…at stake (…) are the effective conditions of an encounter, not the recognition of submission.

Isabelle Stengers, Cosmopolitics II. University of Minnesota Press, 2011.

In Cosmopolitics II, Isabelle Stengers writes about the figure of the diplomat. The diplomat is sent to establish or maintain a (diplomatic) relationship. On the one hand, this means she represents a people or a country that commissions her; on the other, it means she must show herself to be a reliable partner to her fellow diplomats. She is a go-between, never operating autonomously but continually in a field or network full of others and various tensions. However, to be a reliable partner for her fellow diplomats, she can never fully coincide with whoever she represents and to whom she will have to return in time with a proposal that needs to be accepted.

The diplomat is caught in a double bind. Staying with this trouble, she is exposed to the accusation of betrayal. The diplomat is a collaborator, not just a colleague or co-worker, but someone who sleeps with the enemy. In a sense, the diplomat risks it all; she risks being accused of betrayal and her proposal being rejected, all because she must risk peace and cannot impose this.

The diplomat, too, treats possibility as virtuality, navigating the world-as-archipelago. She, too, has a sense of direction without being in complete control or able to map things out fully. Her collaboration is not a fait accompli but a collaboration in the making. Collaboration, she shows, is a verb, not a noun. Its consensus is not the elimination of tensions, no peace through superior firepower, but rather an ongoing con-sensing, making explicit that the parties involved are radically unequal and never on the same level; each is on their own. That is why the diplomat cannot impose her peace any more than she can remain on her own level. Instead, she must open up to what lies beyond. Beyond her herself, beyond her mandate.

The diplomat’s risk-taking is not a strategy in which everything is hurled into a crisis where all can be won or lost, for this would tease out too much resolve in the form of submittal to some kind of solid plan by a strong leader. Her risk-taking is not the pragmatism of the businessman who seeks to escape and be done with the world-as-archipelago as fast as possible by closing deals so he can sigh relief and say, ‘it works!’. What is at stake are the conditions of an encounter, not the recognition of submission —a collaboration is never a done deal. The inter-kingdom of the archipelago, the space between groups, is part of this condition, for it is here that we can speak of exchange and passage, and collaboration is transient. Collaboration, in that sense, is not only schematisation, coming from a limited set of ideas or a mandate, but importantly, also assemblage. It is a form of resistance to responses that either reject or appropriate what lies beyond themselves, their reason or their logic.

To collaborate means to render an enemy a friend, not by colonisation or homogenisation but by invitation and attraction. To collaborate is to dance like the male jumping spider, attempting to tease out the female-as-mate, not the female-as-predator. This means not getting what one wants, for that would mean remaining fully within one’s own reason and boundary. Concerned with exchange and passage, questions like ‘will it work?’ and ‘is it working?’ do not express a scepticism that seeks to dissolve, but hesitation and con-sensing that compliment critique with care and aim to build trust without becoming ‘100% trustworthy’. Collaboration comes in a form we cannot imagine or recognise in advance.