Skip to main content

2018-19 Colloquium Series

The Science Studies Colloquium Series takes place every Monday of the quarter from 4:00p-5:30p in Room 3027, Humanities & Social Sciences Building, Muir College campus, unless noted otherwise.

A reception for the colloquium speaker takes place before the talk from 3:30p-4:00p in Room 3005, Humanities & Social Sciences Building.

Fall Quarter 2018

October 1, 2018

Science Studies Program Meeting

SSP faculty and students only

October 8, 2018

Shelley Streeby

Professor, Department of Literature and Ethnic Studies
UC San Diego

Climate Refugees in the Greenhouse World: Archiving Global Warming with Octavia E Butler

When it comes to people of color’s leadership in imagining the future of climate change, the work of the great science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler is a great place to start. Butler was a working-class Black girl from Pasadena, California whose mother worked as a maid and by taking in lodgers after her husband died young of a heart attack. In thinking about climate change, I find especially useful her two Parable novels, particularly Parable of the Sower, a “cautionary tale” Butler wrote in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Butler once said that “Global Warming is a character in POS” and while writing the sequel, Parable of the Talents, she often reminded herself in research notes to “show the ‘Greenhouse World.’”  Drawing on the vast collection of 350 boxes of material Butler left to the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, next to her hometown of Pasadena, upon her untimely death in 2006, I use Butler’s research on the greenhouse effect and global warming and on the disasters of these eras and emerging environmental movements to tell the story of emerging scientific research on climate change in the eighties and nineties and how politicians, the fossil fuel industry, and activists responded to that research. I argue that this working-class Black woman genius’s memory work helpfully illuminates this history even as it models an interdisciplinary engagement with the sciences through Butler’s study and research.

October 15, 2018

Kelly Gates

Associate Professor, Department of Communication and Science Studies
UC San Diego

Automating Vision for Prediction, Prosecution, and Profit

This talk aims to make sense of the broad sociotechnical program of computer vision by focusing on the automation of video processing, or video analytics, in the overlapping domains of security, policing, and forensics. The development of automated vision in these domains is taking shape along with its commercialization, creating technical systems for video analytics that are deeply entangled with data monetization and the drive to build platforms and create network effects. I argue that we cannot understand 21st century, real-world applications of “computer vision,” “machine learning,” or “artificial intelligence” without attention to how these technologies are being imagined and physically built by companies laser-focused on scale, growth, and market dominance. 

October 22, 2018

Jesse Goldstein

Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology
Virginia Commonwealth University

Innovation as enclosure: Environmental Crisis and the Cleantech Surround 

In this talk I explore investments in cleantech innovation as a means of addressing the unfolding climate crisis. As both a market and an imaginary, cleantech offers a range of possible and potential responses to environmental crisis within an enclosed space (confined and narrowed to responses that support value production in capital's narrow sense), or what we can think, along with Michelle Murphy, as the cleantech surround. Cleantech’s legitimizing discourse, which I term planetary improvement, rests upon a view of 'saving the planet.' However, the planet being hailed is always already the product of capitalist and colonial violence. Examples from my ethnographic work with cleantech entrepreneurs and investors help demonstrate how this surround is erected, supported and defended as the only terrain upon which one can realistically work to ‘save the planet’. How might we re-orient the horizons of sociotechnical possibility otherwise? And how might this ‘we’ constitute itself as a pluripotent intellect, an undercommons where fugitive planners move us through and beyond, not just against, the sociotechnical assemblages of fossil-capitalism?

October 29, 2018

Saiba Varma

Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology  
UC San Diego

The Shock Network: The Politics of Care in Occupied Kashmir

In this talk, I examine the use(s) of electric shock in both military and humanitarian spaces in
occupied Kashmir, namely, the interrogation center and clinic. Shock, as a technology that cuts
across military and humanitarian spaces, makes visible the intentional and unintentional
entanglements of military and humanitarian practices and logics in spaces of occupation such as
Kashmir. In both settings, shock is understood and valorized as a crisis technology performed in
the name of care. In psychiatric settings, global and national mental health imperatives towards
"deinstitutionalization" and promoting "community-based" mental health approaches are
heralded as humanitarian and cost-effective responses to histories of violence and abuse in the
asylum. As psychiatrists try to discharge patients quickly, and to promote outpatient,
pharmaceutical care rather than inpatient care, shock becomes a pragmatic way of achieving
these humanitarian outcomes. In conclusion, this talk thinks about the remainders of care and the
ways military and humanitarian care are felt and experienced at the level of the body and kin

November 5, 2018

Sabine Arnaud

Senior Researcher
Centre Alexandre Koyré Histoire des Sciences et des Techniques


The Oral Method and the Specter of Abnormality: Deaf Education and the Poetics of Contestation at the Turn of Twentieth-Century France

 While tracing the scope of the French Republican project promoting speech in Deaf education, this paper will analyze how the spread of oralism coincided with the development of new categories to classify children, especially as “backward” and “abnormal.” It will examine the responses by Deaf people, who, far from being mere spectators of the change, developed a radical critique of the repercussions of the new pedagogical methods, employing irony, sarcasm, and critical analysis. This paper will show how these years of struggle were also years of emancipation, in which the acquisition of language became a poetical and political act.  

November 12, 2018

No Colloquium

Veterans Day Holiday


November 19, 2018

Klaus S. Lackner

Director, Center for Negative Carbon Emissions and Professor, School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering
Arizona State University 

Mopping up our Carbon Dioxide Waste

The world’s energy infrastructure is built on the combustion of fossil carbon, which leaves behind a waste product of carbon dioxide. The carbon, liberated from underground, is dumped as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere where it is the dominant driver of climate change. This waste will have to be managed. As with garbage, sewage, or sulfur dioxide emissions before, the waste stream will likely be ignored until the consequences become painfully obvious. Nevertheless, the world has already begun to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, to raise energy efficiency, and to recycle carbon.  While all of this is helpful, it is not enough. The ambitious climate targets agreed to in Paris can only be met by removing excess carbon from the environment. The waste that has already been produced and will continue to be produced for some time will need to be disposed of safely and permanently.  Fossil carbon is a waste management problem. The scale is staggering: current carbon dioxide emissions exceed the world production of sand and aggregate.  It is highly unlikely that all of this carbon will find a ready reuse.  In picking up the litter, we will need to collect and store more carbon than was emitted during the 20th century.  Storage technologies are unpopular but work.  Collecting carbon from the environment poses a new challenge. The favored approach of using biomass capture is unlikely to safely reach the necessary scale. Direct air capture on the other hand is a scalable, but still unproven technology. It needs to be developed. Air capture linked to carbon disposal makes it possible to rethink carbon management as waste management rather than pollution mitigation.  Therefore, it will likely play an important role in climate stabilization. Eventually, as the world approaches zero carbon waste, air capture will find a new role in supporting a circular carbon economy.  Solar energy, water and carbon dioxide taken from the air will be the ingredients for synthetic fuels for airplanes, ships and trucks.  Then there will be no more need for fossil fuels.

November 26, 2018

Charles F. Kennel

Former Director
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
UC San Diego

Climate Science and Policy: The Famous Two-Degree Goal

In 2014, my UC San Diego colleague, David Victor, and I published an article in Nature magazine that the editors gave the controversial title “Ditch the two-degree goal”.  The goal was what policy experts had chosen as a way to focus the 2015 Paris negotiations on climate change: to avoid a global temperature increase more than two degrees Celsius above what it was in the preindustrial era. . On the day before the Paris Climate conference opened in 2015, The Wall Street Journal  published a front page  article that talked about well-known climate scientists who questioned the Paris proceedings altogether.  Far from it. We were all for progress on climate change,  but we pointed out that measuring that progress using only  temperature  is seriously misleading.  People neither understand nor care about this abstract number, but they do care about their risks from things like firestorms, floods, droughts, and sea level rise.  To keep track of humanity’s progress on climate change, political leaders, diplomats and everyone else all ought to keep track of the Planet’s vital signs, just as in medical checkups, doctors measure temperature, but also other indicators like  blood pressure and cholesterol.  After all, you can have cancer and never have an elevated temperature.  It was that simple. 
I will describe why we decided to write the article and what happened afterwards. The UN has indeed adopted a set of vital signs, but you have never heard of them.

December 3, 2018

J. Benjamin Hurlbut

Associate Professor, School of Life Sciences
Arizona State University  

Sovereign Science, Laggard Law: Ethics, Deliberation and Governance at the Frontiers of Human Biology

Recent developments at the intersection of human developmental biology, bioengineering and genome editing have elicited visions of unprecedented technological revolution and corollary questions about what ethical commitments should guide its unfolding. Prominent scientists and other public figures have called for assessment and broad public dialogue about the social and ethical implications of emerging research domains; at the same time, those experts themselves as best able to react to this emerging technological revolution and to guide judgments about its role in the human future. These interventions reflect well-worn approaches governing research and corollary notions of the forms of deliberation appropriate to this task. This talk will examine common constructions of the roles and responsibilities of scientific and bioethical experts in informing public deliberation and governance in the United States. It will argue that constructions of scientific responsibility are patterned by corollary imaginations of the nature of technoscientific change and its relationship to politics, policy and law, with important consequences for practices of deliberation and governance.

December 10, 2018

No Colloquium

Finals Week

Winter Quarter 2019

January 7, 2019

Science Studies Program Meeting

SSP faculty and students only

January 14, 2019

Chris Henke'00

Associate Professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies
Colgate University


Ben Sims'00

Scientist, Statistical Sciences Group
Los Alamos National Laboratory

Repairing San Diego: Infrastructure, Materiality, and Power

Repair, in its normal usage, is a practice employed when we need to fix a flat tire on our car
or a leaking pipe in the kitchen. In sociology, repair has been used to describe the practices
we use to maintain order and meaning in social interactions. We take a broader,
sociotechnical view of repair practices that encompasses both uses of the term, and a range
of scales from local to global. In our forthcoming book, tentatively titled Repairing
Infrastructures: The Maintenance of Materiality and Power , we argue that sociotechnical
repair is a crucial element of the often taken-for-granted structural context of industrial
modernity, and the basis of power invested in and maintained through infrastructural
systems. For this talk, we focus on two key case studies from the book, each dating back to
our time as graduate students in the Science Studies Program at UC San Diego: Henke’s fieldwork
with campus physical plant mechanics and Sims’s study of the Coronado Bridge and its
impact on Barrio Logan. We use these examples to illustrate the dynamics of repair in
diverse settings and scales.

January 21, 2019

No Colloquium

Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday


January 28, 2019

Alison Wylie

Professor, Department of Philosophy
University of British Columbia

Witnessing and Translating: The Indigenous/Science Project

The Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2015) calls on non-Indigenous Canadians to build equitable, respectful and transparent partnerships with Indigenous Peoples as the primary means for advancing reconciliation. In this spirit a UBC-based research cluster, Indigenous/Science, is building collaborative partnerships designed to bring the tools of archaeological science to bear on Indigenous-led research questions in a way that embodies a “practice of reconciliation.” The projects taking shape under the rubric of Indigenous/Science raise pointed questions about how researchers committed to collaborative practice can best to navigate differences in ethical/epistemic commitments and the asymmetries of power and hierarchies of expertise that underpin them. These will be the focus of my talk, as well as the question of what we philosophers can contribute to such ventures: what is required of us when called upon to bear witness to the real-world conflicts and consequences of scientific inquiry?

February 4, 2019



February 11, 2019

Fernando Domínguez Rubio

Assistant Professor, Department of Communication
UC San Diego

Art and the Ecologies of the Modern Imagination

What does it take to produce and sustain the categories through which we build, describe, and organize the worlds that we dream and inhabit? This is central question that my forthcoming book Art and the Ecologies of the Imagination seeks to answer. It does so by focusing on one of the central categories of the modern imagination, the category of art, exploring the very particular ecology through which this category is made possible and is sustained in practice at one place: the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The talk will be organized as an expedition into the museum’s backstage, exploring some of the technologies, climatic infrastructures, and forms of care and labor required to prevent this rather fragile category from falling apart. If everything goes well, the talk should be an invitation to think about fragility and vulnerability, not as problems to be overcome, but as the inherent conditions of the worlds we dream and inhabit.  


February 18, 2019 

No Colloquium

Presidents' Day Holiday


February 25, 2019

Moon Duchin

Associate Professor, Department of Mathematics & Director, Program in Science, Technology, & Society 
Tufts University

What Even Is Pennsylvania?

States exist in law, in data, and in space. How are rules and entities made and unmade in the conversation about redistricting and representative democracy? What is Pennsylvania's normal/permissible/fair zone when it comes to breaking it down into districts? I'll use recent work on mathematical and computational interventions in redistricting to tell several interlocking stories from the gerrymandering front lines.

March 4, 2019

Stephanie Dick

Assistant Professor, Department of History and Sociology of Science
University of Pennsylvania 

Making Up Minds: Reasoning, Proof, and Computing in the Postwar United States 

"Computers ought to produce in the long run some fundamental change in the nature of all mathematical activity.” These words, penned in 1958, capture the motivation behind an early field of computing research called Automated Theorem-Proving. Practitioners of this field sought to program computers to prove mathematical theorems or to assist human users in doing so. Everyone working in the field agreed that computers had the potential to make novel contributions to the production of mathematical knowledge. They disagreed about almost everything else. Automated theorem-proving practitioners subscribed to complicated and conflicting visions of what ought to count and not count as a mathematical proof. There was also disagreement about the character of human mathematical faculties - like intuition, understanding, and reasoning - and how much the computer could be made to possess them, if at all. Different practitioners also subscribed to quite different imaginations of the computer itself, its limitations and possibilities. Some imagined computers as mere plodding “slaves” who would take over tedious and mechanical elements of mathematical research. Others imagined them more generously as “mentors” or “collaborators” that could offer novel insight and direction to human mathematicians. Still others believed that computers would eventually become autonomous agents of mathematical research. Automated Theorem-Proving practitioners took their visions of mathematicians, minds, computers, and proof, and built them right in to the architecture of their theorem-proving programs. Their efforts did indeed precipitate transformations in the character of mathematical activity but in varied and often surprising ways. With a focus on communities based in the United States in the second half of the twentieth century, this talk will introduce different visions of the computer as a mathematical agent, software that was crafted to animate those imaginings, and the novel practices and materiality’s of mathematical knowledge-making that emerged in tandem.


March 11, 2019

Kieran Durkin

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Global Fellow
University of York

Humanism and the Academy: Can We Speak of Humanism Again Today?

To advocate humanism in the academy today is to court ridicule. Whole traditions of thought – anti-humanism, post-humanism, post-colonial studies, etc. – have established their theoretical and practical dominance on the back of fairly trenchant criticisms of humanism. Yet today there are murmurings of discontent over some of the legacies of these traditions and the accounts of humanism that they offer. In the context of these developments, I want consider whether we can speak of humanism again today, and what it might mean to do so. In particular, I want to consider issues with the existing dismissals of humanism – which I argue rest on a mixture of well-conceived and misplaced assumptions – and to suggest at humanist paths of retrieval that can go some way to meeting the standard objections of the traditions.

March 18, 2019 

Monika Sengul-Jones (Finals Week)

PhD Candidate, Communication & Science Studies
UC San Diego

Prefiguring the End User: Gendered Labor, Crises of Authority, and Commercial Networked Database Services in Midcentury United States

In the middle of the last century in the United States, military funding, expertise, and technologies formed the backbone of commercial networked database vendors, such as Mead Data Corporation’s Lexis (later Lexis-Nexis). As service providers, networked database vendors courted a new customer, the “end user.” To reach this market, vendors sought to “crack” the barrier of the professional searchers who were the gatekeepers to the information-seeking public -- librarians. This talk assesses the epistemic work of gendered and colonizing tropes that animated the forecasting, designing, using, and making sense of, networked database services for end users. The authority of database search technologies and conceptions of information as a mass noun emerge in antagonisms between librarians and information service providers. I explain this, then I identify suggestive points of connection between the epistemic work of tropes in the prefiguration of the end user and crises in the authority of online content and conceptions about use(rs) in our contemporary moment.




March 25, 2019

Spring Break

Spring Quarter 2019

April 1, 2019

Science Studies Program Meeting

SSP faculty and students only

April 8, 2019

Sarah Vaughn

Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology 
University of California, Berkeley 

What about Expertise?: Climate Change, Territory and the Global South

For postcolonial, low-lying nation-states that are acutely vulnerable to sea-level rise, sea defense is associated with the promises of decolonization, or the collective recognition of bounded territory with an independent nation-state. Building on a case study of Guyana’s sea defenses and related engineering expertise, I suggest that the boundaries of national territory and freedom were never a guarantee even with the end of colonial rule. Engineers’ claims to territory have always been in direct conflict with the aspirations of the liberal and emergent nation-state. As I will show, engineers have etched out a space of legitimacy through other ‘scalar-concepts’ of territory, such as the “developed/ developing world” that work to mark who belongs to their epistemic community. The brunt of engineers’ inter-territorial claim-making, not only offers an alternative genealogy of decolonization, but also allows for an assessment of the distorting effects of climate change on contemporary engineering discourses about territory. Engineers, in other words, are essential storytellers of the nation state and its climatic futures. Beyond calling out the limitations of sovereign power, they make possible an interconnected world based in expertise and the recognition of vulnerability.


April 11 & 12, 2019

Student Choice Speaker: Lorraine Daston

Visiting Professor of Social Thought and History
University of Chicago


April 15, 2019

Sarah Fox

Postdoctoral Scholar, Department of Communication and The Design Lab
UC San Diego

Managerial Visions: Stories of Upgrading and Maintaining the Public Restroom with IoT 

This talk examines the entangled development of governance strategies and networked
technologies in the domain of public restrooms. Drawing on a mix of archival materials,
participant observation, and interviews within and beyond the city of Seattle, Washington, I
will discuss the motivations of public restroom facilities managers as they introduce (or
consider introducing) networked technology in the spaces they administer. Over the course of
the research, I found internet of things technologies—or, connected devices imbued with
computational capacity—became increasingly tied up with cost-reducing efficiencies and
exploitative regulatory techniques. Drawing from this case study, I develop the concept of
managerial visions: ways of seeing that structure labor, enforce compliance, and define access
to resources. I argue that these ways of seeing prove increasingly critical to technology studies
research as it attends to computer-mediated collaboration beyond white-collar settings.


April 22, 2019

Babak Rahimi

Associate Professor of Communication, Culture and Religion, Department of Literature
UC San Diego

Snapshots of Technological Imaginaries in Iran

In 1861 a group of Austrian engineers serving at the Dar al-Funun (Polytechnic School) installed the first telegraphic line between Karaj and Tehran, making Iran one of the first in the region to have access to a revolutionary technology with long-distance communication reach. After nearly three decades when the first electronic telegraphic system was successfully demonstrated by Cooke and Wheatstone in London, the development of telegraphy in Iran defined a critical juncture in Qajar modernization during the Naseri period (1848-1896). The new communication technology not only helped bolster the centralization of Qajar economy and state, but also made available a speedy and reliable communication link between India and Britain after the Indian Mutiny of 1857. In 1997, more than hundred years after the introduction of telegraph, the engineer turned writer, Masoud Khayam, would publish the first philosophical literary account of internet in Iran. Taamolāt-e Interneti (Internet Reflections) is an imaginative work on internet’s communicative capacity in an increasingly globalizing world defined by science. Taamolāt-e Interneti appeared in response to the growing popularity of the internet, first introduced to the country’s educational sector by the Institute for Research in Fundamental Sciences (IPM) in 1993 and later spread through the Qum seminary in 1995. By the late 1990s, the internet came to represent a significant feature of post-war modernization, a complex process that has entailed significant social changes in connection with the urbanization and marketization of everyday life in post-revolutionary Iran. In this broad historical perspective that informs this study, how can we understand the relevance of technological change in the context of Iranian history and beyond? Inspired by George Simmel’s method of “momentary images” in snapshots (momentbilder), this paper offers several fragmentary historical studies on a range of technologies in Iran since 1861. It argues that the impact of “modern technologies,” such as the telegraph and the internet, is less about the institutional and technical efficiencies than an intricate set of interpretative and experiential practices in shaping competing publics in how the world can be seen, heard, felt, expressed and imagined in contested ways. The history of “modern technology” in Iran, traced back to its Victorian imperial manifestations, is a tale of everyday practices as social imaginaries that have projected their respective encounters with “new” technologies in redefining politics in the age of global capital.


April 29, 2019

Megan Delehanty

Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy
University of Calgary

Epistemic Injustice in Psychiatry

Attention to epistemic injustice in psychiatry has so far focused on the context of patient involvement in revisions to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Other related work has attended to the way various forms of epistemic injustice arise in healthcare more generally, with a focus on somatic illnesses. Still other work has examined the difficulty people with mental illnesses have in communicating their experience and/or being taken to be credible speakers in everyday contexts. In this paper, I expand on this literature in two ways. First, I will examine a wider range of contexts within psychiatric practice (broadly construed) in which people experiencing mental illness often encounter forms of epistemic injustice. These include diagnostic interviews, decisions about treatment modalities, resolution of complaints about mental health professionals, and within the context of treatment (both individual and group therapy). Importantly, this latter context, in particular, shows the extent to which the conceptions of different mental illnesses in the social imagination produces a hierarchy among patients according to which some groups of patients are significantly more marginalized than others. Second, where most of the literature in this domain has identified either epistemic injustice in general, or has focused on testimonial and hermeneutic injustice, I attempt to provide a finer-grained analysis of the varieties of epistemic injustice that ten  to be found in these settings. The end result of this is a fuller map of the terrain of epistemic injustice in psychiatry, one which will, I hope, lay the foundation for more detailed examinations of specific domains within this area.


May 6, 2019 

Marion Fourcade

Professor, Department of Sociology, UC Berkeley and Associate Fellow of the Max Planck-Sciences Po Center on Coping with Instability in Market Societies (Maxpo)

A Maussian Bargain: Primitive Accumulation in the Digital Economy

Primitive accumulation in the digital economy –in other words, the appropriation of new kinds of data about people, organizations, and things and their transformation into a form of capital– has often been described, following David Harvey, as a process of “accumulation of dispossession.” Yet how can we reconcile this argument with the fact that enrolment into digital systems often takes place in a much more benign fashion, for instance by signing up for a “free” service, or by responding to a “friend’s” invitation? In this paper, we rely on anthropological theory to conceptualize the role of gift exchange and reciprocity in the origins of what Zuboff (2019) calls “surveillance capitalism.” We draw on interviews with the designers and builders of digital systems to document the various kinds of “Maussian bargains” that power the circulation of personal data, and to explore the technical, political, economic and cultural conditions that underpin them.


May 13, 2019 

Florence C. Hsia

Professor of History of Science, Department of History
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Cutting Corners: How to Index a Chinese Book

The problem of navigating Chinese-language materials became increasingly acute in the late nineteenth century with the adoption of lithography to reprint large collections of woodblock-printed works; rising reader demand within China for translations of foreign publications in conjunction with ongoing educational and language reform; proposals for ‘modern’ library cataloguing systems; and the rapid constitution of Asian-language libraries and sinological journals in Europe and America. In this paper I examine the efflorescence of sinographic indexing in this period both within China and without as a technology for navigating language, text, and cultural identity.


May 20, 2019 

Cristina Mejia Visperas'17

Assistant Professor, School of Communication
USC Annenberg

"I sense, I see in this white gaze": On the Skin Apparatus

Between 1952 and 1974, University of Pennsylvania doctor and professor Albert Kligman performed skin experiments on the predominantly black captive population of Holmesburg Prison. Comparing close-up images of skin with photographs taken under the microscope, or photomicrographs, the paper examines how scientific instruments of seeing into shallow spaces of the body established the visual language of race in the prison-laboratory. The paper builds on Fanon’s metaphors of microscopy in his elaboration of the psychopathology of racism, or the “epidermalization of inferiority,” to illustrate the intimate relationship between histories of racist experimental practice and the scientific rationality of racism itself. Operating at infinitesimal sites of the captive body, this optical relationship between race and science magnified a pained expression of captive agency inextricable from scientific method and wherein screening/skinning the body remade blackness into the imaginative and physical stuff of knowledge projects.


May 27, 2019

No Colloquium 

Memorial Day Observance


June 3, 2019

Dwaipayan Banerjee

Assistant Professor of Science, Technology, and Society (STS)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Hematologies: The Political Life of Blood in India

In this talk, I describe how the giving and receiving of blood has shaped social and political life in north India in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Across a range of field sites, I (with my collaborator Jacob Copeman) trace how the substance congeals political ideologies, biomedical rationalities and activist practice. From anti-colonial appeals to blood sacrifice as a political philosophy to contemporary portraits of political leaders drawn with blood, from the use of the substance by Bhopali children as activist material to biomedical anxieties about the excess and lack of donation, I show how tracing flows of blood in the Indian body politic offers new entryways into thinking about contemporary Indian politics and economy.


June 10, 2019

Theodora Dryer

PhD Candidate, History & Science Studies
UC San Diego

Cloud Computing: The Big Data Human Problem of Weather Control

In the first two decades of the Cold War, “cloud-seeding” programs—premised on the delivery of silver iodide crystals into ‘living clouds’ to increase precipitation—popularized around the globe.  In the U.S., these programs emerged from World War II military computing and aerial bombing military technologies, which converged with longer traditions of collecting and analyzing water data. A new cloud-seeding economy emerged, what I designate as an aerial-agricultural initiative.
The initiatives created powerful and long-lasting practices at the nexus of digital computing and drought politics. One area of focus was the southwestern United States—a semi-arid landscape spanning Arizona, California, and Navajo and Hopi land. This area was reconfigured into a large-scale computing landscape. In advancing the notion of computing laboratory as landscape, I unearth the technological networks (both analog and digital), the material data production, and the environmental and political interventions undergirding ascendant cloud computing initiatives. Data was not generated ‘in the clouds,’ but through ground interventions. This was manifest in devastating cases of land appropriation, resource negotiations between local and federal oversight, and in the difficulties of mapping (both physically and mathematically) information collected from rain gauge technologies. Weather control programs provide a critically important site for engaging human and environmental justice under the reality of anthropogenic climate change, and in understanding the historical and technical linkages between digital computing and water allocation policies. Our current revival of cloud-seeding programs has obscured the continuities with Cold War aerial-agricultural development, as “unmanned aircrafts,” AI infrastructures, and Big Data constitute the new powers of weather control.