Beyond Structured Normativity – On International Relations, Marc Augé and Non-Places

Jaanika Erne |

Working with materials for the course „External Relations of the European Union“ and attending Tallinn University Academy’s for graduates of the Gymnasiums course „International Relations 2012“ I had to think how to define international relations. Being a graduate of Univerity of Helsinki LL.M Programme in PIL with political scientist supervision, and having read a number of books on international relations and related topics reflecting both „Eastern“ and „Western“ understandings, I happened to attend Marc Augé’s lecture and PhD seminar organized by the Estonian Graduate School of Cultural Studies and Arts: „Spaces and Non-Spaces: Thinking Anthropologically with Marc Augé“ on 12 and 13 October 2012 that made me rethink of what is most important in international relations.

Defining now international relations generally as relations between international subjects, I would first ask what are non-international-relations and based on the general definition afore answer that those are non-relations between international subjects or relations between non-international-subjects or international non-subjects.

Shortly, all the relevant defining could be reduced into generally two questions:

1)     who are international subjects; and

2)     what relations are possible between those subjects.

To begin with – one can today distinguish between traditional and new forms of international (also characteristic to the EU) subjects. As under traditional forms could broadly be understood foreign ministers, diplomats, employees of international organizations, conferences, civil societies, also relevant academic and non-academic educators; the new forms include networks, think tanks and their debates, migrants, refugees, terrorists, NGOs or non-State organizations or actors, transnational corporations, religious communities, political societies, interest groups, (peace, environment) movements, etc.

Although important are also the relations or acts between those subjects, such as traditional custom, different forms of treaties; and non-traditional but influential declarations in social media, agendas, working documents, memos, formal and informal meetings, minutes of meetings, conversations, other processes,

and one should be aware of constant change and spread in the persons and their acts /relations possessing international impact,

one can conclude that human being (άνθρωπος) creates politics and international relations in the time and space given to him.

Therefore, in addition to history, politics, strategy and security studies an important aspect for understanding and influencing international relations besides cultural and moral studies and IR own theories and methods, is anthropology because it teaches about human being and factors that influence a human being to decide or act one way or another.

Diplomacy, for example, to considerable extent bases on interpersonal communication. This communication takes place in time and space, both being constrained for a human being – time may be divided into periods, and space is also in constant change possessing history, being created (emanation) or established (agora, polis), renewing and disappearing at the same time. Still shaping something named by Hegel as nation’s „Geist“ but by Augé as collective consciousness.

Augé in his book: Non-Places. Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity (London, New York: Verso, 1995) inter alia understands space as naturally consisting of political language (international relations are politics (set aside apolitical history and pure morals presuming that such exist), inter alia through concepts left and right, unity and diversity; language is but directly connected with human being, his/her senses and development.

Being not aware of anthropology may mean that instead of us interpret our history and foreign policy others, for example, there exists the possibility that for Estonia interprets its history and international relations the RF shaping both foreign and internal understandings. In addition history knows foreign policy decisionmaking under emotion or (conscious or subconscious) provocation. Not talking of directly provoking Wars, the similar effect may have handcuffing (military) Generals, „ranking“ foreign diplomats by queueing them up at presidential reception, burial of an Islamist’s corpse in sea, boot-throwing toward a human being – from addressing emotions in presidential speech (stressing Holocaust; quest for identity by president Obama; protection of civilians in the ME by Hillary Clinton) to psychological disablement of a VIP or his wife /her spouse through rough infringement of understanding by them of values. In addition already the Old Testament is full of poisonings and assassinations of royals.

I am not aware of whether someone has written already anthropology of international relations or of global politics but I am aware of researches on anthropology and international relations, anthropological diplomacy, anthropology and foreign politics, „International relations as a cultural system“, „Anthropology of Globalization“, etc. I haven’t looked further but the University of Sussex B.A. in „International Relations and Anthropology“.

/As human rights vastly realize as politics anthroposophy of human rights seems more and more relevant./

Follow extracts from Marc Augé’s lectures – they helped me to understand what might have happened in people’s (sub)consciousness toward me.

The first lecture: „Non-Places and Architecture“ (12 Oct.) began with defining non-place as place that cannot be defined as place like airport or supermarket which „meet“ lot of people but no relationships, as also great tourist places. Physical or mental prison? The forest going nowhere as syrrealist non-place. Is there opposition between place and non-place meaning that one is good and another is bad?

Globalization. Is it possible to make the Planet as utopia? No because it is full of non-places. But how to avoid the future of the Planet as the Future of violence.

Global world of discontinuity and taboos. Opposition between system and history.

Urbanization – urban elements; roads, rivers – life on urbanized Planet depends on interconnected decisionmakers. The World like a huge city or cityworld where all circulates. Megapolis. Urban containing all the diversity of the World. Relativism, contradiction, barriers, walls. Most modern electronic devices included. Access by conduct codes.

Discrimination in the urban area that is multispeed – poverty, etc. /Here I thought that Augé talks of non-places as temporary places for people where they only pass by not taking those places seriously or even „worth“ enough but there also exist non-people for us – people we do not even recognize as Other due to specific clothing, age, handicap or situation. People who are temporary for us and who we are not interested in getting to know longer or better. I also thought of the debtor in bankruptcy proceedings as Non-Place for trustee in bankruptcy./

Constrained relationships have different influence.

Aesthetics as one of distance. We are totally ignorant of full effects. Poverty is beautiful seen from far and high – from Global dimension. Flow of cars, planes taking from airports, TV gives us imagination of World. If we look at closely, it’s different if we have to go by foot.

Confronting are we with serious contradictons, cut from past and constrained from future.

Toward a time which is still to come but never comes. Time expressed by the sight of ruins. What we perceive in ruins – what they were when they were not ruins. We learn to recognize, not to know, ruins of different periods. Connected with time rather than history. Disconnecting time and history. All the historic places look as home – ruins of life. Every modern architecture must end in ruins.

This is the way as we presently are continuing in the Future – new Planet with all those new architects.

The second lecture /presentation (13 Oct.) was maybe more directly about anthropology and Prison.

About the notion of „Otherness“ used in different contexts and realities. About differences – again of sexes, ecological, economic, etc. differences. Absoluty is unthinkable. Totalitarian systems try to force individuals into the same mode.

Individual without Others cannot be. Otherness dies out as language dies out.

Collective culture consists of different cultures – whether religious or political. Collective democracy – circulation of image – worship of models – necessities of the Global consumption.

Culture may be understood as Western culture, bourgeois culture … Marxist classes by job, ethnicity, religion of social class itself as classes to which every individual life refers to. Individual identities involve building of multiple identities. Today’s problem – globalized system of identities.

Colonization and times when the Other is difficult to know and to understand.

Symbolic mediations as power-plays. The balance of power. White Power vs. Black imagination. Ghana – opportunity to mime the White colonizer.

Image what the Prophet paints of him/herself.

Is the West colonizing itself with images? – TV, all info is connected with images. We see familiar faces in TV talking without really knowing them. Do we really know the originals? S/he is not looking at my face. We look at the image of him/her – seemingly making us believe that they are persons – or are they only images?

TV news every day at the same hour.

Cosmological war – media explaining everything but this is just a Myth. Does it impose on the Earth the evidence of the Prison?

Who or where are we?

Obeying to the Model? And the reality where s/he expresses his/her freedom?

Visions of the virtue of HUMAN CAN.

Imagination differs in history.

More existentialist point of view – to work in more scientific way with hypotheses. The unknown. We do not know what the future of humanity would be.

What are human rights? – Rigts of each and every individual. In political context?


Stefano Montes: Non-places, their needs, their intertexts. Steps to an anthropology

Marc Augé – the Metro revisited. The same person but evolving. Metro revisited – is it still non-place?

Semiosis is limited as I am a human being.

Limited semiotics. Where do I take my notions from? – Discipline to control knowledge by power. Knowledge as side-power. Sometimes people use power to control knowledge.

Patrick Laviolette: Ruin-scapes and the taxitness of nowhere

„Did you go to Erewhon and were you ill-treated there?“

„I went to Erewhon“, he said, „and I was not ill-treated there but I have been so shaken that I fear I shall quite loose my reason. Do not ask me more now.“

/Erewhon re-visited by Samuel Butler./

Culture of speed.

Culture of repetition.

Politics of violence.

Terms of temporarity.

Photo image has lost its materiality.

Decades old newspapers and journals. Like places where time has stopped. Archives.

Something what breaks the rules – goes beyond structured normativity.