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International Conference: narratives of the sociotechnical
May 5 │ 8:00 am - May 6 │ 7:00 pm
materia International Symposium
Date: Friday, May 5th 9am-5pm; Saturday, May 6th 9am-12:30pm, 2023
Place: Bolívar House (Center for Latin American Studies), 582 Alvarado Row
On May 5th and May 6th, the DLCL Research Unit materia will be hosting a two-day symposium, bringing together an interdisciplinary group of scholars and art practitioners to discuss the role of narrative in and against sociotechnical imaginaries. This event builds on previous meetings throughout 2022-2023. A laboratory of anthropodecentric thought in Latin America and otherwise, this year materia tackles the “grand narratives of scientific progress, such as pasteurization,” in Sheila Jasanoff and Sang-Hyun Kim’s words, but also the ideologeme of progress outright, an always postponed if ever-present aspiration and imposition in the peripheries of global capital. Beyond such narratives on a societal scale and their familiar proleptic structure, we invite consideration about other, more subtle narrative formations—including novels, audiovisual media, and others.
|Schedule (see bios and abstracts below)|
|May 5, 2023|
|9:15- 10:30||Jason W. Moore, Keynote|
Thaïs Machado Borges
|Lunch for participants and guests|
|15:30-16:45||Karina Aguilera Skvirsky, Keynote|
|May 6, 2023|
|9:30-10:45||Gabriel Catrén, Keynote|
Participant bios and abstracts
Jason W. Moore
“Workers, Owners & Planetary Managerialism: Climate Crises, Doomsday Empires and the Natures of Class Struggle, 1492-2023”
In the history of civilization, climate crises have always been moments of political possibility. And yet, much of a promiscuously defined “climate justice” perspective embraces climate doomism. Joined by most critical scholars, this perspective holds that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. Given two millennia of conjoined climate-class crises, through which ruling classes were epochally destabilized, that pessimism must be explained. In this keynote, Jason W. Moore situates climate doomism within the longue duree “software” of imperial hegemony: a planetary managerialism rooted in early capitalism’s Cartesian binary, maturing after World War II. Climate doomism is not only the result of a widely-embraced flight from world history characteristic of neoliberal ideology. Tightly joined to the flight from history, especially in environmental affairs, is the cybernetic imaginary of American nuclear hegemony and its novel forms of scientization and planetary management. Today’s Environmental Imaginary – as managerial holism and reductionism – embodies a justification for a post-capitalist transition towards a techno-scientific tributary civilization. Its antidote is a geohistorical method and imaginary of biospheric class struggle. This implies and necessitates an intellectual “state shift” away from planetary managerialism and towards vistas of the associated reproducers in the web of life. Only then may we pierce the veils of Man, Nature, and Civilizing Project – and in so doing clear our vision so that we may steer towards the communist horizon.
Jason W. Moore is an environmental historian and historical geographer at Binghamton University, where he is associate professor of sociology. He is author of Capitalism in the Web of Life (2015), Antropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History, and the Crisis of Capitalism (2016), and, with Raj Patel, A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things (2017). His books and essays on environmental history, capitalism, and social theory have been widely recognized, including the Alice Hamilton Prize of the American Society for Environmental History (2003), the Distinguished Scholarship Award of the Section on the Political Economy of the World-System (American Sociological Association, 2002 for articles, and 2015 for Web of Life), and the Byres and Bernstein Prize in Agrarian Change (2011).
“Hippies, Airplanes, and Wars: A Counter-Narrative of Narcotrafficking in the Americas”
The paper questions the grand narrative that politicians, experts, and pop culture producers have articulated during the fifty years of the War on Drugs, one that portrays the protagonists of the drug history of the Americas as ruthless black and brown men and undocumented immigrants of color. Instead, it focuses on the middle- and upper-class white Americans that introduced some of the technological and entrepreneurial innovations that transformed existing smuggling practices into a profitable transnational business.
Lina Britto is Associate Professor of History at Northwestern University. She is a historian of modern Latin America and the Caribbean. Her work situates the emergence and consolidation of illegal drug smuggling networks in Colombia in the context of a growing articulation between the South American country and the United States during the Cold War. She is the author of Marijuana Boom: The Rise and Fall of Colombia’s First Drug Paradise (University of California Press, 2020), which was awarded an honorable mention in social science from Colombia’s Fundación Alejandro Ángel Escobar National Book Awards, 2021.
Thaïs Machado Borges
“Green and Yellow Exoskeletons – Media, Materiality and the Production of Far-right Sociotechnical Imaginaries in Contemporary Brazil”
This presentation discusses the role of media and materiality in the construction of far-right subjects and imaginaries in Brazil. Based on an iconographic analysis of the uses and trajectories of flags, t-shirts, hats, colors, posters, songs and sayings, as they appear in pre-electoral far-right manifestations, this presentation discusses the role of objects and cultural artifacts as bearers of political positioning and as ways of being political.
Thaïs Machado-Borges is a Senior Lecturer in Latin American Studies and the director of the Nordic Institute of Latin American Studies, at Stockholm University. She is a social anthropologist with a focus on contemporary urban Brazil. Machado-Borges has researched on topics such as popular culture (telenovelas), class and consumption, bodily grooming and modification, overconsumption and the meanings of waste.
“Mixing Cement: Fyodor Gladkov and the Soviet “Production Novel”
My paper reads Fyodor Gladkov’s novel Cement (1925), the first Soviet “production novel” and a text that would be dubbed an exemplar of “socialist realism” in the 1930s, through its titular substance. Cement in Cement both analogizes post-revolutionary social reconstitution after the October Revolution/Russian Civil War and models Gladkov’s vision of how to write a new Soviet novel using old sources. This simultaneously provides a teleological model for the propagandistic abstraction of later socialist realism and indicates the messy genesis of (official) Soviet literature in practice.
Dominick Lawton is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Stanford University. His current book project, “Rebellious Things,” explores the poetics of materialism in early 20th century Russian and Soviet literature. He is also working on a study of socialist and post-socialist housing as a cultural force in the (former) Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.
“Human Microbiota Conservation: A Narrative of Multiscale Colonization, Extinction, and Restoration”
This paper proposes a critical interpretation of human microbiota conservation discourses and visualizations, but also from a collaborative perspective on the conservation efforts. It is about the ecosystems within us and on how they open more understandings about the relation of humans, animals, and plants with ecosystems outside these bodies. It has good health and political potential for indigenous peoples (and risks as well), the technology is accessible to local scientists, the right legislation is already in place, and the matter offers an insight into our medicine and food production priorities, particularly in Latin America.
Jorge Marcone is professor of environmental humanities in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, and the Program in Comparative Literature at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, where he currently serves as Associate Dean of Humanities. His research and teaching interests focus on how social-ecological crises, transitions, and resilience are addressed in Latin American culture. His preferred archives come from Amazonian literature, film, and art.
“Narratives of the Future: Sociotechnical Imaginaries in Yoko Tawada’s Post-Fukushima Story “The Island of Eternal Life” (2012)”
In her short story “The Island of Eternal Life,” Tokyo-born writer Yoko Tawada, who lives in Germany, interrogates Japan’s sociotechnical imaginary of a modern, energy-independent future in the wake of Fukushima. Employing a transnational lens and a narrative structure conspicuously devoid of an authorial center, Tawada probes national culture through technology.
Katharina Gerstenberger is professor of German in the department of World Languages & Cultures at the University of Utah. Her work is on 20th- and 21st-century German literary culture and Environmental Humanities. She is the author or co-editor of five books and the current editor of German Studies Review.
Karina Aguilera Skvirsky
“Carrying a Rock from Ingapirca”
We know history is not linear and yet it is often presented in a familiar pattern–this happened and then this and then that and so on… Historians, however, know that history is messy. The end of one culture and the beginning of another is often murky and includes competing ideologies and technologies. My project uses histories—personal, collective, institutional, fantastical—to think about the politics around the presentation of history and how those beliefs impact the present. And yet, my project is not academic; it is an interpretation of the past through a subjective lens that reimagines the gaps in history.
Karina Aguilera Skvirsky is a multidisciplinary artist whose practice began in photography and grew into video and performance. In 2019, she received a grant from Creative Capital to produce Sacred Geometry, a series of hand-cut photographic collages and How to build a wall and other ruins, a project that includes a multi-channel video installation and live performances. She has exhibited Sacred Geometry in solo exhibitions at Museo Amparo in Puebla, Mexico and Ponce + Robles Gallery in Madrid, Spain. How to Build a Wall and Other Ruins premiered at the XVth Cuenca Biennial, curated by Blanca de la Torre in December 2021.
“On Abstraction, Identity, and Difference”
In this talk, I will address a fundamental operation of socio-technical systems thanks to which we can understand lifeworld complexity and organize it according to simpler models, namely abstraction. Abstraction is at the basis of a constellation of interrelated motifs pertaining to the sociotechnical narrative of modernity, including universality, scientific rationalization, objectivation, classifications, structural analysis, and modern political economy. At the same time, abstraction entails a form of violence exerted against all that is abstracted away. Is it possible to reconceptualize the notion of abstraction in such a way that we can overcome the pitfalls of what William James called “vicious abstractionism”?
Gabriel Catrén holds a Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics (Universidad de Buenos Aires) and a Ph.D. in Philosophy (Université de Paris VIII). He was Directeur de programme au Collège International de Philosophie and currently works as a permanent researcher at the Institute SPHERE – Sciences, Philosophie, Histoire (CNRS, Université Paris Cité).
“Animal Neuroscience and the Future of the Novel”
My paper explores the unexpected role that the neuroscientific study of nonhuman sentience has begun to play in motivating contemporary fiction’s narrative experiments. I argue that the culturally mediated promises of animal neuroscience have become, in many recent novels, an internal justification for the continued ethical relevance of novelistic character. This development merits further critical evaluation in order to understand the fates of narrative fiction.
Victoria Googasian is assistant professor of American Literature at Georgetown University in Qatar. Her research describes how novel forms experiment and expand in response to the otherness of animals, landscapes, processes, and collectives, and has appeared in New Literary History, NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, and JML: Journal of Modern Literature. Her current manuscript is Animal Minds, Other Minds: Nonhuman Intelligence and Narrative Form in American Fiction. She received her PhD from Stanford University in 2019.
“Immundus: cancer and capitalism in Aquarius”
Political rhetorics of planetary sickness have proliferated recently in ways both reminiscent of and starkly different from, Susan Sontag’s 1977 classic. In my reading of Kléber Mendonça Filho’s film Aquarius (2016) –a key cultural text of Brazil’s ongoing political crisis— I suggest that interrelations between the afflictions of body and environment should be approached not from the rhetorics of figuration but rather the affect-dynamic of assemblages. Read in this fashion, the film chronicles the emergence of competing geopolitical machines, which I suggest thinking of as unworlding (imundo) and afterlife (sobrevida).
Jens Andermann is Professor of Spanish and Portuguese at New York University and an editor of the Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies. His most recent books are: Jardín (Santiago: Bifurcaciones, 2023), Entranced Earth: Art, Extractivism, and the End of Landscape (Evanston: Northwestern UP, 2023; Spanish ed. Metales Pesados 2018), Handbook of Latin American Environmental Aesthetics, with Gabriel Giorgi and Victoria Saramago (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2023), and Natura. Environmental Aesthetics After Landscape, with Lisa Blackmore and Dayron Carrillo Morell (Zurich: Diaphanes, 2018).
Research Unit at the Division of Literatures, Cultures and Languages
Center for Latin American Studies
Modern Thought and Literature
Department of Iberian and Latin American Cultures
University of Stockholm
Department of German Studies
Department of Theater and Performance Studies
Department of English
Université de Paris
Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS)
Stanford Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence
Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences
Stanford Humanities Center
France-Stanford Center for Interdisciplinary Studies