Orchestrating Conflict

Design-based forms of public sector innovation have recently introduced a set of alternative procedures for managing uncertainty that generate collective futures through a patchwork of participatory and expert-based decision making. Most analyses of such practices assess them along a clear democracy/technocracy binary. This project seeks to displace these ideological questions into a genealogical register, proposing a new analytic grid for tracing the political rationalities of aporia. I locate some contemporary modes of uncertainty governance in a crucial moment in mid-20th century systems science in which mathematicians and technologists reflected upon their own technological present as incalculably complex, dynamic, and forever inaccessible to simplifying mathematical formulas.

Understood in terms of epistemological aporia, such diagnoses of indeterminacy spurred experiments with methods for dealing with the limits to expertise in resolving complex problems in an uncertain world. I take up several exemplary procedures developed at the RAND corporation which explored different ways of orchestrating disagreement––such as “war” or “peace” games or the Delphi method––first among a multiplicity of experts and later among knowers of all kinds including regular people. Carving out fundamental connections between diagnoses of aporia and procedures for the orchestration of disagreement and conflict, I suggest that contemporary forms of uncertainty management––like public sector design––can be placed along a continuum of techno-democratic practices that have shaped our political present. More than Luhmann’s ecology of ignorance, an aporetic lens takes seriously that democracy, too, requires technical rationalities that make ideas like self determination or collective futures thinkable in the first place.


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