Editorial: Situated Relations
Liam Mitchell
University of Victoria

The peninsula on which Victoria is situated is physically beautiful and demographically unremarkable: populated by hippies, hipsters, and the clerics of high tech, Victoria is very much like any other city on the west coast. That said, it differs in several important ways, not the least of which is the area's Indigenous history and presence [1]. The notion of "relationality" that it has produced is, for a few of us, particularly significant.

The word seems loaded with meaning, but no one here at the University of Victoria seems willing to articulate exactly what it means. It is a pliable term that we have applied to ethics and aesthetics, language and narrative, place and history, and politics and ontology, and it is therefore no surprise that it is imprecise. To be sure, we know what relationality is not: it is not Hobbes, Locke, or Mill; it is not Christian and it is not Greek; it is not totalizing and it is not teleological. However, we also know that it cannot simply invert its opposites, valorizing unity over atomicity, the many over the one, or plurality over majority. We hesitate to ally it with particular thinkers, even though some (Spinoza, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault and, especially in this issue, Deleuze and Guattari) might entertain the term.

A productive way to employ the word "relationality," then, might be as a watchword for a goal: it would be something nebulous towards which we could strive; it could be written alongside l'arrivant or différance, and its flexibility might thereby be preserved. But if we use "relationality" as a stand-in for the goals that modernity, capitalism, liberalism, colonialism, and so on refuse, we risk basing our political theory on a flight from the world, the quest for alternatives, or simple contrarianism [2]. Even if the term were laden with such connotations (which are not necessarily to be deplored, since the simple existence of alternatives to the apparently hegemonic is something worth remembering), they should not be our stopping point. Identifying subjugated knowledges, forgotten epistemologies, and renegade ontologies is vital, but it is also important to put them, or something allied with them, into practice.

The virtue of this issue of Peninsula: A Journal of Relational Politics lies here. Nicholas Montgomery and Stefan Morales explore the same phenomenon, the earth, in different ways, but both are emphatically situated: Montgomery reflects on an agricultural intervention at the University of Victoria in which he took part, and Morales describes the soil food web in which all "earthlings" are involved. Montgomery's work moves across several levels of activism (communal, territorial, aesthetic, cognitive, affective), and Morales' work delves into the numberless worlds of the terrestrial sensorium. Both authors thus move "between" theory and practice, acknowledging the ineluctable influence of materiality while bringing thought to bear on it. The relationality to which they call our attention is contextual.

The third and fourth papers are also situated, albeit in a less material fashion. Michael Larson resembles Morales in his insistence that theory take the environment into account, but where Morales focuses on the terrestrial, Larson focuses on the linguistic. Every utterance, Larson claims, is a translation, even those utterances that we issue only to ourselves, and in constantly translating between registers, we belie the relational character of (our) subjectivity. Finally, while Inna Viriasova's overview of contemporary thought on the political difference might seem purely theoretical, it too is situated, albeit in the broadest sense: in pointing to political theory's unthought -- to the unpolitical -- Viriasova calls attention to the epistemological limitations within which we (necessarily) labour. We end this issue with her critique of the correlation of politics and the political, or of the way that the one operates by distinguishing itself from the other on the basis of a prior and sometimes total exclusion of the unpolitical, because it both cautions us against turning something (like the political, or like relationality) into a new foundation for critical theory and reminds us that such exclusions and foundations are perhaps unavoidable.


Notes

[1] Victoria occupies unceded Coast Salish territory, and its non-Indigenous residents are settlers here.

[2] We obviously do not intend to suggest that this is what Derrida is doing.





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