What Is an Event? Constructing Genealogies and Recognizing Discontinuities in Social Phenomena

Friday, 20 July 2018: 10:30
Oral Presentation
Jorge CARDIEL, National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Mexico
The concept of event is central both to critical theory and systems thinking. In Niklas Luhmann’s theoretical proposal, a system’s ability to maintain and reproduce itself depends on its capacity to link (Anschlussfähigkeit) processed or past events (operations) with actual events (operations). Though Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze and Slavoj Žižek, among many others, use it as a philosophical basis for their work, there exists no univocal understanding of it. I will discuss two main epistemological problems —particularly relevant for sociocybernetics— regarding events: 1) The retroactive effects that an event generates on preexisting and ongoing conversations (and their observations via other conversations: second­–order cybernetics); and 2) The observer’s capacity to distinguish between events in a genealogical timeline, classify some as effecters of continuity and attribute others a disruptive or paradigmatic potential. As in the quantic wave–particle duality, divergent classifications depend on the observer’s use of her/his system of observation. As in Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, the processed event —its existing descriptions (and conversations)— is modified by second (or third) observations of the event. To deal with these two challenges, I propose to conceive the interaction between events in coexisting fields of power in spacetime. Inside fields of power, discourses and dispositifs mediate the interrelatedness of events. I will address some of the consequences when analyzing social phenomena in divergent (but complementary) approaches to the concept of event. Whereas for Luhmann the function of politics lies in its capacity to bind collective decisions (events), for Žižek the political event consists in creating new positions in a given field of power. In the first case, the functional performance of the event is accentuated (as a vehicle for the system to reproduce itself); in the latter, the performative effect of the event (and the openness of the floating signifiers in a field) is emphasized.