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Reading: Re-Locating Haraway: Situated Knowledges in the Questions of Democracy and Development


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Re-Locating Haraway: Situated Knowledges in the Questions of Democracy and Development


Shelby E. Ward

Virginia Tech, US
About Shelby E.
Ph.D Candidate, ASPECT (Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, & Cultural Thought), Virginia Tech Instructor, Department of Political Science
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Within critiques of neoliberalism and liberal democracy, Wendy Brown (2005) has stated that democracy has produced “nothing other than ideological shells,” and, through various power relations, normalizes and governs individual bodies (52). Following such critiques, I argue that in the question of democratic transformations within development discourse, it is a productive pursuit to re-engage Donna Haraway’s (1988) theory of Situated Knowledges and partial perspectives. Although there are multiple kinds of governance to consider, I investigate the normalizations of Western culture and the saturation of “objective” economic policies as worldview in interactions between development and democracy, as part of discursive modes of power, and question how each mode of governance has created and sustained such infrastructures as The Global Poor or Third World. Additionally, acknowledging Haraway’s own limitations via partial perspective, I follow her situated knowledges as methodology and include postcolonial writers, such as Chandra Mohanty (2003) and Linda Tuhiwai Smith (2012). Within Foucaultian notions of power, I maintain that the possibilities of resistance are embedded within our own embodied and situated worldviews. That is, by acknowledging and engaging our own differing power relations, situated knowledges provides an ideological framework that might help transform democracy as discourse to democracy as action.

How to Cite: Ward, S.E., 2018. Re-Locating Haraway: Situated Knowledges in the Questions of Democracy and Development. Community Change, 2(1), p.2. DOI:
  Published on 24 Sep 2018
 Accepted on 09 Aug 2018            Submitted on 19 Feb 2018

During my first trip to Sri Lanka, some friends and I had taken a weekend excursion to Yala National Park from our volunteer jobs with a local NGO. Over the weekend, we also ended up in a rural hospital, when one of my friends fell severely ill. Because it was a weekend, the hospital was short-staffed. Even when a doctor was finally able to come, he still could not tell us what exactly was wrong with her. She continued to throw up, and was in and out of consciousness: perhaps dengue fever, perhaps not. They told us to make plans to get her to Colombo, the capital, as soon as possible. Before the doctor left he turned and asked us, “Where are you from? America? I’m sorry you have to be in a Third World hospital.”

Was this it then? Was this the Third World? Had we found it? Perhaps, this is too large a question to ask in reference to one person’s statement. But it should, at the very least, make us pause and ask, what makes something fit into the descriptor of “Third World” as opposed to any other? Moreover, what I am particularly interested in with this encounter is what kinds of power structures are at work that allows an individual to label themselves and their own realities as “Third World.”1

This example, the self-identification of “Third World,” is but one example of a mode of self-governance, and in order to productively understand these power discourses as they make and unmake the Third World Body, I engage the institutions of development and democracy. The “Third World Body” as a label, as a discursive formation, simultaneously positions individuals within larger power structures, including discourse of contemporary development and Western liberal democracy. I maintain throughout this piece that both discourses of democracy and development should be discussed together, because each is utilized as a yardstick to measure and survey “The Third World.” To include only one and not the other risks missing ways that they are also often used together in such diagnosis, or in the place of the other. To be sure, these are not only discourses at work between the Global North and South, but looking at these two together, I suggest, sheds light on the power relations of the other. The connections between democracy and development are not given or innate, but historically developed. What is needed is a way to discuss both development and democracy simultaneously while still locating individuals within these power relations.

One purpose of this essay is to overtly connect discussions of development and democracy as modes of self-governance within neoliberalism, and to account for their development within colonial and imperial power relations. The second, is to reengage Donna Haraway’s (1988) “situated knowledges,” a feminist theory of objectivity, within these discussions. I maintain that situated knowledges is a productive, theoretical lens and methodology that allows us to locate individuals and individual experience within these larger and unequal power relations.

Why come back to situated knowledges? Is there even a need to re-investigate the merits of this work given that the term “situated knowledges” has become so ubiquitous that it hardly needs referencing or citing? Perhaps, in part, I make Haraway’s work the focus of this paper because of personal interests. I continually find myself coming back, time and time again, to Haraway’s work. I find its usefulness across the spectrum of my research interests, including critical and feminist theory, geocriticism, geopolitics, issues of development, poetics, postcolonialism, and even theories of space, place, and mapping. Situated knowledges has become my academic ethos, so to speak. As I see it, every time “we” (meaning as academics) enter into language and research it inevitably requires an “I,” a position that work comes from, and I would argue that the work is stronger, holds more validity if that “I” is acknowledged, rather than hidden, particularly in relation to individuals and communities in differing power relations. Therefore, I maintain that exactly because situated knowledges has become so ubiquitous that it ought to be re-located and re-engaged. It should be asked what about this theory allows us to discuss individual bodies and agency within larger discussions of discursive power relations, including democracy and development?

I do not pretend that Haraway was the first, or only one, to suggest or call for a theory of individual knowledge production. By emphasizing this theory over potential others I mean to highlight its productive methodology for discussing how individuals self-govern or even self-label themselves, in what might be called neoliberal neocoloniality, within the discursive power relations of democracy and development. Additionally, in doing so, I suggest it is also within discussions of the “post”colonial position and subsequently postcolonial theory that limitations of Haraway’s theory are re-located. Limitations are exactly what are required by parameters of situated knowledges itself, and this acknowledgment requires looking at issues of truth and knowledge production within individual and global circumstances, simultaneously.

Charlotte Epstein (2017) observes that a postcolonial perspective provides exactly what Haraway describes as partial perspectives within situated knowledges, “and from which the international system may begin to look rather different” (1). Both development and democracy, as they are seemingly interconnected and intertwined, may do well with a situated knowledges perspective on these international systems. But if we are to follow Epstein’s suggestion of the value of situated knowledges within international relations, then situated knowledges must also be put into conversation with the postcolonial. Epstein (2017) states that: “[t]he postcolonial perspective, then, is necessarily a partial perspective that foregrounds grounded, embodied experiences, steeped in colonial histories, as the basis for engaging epistemologically” (2017: 11). It is the premise of this paper to re-locate Haraway as a productive lens for engaging a postcolonial perspective within international relations, particularly regarding the neoliberal practices and discourses of democracy and development. However, given Haraway’s own theory on partial perspectives, there are limitations to her theoretical lens. Given her own position as a white, Western woman, postcolonial theory can extend the heteroglossic nature of situated knowledges. That is to say, Haraway provides the methodology for overcoming her own inevitable theoretical partial perspective, but a methodology that is nonetheless productive in engaging the encounters of positions that are articulated in the intersections of the Global North and South.

In this paper, I first briefly review the historical connections in the formations of democracy and development, as well as indicate the need for a postcolonial perspective in critiques of these discourses. Second, I use Haraway’s situated knowledges and partial perspectives in order to locate the individual within past critiques of democratic and development discursive formations, including those made by Wendy Brown and Michel Foucault. This section acknowledges how power works discursively through social institutions and individual social bodies within these larger international systems, including the role of the global political economy. Third, I suggest as part of this re-engagement of Haraway that it also include re-locating limitations of Haraway’s own situated knowledges. Within these discussions of limitations and perspectives, I come back to the questions raised at a small hospital in Sri Lanka, and position my own limitations as a researcher, including the framing of this investigation itself. Ultimately, I argue that situated knowledges is a productive methodology for engaging issues within international relations, given here as the example of development and democracy, but that if we are to follow Haraway’s emphasize for partial perspectives, then we must also acknowledge and account for Haraway’s own limitations, as well as our own. This is both possible and required by situated knowledges.

Part I: Connecting the Discourses of Democracy and Development

Two interconnected power relations that can benefit from such an analysis include democracy and development discourses, as historically situated and contemporarily active. Contemporary development can be connected to democracy, at least since after the second World War (Black 2007; Doty 1996: 127). For example, during “point four” of his Inaugural Address, President Truman outlined the development age stating, “[d]emocracy alone can supply the vitalizing force to stir the peoples of the world against their ancient enemies—hunger, misery, and despair” (as quoted by Rist 1997: 72). Democracy is framed as the only way to develop and progress out of human states of misery, and also becomes the architect and distributor of expert knowledge and influence. This has taken many different forms, including the distribution of foreign aid. It is not an accident that the beginning of contemporary global development projects and the political post-colonial period occur around the same time. The “post” colonial period is often marked at the end of WWII, but it is also the same time period that foreign aid also became a major issue between the Global North and Global South. In many ways the giving and receiving of aid help to maintain the dependence created within colonial and imperial power relations. Additionally, “foreign aid has and continues to be linked to other important issues as democracy and human rights” (Doty 1996: 127). Structures of aid are also tied to strings of democracy.

Structures of aid are only one example of a present colonial disciplinary mechanism within the neoliberal self-governance of development and democratic discourse. The disciplinary functions of such structures, however, are productive even in the absence of centralized authorial presence. As Michele Foucault (1979) observed “the productive increase of power can be assured only if, on the one hand, it can be exercised continuously in the very foundations of society, in the subtlest possible way, and if, on the other hand, it functions outside these sudden, violent, discontinuous forms that are bound up with the exercise of sovereignty” (208).

Furthermore, placing emphasize on development as a discourse, Arturo Escobar (2012) notes that thinking of “development in terms of discourse makes it possible to maintain the focus on domination—as earlier Marist analyses, for instance, did—and at the same time to explore more fruitfully the condition of possibility and the most pervasive effects of development” (6). Including democracy within discussions of development only further connects the pervasive effects of histories and power within the contemporary world. Each carries the “truth” of Western progress and marks its conditions as the one to implement.

Therefore, with these “new” practices and discourses in place, the former colonies, now considered the “Third World” “could be monitored, classified, and placed under continual surveillance” (Doty 1996: 128). Doty’s language is clearly also meant to convey memories of colonialism and imperialism. For example, Linda Tuhiwai Smith (2012) additionally writes that the “collective memory of imperialism has been perpetuated through the ways in which knowledge about indigenous peoples was collected, classified and then represented in various ways back to the West, and then, through the eyes of the West, back to those who have been colonized” (1). The histories of imperialism and colonialism were about the production of knowledge, or the right to produce knowledge. I suggest that it is less the implementation of new practices and techniques between North and South, but that these discourses and practices of development, including aid and democracy, facilitate the continuation of what Ann Stoler (2016) refers to as “duress.” By “duress,” Stoler (2016) emphasizes three key features “of colonial histories of the present,” including “the hardened, tenacious qualities of colonial effects; their extended protracted temporalities; and, not least, their durable, if sometimes intangible constraints and confinements” (2016: 7).

I argue that democracy, as discourse, has produced, and continues to produce, “nothing other than ideological shells,” as stated by Wendy Brown (2005), that continue to produce varying power discourses that normalize and govern individual bodies, as well as the communities they inhabit (52). This is not saying that democracy as an ideal state cannot exist, nor does it suggest that individuals are not working towards those ends; but that democracy, as an institution, has been implemented historically and contemporarily as a mode of discursive power, functioning to benefit particular bodies over others.

Part II: Engaging Situated Knowledges within Development and Democratic Discourse

Donna Haraway (1988) specifically addresses the issue of objectivity within scientific knowledge production, as she begins the first lines of her essay stating that “[a]cademic and activist feminist inquiry has repeatedly tried to come to terms with the question of what we might mean by the curious and inescapable term her ‘objectivity’” (575). However, there are more forms of knowledge production than just the overt hard sciences that are continually produced with the authority of objective, scientific work. As Haraway states: “[a]ll knowledge is a condensed node in an agonistic power field…History is story Western culture buffs tell each other; science is a contestable text and a power field; the content is the form. Period” (577). Others, including Linda Tuhiwai Smith (2012), have echoed similar connections about history and power; where history “is the story of the powerful, and then how they use their power to keep them in positions in which they continue to dominate others” (35). Given the historically developed connections between democracy and development, as noted above, it is necessary to also include discussions of colonialism and imperialism with these modes of contemporary power relations. As active forces of continued coloniality, discourses of development and democracy also produce ideologies that are accepted as objective knowledge production.

Both democracy and development work as ideological and accepted truths, in part, because they do not represent modes of oppression, but because they allude to instances of equality and agency. Truth is produced “as with the operation of a subtle network of discourses, special knowledges, pleasures, and powers” (Foucault 1978: 72). Foucauldian notions of power also indicate that power is most effective when it is not negative nor exclusionary, but when “it traverses and produces things, it induces pleasure, forms knowledge, produces discourse. It needs to be considered as a productive network which runs through the whole social body, much more than as a negative instance whose function is repression” (Foucault 1980: 119). In a productive form of discursive, disciplinary power structures these ideologies have produced exclusionary identity formations. Chantal Mouffe (1994) suggests that Western liberal democracy itself is based off of exclusionary identity politics and was established by differences between its own systems of governance and the perceived “other” that rejected it (105). There appears to be similar exclusionary, “us” vs. “them” politics at work in the formations of “developing” vs. “developed.” Haraway’s questions of scientific objectivity can be helpful in critiquing the seemingly unquestionable, and at times exclusionary, authority of Western development and liberal democracy.

The problem that Haraway encounters, which she labels as “our” problem, is how to locate both the individual and the power structures that they circulate within, simultaneously. For the issues of location within objective knowledge production, both historically and contemporarily, she offers a feminist objectivity. A feminist theory of objectivity is one that is not about transcendence, nor one that promises representation. A feminist objectivity means as Haraway (1988) states succinctly, “situated knowledges,” which has the “ability partially to translate knowledges among very different—and power-differentiated-communities” (580).

Traditional development models and institutions also begin with certain assumptions about various power-differentiated communities. Again, both development and democracy work within disciplinary mechanisms of power, and each produces discursive modes of truth that promote inclusion, but ultimately, whose infrastructure is exclusive. This includes ideologies and assumptions about progress. In “the idea of progress,” words change over time: civilizing, development, modernization, growth, but ultimately, the structures and the justifications do not (Shanin 1997: 66). As the idea of progress places the West “as most progressed,” democracy and development do not function equally on all bodies or communities of the First and Third Worlds. Within their power-differentiated communities, each individual and individual population will be affected and marked, more or less, by each ideology depending on where they relate to each economic, social, and geographic grid of intelligibility. Development discourse implies, indicated by the very binaries “developing” vs. “developed,” something that has already happened, has been perfected by Western powers, and is something that others must do to “catch up.” The ultimate teleological pursuit. Democracy itself becomes a mark of a developed society, and therefore, another “yardstick” for modernity as a mechanism of standardization. As bodies and societies are seen and judged accordingly, so they also become visible; they are, as Haraway (1988) also describes, “marked” (581).

Situated knowledges, then, also requires an ability to account for those that are seen and those that are not seen; it is an issue with vision. Within a feminist lens, both objectivity and vision become productive. Haraway (1988) even suggests that “[v]ision can be good for avoiding binary oppositions,” and insists “on the embodied nature of all vision and so reclaim the sensory system that has been used to signify a leap out of the marked body and into a conquering gaze from nowhere” (581). It is this gaze from, seemingly, nowhere that has the objective authority to claim countries, and then by extension individuals, as “developed” and “undeveloped;” “[t]his is the gaze that mythically inscribes all the marked bodies, that makes the unmarked category claim the power to see and not to be seen, to represent while escaping representation” (581).

The view from nowhere reproduces authority and expert knowledge, including the standardization of the global economy within functions of development and democracy. These two entities can be described as “disciplinary technologies of biopower,” that is, “the society as state-administered totality and the individual subject as state-managed individuality—and its objectifications of the body” (Luke 1990: 245). These modes of biopower are both individualizing and standardizing for the individual subject. Additionally, Timothy Luke (1990), inferring from Foucault, states that “[t]his construction of the modern subject is bound up intimately with the disciplines of power tied to the discourses and procedures of ‘dividing practices’ in expert cultures of the human sciences” (242). These “expert cultures of the human sciences” are capable of dividing individuals as citizens of the First World or Third World. This same investment of the state to its individual subjects and the totality of populations is now applied on an international scale where the investment of the populations, family, economy, and health statistics is in interest of the global economy.

Extending to the global, the issue of transcendence arises again, in terms of scale, as the global economy works at all levels within an objective, all knowing, transcending gaze. Vision, as it is connected to knowledge production, is also “always a question of the power to see—and perhaps of the violence implicit in our visualizing practices” (Haraway 1988: 585). The power within vision is not only about how bodies are marked, but also how individual bodies mark others within those larger systems of knowledge production. Within development discourse the center model is the First World, which is able to scientifically diagnose problems and dictate solutions to the varying social and economic anomalies. Arturo Escobar (1997) adds, talking about development as discourse, that the power relations between the First and Third World “establishes a discursive practice that sets the rules of the game: who can speak, from what points of view, with what authority, and according to what criteria of expertise” (87). Policies emerge from following the established rules.

Development as discourse makes explicit, or at least attempts to establish, the relationship between the socio-cultural-political and economic growth. Escobar (1997) also adds, “there is a situation of economic exploitation that must be recognized and dealt with,” which does include the multiple networks and nodes of power working through economic development within the global political economy (53).

For Foucault, since the eighteenth century, governments, specifically Western governments, have been inextricably connected with the economy in political practice. Here, the art of government “is just the art of exercising power in the form and according to the model of the economy” (1991: 92). In continuation with this practice of government and exercise of economic power the global economy, as part of neoliberal rationality, marks yet another evolution of power and economic discourse. Again, following Haraway’s critique these economic systems indicate additional forms of objective knowledge. The global economy transcends to the point of worldview but is simultaneously pervasive within the individual. As Brown (2005) states, the “political sphere, along with every other dimension of contemporary existence, is submitted to an economic rationality; or, put other way around not only is the human being configured exhaustively as homeo æconomicus, but all dimensions of human life are cast in terms of a market rationality” (40).2 It would appear, at least from Brown’s suggestion, that it is not necessarily the state that controls the market, but it is, instead, the market that informs the state of the differing operations and policies to implement that are the most beneficial to the economy and individuals. These operating discourses of power are, thus, not outside of governing structures. Instead, the liberal democratic system is a node within the power relations of market rationality. Neoliberal subjects can be controlled through the democratic discourses of freedom and choice. This works through mechanisms of normalization by controlling, mainly through market rationality, what people have the option to choose, as well as “neoliberalism’s moralization of the consequences of this freedom,” as Brown adds (44). Or, as has also been said by Anne Norton (2004), “[i]ndividual identity is constructed in and through institutions and markets as well as history and myth” (53).

To reiterate: democracy and development are productive because they work through productive disciplinary mechanisms, within discourses of freedom and choice. However, there is also potential risk or “serious danger of romanticizing and/or appropriating the vision of the less powerful while claiming to see from their position” (Haraway 1988: 584). Situated knowledges as partial perspective requires claiming where you are, what you see, what productions of knowledge and power you intersect, but also, and just as importantly, where you are not, what you cannot see, and what productions of power you are completely ignorant of.

Situated knowledges locates bodies within the “peripheries and depth,” and, as such, might work against the normalizing and moralizing structures of neoliberalism (Haraway 1988: 583). As indicated by Brown, liberal democracy cannot exist under the increasing weight and influence of the political rationality of neoliberalism. If notions of situated knowledges are to be taken seriously, then this would mean not taking the objective view of development or liberal democracy, but acknowledging that these institutions and systems affect individuals within various spectrums of society. But again, while not essentializing or romanticizing points of view, Haraway indicates a way to strive for a democracy that might exist outside of exclusionary discourses. This is, as Haraway (1988) describes, not the same as relativism, which “is a way of being nowhere while claiming to be everywhere equally,” instead “[t]he alternative to relativism is partial, locatable, critical knowledges sustaining the possibility of webs of connections called solidarity in politics and shared conversations in epistemology” (584).

To return to the failures of liberal democracy, which Brown (2005) is eventually forced to admit was never “fully realized in its short history—they have always been compromised by a variety of economic and social powers, from white supremacy to capitalism” (51). It should be noted that the hegemonic power plays of white supremacy and capitalism are hardly “history,” but continue to work within more elusive power formations, including power discourses of development. Furthermore, “liberal democracies in the First World have always required other people to pay—politically, socially, and economically—for what these societies have enjoyed; that is, there has always been a colonially and imperially inflected gap between what has been valued in the core and what has been required from the periphery” (Brown 2005: 51–52). The Third World is also required to pay for its own “advancement” in development. And it is here again, that situated knowledge is able to account both for the centers and peripheries simultaneously, within the neocolonization of the neoliberal policies of development and democratic discourse. Both subjectivity and vision are multidimensional, and never completely whole, always being reworked and reconfigured (Haraway 1988: 586). Situated knowledges and partial perspective accounts for multiple positions that intersect the continuum of discourse and development discourses that make and unmake the First and Third World bodies. But it cannot see for another, and in fact, partial perspectives requires that it cannot. Haraway charts this as universal rationality vs. ethnophilosophies, common language vs. heteroglossia, and master theory vs. webbed accounts (1988: 588).

Part III: Re-Locating and Finding Value in Limitations

In order to reclaim the perspective and position of vision, Haraway (1988) states that:

[w]e need to learn in our bodies, endowed with primate color and stereoscopic vision, how to attach the objective to our theoretical and political scanners in order to name where we are and are not, in dimensions of mental and physical space we hardly know to name. So, not so perversely, objectivity turns out to be about particular and specific embodiment and definitely not about the false vision promising transcendence of all limits and responsibility. The moral is simple: only partial perspective promises objective vision (583, emphasis added).

Again, as I have stressed, situated knowledges and partial perspectives emphasize where we are and where we are not. In my own research, the location of my own position is often problematic. Referring back to the story I started with, this also means for me trying to decide what to include in such stories and what to take out. Perhaps it is problematic, or even counter-productive to my critiques of traditional readings of the global economy and development institutions to describe the hospital as I experienced it. Do I describe the open floor plan of the room, the bareness of other women lining the beds around her, how we took turns fanning her with our journals as only one or two of the fans above slowly creaked? Do I describe the stray cats and dogs that wandered along the edges, or the bathroom along the side, smeared with human excrement, or the blood underneath her bed? Do I talk about how the only thing they could give us for her were plastic grocery bags to catch her vomit? Do I say any of this?

If I say this does this automatically give a narrative of what we expect of the Third World? Is there not a way to critique the discursive formation of the Third World, while at the same time critiquing the conditions that women and others within the world live in? Can we not critique neoliberalism and the actual conditions of poverty? Or, again, the ways in which they work simultaneously? Situated knowledges, I suggest, critiques the power discourses that inform and frame their own worldviews, as well as locate individuals within their own material and social conditions without appropriation or essentializing. However, through situated knowledges, I must also confess that I am a discursive agent of the First World. I cannot see the Third without the lens of the First. My lens is both distorted and refined. As my body moves through places that it does not belong, I carry the structures of democracy and development with me. My one experience in a rural Sri Lankan hospital is framed through my own eyes.

Sharing this narrative is problematic, as it is too easy to label the hospital as the site of contention, instead of my own body. My narrative of this place limits and constricts my own experience of a country that I love, one that I continue to go back to. But as I move back and forth between these worlds, I am constantly forcing myself to lay claim to my own worldview. What does my body allow me to see? And what does my body hide from me? This investigation has been, or should be seen, as I am the one doing it, less an investigation of the Third World Body, but more of an investigation of the First World Body, in ways that might disrupt the binaries of both.

Haraway (1988) acknowledges that the “Western eye has fundamentally been a wandering eye, a traveling lens. These peregrinations have often been violent and insistent on having mirrors for a conquering self—but not always” (586). She also suggests that “Western feminists also inherit some skill in learning to participate in revitalizing worlds turned upside down in earth-transforming challenge to the views of the masters. All is not to be done from scratch” (586). However, following Haraway’s own call for claiming and knowing where we are and where we are not, the same must be true for Western feminism as well. Western feminism is not without its own critiques and problematic positions. For example, Chandra Talpade Mohanty (2003) has notably critiqued “the production of the ‘Third World Woman’ as monolithic subject in some recent (western) feminist texts” (61). It is not only ourselves as researchers, nor only Western feminism, but it might also be situated knowledges itself that should be questioned in terms of where it is capable of seeing from, and where it is not. That is, what Haraway provides is a methodology, but it is a methodology which also inherently acknowledges its own limitations. As noted in the introduction, Epstein suggests a postcolonial perspective in international relations applies to situated knowledges. Perhaps, considering such limitations, the postcolonial perspective in international relations also works beyond Haraway’s situated knowledges.

For example, Mohanty’s critique of the use of women as category for analysis within scholarship also indicates ways in which development and its discourses affect individuals on a spectrum of power relations, and this goes for all discursive formations that we might hope to narrow down enough to produce effective knowledge on.

Re-locating Haraway’s situated knowledges within partial perspectives, that is, within its own partiality, is one way to only further critique positions of power between individuals and larger communities. Engaging these limitations might also start to work towards something like planetarity. Pulling from Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, planetarity, as Tariq Jazeel (2011) describes it “is situated in the domain of uncertainty, the to-come; we can never know those differences with any certainty,” and it “urges continual hard work to keep on decentering ourselves in the face of ungraspable otherness and other worldings” (88, emphasize added).

Not dissimilar to planetarity, Mouffe suggests a politics of nomadic identity. Both planetarity and nomadic identity emphasize continual re-questioning and uncertanity. Nomadic identity is an “articulation [that] must be constantly re-created and renegotiated: there is no point equilibrium where final harmony could be attained. It is only in this precarious ‘in-between’ that we can experience pluralism, that is to say, that this democracy will always be ‘to come’, to use Derrida’s expression, which emphasizes not only the unrealized possibilities but also the radical impossibility of final completion” (1994: 112). However, valuing uncertainty and multiplicities also requires an untranslatability, as indicated by partial perspective. Therefore, in order to effectively “weave web,” partial perspectives should indicate where we are and where we are not. I suggest this means both claiming ignorance or muteness, when one cannot speak about a particular subject, as well as indicates that partial perspectives resists reification and essentializing. Therefore, in terms of Mouffe’s nomadic identity, I suggest that it is less about perceiving that we might be in the place of another, as she suggests a mode of identity “[w]here the ‘other’ is no longer seen as an enemy to be destroyed, but as a ‘counterpart’ who could be in our place in the future” (1994: 108), but more about acknowledging where we will never be. I suggest that mimetics of nomadic identity should be, via partial perspectives, about finding the edges of things. This indicates that partial perspectives and situated knowledges are also limited and partial, as all knowledge is produced through particular spatio-temporalities, as well as corporealities.

Haraway (1988) maintains what we need is “a no-nonsense commitment to faithful accounts of a ‘real’ world, one that can be partially shared and that is friendly to earthed projects of finite freedom, adequate material abundance, modest meaning in suffering, and limited happiness” (579). That is, not only is partial perspective about finding value in untranslatable differences, but at times it means engaging what Spivak (1990) states as “careful project[s] of un-learning our privilege at our loss” (9). This is necessary not just in terms of issues with identity, but also those issues in the world that “we” might hope to engage in, including re-engagements of development and democracy. Finding an anticapitalist form of democratic freedom or local social programs in post-development projects might require adequate material abundance and modest meaning in suffering. (Although, perhaps we might reflect on ways we can find full happiness in the adequate and the modest.)

The normalization discourses of development and democracy do not simply standardize the infrastructure of and between the material realities of populations, but they standardize individual bodies, and mark which bodies have agency and which do not. Through traditional modes of development, we seem to have a one-dimensional view of the Third World. It seems that the Third World, as created in development practices, within modes of economic production, cannot exist as a multidimensional, fluid entity that continually negotiates between influxes of differing power relations—as all subjected citizens of modernity always, already are negotiating. We are not capable of seeing the Third World without the lens of the First. Development, as a production of the global economy, sees the Third World in these ways in order to function as a normalizing structure of bodies. The same normalization mechanisms work through the First World body as well.

Writing about the Sri Lankan hospital is problematic. But it is more problematic not to write about it. It was only in the encounter of the First World body, my body, that the Third World emerged as a descriptor for the place. The Third World was marked by name, uttered out loud, but it was only as the narrative of my own body was already speaking. Writing of my experience is re-return, a re-encounter. Like the identities themselves that emerge in such moments, it is an experience that is never satisfied, never whole, never complete.


1I am aware of the problems using such binary terminology as First World/Third World, and I am also aware that they are “out of date,” but I am engaging this kind of rhetoric for very particular ends, that is, to investigate the discourses of power that enable individuals to claim citizenship in either. Even though such alternatives as the Global North and the Global South are available and somewhat more appropriate, I still maintain that they serve to create and manage boundary lines as they mark the globe into hierarchies. And in academia we cannot hope to simply change the names of such hegemonic categories without first attempting to deconstruct their power relations, and additionally, it is as times too easy to distance ourselves from such words in writing, but these categories contain a history and are thus embodied by people all over the world. It is to these ends that I continue to use First World/Third World rhetoric, if only for my current analysis. 

2Brown (2005), in her chapter, “Neoliberalism and the End of Liberal Democracy” wants to go beyond the usual usages of neoliberal as a “bundle of economic policies with inadvertent political and social consequences,” but instead she is interested in the “political rationality that both organizes these policies and reaches beyond the market” (38). I use her reading of the political rationality of the neoliberal, global market to see how its ideologies are capable of informing standardizing practices of individuals and the infrastructures they are made to operate in. 

Competing Interests

The author has no competing interests to declare.


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