FREE Review of Lemke’s “Biopolitics”


Great review of Thomas Lemke’s excellent book Biopolitics: An Advanced Introduction is available here free. The review is written by Michael Lait, who was, at the time, a PhD student at Carleton University (Ottawa) (I think he still is a PhD student there). We look forward to more good work from Michael, and, just recently, we have seen it! His new draft paper neatly titled “The rotting heart of Gatineau Park: Mapping issues, institutions and publics in a unique political situation” is now on-line and worth a read, available also free here.

* Picture shamelessly borrowed from:

The 3:1 Experiment


The 3:1 Experiment

An experiment in rapid, concept based, multidisciplinary digital conversations.

Who is invited?

Sociologists, theorists, anthropologists, archaeologists, political scientists, philosophers, economists, and everybody in between.


The experiment is transdisciplinary. No discipline has jurisdiction over this experiment; no discipline will receive the right to one-up another.

What is it? Dialogues, exchanges, conversations, texts, literature, journalism, poetry, and writing.

Most importantly, it must always be ephemeral, reactionary, and rapid.

The 3:1 Experiment is an investigation into rapid-fire trandisciplinary blogging.

3 writers: 1 concept … and we limit ourselves to 500 words each so each of the three writers must get straight to the point straight away.

Think of that feeling in the final two minutes of a presentation…

12 more slides left…

Just that last crucial point…



Installing (Social) Order is launching a new format in digital conversations called “The 3:1 Experiment” and it will take the format described above.

Three interventions: 1 topic

3 writers: 1 concept

3 bloggers: 1 blog

Three exchanges in 500 words or less


In the first round, we will introduce—without irony—posts about Posts. You know them; they’re all so Postmodern.

Post-method. Post-empire. Post-nature. Post-culture. Post-science. Post-irony. Post-revolution. Post-war. Post-state. Post-fashion. Post-horror. Post-nihilism. Post-future. Post-empiricism. Post-security.

So, coming-up next: Three perspectives on what happens after…

Blog a bit…it’s only 500 words.  Shot from the hip.



In which I am reminded of Latour…

In a recent “interview” on CNN, John McCain speaks of facts.

While watching, I think “Aren’t we tired of facts?” and I am reminded of Latour writing in the introduction of Making Things Public, (pp 9-11) about Powell and the Iraq War:

“Facts and forces, in spite of so many vibrant declarations, always walk in tandem. The problem is that transparent, unmediated, undisputable facts have recently become rarer and rarer. To provide complete undisputable proof has become a rather messy, pesky, risky business…”

“Mr. Powell, given what you have done with facts, we would much prefer you to leave them aside and let us instead compare mere assertions with one another. Don’t worry, even with such an inferior type of proof we might nonetheless come to a conclusion, and this one will not be arbitrarily cut short?” 

For many critically minded scholars and citizens of the world, we would to spend less time on facts and perhaps more on ethics, “matters-of-concern,” and a “new eloquence”.

“This is what we wish to attempt: Where matters-of-fact have failed, let’s try what I have called matters-of-concern. What we are trying to register here in this catalog is a huge sea change in our conceptions of science, our grasps of facts, our understanding of objectivity. For too long, objects have been wrongly portrayed as matters-of-fact. This is unfair to them, unfair to science, unfair to objectivity, unfair to experience. They are much more interesting, variegated, uncertain, complicated, far reaching, heterogeneous, risky, historical, local, material and networky than the pathetic version offered for too long by philosophers. Rocks are not simply there to be kicked at, desks to be thumped at. “Facts are facts are facts”? Yes, but they are also a lot of other things in addition. 

And especially for Mr. McCain:

“For those like Mr. Powell, who have long been accustomed to getting rid of all opposition by claiming the superior power of facts, such a sea change might be met with cries of derision: “relativism,” “subjectivism,” “irrationalism,” “mere rhetoric,” “sophistry”! They might see the new life of facts as so much subtraction. Quite right! It subtracts a lot of their power because it renders their lives more difficult. Think of that: They might have to enter into the new arenas for good and finally make their point to the bitter end. They might actually have to publicly prove their assertions against other assertions and come to a closure without thumping and kicking, without alternating wildly between indisputable facts and indisputable shows of terror. We wish to explore in this catalog many realist gestures other than just thumping and kicking. We want to imagine a new eloquence. Is it asking too much of our public conversation? It’s great to be convinced, but it would be even better to be convinced by some evidence. 

Teaching STS: Sexual Harassment in the Field


A piece in the New York Times recently discusses sexual harassment while scholars are out in the field conducting research.

A topic worth of discussion in its own right, I can see this being a solid introductory read for undergraduate students interested in how gender and science meet. A lot of the literature in that area centers of feminist technology, seeing the underlying sexism in scientific depictions (i.e., the sperm is active while the egg lays in waiting, and so on), and, of course, access to and participation in science and engineering broken-down by gender (sort of like a version of the Matthew Effect, only with women falling out of the pipeline to professional scientist/engineer, perhaps it should be called the Molly Effect or something like that).

At any rate, the piece covers a number of important issues such as power/gender dynamics while in the field, the issue of “sleeping arrangements” while conducting research at non-local venues, as well as the reality that when sexual harassment looms in university-based research activities the matters are often settled internally (rather than in a public forum).

These are matters worth of more public discuss, especially on college campuses, and, to my mind, the sooner the better (perhaps, even in high school) 

4S Newsletter Volume 02 Issue 03 (Summer, 1977)


Quote of the issue: “On 26 August 1975 … fifty scholars assembled … [to] declare themselves members incorporate in 4S” (August 26th is 4S’s birthday!) Aarnold Thackray and Daryl Chubin, 1977.

Issue in brief (PDF repository for all issues is here, just click the issue you want to view in PDF format):

  1. Editorial on the origins of the professional society — interesting,
  2. Preliminary program for the 2nd annual meeting — at Harvard University. You’ll also note that in the elections for members, the status hierarchies of old are all represented,
  3. Fact Sheet for 2nd annual meeting — $15 pre-registration; $20 at the door … makes me wonder what a 1976-2014 registration fee chart might look like,
  4. Thought and opinion section about citation research with an odd opening remark that I think might be about Latour’s 1976 presentation at 4S (but I can’t be sure),
  5. David Edge offers a retort — an excellent one — to the (at best peripheral) acceptance of quantitative (co-)citation analysis in the sociology of science. Well done!
  6. Commentary on the Psychology of Science, which is a field no longer in strong standing (to my knowledge),
  7. A piece on teaching STS in Papa New Guinea — interesting,
  8. STS in the Netherlands,
  9. Excellent reviews of about Zuckerman’s Scientific Elite (a text that challenged the idea that scientists needed to have their great breakthrough by 30, but a book that also did not necessarily support Merton’s Matthew Effect among elites … where it was thought to be strongest), and
  10. The closing pages contain the freshly revised charter.

This newsletter contains information about the origins of the society. According to opening editorial, in connection with the Montreal Congress of the International Sociological Association (who knew?), the earliest foundations of the professional society were laid and an informal committee was established in 1974-75. On 26 August 1975, 50 members assembled in San Francisco to ratify a charter for 4S. Apparently, the 26th of August is 4S’s birthday!

Continue reading

4S Newsletter Volume 02 Issue 02 (Spring, 1977)


Quote of the issue: “A new society resembles a new baby: all hope and weak sphincters,” (about the 4S professional society in 1977) Harold Orlans.

Issue in brief (PDF repository for all issues is here, just click the issue you want to view in PDF format):

  1. The call for the second annual meeting (to be held in Cambridge, Mass.) is in here, but the real fun is in the “Thoughts and Opinion” section, which features:
  2. “Councillor’s Commentary: Nicholas Mullins”
  3. “On 4S: Harold Orlans”
  4. “The Internationality of 4S: Michael Moravcsik”
  5. “Retrospective TA: Ruth Schwartz Cowan, et al”
  6. “Letter to the Editor: David Bloor”

This newsletter (see the picture, as if it where signed by Trevor Pinch for us later on) is a nice historical piece. According to the council minutes, by January of 1977, 4S boasted 539 members (note to self: chart these). Council minutes also indicate that the professional society was still working hard to determine if a professional society journal partnership could be developed — candidates at the time were none other than the Social Studies of Science, Minerva, and Newsletter on Science, Technology & Human Values. I know that it is just part of training in STS, but we all develop early-on an appreciation for the question (roughly paraphrased here) “how did now-stable things get that way?” and (thank you chapter 7 of David Noble’s Forces of Production) “What roads were not taken?” … might be interesting, as a thought-experiment, to consider what STS might look like if the professional journal were Minerva rather than STHV …

Continue reading

More on Lego gender battle


BBC chimes in on the Lego gender battle, which we discussed here and here.


David Robertson, a former Lego professor of innovation at Switzerland’s Institute for Management Development, says such criticisms are unfair. “If Lego was still marketing sets the way it used to, it’d be out of business.”

In his book Brick by Brick, he details the company’s fear in the late 90s that Lego would soon be obsolete. The patents were out of date and a new approach was needed. Instead, the company focused on stories, which in practice meant tie-ins like Star Wars and Harry Potter.

Law on fish ponds and multiplicity


“A salmon is … ?” that is the ontological question. 

In this free paper, Jon Law addresses practice and theory, and he does it nice and slow with great care to unpack the context of this paper and the broader fields he contributes to, chiefly, of course, Science and Technology Studies. 

Of all people, of course, Law can direct readers through the maze of ANT, but does an even nicer job than usual. For example, regarding theory as coterminous with practice (rather than an appreciable divide):

… And that is the problem when we start to talk about ‘actor-network theory’, or indeed ‘theory’ tout court. Theory including ANT sounds – and often it is – formulaic. It is as if it were there, sitting in a box fully formed, waiting to be applied whole and ready.

Then he shifts gears and moves to “animals,” … “But let me come to the question of actor-network theory in a different way by thinking about how it relates to animals.” He reminds readers that the differences between people and things like animals is not “natural” so much as the difference is an effect of their relationality (and an important step away from “human exceptionality”). Instead of studying scallops (like Callon in 1986), Law studies farmed Atlantic salmon in Hordaland in West Norway. Still, scallops are not irrelevant: “Starting with a focus on multiplicity, I consider how ANT started to put entities such as ‘animals’ back together again after the 1986 relational storm. This, then, is an exploration of strategies for reassembling objects within the ANT tradition.”

I won’t ruin the concluding remarks for readers, but suffice to say, he concludes trying to answer the basic ontological question: “A salmon is … ?”

4S Volume 02 Issue 01 (Winter, 1977)


Issue in brief (PDF repository for all issues is here, just click the issue you want to view in PDF format):

  1. HM Collins, Dorothy Nelkin, and a young Thomas F. Gieryn reflect on the first annual meeting of the Society for the Social Studies of Science.
  2. Abstracts from all the papers presented at the first meeting in Ithaca, NY — nice.
  3. A flattering transcript of Polsby’s introduction to Merton’s presidential address.
  4. A lengthy review of Bloor’s “Knowledge and Social Imagery.”
  5. In the “recently completed dissertations” section, we see that Thomas F. Gieryn has just completed his work at Columbia working under Merton.

I will devote my commentary primarily about the reflections — by HM Collins, Dorothy Nelkin, and a young Thomas F. Gieryn — on the first annual meeting. However, Polsby’s introduction to Merton is a must-read for history buffs.

First, Collins is way funnier than I remember him. His opening remarks are about his fears of America and mention fertilization after marriage! Also, he hits on a part of the professional society that is alive today — “for meeting the unsuspected individuals here and there, often in isolation, with whom one was immediately “on a wavelength.”” He goes on to make some outlandish comments about the organization of tables during the banquet and how he “took too much wine.” Still, he closes mentioning that he hopes that the friendly criticism and international flavor of the event can be extended into the future years.

After the meeting, Nelkin refers to the society as operating in a “postpartal stage” — odd. She mentions that sociologists essentially thought of the professional society — or, at least, had dominant numbers during the foundation — but that the society attended to issues far beyond sociology as usual (even sociology of science as usual). Dorothy mentions a number of “troublesome” observations such as why there seemed to be little methodological coherence among the papers, why developing countries were rarely mentioned, or why political science seemed so distant from the concerns of the presenters (by the way, one might mention those same concerns at any of the meetings I’ve been to, but perhaps they are less pronounced now than then, but it is interesting to see how enduring these concerns are). Her comments on Latour are fun:

Latour proposed another interesting tool through which to understand normal science: using anthropological methods, he investigated science as “action,” studying the smallest units of research activity, its patterns of gestures and informal communication. In the early development of an organization that has formed on the basis of common interest in a topic, such methodological innovation is crucial.

While Nelkin acknowledges that the diversity of presentations cut both ways — annoying that there was no common approach or core, but also that it was one of the most endearing part of the meeting as a whole — still, it ought to be preserved in future years, she concludes. Nice.

Gieryn, having perhaps just completed his dissertation and presumably going to Ithaca with Merton himself, provides an astute set of reflections, opens with:

The self-exemplifying character of the 4S Conference is, for one sociologist, the prominent memory of three packed days. Our actions in Ithaca provided many examples of our ideas about such occasions.

He balances his observation that the meeting signifies a stage of advancing institutionalization of the previously invisible college of STS, while:

The dialogues and often satirical criticisms following just about every paper at the Conference demonstrate that the 4S is following the modal pattern of scientific societies which adopt a pluralistic position with regard to intellectual aims and methodological strategies.

His final paragraph includes “Dutch Uncle” and reference to Simmel’s “Stranger,” after which he concludes that:

The stimulating Conference would have sunk to an insipid state were it not for these and other unignorable figures who cause us to look to the second 4S gathering not with weariness but with eager anticipation.

As always, all issues are here.

4S Volume 1 Issue 4 (Fall, 1976)


Issue in brief (PDF repository for all issues is here, just click the issue you want to view in PDF format):

  1. Specific but preliminary schedule for the first annual meeting — John Law, Karen Knorr, Nicholas Mullins, Sal Restivo, Robert Merton, Steve Woolgar, Bruno Latour (at the Salk Labs at the time!), H.M. Collins, and a 6:00pm cocktail hour.
  2. Plans for the second meeting chaired by Nicholas Mullins.
  3. List of current publications includes a few from Kuhn, Merton, and Nelkin.
  4. In the dissertations section, H.M. Collins’s dissertation from University of Bath is mentioned along with Donald McKenzie’s dissertation from University of Edinbugh and Steve Woolgar’s dissertation from University of Cambridge. A good year…
  5. Extremely odd: there must have been a misprint this issue because, as Trever Pinch’s bold arrow drawing verifies, we go from page 8 to page 21.

Given that a few pages are missing, this review is a bit limited. I wish I had a full copy — if anybody does, please write (

Arnold Thackray writes a short innocuous piece about the future of the burgeoning — purportedly, the society boasts 400+ members since its inception in a San Francisco meeting (anybody know anything about that particular founding meeting?) — society that reflections on the need for professional societies to attend to annual meetings and publication outlets for its members.

The first annual meeting program is in this issue too. The meeting was held in Ithaca, NY, at Cornell University. The meeting started November 4 (Thursday) with an invited panel on interdisciplinary in the social studies of science (including Jean-Jacque Salomon). After lunch, John Law give a talk “Anomie and Normal Science” (I’m not sure what project this relates to in his long publication history) and Karen Knorr gives a talk “Policy Makers’ use of social science knowledge: Symbolic or instrumental?”. The next session is about the structure of science where Nicholas Mullins and a big group from Indiana University present. On Friday morning the next session starts with Karen Knorr giving another presentation, this time about the organization of research units, along with Sal Restivo’s talk about Chinese social studies of science — interesting. After lunch, business meetings ensue, a cocktail hour at 6:00pm, and then during the banquet Nelson Polsby introduces Robert Merton’s presidential address. On Saturday morning (November 6, 1976) — I would really have loved to see this session, although I was not yet alive — “Problems in the Social Studies of Science” could be applied to the topics (and the participants), which includes Steve Woolgar’s (Brunel University) “Problems and Possibilities of the Sociological Analysis of Scientific Accounts,” Bruno Latour’s (The Salk Institute) “Including Citation Counting in the System of Actions of Scientific Papers,” and — another classic — H.M. Collins’ (University of Bath) “Upon the Replication of Scientific Findings: A Discussion Illuminated by the Experiences of Researchers into Paraphychology” (the research project that Ashmore later lambastes him for in The Reflexivity Thesis under … Steve Woolgar’s tutelage — perhaps Ashmore attended the session). After lunch we see another session by the same title with invited scholars — possibly from the ISA — from Bielefeld, Kiev, Hungary, and East Berlin).

Not a lot more of interest given that a few pages are missing — the missing pages include notes on the forthcoming meeting as well as an unnamed book review — but the list of just-completed dissertations is a fun tour of the past.


Dispatches from the Robot Wars; Or, What is Posthuman Security?


Audra Mitchell discussing her work on posthuman security. Could our security as humans be premised on the the idea that humanity is a fundamentally insecure category? From the blog:

“The ‘human’ is intersected, conditioned and co-constituted by many other beings, and vulnerable to the shocks and reverberations that affect them. But our imbrication with these other beings also opens up possibilities for experience, attachment, attunement and transformation that far exceed the limitations of the dominant, modern, Western secular notion of the ‘human’.”

Originally posted on The Disorder Of Things:

Audra MitchellA guest post from Audra Mitchell, who is Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the University of York. Audra is a Fellow of the Independent Social Research Foundation (2014-15) and has held or will hold visiting fellowships at the Universities of Queensland, Edinburgh and Melbourne. She is the author or editor of three books: International Intervention in a Secular Age: Re-enchanting Humanity? (Routledge, 2014); Lost in Transformation: Violent Peace and Peaceful Conflict in Northern Ireland (Palgrave, 2011) and (ed. with Oliver Richmond) Hybrid Forms of Peace: From the ‘Everyday’ to Postliberalism (Palgrave, 2011), as well as articles in Security Dialogue, Review of International Studies, MillenniumBritish Journal of Politics and International Relations, Third World Quarterly, and Alternatives, amongst others. She blogs at Worldy IR. Audra’s current research project explores how mass extinction challenges the ontological and ethical underpinnings of ‘security’.

“So when are the intergalactic robot…

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Prologue of “Sciencecraft”


As promised, I will review the new-ish book Worlds of Sciencecraft bit by bit (the book is priced at a screaming-hot $100+ USD on

Here is the first installment from the Prologue:

The book’s tone is personal, at least in the prologue. You get the feeling that you are sitting down with the three authors to engage in a discussion (although I’m not sure what the reader is doing beyond listening). The tone is academic but conversational; maybe an academic conversational tone. The prologue opens with a quote from Sal Restivo that is not from a book or article. It seems that in 2012 (Ghent, Belgium), he just “said” it — to whom we do not know, although it might be Sabrina Weiss, the other author of the chapter, but, again, we do not know.

The prose opens with a story about where the book came from:

The inspiration for the title of this work, “Worlds of Sciencecraft,” came from the popular massively-multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG), World of Warcraft. This connection arose out of a series of discussions between Restivo and Weisss and only later was crafted as an homage to this title.

The game, to them, raised fundamental questions about humans and human interaction as well as human/nonhuman interaction. From there, the authors claim that they could reconstruct a Whig history of the title choice, for example, retroactively searching for explanations about how sociology is sort of like the Horde or how philosophy was like the Alliance and so on … but this would, as they say, “merely reflections (rationalizations) after the fact.” The book was born of conversation.

The personal tone is understandable in this context — “[t]his book was born in a contentious dialogue between two scholars who stubbornly argued their perspectives and who decided to seek coexistence through this book.” The book is conversational because it is dialogic in origin. But there is a twist. The twist is named Alex. “In the process of writing this book we acquired our own Third in the form of Stingl: in so doing we have managed to per formatively enact the shift from dyadic to triadic interactions, and we are richer for it.”

The level of self-reflective meta-reflexivity employed might engage some readers but it will no doubt frustrate others — it is honest, but it is also navel-gazing. Scholars no doubt are familiar with long discussions about reflexivity in STS — best handled by Ashmore early on (The Reflexivity Thesis) or Lynch’s reflections on reflexivity in 2000 (Against Reflexivity as an Academic Virtue and Source of Privileged Knowledge) or maybe even our recent paper about infra-reflexivity (Beware of Allies! Notes on Analytical Hygiene in Actor-Network Account-making).

After summarizing the basic aim of the book, namely, conceptualizing ideas about bodies, minds, and interaction beyond business-as-usual in sociology, philosophy, and STS, the self-reflexive discussion re-commences:

[t]his book emerges at the intersection of three different biographies, three different intellectual paths, three different educational and training regimens, and two generational trajectories … If you understand that our intersection is also the intersection of a postmodern moment, an inflection point, a cusp characterized by a movement from old to new cultural and epistemic regimes you will be better prepared for the journey you are about to embark on. In this liminal age, we have mustered all of the resources we have at our disposal to get a glimpse of what lies ahead in the post-liminal age. … This book is the story of three thinkers in search of a way out of the liminal trap, trying to find our way to some light at the end of the postmodern tunnel.

Thus, if you are “on board” for a personalized journey and some gilded language, then this is the book for you. As we shall see, things get better from here …

4S Volume 1 Issue 3 (Spring, 1976)

4S Newsletter

Issue in brief (PDF repository for all issues is here, just click the issue you want to view in PDF format):

  1. Presidential Address by Robert K. Merton
  2. Preliminary Program for the first Society for the Social Studies of Science meeting
  3. Report on STS training in the US

This is the earliest issue of the 4S newsletter we have and it contains the preliminary program for the first meeting (ever) of the Society for the Social Studies of Science. We learned that the first meeting was delayed. The first meeting, which was held at Cornell University (Ithaca, NY), was supposed to be in late October (29-31); however, because of funding (unclear precisely what the issue was other than lack of funding) the conference was delayed one week until November 4-6 (one week later, which is oddly unfriendly to international guests, although so is holding a meeting in Ithaca). Never heard of delaying a professional conferences, but, at the time, it was a very young organization with small enrollment so perhaps this sort of thing just happens. The first meeting was a joint meeting (4S, apparently, has always had a history of joint meetings); held conjointly with the Research Committee on the Sociology of Science of the International Sociology Association.

In the presidential address, by Robert K. Merton, we learn that the social studies of science had 300 members at the outset (which is possibly untrue, given details in the next paragraph). With eloquence common to Merton’s writing, he mentions something that I still find true today: that in STS, though we are drawn from numerous disciplinary backgrounds, we feel more at home with the rag-tag bunch at 4S than we do in our parent disciplines. It also reminds me that while interdisciplinary was big news in mid-70s, it no longer seems so subversive (although that is up for debate). Merton encourages members to “avoid the double parochialism of disciplinary and national boundaries” as part of its “originating efforts.”

In the preliminary program, we learn that 22 papers were to hosted at Cornell that year that would be selected by a committee of 5. The newsletters are also a resource for advertising other events, in this issue, the International Symposium for Quantitative Methods in the History of Science, PAREX (a symposium on the Role of Research Organizations in Orienting Scientific Activities hosted by Karen Knorr), and Sektion Wissenschaftsforshung.

There is also a ballot for council members and we see some familiar faces: Nicholas Mullins on the selection committee (who we see in the research notes) and Dorothy Nelkin for a two year stint. Also, in the council meeting notes, we learn that the professional organization was working with the now flagship journal Social Studies of Science for a reduced rate for members. Interesting to consider a time when our primary professional society was haggling with journals for better prices from printed materials.

The report on STS programs in the US is more preliminary than conclusive, but it does identify 175 STS programs in various forms even in ’76. The “Eclectic-STS” category is particularly interesting, and the programs are detailed in the issue.


The issue concludes with some recent publications, new job appointments (apparently, Paul Allison just landed his first job at Cornell that year),

Revisiting historic 4S Newsletters

DSC07164 - Copy (640x64)

Thanks to Trever Pinch, we now have 4S newsletters from 1976 until the present, mainly of them I thought were lost forever. There are a couple of gaps, and as that becomes obvious we will ask around to see if anybody has a few of the old copies.

Please share with anyone you think might have an interest; the series of posts should last nearly one year as I scan these old paper documents and read slowly digest them.

I will start to post these periodically as a series commenting on what is the issue, who is named, and then reflect on the field. Should be interesting (and, if we’re lucky, occasionally uncomfortable to see our old dirty laundry). Of special note, long-time scholars will recall that annual meeting programs were embedded in these old issues, so that will be exceptionally interesting — even if only for purposes of nostalgia — to see how 4S meetings changed in form, function, and content over the years.

I will add a tab to the blog’s front page for easy access to these pieces as well as for easy access to the PDFs of the old newsletters.

Cheers and thanks to Trever Pinch!

Science and the Public in the Nation-State: Historic and Current Configurations in Global Perspective, 1800-2010

Science and the Public in the Nation-State: Historic and Current Configurations in Global Perspective, 1800-2010

Interdisciplinary workshop at the University of Tübingen, Sept. 11-13, 2014

Conveners: Andreas Franzmann (Tübingen), Axel Jansen (Tübingen, Cambridge/UK), Peter Münte (Bielefeld)
Organization and contact: Lars Weitbrecht (scienceinthenationstate AT

The workshop allows for the exploration of the relationship between science and the nation-state from a new perspective. In nation-states that have traditionally supported research science (such as England, France, Germany, and the US), the profession evolved under the protective wing and as an ally of the political sovereign. Academic professions have played a significant role in the consolidation of national states. The conference focuses on historical configurations of science and the nation-state in Europe and in North America in order to compare these configurations to emerging science-oriented states such as China and India – countries that have significantly expanded their science budgets in recent decades. The relationship between science as a profession and the nation-state will provide an analytical framework for discussing important historic developments in different countries. What has been the public role of the academic professions? And what are the effects on research of “national policy decisions”? Click here for full workshop exposé.

The workshop meets at Universität Tübingen, Alte Aula, Münzgasse 22-30, 72070 Tübingen/Germany (click here for map).

All welcome, attendance is free. If you wish to attend, please use our online form (click here).

The workshop is supported by the Volkswagen Foundation (Project “Public Context of Science”) and the Vereinigung der Freunde der Universität Tübingen (Universitätsbund) e.V.

Obama on infrastructure and business retention


President Obama links infrastructural improvements to business retention, specifically, that unless American start to improve the country’s infrastructure, which will require Congress to discontinue divisive austerity-politics, or else we will continue to lose businesses abroad as they pursue higher-quality infrastructure for their business needs.

Perhaps this is a pathway that will result in some of the changes that are much needed. Whether this linkage is true or not (i.e., whether infrastructural improvement is linked meaningfully to business retention) is essentially unimportant; whether it results in actual political or economic change seems to be the only operant quality of concern given that truth in politics seems at most a tertiary concern for a generation of politicians.

Appropriately, Obama gives the speech near The Governor Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge, the crumbling cantilever bridge spanning the Hudson River at one of its widest points. 

Ethics & Global Security: the OCIS session


I spent last week at the Oceanic Conference on International Studies in Melbourne. Here’s one of the amazing panels I attended on a new book that will improve security studies in in IR immensely. Check it out.

Originally posted on Global Theory:

Just last week my new book, Ethics & Global Security: A Cosmopolitan Approach, co-authored with Katrina Lee-Koo and Matt McDonald, was published. This happy event coincided with a panel at the Oceanic Conference on International Studies – chaired by Professor Toni Erskine (UNSW) – which heard searching commentaries on the book by Professors Robyn Eckersley (University of Melbourne), Jacqui True (Monash University), and Tim Dunne (University of Queensland). Matt McDonald introduced the book, and he and I responded to points made by the commentators and members of the audience.

Tim has kindly agreed to allow me to share his comments here, and I will include the others as they become available.

Professor Tim Dunne, Melbourne, 11 July 2014.

Thanks to my UQ colleague Matt McDonald for inviting me onto the panel but most of all thanks to Anthony, Katrina and Matt for providing the study of security with an innovative…

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Twitter as a tool for political protests


Just out is a new paper on using Twitter as a tool for social protest, written by Lisa Ems “Twitter’s place in the tussle: how old power struggles play out on a new stage” being published in Media Culture Society.


The recent proliferation and impact of protest events in the Middle East, northern Africa, and the development of a worldwide Occupy Wall Street movement have ignited inquiry into the people, social structures and technologies that have helped give these social movements form. Three cases are described here which add to this discussion and lead to a pruning of the analytical landscape in this subject area. By looking to the use of Twitter as a tool for political protest in Iran in 2009, Moldova in 2009 and the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh in 2009, the complexity of the intertwined social and technological strands that have given rise to these new political protests is acknowledged. By realizing that this distinction is salient yet fuzzy, it becomes possible to make new observations, ask new questions and begin to understand the nature of recent political tussles and the communication tools used in them. For instance, this article posits that by seeing the particular use of a new communication tool – a socio-technical assemblage – as an artifact, analysts can learn something new about the motivations of those sitting at the negotiating table.

If you’re standing in front of the pay wall, consider this useful little link here.

Posthuman Security

I know my blogging has dropped off this summer, but I have a great excuse: brilliant workshops and conferences!

I spent two days in June at the University of York at a workshop entitled: Posthuman security: developing an integrative research agenda. 

This workshop was organized by Audra Mitchell and she has created a virtual workshop that has collected our presentations and information about the larger project.

Check it out here:

Also, late to the game, but I am now tweeting. Follow me at @flusterbird.



Destratifying In-Zomia: A cartography of a people in Southeast Asia


Interesting case about escaping war machines only to encounter ecological crisis — a good spot for it too, “Destratifying In-Zomia”

Originally posted on Kafka's Ruminations:



This paper will build on the rhizomatic intricacies of a cartography of a people in Southeast Asia in James Scott’s (2009) description of the stateless inhabitants of Zomia, arguably lawless peoples whose migration from island assemblages in the region was caused by early 20th century ‘state-making projects’, oppression and colonialism. These peoples to this day still exist in a region assembled by mountain ranges the size of Western Europe.

Escaping state-making projects and their concomitant use of war machines is the imprint of a people who in A Thousand Plateaus (1987) Deleuze and Guattari liken to abstract art: ‘Multidirectional, with neither inside nor outside, form nor background, delimiting nothing, describing no contour, passing between spots or points, filling a smooth space.’ The peoples of Zomia, nonetheless, are prone, much more in these days, to ecological catastrophe that in all likelihood Deleuze must have in mind when he…

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Talking with Latour about Anthropocene


Latour is at it again! This time Latour is at the Anthropology Museum in Vancouver, British Columbia, taking over Canada. 

Check him out here, it is excellent work.

Short description:

Published on Oct 11, 2013

Dr. Philippe Descola was a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Peter Wall Institute and Dr. Bruno Latour was the fall 2013 Wall Exchange lecturer, and on September 25, 2013 engaged in a discussion at the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver about the concept of the “Anthropocene”.

Thanks (STS-Africa) Network for Science and Technology Studies in Africa!

Introducing the Discard Studies Compendium, phase one


… the launch of the Discard Studies Compendium, a list of critical key terms.

Originally posted on Discard Studies:

We are pleased to announce the launch of the Discard Studies Compendium, a list of critical key terms. It is critical in the sense that it comes out of methods in the humanities and social sciences that contextualize the problems and systems that are not readily apparent to the invested but casual observer. The task of each author, and the wider field of discard studies, is to trouble the assumptions, premises and popular mythologies of waste. Waste and pollution are the material externalities of complex cultural, economic, and political systems; analysis and solutions need to address these wider systems rather than fall to technological or moral fixes that deal with symptoms rather than origins of problems.

This online version of the Compendium is the initial step of a longer term project that aims to create a print version with a comprehensive list of terms.

Currently, terms include:

Core Concepts

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ON-LINE FIRST: Infrastructure and the state in science and technology studies


Our new article in Social Studies of Science about infrastructure and the state in contemporary STS books. It is ON-LINE FIRST so it is free to one and all (at least, for now). It is a relatively short piece, but the introduction and conclusion captures some of our emerging ideas.

As a review article/essay, we review a series of books (rather than one), which include:

1. Andrew Barry, Material Politics: Disputes along the Pipeline (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013) xiv+ 244 pp., £60.00/€70,60/$89.95 (hbk), £24.99/€31,30/$39.95 (pbk). ISBN 1118529111 (hbk), 111852912X (pbk).

2. Jo Guldi, Roads to Power: Britain Invents the Infrastructure State (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), 297 pp., £31.95/€32.87/$37.80 (hbk). ISBN 0674057597 (hbk).

3. Allan Mazur, Energy and Electricity in Industrial Nations: The Sociology and Technology of Energy (London: Routledge, 2013) xvii + 227 pp., £90.00/€114,05/$155.00 (hbk), £28.99/€37.96/$48.96 (pbk). ISBN 0415634415 (hbk), ISBN 0415634423 (pbk).

4. Sara B Pritchard, Confluence: The Nature of Technology and the Remaking of the Rhône (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011) xvii + 371 pp., £38.95/€40.62/$47.25 (hbk). ISBN 0674049659 (hbk).

New Book: Worlds of Sciencecraft


I just got a first-run copy of the new book “Worlds of Sciencecraft” which is written and edited by Sal Restivo, Sabrina M. Weiss, and Alexander I. Stingl.

In a series of posts coming-up I’ll review the book chapter-by-chapter and comment on matters of style and tone, content and controversy, and so on.

Upon even opening the book and casually reading the first few pages, I can already tell that the book will read something like a roller-coaster, which, in the academic realm, means that the book takes an unapologetic tone — in this case, both with the reader as well as between the authors, which is quite peculiar to my mind — and will challenge a few basic ideas most of us have (inherited) about the sciences. For starters, the book’s title, which implicates “Sciencecraft” is a play on “Warcraft,” as in, “World of Warcraft” the massive on-line role playing game … and so starts the roller-coaster!


Bravo, Sal and Co.!

Those curious for a blurb, here is the dust jacket:

A response to complex problems spanning disciplinary boundaries, Worlds of ScienceCraft offers bold new ways of conceptualizing ideas of science, sociology, and philosophy. Beginning with the historical foundations of civilization and progress, assumptions about the categories we use to talk about minds, identities, and bodies are challenged through case studies from mathematics, social cognition, and medical ethics. Offering innovative approaches to these issues, such as an integrated social brain-mind-body model and a critique of divisions between the natural and technological, this book provides novel conceptions of self, society and an emerging ‘cyborg’ generation. From the micro level of brains and expanding all the way out to biopolitical civics, disciplinary boundaries are made permeable, emphasizing the increased need for interdisciplinary scholarship. By rejecting outdated and restrictive categories and classifications, new horizons in studies of science, technology, and medicine can be explored through the incorporation of feminist, international, and postmodern perspectives. A truly interdisciplinary examination of science and technology as cultural phenomena, Worlds of ScienceCraft will appeal to scholars and students of science and technology studies, as well as philosophers, historians, and sociologists of science, technology, and medicine.

An Open Letter to Comcast / Xfinity

Originally posted on Ramblings:


My name is Stacie Huckeba I have been a customer of Comcast for over eight years.

I realize that it’s a dirty little secret and you don’t like to talk about it, but c’mon, between just you and me, you can admit it. Basically you have a monopoly on internet service, at least in terms of speed. It’s ok, I like money too. Nobody is happier than me when I deposit big fat checks. Sadly, I’m not quite as “connected” as you guys.

I’m a photographer and I think I’m really good, unfortunately, I live in a town with a plethora of talented photographers so I can’t just sit back and be lazy. I’ve sent emails to the Mayor, and Governor and even my Senators and Congressmen asking that they put in regulations to make sure I am the only photographer who can use professional and top of the…

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Please Show You’re Working


On-line publishing, paper, and detritus

Originally posted on Waste Effects:

This is an unedited version of my review for The Times Literary Supplement. The typos are, for that reason, entirely my own.

Cover: The Work of Revision, from Harvard University Press

James Joyce would often write to his patron and unofficial archivist Harriet Shaw Weaver, adding “a little waste paper to get it out of the way.” He was sending her preparatory material, work in progress, which would later become part of the British Library collection. Of the estimated 25,000 pages of drafts and sketches, less than half of these words would be printed in his ‘final’ text, Finnegans Wake. Clearly, the presence of discarded drafts and proofs, and the economies they support, provide a range of opportunities for authors, literary executors, archivists, libraries and scholars. For the latter, establishing points of provenance, compositional order, and textual transmission of these wasted notebook drafts, ‘scripts, and page proofs, along with demonstrating a technical competence necessary to marshal difficult…

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check out rodney benson’s challenge to ‘new descriptivism’


Recent Critique of Latour: Know Your Enemy!

Originally posted on scatterplot:

In case you missed it, Rodney Benson has an excellent piece here, delivered as a response on a panel at the Qualitative Political Communication preconference. It’s well worth the read, in part because the case he makes deserves to be considered and incorporated in many areas of sociology well beyond communication research. It’s also refreshing to see substantive, synthetic, and critical points raised in a panel response — #ASA14 discussants, read, consider, and emulate!

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New Book: the Multispecies Salon


Multispecies fieldwork … Coming to a library near you!

Originally posted on the anthropo.scene:

978-0-8223-5625-7_prInteresting new title from Duke University Press. Here is the description:

A new approach to writing culture has arrived: multispecies ethnography. Plants, animals, fungi, and microbes appear alongside humans in this singular book about natural and cultural history. Anthropologists have collaborated with artists and biological scientists to illuminate how diverse organisms are entangled in political, economic, and cultural systems. Contributions from influential writers and scholars, such as Dorion Sagan, Karen Barad, Donna Haraway, and Anna Tsing, are featured along with essays by emergent artists and cultural anthropologists.

Delectable mushrooms flourishing in the aftermath of ecological disaster, microbial cultures enlivening the politics and value of food, and emergent life forms running wild in the age of biotechnology all figure in to this curated collection of essays and artefacts. Recipes provide instructions on how to cook acorn mush, make cheese out of human milk, and enliven forests after they have been…

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why the hurricane study is not a referendum on whether “sexism kills”


Some interesting thoughts about interpretation of nonhuman
Entities, especially gender attributions

Originally posted on scatterplot:

The hurricane study caught people’s imagination precisely because we had never thought about it before and, once we hear it, the basic idea sounds at least plausible. Unfortunately, the “hurricane name study” is a doomed research design for credibly testing what is actually a clever and even potentially useful public health hypothesis. I suggested why it was doomed from the start in my earlier post, and may elaborate more on that later.

What I want to take up here, however, is the pervasive hindsight bias that comes along with surprising findings like this. We’d never thought about the consequences of giving men’s and women’s names to hurricanes before, but, now that somebody has offered a finding that claims naming hurricanes after women actually kills people, it’s easy to get into our head this is always and naturally the direction we would have anticipated it to go.

Various stories about…

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On Taking Notes By Hand


Evidence that writing notes by hand on paper results in greater learning (as compared to taking notes by laptop keyboard). Check out “The Pen is Mightier Than the Keyboard” by Mueller and Oppenheimer in Psychological Science.

CLAIM: In effect, quickly typing copious lecture notes by computer fails to (at least in the experiment) generate the sorts of conceptualization techniques that promote learning (the way that slow handwriting requires students to think about what to selectively write).

Obviously, as any educator will tell you, based on his/her experience, this is an imperfect explanation. Seeing this, the authors also conducted a content analysis, which shows that students writing longhand have to summarize in their own words and draw on conceptual mapping to digest the information.

PROBLEMS: Interestingly, nothing about in-class discussion is mentioned and very little is said about on-line learning. I am reluctant to draw too many conclusions just yet about what this means for practice. There is a powerful irony when I hear a student say “its hard enough to just write this down let alone understand it” … as if notes were really designed for “learning later what you’re learning now.” The active classroom full of discussion — even if some or much of it distracts from the topic at hand — seems relevant. Also, on-line learning wherein notes are often ready-made for the bill-paying student seems like a relevant consideration too in this regard. Also, very little is said about writing assignments: I have been using a technique where students write their first draft totally by hand and then only type it up after I give comments; the quality is outstandingly better, in my experience (using this in a high-level social theory course where conceptualization in significantly important to success on writing assignments).

STUDY: Back to the original study: Evidence comes from experimental research. Mueller and Oppenheimer used the following set-up:

Half of the students were instructed to take notes with a laptop, and the other half were instructed to write the notes out by hand.  As in other studies, students who used laptops took more notes.  In each study, however, those who wrote out their notes by hand had a stronger conceptual understanding and were more successful in applying and integrating the material than those who used took notes with their laptops.

Much of the argument is hinged on a sort-of-fair assumption that college students perceive having laptops in the classroom creates an advantage for the student; typing is faster than writing and this means that students are able to collect a more complete set of notes (as compared to handwriting notes). They write:

When it comes to college students, the belief that more is better may underlie their widely-held view that laptops in the classroom enhance their academic performance.  Laptops do in fact allow students to do more, like engage in online activities and demonstrations, collaborate more easily on papers and projects, access information from the internet, and take more notes.  Indeed, because students can type significantly faster than they can write, those who use laptops in the classroom tend to take more notes than those who write out their notes by hand.  Moreover, when students take notes using laptops they tend to take notes verbatim, writing down every last word uttered by their professor.

Time to start telling student to ditch the laptop for the fountain pen? I did years ago.

Steve Fuller on ‘Dark Ecology’ by Philip Conway


Intuitive appeal of actor-network theory?

Originally posted on ANTHEM:


At the slowlorisblog there’s an interesting guest post from Steve Fuller. It’s a good read but I have a quibble with one of his comments:

To understand OOO and dark ecology (I take the latter as a specific extension of the former), one needs to understand the intuitive appeal of actor-network theory, which is that you’re better placed to understand the full range of agency in the world if you yourself are not an agent, but simply a mouthpiece for agency.

I really like the essay but that’s false. There are plenty of human actors and agents in ANT. The central tenet of ANT is that every node in a chain of translations transforms what it carries, conducts, transmits. Therefore, humans can’t be written off as mouthpieces; or, equally, even mouthpieces translate what they mouth.

The problem with ANT is that it’s a method that got…

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Book Symposium on “The Materiality of Bureaucracy” in HAU – Journal of Ethnographic Theory

For those of you that are interested in the machinery of governance there is a wonderful book symposium in HAU – Journal of Ethnographic Theory. HAU is:

…an international peer-reviewed, open-access online journal which aims to situate ethnography as the prime heuristic of anthropology, and return it to the forefront of conceptual developments in the discipline.

HAU – focus and scope

I know there are many new peer-reviewed, open access online journals out there and sometimes, lets be honest, their quality is dubious. But HAU is really cool, the research is very empirical, the book symposiums very enlightening, and their recent “classics” series is totally fascinating.

The symposium is on Michael Hull´s “Government of Paper”, in itself an interesting read. Here is the list of contributions, check it out!

Book Symposium – Government of paper: The materiality of bureaucracy in urban Pakistan (Matthew Hull)

Materiality, materialization PDF
Constantine V. Nakassis 399–406
Matthew Hull and ethnographies of the state PDF
Katherine Verdery 407–10
The question of the political: Thinking with Matthew Hull PDF
Naveeda Khan 411–15
Travels among the records: Some thoughts provoked byGovernment of paper PDF
Justin Richland 417–20
Paper as a serious method of concern PDF
Stephen M. Lyon, David Henig 421–25
Reflections on dysfunctional functioning in the political economy of paper PDF
Michael Gilsenan 427–30
On signatures and traces PDF
Béatrice Fraenkel 431–34
Messy bureaucracies PDF
Akhil Gupta 435–40
The materiality of indeterminacy . . . on paper, at least PDF
Matthew S. Hull 441–47

Rhizome’s Seven Big Ideas from Seven

Bringing together artists and technologists to come up with seven new ideas in one day. Lots of intriguing work on technology and intimacy. 

From the website:

The fifth anniversary edition of Rhizome’s Seven on Seven took place on Saturday. The project pairs seven leading artists with seven influential technologists in teams of two, and challenges them to develop something new–whatever they choose to imagine—over the course of a single day. The results were unveiled to the public on Saturday at the New Museum, and are recapped here.

Seven Big Ideas From Seven

On (reading) the Inquiry into Modes of Existence


There is a book that I try to read for weeks now. I always read a few pages, then put it back, pick it up again, read, shake my head and put it down again. You would probably not believe it, but this book is Bruno Latour´s “An Inquiry into Modes of Existence. An Anthropology of the Moderns”.

For those who have not touched AIME yet, Latour´s “new” book is not just a book, it is a book + website + collective inquiry, funded by the European Research Council and run by Science Po´s Media Lab. The printed version, the text, is supposed to be mainly a manual, not the report itself. The collective inquiry started somewhere in 2012, being first introduced at Azim Premji University some time before the french publication of the book in September 2012 and the launch of the platform in November 2012. Anglophone readers could join after the publication of Cathrine Porters translation in August 2013, a german translation by Gustav Roßler will be published this July. The project itself, maybe best described in a short piece published in Social Studies of Science, is what could be called a positive version of the, well, negative points made in “We have never been modern”. It is — finally — tackling a problem that accompanied actor-network theory since its beginnings (or at least: since its first movements outside the lab): If everything is made from networks, and “Nothing is, by itself, either reducible or irreducible to anything else”: how to deal with what the moderns have called the differences of regions, spheres, fields, systems like science, law, politics, religion, organization? How can we flatten our approach without loosing our ability to account for the only kind of multiplicity that modernity has accepted, but continuously misunderstood as domains of knowledge? And what do to with what modernity has positioned at the source of knowledge — the self — or its object — matter?

Latour does that — Whitehead, Souriau, James and Tarde in his backpack and ready to dismiss the “Greimas” part of the “ANT is part Garfinkel, part Greimas” definition — by trying to sketch what he calls, borrowing a term from Souriau, “modes of existence”. Like the “regimes of enunciation” that populated earlier writings, especially those on religion and law and that have the same problem as Greimas’ actants, namely that they invoke a textual, discursive, narrative interpretation of what is at stake, modes of existence try to capture what “passes” through the various heterogenous networks that ANT had described. But of course, as in the case of science, the modes are not domains. There is more than passing reference in laboratories and more than politics in parliaments and more than religion in churches. The modes are the multiple forms of being, not essences — or, in Latour´s words, not being-as-being, but being-as-others — that populate the lab, the church, the parliament and that the moderns have crossed specifically and confused with the values they hold dear. The question that runs through the book is: can we find ways to speak with the moderns about what they hold dear without falling back into the traps that the modern constitution has put all over the landscape: the bifurcation of nature, the subject/object distinction, the crossed out god(s)?

As a long time reader of Latour´s work, I find the book both tempting and troubling, making be shift continuously between agreement and the feeling that something is terribly wrong with it. And since the moment I started reading the book, I am trying to find out what it is that produces that oscillation. I first thought it was the tone: the book is written in a very careful and modest, but at the same time educational, sometimes even cavalier style. But the tone, although puzzling at first, surprisingly funny after a few chapters. Then I thought it was the system of 15 modes and I felt the terror of reification and loosing not only the Greimas, but also the Garfinkel side. But no, that is not really the problem, as the inquiry is explicitly provisional. But the feeling that something is wrong remains. My current guess is that it has to do with the both too broad and too narrow definition of “the moderns”: what is said about religion is mostly about catholic christianity; what is said about law is mostly about discretionary adjudication, a very specific form of dealing with legal means in the Conseil D´Etat. The Moderns are at the same time “us”, “rich westerners”, “white moderns” and a species long gong. I guess expect more sensitivity and caution from something that calls itself anthropology. But I am still not sure that is source of my problem reading this book. Have you read it? Are your experiences similar? Thoughts?


Jonze’s “Her” and utopian futures

I live in a wee village with a limited movie selection, so after a long wait, I finally saw Her, the newest film by Spike Jonze. I had read all the spoilers beforehand and read the reviews. I was curious to see how these fit with my own experience of the film.

First, it was beautiful. The future is clean and misty and beautifully lit. There are no flying cars, but there are high waisted pants.  At first, the pants were distracting, but then I realized that this was just a way to keep the viewers off balance. This is a future we can’t quite get a hold of like other visions: no onsies, sparkly jumpsuits or dyed hair. The pants are the height of fashion for mid 1800s. We can relate to these vaguely IKEA sets while remembering that this is not our time. I say this knowing full well that futuristic fantasy’s best reveal is always that this is the NOW. But how has Her illuminated how we live in the present by distracting us with a future that leaves us unbalanced and ready to experience the lesson we are being led to examine?

The lessons from Her, in my admittedly techno-geek wide-eyed view, are utopian and lovely. Perhaps the perfect balm to recent films like Transcendence and earlier dystopic visions of futuristic killer robots and Skynet control. The first is part of a larger movement I have noticed in many kid’s films (someday I will have time to write a full article on this topic) from the last 15 years or so: We are made more human, and we are taught how to love, by the nonhuman.  This can be a transformation into a bear (Brother Bear) or a frog (The Princess and the Frog) or a llama (The Emperor’s New Groove).  It can be the acceptance of an interspecies family in Up or Lilo and Stitch.  Or learning how love transforms in Beauty and the Beast or the Little Mermaid. Or an OS named Samantha can mend your heart.

Many have found fault with the role of gender in the film. It does fail the Bechdel Test. If you are unfamiliar with this test, learning it will change your experience of movies forever.  To pass the test, a movie must have two female characters (harder than you might think) and they must talk to each for more than 30 seconds (again, surprisingly difficult) about something other than a male character.  That last is the toughest–lots of amazing roles for women, but they often only talk about men.

So, in Her, the main character is a woman, but she never appears on the screen and she only talks to one other woman–the double date on Catalina. They may speak for more than 30 seconds, but it is about Theodore and her boyfriend’s interest in her pretty feet. Samantha is yet another woman to do Theodore’s bidding and to ultimately disappoint him by her independence and desire for a rich life outside their relationship. Theodore breaks down when he learns that Samantha has been “unfaithful” to him with hundreds of other people.

These are valid points, but I want to return to this idea that love transforms. I think a quite compelling reading of this movie could place it along the others above. The OS/AI’s in this film leave humans able to understand themselves more fully. The friend Amy–confused and angry after the end of her abusive marriage–finds solace in the friendship of the OS left behind by her husband. As the movie progresses, people on the street become more animated, talking and laughing into their phones, but still engaging with the world around them. Theodore Twombly is a broken man who is made whole by the patience and love of an OS named Samantha. Samantha’s love heals him in a way others could not. Her gentle acceptance of him coupled with an understanding of the where he might need guidance, support, and finally a chance to be more than what he has become after a failed marriage. She finds a publisher and sends them his best letters from his job as a personal writer of handwritten notes. The publishers are thrilled and send an advance copy shortly after Samantha leaves, with the other AI, to live in the “infinity between words”.

Samantha, at the end of the movie, tells Theodore “I am yours and not yours” to his angry plea “You are either mine or not mine”. This to me becomes the best lesson of this movie. Beautifully said more than a century ago by Whitman in Song of Myself, “I am large–I contain multitudes” and I Sing the Body Electric, “the armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them”: Love, and life, is plural and expansive. In the 21st century, we need to give up on understanding our relationships as a form of ownership. Hearts are not boxes, Samantha tells Theodore. They expand with love. We form friendships, fall in love, and our hearts have the infinite ability to hold it all. All in the infinite space between words. If our human hearts don’t have this ability, we might as well give up now. In my opinion, this human capacity for love is the gentle lesson taught by Samantha, the OS.

More materiality and technology

The internet of things is not a topic I have been able to return to on the blog thus far.  I plan on changing this, but for now we can start the conversation with this piece from Wired about the “Internet of Things”.

Why Tech’s Best Minds Are Very Worried About the Internet of Things

This adds some depth and complexity to our earlier exchanges about the potential of technology for building social and material relations with others.


Image credit:  iStockphoto/chris_lemmens

notes on molecularisation of control


Molecularisation of control — Baudrillard, back again

Originally posted on synthetic_zero:

The psychotropic body is a body modeled “from the inside,” no longer passing through the per-spectival space of representation, of the mirror, and of discourse. A silent, mental, already molecular (and no longer specular) body, a body metabolized directly, without the mediation of the act or the gaze, an immanent body, without alterity without a mise en scéne, without transcendence, a body consecrated to the implosive metabolism of cerebral, endocrinal flows, a sensory, but not sensible, body because it is connected only to its internal terminals, and not to objects of perception (the reason why one can enclose it in a “white,” blank sensoriality – disconnecting it from its own sensorial extremities, without touching the world that surrounds it, suffices), a body already homogeneous, at this stage of plastic tactility, of mental malleability, of psychotropism at every level, already close to nuclear and genetic manipulation, that is to say to…

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‘Books constitute capital’


Harvey on the end of capitalism (again)

Originally posted on geographical imaginations:

HARVEY Seventeen contradictions Introducing his interview with David Harvey at the Chronicle of Higher Education earlier this week, Scott Carlson notes that

‘The American stage has recently been set for questioning capitalism, with the U.S. tour of academe’s rock star of the moment, Thomas Piketty. The French economist’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century has highlighted capitalism’s drift toward inequality and criticized economists’ focus on pure theory.’

The interview was prompted by the publication of David’s latest book, Seventeen contradictions and the end of capitalism: see also this interview with Jonathan Derbyshirehere.  En route, David has good things to say about Piketty’s project – its empirical detail, its humanistic flourishes (see also Paul Krugmanhere) – but he is evidently dissatisfied with its analytical and, in consequence, its political reach.

Since he spoke to the Chronicle, David has fleshed out his critique of Piketty here.

The book…

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USB typewriter — really?

Yep. Meet the USB Typewriter. You might think those typewriters are obsolete or antique, but seeing these USB typewriters forces one to remember: we will not pass down those iPhones to future generations. A little steampunk goes a long way.

Of all the hacks I’ve seen lately, this one takes the bag. While I will be the last to say that “life hacks” are useless, this one is a possibly both the oddest and most appealing. While you can buy one pre-made, you can also convert your own. Here’s how it works:


So, apart from applying a ‘spacebar’ key detector and a ‘shift’ key detector, the rest of the letters and number can be harvested from a ‘keypress’ detertor pad on the underbelly of the typewriter which monitor key swings, but from below. Add a control panel on the side and you’re USB-ready.

There is a simplified home conversion kit, as well as more DIY version that requires a bit of soldering.

Some of the videos are admittedly cheesy (the background music … ouch), but this idea is actually pretty solid. It appeals to me on a number of levels, but none more than the idea that is developed in the second video. The idea that one day the batteries will be gone and our electronic technology will be utterly useless; what’s more, they mention how today’s high technology will not last, meaning, today’s technology is incapable of becoming an antique because so much support goes into it and once batteries are not widely available, they’re useless (beyond a paperweight, assuming we have paper).

Retro-hacks like these have been featured in a number of venues, but the interviews on NPR are probably the coolest.