other kinds of culturaltheory,including theoriesof art,music, film? If the public/private distinctionis in partideological andfunctionsto obscurethe saturation of the privatesphereby powerand convention,then what is the differencebetween feminist theory devoted to andpoliticaltheory?Indeed,what,otherthananxitheorizingthis saturation about loss of ety identity and place, animatesthe drawingof a line between feministtheoryandpolitical theory,betweentheoriesof cultureandtheories of politics, between social or political economic theoryandpolitical theory? What remainsof the generic of political theory other than an obvious and anxiouspowermove to demotethese otherkindsof inquiryto subgenericstatus? Whatwould be the functionof this move otherthanto preservea realm itself undoneby history?

INTELLECTUAL MIGRATIONS The intellectualmigrationsaffectingthe boundariesaroundpolitical theory areoccasioned in partby the worldhistoricaldevelopmentslisted above butcontaintheirown contingenciesas well. The workof thinkingaboutpolitical matters theoretically has lately been undertakenin disciplines as far removedfromeach otherandfrompolitical science as arthistory,anthropolTo a degree, this is an effect of the ogy, rhetoric,geography,and literature. late modem disseminationof the political described above; when culture and arthistoriansinevitaappearsas suffused with politics, anthropologists become theorists even as theorists takeup cultureas an bly political political of the intellectual dissemination of politicaltheory However, object analysis. the of bounds and science also issues froma conbeyond philosophy political of over the half sequentialrethinking power past century. In the nineteenthcentury,Marxchallengedthe boundaries of politicalthewith his of in the social and ory discovery power specifically economic realm. The blow this argumentdelivered to the line between political and social theorycould be repelledonly by refusingMarx'sinsistenceon the primacy of the economic, which was exactly Arendt'smove, in a differentvein, Foucault's, and of course the move of bourgeois liberals. In the past forty years, however,the disciplinarychallenge has come from anotherdirection, one moredifficultfor politicaltheoryto repelbecauseit concernsnot merely the venue butthe very conceptualization of whatWebercalled "thelifeblood of politics":power.Recent Continentalthought-not only in philosophybut also that of structuralistand poststructuralistlinguists, anthropologists, semioticians, literary theorists, psychoanalysis, and historians-has radically reconceivedthe operations,mechanics,circulation,logics, venues, and



vehicles of power. On one hand, power has been discerned in relations between words, juxtapositions of images, discourses of scientific truth, of bodies and gestures, in social orchestrations of pain microorganizations and pleasure,sickness, fear, health, and suffering.On the otherhand, these have devastated conventionalformulations of powerreconceptualizations those thatcast poweras merelynegativeor repressive,as commodifiableand as inherentlyrelatedto violence or to law. Understandings of transferable, have also been transformed and in enriched work feminist power theory, by postcolonialtheory,criticalracetheory,andqueertheory:no longeris it possible to reduce stratificationby gender, sexuality, race, or ethnicity to semioticor biological essences on one hand,or mereeffects of law,policy, or social prejudiceon the other.Rather,as effects of power, these formations andcirculationof powercarriedin imagistic and highlightthe manifestation discursiverepresentations, in psychic subjection,in spatialorganization,in the disciplining of bodies and knowledges. They concretize the Derridean and Foucauldianinsights into power's normativeactions and effects. They makeit difficultif not impossibleto return to simpleequationsof powerwith or wealth. sovereignty,rule, In addition to the reformulationsof power discussed above, there is anothermatterconcerningpowerthatis significantfor politicaltheorytoday, namely,the statusof capitalismin ourthinking.Fora numberof reasons,capitalismis not muchon political theory'sagendatoday.Firstandmost important, it appearsunchallengeable.Second, it is difficult to make the case for viable alternatives, eitherfor theirviabilityor for the possibilityof achieving them. Third,over the past centuryand a half, in many ways capitalismhas become steadily less odious and more pleasurablefor the majoritypopulations of the FirstWorld;gone arethe scenes of the masses laboringat starvation wages for the wealth of the few, except in the ThirdWorld.Capitalist commodity production is also ever more oriented to the pleasures of the middle-classconsumer,andthe middleclass is evermoreorientedby its own pleasures.Thus, writes Agamben, "while the state in decline lets its empty of sovereigntyand domination, shell surviveeverywhereas a purestructure as whole is ... to the form of consumersocia delivered society irrevocably ety, thatis, a society in which the sole goal of productionis comfortableliving."2 Capitalismcharmsratherthanalienatesus with its constantmodificafor ourmereentertainment, tions of ourneeds andwith its production andwe are remarkably acclimatedto its productionof algorithmicincreases in the andreplacementof technologies.Fourth,howevercyniratesof redundancy cally or superficially,FirstWorldcapitalismhas developedan ethicalface: it recycles, conserves,andlabels;it divestsitself of geneticallymodifiedorganisms andmonosodiumglutamate,andcatersto kosher,vegetarian, andheart-



healthy diets; it refrainsfrom testing on animalsand develops dolphin-safe tunanets; it donatesfractionsof its profitsto cancerresearchand reforestation and sponsorsSpecial Olympics, Gay Pride,summerBach festivals, and educationalsupplementsfor the underprivileged. Save for occasionalrevelations about heinous sweatshop practices or dire devastations of pristine as a ruthlessexploiterandpolnature,it has largelylost its brutishreputation luter.Withthe aid of the media thatit also sponsors,it has effectively transferredthis reputation to images of power mongering,desperate,ignorant,or fundamentalistsites in the ThirdWorld-the Taliban,Castro,the People's Republicof China,the rubbertappersof the Brazilianrainforest.Fifth,these changes in capitalism itself are complemented by recent left intellectual tendencies that deflect from capitalism as a crucible of unfreedom and When the seeming perdurability of capitalism,the absence inegalitarianism. of compelling alternatives, its devotionto consumerpleasures,andits ostensibly improvedconscience arecombinedwith increasedtheoreticalattention to otherordersof injustice-those targetedby multiculturalist politics-capitalism slips into the background as an objectof critiqueor political concern. Sixth, the rise of professionalism(aboutwhich more below) in political theory and the apoliticalnatureof muchtheoryandtheoreticalexchangemeans thatthis backgrounding goes largelyuncontestedeven by those who consider themselves to be on the culturalleft. Finally,the repairof most Marxiststo theirownjournalsandconferences(this,too, a symptomof professionalism), and the extent to which many Anglo-AmericanMarxists have substituted and "identitypolitics"for capitalismas the chief targetof "postmodernism" theirwrathandanalyticalattention,meansthatthe Marxistprojectof illuminatingthe place of capitalismin political and social life has prettymuchvanished from the orbitof political theory. Yetif capitalismhas all butdisappeared as a subjectandobjectof political references to "globalization"), routine theory(notwithstanding drive-by capitalismis andremainsourlife form.Understoodnotjust as a mode of producor exchange,but as an unparalleled makerof history,capition, distribution, tal arguablyremains the dominantforce in the organizationof collective human existence, conditioning every element of social, political, cultural, intellectual,emotional, and kin life. Indeed, what for Marx constitutedthe basis for a critiqueof capitaldeeperthanits exploitationand denigrationof labor,deeperthanthe disparitiesbetween wealthandpovertyit organized,is that capital is a larger,more creative, and more nearly total form of power than anythingelse in humanhistoryyet fundamentally escapes humancontrol. It was this, in Marx's view, and not its inegalitariandistributionof wealth, that renderedcapital such a profoundly antidemocratichistorical force: too little is ours to craft or control as long as this force organizesand



producesourworld;too little canbe orderedaccordingto democraticdeliberation abouthumanneed, gratification,or enhancement-not our work, our values, ourfortunes,ourenmities,ourmodes of education,ourstyles of love, the contentof our suffering.This is not to say thatcapitalis the only significant social power afoot in the contemporary world. We have learnedotherwise from Nietzsche, Freud,Weber,du Bois, de Beauvoir,Fanon,Foucault, and their respective contemporarylegatees. While importantly supplementedby these teachings,however,Marx'sinsight into capital's awesome power to drive humanhistory and contouragentic possibility is not diminished by them. No one could have predictedhow the force of this insightwould multiply between Marx's time and the present.Our problemtoday, however,is less with its intensificationthanwith what to do with it when both the science of history and the revolutionary impulse thatMarxcountedon have collapsed, when the validityof the critiquepersistsbutthereis nothingto be done about it. ForMarx,the depthof the critiquewas matchedby the depthandreachof the redemptivepromise. Today this promise is almost fully extinguished. Thatthe most powerfulundemocratic force in humanhistoryappearshereto is the fundamental left and liberalpredicamenttoday, a predicastay-this ment thathauntsour theoreticalandpolitical practicesconcernedwith freedom, equality,justice, and more. This hauntis not the only consequenceof failing to engage the powers of capitalismin ourwork.Rather,ouravertedglance here also preventsus from graspingthe extent to which the dramaticalterationsin the configurationof the political discussed under the rubricof "worldhistory"are themselves effects of capitalism and not simply of secularization,disenchantment,or from the Communist Manifesto, contingenthumaninvention.To paraphrase smasher: thereis nothingit cannotpenecapitalismis a world-classboundary trate, infiltrate,rearrange,hybridize, commodify, invent, or dissolve. The movementof capitalis largelyresponsiblefor the extentto which boundaries havebeen erased,in late modernity, betweenactivitiesor sphereshistorically bearingat least a modestdistinctionfromone anotherin termsof space, style, or function,for example,the universityandthe corporation, sex organization, andtechnology,or the political andthe cultural.Thus,to theorizethe politics of recognition,the sexual orderof things, the natureof citizenship, or the of privacy,without taking the measureof their historically reconfiguration specific productionby capitalism, is literally not to know the constitutive conditionsof one's object of analysis. It is not to be able to graspthe powers organizinglife in our time and hence to risk ontologizing this organization and reifying its effects. Finally,to the degree that potentialtransformations



arefiguredin abstraction fromthe powersdelimitingpossibility,it is to make into political theory fantasyplay.

Political theorymight be defined in generaltermsas a traditionof discourseconcerned a civic andsecondaboutthe presentbeing andwell-being of collectivities.It is primarily this meansthatpoliticaltheoryis a critiarily an academicactivity.In my understanding cal engagementwith collective existence and with the political experiencesof power to which it gives rise.3

The practice of political theory has probably never been as professionalizedas it is today,a phenomenoncertainlyshapedby externalforces but heartilytakenup from within political theory'sranks,and even from the most young and hip among its ranks.By professionalization,I mean in part the organizationof a practice whose referentis itself, whose audience and judges areone another,andwhose existence is talliedandcertifiedby conferand othermarkersof recognitionconences, journals,prizes, recruitments, ferredaccordingto establishedhierarchiesandnorms.I also meanthe orientation of those within the profession to these markersand the setting of an agenda of inquiryby them. But the OxfordEnglish Dictionary provides a a profession fullersense of thepejorative implicationsof professionalization: is, in the widest sense, "anycalling or occupationby which a personhabitually earnshis living"but appearsto derivefromthataspectof the word "proto "thepromiseor vow madeby one enteringa religiousorder, fess" referring hence the actionof enteringsuch an order."4 Moreover,as Weberemphasized in his essays on politics and science as vocations, the professionalis distinbutis one guishednot simplyby degreeof expertisein relationto the amateur who, in the words of the dictionary,"makesa professionor business of any Thus,the dictiooccupation,art,or sportgenerallyengagedin as a pasttime." is a term"disparagingly naryentrycontinues,"professional" applied,to one who 'makes a trade' of anything that is properly pursued from higher motives, as a professionalpolitician."5The notion of entry into a religious order,with all the implicit oaths, vows, hierarchy,norms, and gatekeeping such entryentails, combined with the conversionof an intrinsicallyworthy endeavorinto an instrumentof personalor financialgain give some indication of whatmay be at stakeandespecially whatmay be the costs of the growing professionalizationof political theory. Most severe among these costs is the steady attenuationof political thebothto politicallife andto politicallyinterestedintellectuals ory's orientation



outside the discipline. Debates in the profession are more often framedby internal quarrels-communitarian versus liberal, Habermas versus Foucault-than by problemsor events in the politicalworld,andthe value of our contributionsto these debates is brokeredby degrees of recognition within the profession, a brokeringwhose outcome is largely predetermined by establishedhierarchiesand networks.We are thus vulnerableto the very chargemost often leveled againstourmost methodologicallyorientedpolitical science colleagues:explanatory or normative powerin the politicalworld is rarelythe referentfor our work nor the index of its worth. The growing Balkanizationof political theory,and a relative sanguinity aboutthis Balkanizationamongpolitical theorists,can also be understood in termsof the forces of professionalization.6 If professionalrecognitionfor a kind of work is scarce or unavailablein one subcasteof political particular it is easy enough to declare a new field or new juxtapositionof then theory, a newjournal fields, anthologizea groupof theoristsin this area,inaugurate or professionalassociation,and/orfound a new AmericanPolitical Science Association section. Ironically, such breakawayefforts, which are themselves the effects of professionalism,are often misrecognizedby those who them as antiprofessional undertake political projects,with the consequence thatthe workof buildinga new institutional andintellectualniche in the profession is framedas a strugglein the frontlines of a real-worldpolitical skirmish. Of course knowledge is always political and politics always involves battlesover knowledgeclaims, but the stakesof these narrowlyprofessional battles(predominantly butnot exclusively mattersof employment,advancement, and above all, signification within and recognition by a minuscule surelydo not exhaustthe possibilities for political theory'sarticreadership) ulation with political life. The current of politicaltheoryis overdetermined. It is professionalization configured in part by contemporary pressures to professionalize and commodify every vocation, indeed every pasttime, no matter how countercultural (think of the "professional"skateboarder, rapper,or body of every aspect of public and private piercingartist),and the corporatization But if these were its only sources,at least includingthe university. enterprise, some political theorists-those who consider themselves opposed to the commodification and corporatizationof everyday life-would be more likely to resist thanabet the process. Yet such resistanceis rare,thus raising the questionof whetherprofessionalizationserves as a bulwarkagainstfelt worldly impotence on one hand, and against identity erosion and loss of for political theoristson the other,in short,as partialinsulasecureterritory tion againstsome of the boundary-eroding, identity-dissolvingforces of the world historicaland intellectualterrainshifts discussed above.



Our political world today is full of power, forces, and events but rather shorton collective action.Thereareexceptions,of course-the VelvetRevolution, TiananmenSquare,even WorldTradeOrganization protests-but as in of the the discussion contemporary suggested capitalismabove, political world is largelyorganizedby enormousforces andinstitutionscontrolledby no one and immensely difficult to challenge. We live this paradoxdaily in small and large ways: the world is radically disenchantedand at the same time the metaforcesstructuring it and the metadynamicsmoving it are in no one's hands,andpace Marx,standlittlechanceof coming underindividualor collective humancommand.This does not necessarilycomplicatethe work of politicalcritiqueanddiagnosis,butit severelyproblematizes the aspectof critical political theory orientedto the question, "Whatis to be done?"For those who insist on a tight, even seamless connectionbetweendiagnosis and action,who requirethatthe actionremedythe illness as definedby the theory, the situationbecomes especially thorny:a political world immuneto largescale augmentation to critiby humanactionis a worldinevitablyfrustrating cal politicaltheorists.And so we takeflight:into moraltheory,which mostly works in abstraction from the concretepowers organizingpolitical life, into ethics andaesthetics,in which relationswith the otherandwith the worldare generally theorized without strong reference to contemporaryorders of power, into an ironic amorfati extendedtowardthe world, or into pure critique. Or we simply retreatinto the profession, where impassioned arguments and position takingneed not resonatewith the contemporary political landscape. A second phenomenonweakeningresistanceto professionalizationpertains to the boundaryerosion aroundpolitical theorydiscussed above. If the boundariesaroundpolitical theory appearparticularly porous and contestable today,this is a problemnot only for the identityof the field but for the identity of individual political theorists. If a scholar of English literature writesbrilliantlyon Hobbes's Leviathan,if culturalanthropologists are curthe most of if incisive theorists scholars of nationalism, rently gender and racehave developedgenuinelynew perspectiveson social contracttheory,if have some of the most astuteinsightsinto the political implicageographers tions of the transformations of time and space wroughtby post-Fordistcapitalism, then who am I and who is my constituency or reading audience? whatobscuritylies Indeed,if the disciplinaryboundariesreally disintegrate, in wait for us in a world much vasterthana small cadreof colleagues whose cardof entryto the orderis modestmasteryof approximately two dozen great books and fluency with a small number of watchwords:justice, liberty, power, obligation, constitutions,equality,citizenship, action, government, rule,polity? And whatbetterway to secureourselvesagainstthis impending



identitycrisis and potentialobscuritythanever more public, organized,and policed recognitionand certificationof who and what we are? I want to consider now these three domains in which political theory's boundariesarenegotiated-the domainof the world,the domainof intellectual life, and the domain of the profession-as harboringthree different forces exerted on and in the field of political theory. The world historical developmentsI have outlinedare primarilydispersivein their effect on our subject matter;they corrodethe boundariesbetween zones of humanexistence thathave historicallyproducedthe ontological autonomyof the political andthusdispersethe politicalitself. The intellectualdevelopments,especially by disturbing conventional formulations of power and contesting conventionallocales of power,disseminatethe currencyof the field and also parallelthe world historicaleffects by dispelling the boundarieshistorically constitutive of the epistemological autonomy of the field. The professionalizingtendencies, while engaging some of these effects, mostly runin the oppositedirection,constrictingandnarrowing the reachof the field and its qualified participants.In addition, professionalizationinvariably entailsa turnawayfromthe politicalworldandeven froma potentialintellectualaudiencefor politicaltheoryoutsideof its own membership. In short,we one and on have, hand,dispersive,disseminating, dispelling forces, and, on the other,a constrictingand containingforce. A vibrantfuturefor politicaltheorydependsin parton developingcontrapuntalrelationsto the threesets of forces contouringandagitatingits boundis more aries.Counterpoint, whetherin music, painting,or verbalargument, and than does not the and carry mythcomplex productive simple opposition is a deliberate ological or methodologicalvalenceof dialectics.Counterpoint at that from an once ended and emanates art, tactical, antihegemonic open sensibility and requiresat least a modest embraceof spectralmultiplicityto be comprehended. involves, first, the complicatingof a single Counterpoint or dominanttheme throughthe additionof contrastingthemes or forces; it undoesa monolithicelementthroughthe multiplication of elements.Second, off means sets or articulates a thematic of contrastorjuxtaby counterpoint it kind of dominance a reverse position; highlights through othering.I wantto in both of these senses, for the multifold insist on the value of counterpoint, projectof renewingpolitical theory'spolitical concerns,renovatingits idenof intellectity, and developing its capacityto intervenein the restructuring tuallife. In short,counterpoint mightbe a late modernstrategyfor bringingto light and resisting certainforces that otherwise contourour practices.Following are some of the ways this contrapuntal strategymight work.



It is crucialthatpoliticaltheoristslearnto move andworkin the largerand fields of thoughtand less clearly demarcated, disciplined,andterritorialized Yet if existence openedby recentworldhistoryandintellectualredistricting. of is concerned with the the human negotiation powers,govpolitical theory ernance,and values of collective life, then it remainsour task to discernand cultivate the distinctive spaces and idioms in which such negotiation can occur.This means, I think,takingthe measureof the recentworld historical and intellectualdispersionand disseminationof the political withoutsimply to it, naively celebratingor abettingit. Indeed,it meansdrawing capitulating (nonabsolute)distinctionson behalf of distinctivelypolitical life and doing so againstthe very historicaltide thatis washingthem away.In partan intervention in the political and intellectual world, it is also the case that the renewalof ouridentityas politicaltheoristslies here,in coming to termswith the contemporaryconditions of political life and political theory and selfconsciously cultivatingagency and identityfrom within these conditions. Let me try to introducemoreprecisionhere. If the political is signaledby the presenceof anyhumanrelationsorganizedby power,which is one impora partantway to signalit, especially if one seeks to demystifyor denaturalize ticularorderof domination,thanit is inevitablethatwe would find the political everywhere today-in cultural, familial, economic, and psychosexual relations,andmore.But if the politicalis alternatively signaledby the distinct the values of of and problematic negotiating powers enduringcollectivities, which is anotherimportant to it, way signal especially if one seeks to attendto the prospectsfor democracyin late modernity,then the political cannotsimThe intellectualtendenciesof the ply be indicatedby the presenceof power.7 last quartercentury have been towardthe first formulation,while conventional political theory clings hard to the second. The first renders almost everythingpolitical (andrendersall theorypoliticaltheory);the secondradically delimits the scope of the political and tends not to see the politicalness of many of its own predicates-knowledge, language,kinship, nature,gender,regulatorynorms,and more.Whatif we were to tackbetween these perspectives, retainingthe emphasis on collectivity while expandingour sense of the reach and operationsof power that collectivities harborand through which collective life can be studied-the complex subjects and subjectivities, the rich range of discourses and practicescomprisingthem? Let us approach the same problem through the phenomenon of politicizationand the disseminationof the problemof power in late modernity. To speak of politicizing somethinggenerallycarriesone of two meana processor domainof activitywith issues of ings: eitherit entailscorrupting interestor advantage,as in "thejob searchbecame so politicized thathiring the best candidatewasn'teven a possibility," or it involvesrevealingrelations



of power in something ordinarilyconceived in other terms, as in "feminist thana theoryhas politicizedgender,showingit to be an effect of powerrather natural What is to common these phenomenon." seemingly disparateusages is that politicization introducespower where it was presumednot to exist before. But in the wake of late-twentieth-century thought, especially Foucault, we now know power to be everywhere in the human universe, which means that, quite literally,everythingpertainingto humanexistence can be politicized. Does this makeeverythingpertainingto humanexistence the subjectof political theory?(Does Platotriumphafterall?) It is this move that I am counseling against, suggesting instead that we carve a distinction betweenthe politicizationof particular relationsandendeavors,for example, science or canonformationor sex, andthebearingof thispoliticizationon the political wherethe latteris understoodas the distinctproblematicof the values andpowersbindingcollectivities. This is not to say politicizationis irrelevant to the political-far from it. As Marx politicized privateproperty,as of the feministsandgay activistshavepoliticizedmarriage, an understanding exclusions and injuriesperformedby depoliticized forms of dominationor regulation-those shroudedin discourses of the naturalor the neutral-is crucial materialfor political theorists.But theoreticalpoliticizationof any activityor relationis not the same as theorizingthe political,just as the presence of power,preciselybecauseit is everywhere,cannotbe equatedwith the problemof how we do and ought to ordercollective life. If the worldhistoricalandintellectualdisseminationsof the political may be simultaneouslythematizedand offset by a self-conscious and strategic of thepoliticalon thepartof politicaltheory,the conservareterritorialization and constrainingeffects of professionalismon political thetive, narrowing, ory require a different kind of counterpoint.Here, deliberate and careful transgression,risk, and interdisciplinaryadventurousnessare in orderthese arethe strategiesthatwill facilitateeruditionin the organizingfeatures in ourpoliticaltheoretical thannarrow of ourtime andmakeus worldlyrather will educate us in the are also the that to them. These strategies approach of language and rhetoric,and the techniquesof readingand characteristics thinking,that have been developed so richly outside the discipline and are essential to our work. It is here, in our choice of research materials,colleagues, andaudience,thatwe can most artfullyconfrontthe identitydissolution of political theoryincited by the disseminatingeffects of the worldhisof ourtime. It is herethatwe may most toricalandintellectualconfigurations productivelyconsort with those who are not our kind-those from other fields and with other foci-and not only be stretchedby but also recover a sense of the projectof political theory throughthe encounter.



ourcontemporary condiPoliticaltheoryaimedat criticallyapprehending I am needs to without to the tion, engage closely surrendering suggesting, of and Our dissemination theory. historically contemporary politics, power, constitutivetermsandquestions-about power,action,political institutions, freedom, stability, change, membership,equality, obligation, domination, and justice-will indubitablycontinue to organize our work and identity, even as othertermsare added.But while we allow these termsandquestions to be reconfigured by the worldhistoricalchanges andthe intellectualdevelthat so dramaticallyaltered their meanings from what they have opments were a centuryor twenty-fivecenturiesago, we can also reassertthe singular value of political theory by recovering our constitutive orientationto the problemof how collectivities areconceived andorderedin the contemporary world, a world that poses as a most urgentand open question what kinds of collectivities currentlyor will next order and contain humanity.Thus, the problems of rule, sovereignty, and legitimacy, which persist as important problems,will contendon the one side with the loss of stable sovereignentities-states or subjects-and on the otherwith the discoveryof othermodalities of powerthatrivalsovereigntyin the orderingof collectivities. Questions aboutjustice, ourfoundingandenduringquestion,cannotpresumea temporally stable, transcendental,undifferentiated concept of man; cannot presume the culturalneutralityof liberal(or any other)values; andcannotelide economic, familial, sexual, gendered,or racial ordersof power thatbear on what is just. Questions about the natureof the political cannot presumeits radical independencefrom the cultural,the economic, and, above all, the technological. Questions about the relationof public and privatemust take the measureof the "politics"discoveredin the privaterealmby a quarter cenof feminist of the of and tury theory, complex hybridizations public private produced by contemporarycapitalism, and, of course, of the fantastic of the meaningandexperienceof publicandprivateinduced reconfigurations andcitiby contemporary digitaltechnologies.Questionsaboutmembership zenshipwill takethe measureof the unstable,composite,dynamic,andoften incoherentnatureof contemporary collectivities at the international, national and subnational level; they must grapple with the slackening of the statecitizen tie and the awkward,multiple, and often fractious natureof other, especially transnational,claims on membershipand forces of subjection, fealty, or obligation.Can citizenshipbe thoughtapartfrom generations-long belonging to a stable nation-stateand hence independentlyof state sovereignty, law, constitutionsor ethnic-religioushomogeneity?Whatgenealogical rupture in the mutuallyconstitutivestate-citizenrelationdoes this thought require?



As I havesuggested,politicaltheory(orpoliticalscience for thatmatter)is not the field thathas most knowledgeably,carefully,or artfullyexploredthe late modem transmogrifications in the configurationsof social, political, economic, andculturallife invokedin the formulationsabove any more than it is the field thathas developedthe richestunderstandings of language,intersome and Although politicaltheorynods pretation, argument.8 contemporary to the charredgroundof conventionalcitizenship in its attemptto theorize for example, much and "language," "culture," "grouprights,""difference," remains linked to social conabout contemporarytheorizing citizenship tractarianaccounts of the state, society, and individual on one side, or to attemptsto move liberalprinciplesof individualismand altruismtowardan abstractcosmopolitanismor "parallel polis" on the other.Certainly,thereis no need for political theoriststo conductprimaryresearchon the restructuring entailedin globalization,but to theorizethe implicationsof this restructuring,we must go to the workthatexhumesandexaminesit-in anthropology, cultural studies, political economy, geography, media studies. As political theorists, we do not need to develop original theories of rhetoric, but to be effective readers of texts-events, semiotics, or interpretation, canonicalworks,or historicaldevelopments-and to be as rigorousandselfreflexive as possible in the constructionof our own arguments,we need to consult the fields that do make these studies, especially literary,rhetorical, and visual theory.If we do not make these crossings, we literallymake ourselves stupid,aboutthis worldandthe knowledgesthatwill incisively apprehend and criticize it. This imperative,of course, also rendersour contemporarytask enormous,requiringas it does an expandederuditionthat is wide and not only deep. But this interdisciplinary travelingis only one antidotefor the condition we findourselvesin today,a combinationof theoreticalandhistoricalconseranda certainremotenessfromthe world.If we vatism,hyperprofessionalism, areto survivethe current erosionsof ouridentitywith morethana profession to the antipoliticaltendencies intact,we also need to introducecounterpoint of professionalism.This would involve cultivatinga political orientationfor our work, foregrounding concern with the questionof how collective life is ordered,what powers and possibilities it harbors,what prospectsexist for advancingthe values we arguethat it should feature.No matterhow much boundary crossingwe do atthe level of knowledge,it is only this turnthatwill renew the identityof political theoryamidstcurrentchallenges. Such a turn not only implies replacing professionalism with the political world for sourcesof incitementandeven potentialaudience,it involves close theoretical engagement with the powers now organizing political life, especially



those of capitalism,with which I have suggestedcontemporary political thebeen disinclined to has often ory engage. But in this effort to reversepolitical theory'sretreatinto professionalism andto reorientit towardpolitics, we mustalso bewareof capitulating to a certainpressureon theoryitself today-to apply,to be true,or to solve immediate real-worldproblems.This is a pressurethatmust be resistedif the future or even carrya traceof the richnessof its of politicaltheoryis to approximate This has several sources, but the current"information past. pressure phase" of capital is crucial: as informationitself is unprecedentedly commodified and at the same time becomes the most significant commodity, this commodification and this significance effectively diminish the value of all thoughtnot readilycommodified.Hence, the intensifyingdemandon and in the universities,even on the humanitiesandarts,for knowledgethatis applicable andmarketable. This, combinedwith steadilygrowingcorporatesponof sorship universitylife, overtlyand indirectlyincites us to turnagainstthe autonomousvalue of theory;consciously and unconsciously,we are threatened with a terrifying degree of academic marginalization,perhaps even extinction,if we submittheoryto this emergingtable of values. Why can't theorymeet the demandfor applicabilityor usefulnesswithout being sacrificed?Whatis it abouttheorythatis destroyedby such a demand? The questionof theory'snatureandpurviewtodayis fiercely contested;even as a question, it is markedlyfragmented-no two disciplines or subfields mean the same thingby theorynorvalue it in the same way.9Withinpolitical science alone, the appellationof theoryhas been appropriated for an extraorof work-from rational choice and to dinaryrange game theory culturaland to to hermeneutics to historicalinterpretaliterarytheory analyticphilosophy tions of canonicalworks.But in all cases, just as politics andpolitical theory definethemselvesagainstandthroughtheirhypothesizedOthers,theory,too, takes its definition through differentiation, whether from empiricism, method, science, storytelling, the arts, history, truth, experience, poetry, observation.Thatthese alteritiesare what createand circumscribetheory is not the problem.Rather,it is a contemporary anxiety abouttheory's difference as such, and in particular aboutits enigmaticandother-worldly character, that we would do well to allay ratherthan submitto. it is incommensurather, Theoryis not simply differentfromdescription; rate with description.?1 is not the Theory simply opposite of applicationbut carries the impossibility of application.As a meaning-makingenterprise, theorydepicts a worldthatdoes not quiteexist, thatis not quitethe worldwe inhabit.But this is theory'sincomparable value, not its failure.Theorydoes not simply decipherthe meanings of the world but recodes and rearranges



meaningsto revealsomethingaboutthe meaningsandincoherenciesthatwe live with. To do this revelatoryandspeculativework,theorymustworkto one side of directreferents,or at least it must disregardthe conventionalmeanings and locations of those referents.Theoryviolates the self-representation of thingsto represent those thingsandtheirrelation-the world-differently. is never "accurate" or "wrong"; it is only moreor less illuminatThus,theory more or less more or less of an incitementto thought,imagiing, provocative, for renewal. nation,desire, possibilities Thereis anotherreasonthattheorycannotbe broughtto the barof truthor applicability.Insofar as theory imbues contingent or unconscious events, phenomena,or formationswith meaningandwith locationin a worldof theoretical meaning, theory is a sense-making enterpriseof that which often makesno sense, of thatwhich may be inchoate,unsystematized, inarticulate. It gives presence to what may have a liminal, evanescent, or ghostly existence. Thus,theoryhas limitedkinshipwith the projectof accuraterepresenin the tation;ratherits value lies in the productionof a new representation, of coherence and that it does not find the on meaning production lying ground but that, rather,it forthrightlyfashions. Similarly,theory does not simply articulate needs or desiresbutratherarguesfor theirexistence andthus literthe world, it fabricatesthat ally bringsthem into being. As theoryinterprets world (pace Marx!especially Marx!);as it namesdesire, it gives reasonand voice to desireandthusfashionsa new orderof desire;as it codifies meaning, it composes meaning.Theory'smost important politicalofferingis this openof of a between the world common meanings and the ing breathingspace worldof alternative ones, a spaceof potentialrenewalforthought,desire,and to the demandthattheory action.And it is this thatwe sacrificein capitulating revealtruth,deliverapplications,or solve each of the problemsit defines. In is respondingto the pressuresof professionalism,then,a doublecounterpoint to to offset deflected attention contemporary necessary political theory's political life and its anxiety about its "difference"from other modes of inquiry,its remove from the empirical,from facticity,from accuraterepreat first blush, the project sentation,from truth.While perhapscontradictory of retrievingthe worldas an object of theoryandof recuperating the value of theoryas a distinctiveform of figuringthe worldnot only both resist current troublinginfluences on the discipline but are compatible in the project of identityrenewalfor political theory:they connect our work to political thea sinory's rich canonicalpast while honingit for the workof understanding gularpresent.



Political theory, in addition to losing many of its territorymarkersin recent decades, has tacitly ceded sovereignty over its own subject matter. This condition,I have suggested,is the consequenceof (1) a disseminationof power and politics, a dissemination about which political theory must become eruditeand in which it must intervene;(2) political theory'srelative failureto be enrichedby interpretative and rhetoricaltechniquesdeveloped elsewhere in the humanitiesand interpretative social sciences; (3) political attenuated of relation to the theory's subject political life understoodas the of in negotiation power collectivities;and (4) challengesto theory'sintrinsic worththatpress it in the directionof appliedsocial science. Recoveryof our identityin the face of disseminatedtheoriesandpracticesof politics is hinged to recoveryof ourvalue. Recoveryof ourvalue in turndependson the acquisition of fluency in the complexitiesof powerandlanguageas theyhavebeen adumbrated outside the discipline, as well on cross-cuttingthe currentsof professionalismto drawour questions and cares from political life, broadly construedand at least partiallyto insulate theory from the relentless commodificationandcapitalizationof knowledge.A tall order?It is possible that the humanworldhas neverbeen so difficultto fathom,to theorize,to imagine justice for, to renderjust. Ourtheoreticalblanketsof comfort have perhaps neverbeen thinner,nor redemptionmore faint.We shouldnot be astonished that our work is so hard.

1. Foucault'sreturn to Kant'squestion,"WasIst Aufklarung?" is a richinstanceof the strathere. See Michel Foucault,"WasIst Aufklarung?" in TheFoucaultReader,ed. egy of admixture Paul Rabinow (New York:Pantheon,1984). 2. Giorgio Agamben,Means withoutEnd: Notes on Politics (Minneapolis:Universityof Minnesota,2000), 113. 3. Sheldon Wolin, The Presence of the Past (Baltimore:Johns Hopkins UniversityPress, 1989), 1. 4. OxfordEnglish Dictionary (New York:OxfordUniversityPress, 1971), 1427, 1428. 5. Ibid., 1428. 6. Here I refer to the division of political theory into distinct strains:liberal democratic thought, Arendtian-inflected democratic thought, (liberal) communitarian thought, neoNietzschean and poststructuralist thought,Habermassian thought,Straussianthought,Marxist thought, moral political philosophy, psychoanalyticthought, and still others harderto name. While thereis crossoverterrainandtherearealso crossoverartists,for the most part,each strain has its own subcanon,its own rosterof starsand rising stars,its own groundbreaking and selfendorsedmonographsand anthologies, its own newslettersand conferences. 7. Some of the most interestingcontemporary philosophersof the political reject both of these formulations of the political.See, for example,JacquesRanciere,"TenTheses on Politics," Theory& Event5, no. 3 (2002), retrievedfromhttp://muse.jhu.edu/journals/theory_and_event/,



or considerGiorgioAgamben'srecentinsistencethat"politicsis a force field, an intensity,not a andthatthis force field is delimitedby the "friend/enemy" relation(seminar,Princesubstance" ton University,October15, 2001). I find these accountsprovocative,if not fully convincing,and above all appreciate theirincitementto theoreticalconversation aboutwhatwe meanby politics and the political today. 8. The general intellectualimpoverishmentof political theory on these developmentsis in a wide rangeof topics. Forexample,an anthropology studentremarked in a apparent graduate seminarI recentlytaughton political theories of tolerancethatcultureis more reified and less theorizedin the work of most contemporary democratictheoristsaddressingmulticulturalism than it was for anthropologists in the nineteenth century. Treated as a kind of primal, transhistorical,and subrationalgood, assumed to be especially cherished and valued by to liberalismandcosmopolitanism,both oppressedminorities,cultureis generallycounterposed of which are presumedto be relativelycultureless. 9. At the momentwhen the verypossibilityof apprehending the "realworld"has been chalanalysis and by the insistence on the embodimentof all descriplenged by postfoundationalist tion in discourse,every utterancecan now potentiallyqualify as a theoreticalone. 10. These thoughtswere developedin the context of a seminaron JeanLaplanche'sSeducand the Drives offered by JudithButlerat PrincetonUniversityin November tion, Translation which of these thoughtsareButler's,whichareher 2001. Workingfrommy notes, I am uncertain readingof Laplanche'sremarksaboutthe natureof theory,and which are my own thoughtsin must stand as collaborativelywritten,if response to Butler and Laplanche.So this paragraph unintentionallyso.

Hermost Brownteachespolitical theoryat the Universityof California,Berkeley. Wendy recentbooks are Politics Out of History(Princeton,2001) and Left Legalism/LeftCritique, edited with Janet Halley (Duke, 2002).