Distributed agency, responsibility and preventing grave wrongs

  • Danielle CelermajerEmail author


Despite the theoretical uptake of ontological schemas that do not tie agency uniquely to individual humans, these new ontological geographies have had little penetration when it comes to designing institutions to prevent grave wrongs. Moreover, our persistent intuitions tie agency and responsibility to individuals within a figuration of blame. This article seeks to connect new materialist and actor network theories with the design of institutions that seek to prevent torture. It argues that although research into the causes and conditions of torture points to the inadequacy of agent-centric explanations, the preponderance of prevention interventions emphasize the role of individual human agents. New materialist and ANT approaches could afford a rich theoretical underpinning for prevention approaches by addressing the broad ecology of causal factors. Drawing on Spinoza, the article considers the affective impediments to the uptake of understandings and their correlate practices that require moving beyond agent-centric explanations for grave wrongs. So long as anger, indignation and blame colonize the individual and broader institutional spheres, they will almost inevitably bind us to a particular type of inadequate causal analysis and make other types of preventative responses appear as derelictions of our duty to hold wrongdoers responsible for their acts.


distributive agency new materialist theory actor network theory torture Spinoza affect 



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© Springer Nature Limited 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and Social PolicyUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia

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