William E. Connolly

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[Cross-posted from New Books in Science, Technology, and SocietyBill Connolly‘s new book proposes a way to think about the world as a gathering of self-organizing systems or ecologies, and from there explores the ramifications and possibilities of this notion for how we think about and practice work with markets, politics, daily life, and beyond. The Fragility of Things: Self-Organizing Processes, Neoliberal Fantasies, and Democratic Activism (Duke UP, 2013) opens with a prelude that takes readers into the 1755 earthquake disaster in Lisbon via Voltaire’s Candide, using this to introduce a critique of neoliberalism that will continue to be so important for the duration of the book. Connolly reframes our understanding of markets in terms of an entanglement of human and nonhuman systems, with main chapters successively offering a critique of current thinking about neoliberalism and clear suggestions for how to move forward from it, a close reading of the work of Friedrich Hayek, and wonderfully productive dialogues between Kant and Hesiod (in Ch. 3) and Nietzsche and Whitehead (in Ch. 4). A series of interludes open up the narrative and ideas from the main chapters in light of contemporary film, bridges and thermodynamic systems, and the idea of human “fullness” and vitality. A postlude explores the relations between belief, sensibility, role experimentation, and political activism. In short, The Fragility of Things is an inspiring and beautifully written work. For readers interested in STS in particular, it also offers a way to think with self-organizing systems in the service of reorienting our stories about (human and nonhuman) individuals, their relationships, and the larger networks of which they’re a part. Highly recommended!

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