Video | Quantum Democracy — John Keane

By John Keane
Quantum Democracy: Re-Imagining Space, Time and Territory in Contemporary Politics

Can democratic politics be re-imagined kaleidoscopically: understood in quantum terms of multiple interacting spatial frameworks in which peoples, with the help of their representatives, govern themselves and their ecosystems in differently-sized settings marked by different space-time rhythms? Prepared for a Spanish audience, the lecture supposes that democratic theory now urgently needs a quantum leap, a major breakthrough, a theoretical equivalent of a sudden jump of a particle from one energy level to another. It radically questions the dominant place-based, territorial imaginary of contemporary democratic politics. It sets its sights on explaining why questions of territory, place and space matter to democracy; why they need to be moved to the heart of democratic theory; and why the quantum concern with such matters as ‘extra dimensions’, quantum entanglement and ‘spacetime’ are so relevant for democratic politics. The lecture probes the conceptual and empirical weaknesses of ‘cosmopolitan democracy’ perspectives, ‘demoicracy’ theories and other present-day efforts to find a post-territorial language of democracy. It explores why, against considerable odds, the spirit, language and institutions of democracy today survive and thrive in cross-border settings; and why the 21st-century future of democracy now vitally depends on challenging the scholarly flatlands by developing a quantum poetics and practical politics of democratic space.

  • The Final Table | Q SYMPOSIUM
    Posted at 04:20h, 19 September

    […] For Keane, it became clear that quantum considerations allowed for a different conception. Making metaphors from the physical sciences as Hobbes had with Newton and Marx did with Darwin, Keane borrows from Bohr and the Copenhagen interpretation terms like entanglement, quantum weirdness, indeterminacy, and non-linearity to make sense of what he sees in a changing political multi-verse needing new conceptualizations of democracy. He proposes a kaleidoscopic, de-territorialized democracy of multi-verses in which entangled democratic spaces of different sizes, functions, and foci are capable of accommodating the politics of units ranging from the sub-atomic particles of individuals to those of the entire planet and beyond. Seeing the need for a “quantum turn” able to account for new experiments in the exercise of power and its restraint at both local and trans-global levels, Keane cited the example of the Forest Stewardship Council– an international regulatory body with a three-chamber structure and rights of representation for different global constituencies emphasizing the integrated futures of humanity and the biosphere. These new spaces and forms might require a new ethics as well, with Keane making mention of Elaine Scarry’s work (presumably with Thinking in an Emergency and the recent publication of Thermonuclear Monarchy in mind) as a potential setting-off point. While time considerations prevented any further digression, Keane has since developed the ideas he first presented at the Final Table; a talk similar to that given at Q was recorded for the Sydney Democracy Network and is available to watch here. […]