Performing piracy: a note on the multiplicity of agency

Abstract

This is a study of pirate agency. Starting from an understanding of agency as an effect of ‘agencements’, I offer a reconstruction of six of such formations. Relying on different experiences with Somali piracy, ranging from watching movies, playing computer games, participating as an observer in various meetings, taking field notes, talking to interlocutors to reading academic literature, I show how different agencements produce different forms of agency. Throughout this reconstruction, we meet different pirates, moral bandits, enemies and villains, criminals, entrepreneurs, pirates as ‘symptoms’ and the pirate in denial. These are forms of agency that are the effects of the relations and practices of distinct agencements. Various ‘actors’, ‘objects’ and ‘practices’ produce these relations: journalists, moviemaker, game developer, diplomats, military officers and international bureaucrats, as well as various scientists across the disciplinary spectrum are all in the business of producing pirate agency. They engage in a diverse set of rhetorical and material activities, such as calculating, modelling, negotiating, writing or history telling and engage with a broad host of artefacts, and inscriptions, such as movies, games, policy documents, or legal texts. The analysis presents a primer for the study of the multiplicity of agency and its production.

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Fig. 1

Source Jakob et al. (2012, p. 4)

Notes

  1. 1.

    There is, of course, also a substantial discussion of what makes states and international organisations actors. See, e.g., Passoth and Rowland (2010) and Schindler (2014).

  2. 2.

    For a summary and critique, see Doty (1997) in particular.

  3. 3.

    See Hay (2009) for an argument that the relation should be seen as more complex. This is also stressed by contemporary practice theorists, such as Adler and Pouliot (2011). See also the discussion in Bucher (2017).

  4. 4.

    See Adler and Pouliot (2011) for such a move.

  5. 5.

    See Reckwitz (2002) for this argument.

  6. 6.

    Useful primers in this regard are, e.g., Reckwitz (2002) and Joas (1996).

  7. 7.

    Theoretical contributions that outline such an understanding of agency include Emirbayer and Mische (1998), Hay (2009), Berard (2005), Callon (2007) and Licoppe (2010).

  8. 8.

    See the discussion of the concept in Phillips (2006) and Gherardi (2016).

  9. 9.

    See, for instance, the summary in Bliss (2009).

  10. 10.

    For example, Bellamy (2011).

  11. 11.

    Attempts to disentangle this thicket are made in Geiss and Petrig (2011), Kraska and Pedrezo (2013, pp. 691–738), Guilfoyle (2013) as well as an estimated 300 articles on the law of piracy published since the conclusion of the UNCLOS negotiation.

  12. 12.

    See, e.g., UNSC Res. 1816.

  13. 13.

    UN Doc. S/PV.6865, 15.

  14. 14.

    See, among others, Walker (1991), Jackson and Nexon (1999) and Adler and Pouliot (2011).

  15. 15.

    See in particular Thomson (1994) and Heller-Roazen (2009).

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Acknowledgements

For comments and suggestions on previous versions of this manuscript, I am grateful to Benjamin Braun, Frank Gadinger, Daniel Orders, Anna Leander, Jan Stockbruegger, Peter Sutch, Tobias Wille as well as the anonymous reviewers of JIRD. Research for this article has benefited from a Grant by the Economic and Social Research Council of the UK (ES/K008358/1) and the British Academy (GF16007).

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Bueger, C. Performing piracy: a note on the multiplicity of agency. J Int Relat Dev 22, 832–852 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41268-017-0122-0

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Keywords

  • Agency
  • Practice
  • Pirates
  • Multiplicity
  • Methodology