Aftermaths: Equipment for Living in a Broken World

Peter Redfield, UNC and IAS

Monday, March 20, 2017 - 3:30pm

University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA)

337 Cohen Hall

In this presentation I will consider two forms of aftermath:  the afterlives of theories and the aftereffects of modernist infrastructure and expertise.  As such I am less interested in Foucault’s formulation of biopower proper, or the debates it has engendered, than in the larger field of norms, dreams and expectations now woven between life and politics.  Foucault’s account famously focused on the emergence of the modern European state. Contemporary experience, however, includes concerns about life and health that exceed this political form, involving international agencies, nongovernmental organizations and private corporations. This global imaginary has inspired ingenious, designs for micro-scale devices like water filters, low-cost incubators, and alternative toilets, objects that offer little prospect of systemic response but suggest an alternative scale of social vision.  Drawing inspiration from Steven Jackson’s call for “broken world thinking” in technology studies, my goal is to recognize the productive centrality of breakdown and repair, and also open questions about the scale of the future in the absence of a clear material vision for progressive utopia.  Rather than assuming a unified or seamless apparatus for either health or security, we might then explore a more fragmented, heterogeneous world of dispersed threats and small fixes, moving across imaginative and material registers to reorient contests over the future.