CONFERENCE CLOSING: Sheila Jasanoff – the politics of ‘expert’ design, and closing discussions.

New Sciences of Protection Conference: Plenary 4 with Sheila Jasanoff ‘Taking Risks for Safety: The US Discourse on Precaution’ and conference closing.

Sheila Jasanoff led the final plenary session. Through a comparison of the regulation and governance of embryonic stem cell research in the UK, US and Germany she dissected how different cultures of risk and safety are produced. Jasanoff drew on her own experiences as a member of the Harvard Embryonic Stem Cell Research Oversight (ESCRO) Committee and compared these with the differing articulations of safety surrounding embryonic stem cell research in the UK and Germany. To think and work in terms of safety is a kind of world making which inevitably involves boundary drawing, safety for whom, safety from what. Yet this politics of safety, or in this case the politics of the safety of embryonic life forms, and of the lives which embryonic stem cell research can purportedly make safe, is often presented in depoliticized terms. Comparative study reveals safety as a contested, political, terrain. From within one cultural milieu questions of safety, arguably because of their fundamentally existential character, often appear as either technical or ethical (but not political) questions. Committees of ‘experts’, either ethical or technical (or both), thus take control of the decision making process. The comparison of these depoliticized ‘expert’ spaces certainly reveals the undecidable elements in the experts’ designs for safe living, giving pointers to where the spaces for political action might be. Despite this, however, the new sciences of protection charged with the design of safe living remain stubbornly closed to interruptions and interventions from outside these spaces of expert design.

The closing discussions revolved around the following themes: how to critique designs for safe living without generating fear, the motor of ever-more hysterical designs for safer and safer living; how to atone for the excesses of unsafety inevitably created by designs for safe living; the problem of generating alternative imaginaries of living safely in difference; the study and illumination of already existing alternative imaginaries of living safely in difference; the importance of studying the actual sites of designing safe living, or of studying the sites of power; the intimacy of utopian and dystopian imaginaries; the future of the interrelations being forged between design, political philosophy, and science and technology studies.

Thank you to our fabulous Joseph Rigby for this great summary

DREW HEMMENT AND ANDREW CLEMENT: The Ethics of Surveillance Space

New Sciences of Protection Conference: Theme Panel 4 with Drew Hemment ‘Loca: Location orientated Critical Art’ and Andrew Clement ‘Total Transparency Solutions Inc’

Drew Hemment introduced the work of ‘Loca,’ or location orientated critical art ( Loca is an artistic practice which seeks to explore the often ambiguous ethical implications of pervasive surveillance. It “looks at what happens when it is easy for everyone to track everyone, when surveillance can be effected by consumer level technology within peer-to-peer networks without being routed through a central point.” We could say that, following John McGrath, Loca seeks to stimulate reflection not on whether we want to inhabit ‘surveillance space’(for we already do), but on how we want to inhabit it.

Andrew Clement’s ‘Total Transparency Solutions’ also probes the ethical implications of inhabiting surveillance space, a space which is neither public, nor private. In particular, and as the name suggests, Total Transparency Solutions addresses the problem of transparency for the ethics of surveillance space. Relations of visibility in surveillance space are often asymmetrical, with the watched not usually being able to see the watchers. Total Transparency Solutions, who also provided the ID card scheme and safety infrastructure for the New Sciences of Protection Conference, argue that without the symmetrical visibility of watcher and watched surveillance space faces a crisis of legitimacy. They seek to address imbalances in transparency and accountability through the use of public signs like the ones below. In the absence of such ‘checks and balances’ the stratifications of surveillance space – the social sorting effected by surveillance – are without justification. It could be argued that, following Lincoln’s famous maxim for representational government, Total Transparency Solutions propose a kind of surveillance of the people, for the people, by the people.

Thank you to our fabulous Joseph Rigby for this great summary


New Sciences of Protection Conference: Plenary 3 with Tim Luke (Design as Defence) and Benjamin Bratton (Dissimulation and Terrorism)

Tim Luke and Benjamin Bratton discussed the architecture of safe living in both its actual and virtual dimensions. ‘Architecture’ is concerned with both the concrete material structuring of a space, but also with the projection of form, with a particular social-political-technical imaginary. ‘Architects,’ Benjamin Bratton reminded us, are concerned with both actual and possible cities. Discussing the architecture of designs for safe living thus involves a double-referent: to the actual architecture of the design and to the promise of safe living which is always to-come.

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CINDY WEBER: ‘I am an American’

New Sciences of Protection Conference: Exhibition on the theme ‘Designing Safe Citizens’ by Cindy Weber.

On 21 September 2001 – ten days after 9/11 – the Ad Council in the United States launched its ‘I am an American’ advertising campaign. The exhibition unsettles the Ad Council’s smooth presentation of post 9/11 American patriotism through interviews with those for whom, very recently, US citizenship has been anything but ‘safe.’ These include the son of undocumented immigrant Elvira Arellano, Greg and Glenda Avery, Hurricane Katrina evacuees who became ‘internally displaced’ refugees, and James Yee, a US army Muslim chaplain wrongly accused of being a terrorist spy. The pieces show how the fantasy of unity, wholeness and security pedalled by the designers of safe citizenship in the US remain just that, fantasies. The exhibition disarticulates and rearticulates what it means to be a US citizen in a post 9/11 context, enactments neatly summed up in Cindy Weber’s provocative reversal the US motto “E Pluribus Unum” (Out of many, One) to read, ‘out of one, Many.’
The original Ad Council release

Greg and Glenda Avery: We are americans

James Yee: I am an American

Thank you to our fabulous Joseph Rigby for this great summary

Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Strange Culture: An introduction by Jackie Stacey

“Seduction” (1986), a photograph from a series by Ms. Hershman Leeson called “Phantom Limb.”

As part of the ‘New Sciences of Protection’ conference a screening of Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Strange Culture was arranged. Jackie Stacey, RICC, University of Manchester, introduced the film…

Lynn Hershman Leeson has been making visual investigations of the integration of the human body and the machine and of fantasy personae for 50 years now. In particular, Leeson has been fascinated by deception, artifice and the fluid boundary between secure and insecure identities. Long before the current anxieties about security and safety, Leeson explored the technologies of the self that meant that we could adopt other people’s identities or even make up fictional ones and get people to believe in them. One of her early pieces of work involved Leeson developing a persona, Roberta Breitmore. She appeared as a performance, when Leeson took up this identity as a disguise herself, wearing a blonde wig, costume and make-up; Roberta also appeared in photographs. Roberta’s existence was substantiated when she got an apartment, employment, a psychoanalyst, a driver’s license and credit cards. When Roberta put an ad in a San Francisco newspaper for a roommate/companion, it prompted dozens of responses. Roberta agreed to meet each person (mostly men) three times only to avoid too much intimacy, and each of these meetings was recorded in surveillance photographs and tape recordings. More recently in Leeson’s exhibition of her work in the virtual environment Second Life, Roberta has re-appeared, and we hope that Lynn will be joining us here at the Dukes after the film screening through her Second Life avatar, Roberta, to discuss some of the ideas in Strange Culture on the director’s behalf.

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Surveillance for Safe Living: Beyond the dystopian critique?

New Sciences of Protection Conference: Theme Panel 3 ‘Surveillance for Safe Living’ with Andrew Clement, Charles D Raab, Clive Norris, Lucas Introna and David Murakami Wood.

Members of the Surveillance Studies Network, an international network of researchers dedicated to tracing and analysing developments in surveillance technologies and practice, discussed the role of surveillance in contemporary designs for safe living. Charles D Raab opened the proceedings with a summary of the concept of ‘the safety state’ and a diagnosis of the state of safety. He argued that social practices and policy are today evaluated in terms of safety and security above all else, engendering pre-emptive and precautionary classifications and surveillance techniques. Clive Norris asked what it is about the contemporary culture of CCTV which sustains our faith in it, despite all the evidence pointing to the fact that it is almost wholly ineffectual in preventing or detecting crime. Lucas Introna highlighted the centrality of algorithms to contemporary surveillance practices such as facial recognition systems. He urged that if we are to understand surveillance as social sorting then further work needs to be done on the social production of algorithms, on how already existing categories for social sorting are written into the very programs used in surveillance systems. Finally David Murakami Wood pointed to the importance of understanding the different scales of surveillance and how these feed in to designs for safe living at the global, transnational, national, urban, individual and bodily levels. The panel discussed the problems of transparency and accountability in highly technologized surveillance systems. Interestingly the discussion moved on to the problem of how to present critical dialogues on surveillance practices without generating fear. To maintain its coherence the critique of surveillance must avoid contributing to the accumulation of fear, precisely because fear is the source of justifications and legitimisations for the intensification of surveillance. This is a particularly acute problem since much critique of surveillance struggles to escape the form of a dystopian warning.

Thank you to Joseph Rigby who created this fabulous summary

LUCY SUCHMAN AND PATRICIA CLOUGH: ‘Action-at-a-distance,’ or the ideology of safe living design

Yes Men’s Survivaball

New Sciences of Protection Conference: Plenary 2 with Lucy Suchman (Making Deign Safe for Living) and Patricia Clough (Scenes of Secrecy, Scales of Hope).

Lucy Suchman and Patricia Clough both explored the implications which the new sciences of protection have for our understandings of intimacy and human contact. Amongst other things they discussed proposals to fit anti-terror cameras in airline seats, the unmanned surveillance and combat drones currently deployed in Afghanistan, and changing modes of population management in Carona, Queens, New York. The central theoretical problem was how contemporary designs for safe living, which increasingly facilitate, and rely upon, the coordination of action-at-a-distance, are reconfiguring the relationship between intimacy and power. Remotely-controlled unmanned drones in Afghanistan keep soldiers bodies safe and simultaneously extend the combative capacities of these bodies. Those proposing the installation of anti-terror cameras in airline seats boast how new technologies allow for the surveillance of ‘mood,’ a system which could purportedly detect anxiety in a would-be-terrorist and alert the appropriate personnel. The panel tried to de-mythologize the design of ‘action-at-a-distance’ by showing how action at a distance is always also an affection of intimacy through distance. Power relations always require intimacy, ‘touching’ in one form or another, be it subtle coercion or explicit duress. The panel discussed how the mythology of ‘action at a distance’ is perhaps the ultimate ideological support for various designs for safe living, effectively separating the experience of safe living from both its consequences and real foundations.