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

BOB JESSOP AND JOHN LAW: Failing Designs for Safe Living

New Sciences of Protection Conference: Theme Panel 2 ‘Design Failure and Designing for Failure,’ with John Law and Bob Jessop.

John Law and Bob Jessop (download presentation) offered differing diagnoses of design failure. They also each provided some tentative thoughts on how designs for safe living could begin to be reconciled with the excess of unsafety which always evades even the best-laid plans. Both agreed that the complex and processual nature of the socio-physical world could never be full captured and accounted for in any design for safe living, and that designs for safe living can never provide a guarantee of safe living. This was the starting point for both their discussions which addressed the problems of how the governance, management and organization of safe living might begin to be reconciled with this excess of unsafety and uncertainty.

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FIONA RABY: Do you want to replace the existing normal? – an error message from Microsoft word

FIONA RABY (Royal College of Art, Dunne & Raby)

“Do you want to replace the existing normal? this is a piece of poetry when it pops up on the screen unexpectedly. And its very interesting as it is exactly what we have been specialising all our time through what we attempt to do in design. Design sits entirely in the normal, the banal, the popular, the trivial, the norm is the starting point for every project. The norm is always there to keep as a point of reference no matter how strange the project might seem.”

Fiona opened the conference with an insight in to the way that design tries to sit itself in the tangibility of the everyday. This was an interesting lead into describing the design for debate approach that deals with the implications of science and technologies in our everyday lives through using design as tool to enable provocation, stimulation and most importantly discussion and reaction. Fiona continued to give an overview of the various designers who have taken this approach in their work and how that has been evolving over the past ten years and how some of the outcomes from a variety of design practitioners has culminated into the recent exhibition Design and the Elastic Mind, curated by Paola Antonelli at the MOMA in New York.

With this introduction she lead on to give an summary of the collaborative workshop between the various designers and social scientists that has occurred via the New Sciences of Protection Designing Safe Living research programme at Lancaster University. Emphasizing the fact that this collaborative experiment has been about broadening the way designers ask questions and consider dilemma in society.

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New Sciences of Protection: Conference opening

Conference Opening with Bob Jessop, Cynthia Weber and Andrew Clement; Theme Panel 1 (New Sciences of Protection: Designing Safe Living) with Cynthia Weber, Adrian McKenzie and Mark Lacy

Cynthia Weber, Adrian McKenzie and Mark Lacy opened the first panel session with a reminder of the three central themes or questions which the research programme ‘New Sciences of Protection: Designing Safe Living’ has been trying to address. Is safe living conceivable, achievable and desirable? Conceptions of safe living are everywhere today: in the mass media, government policy, ‘think-tanks’ and NGO’s. The panel discussed the centrality of ‘design’ as a set of socio-technical practices in taking safe living from the conceptual to the practical level. The way conceptions of safe living are literally designed-in to both ‘everyday’ and ‘exceptional’ objects and systems. The panel moved on to ask what happens to politics when it becomes preoccupied with design, and the design of safe living in particular, as the titles of the UK national security documents ‘Designing out Insecurity’ and ‘Designing in Protection’ indicate. Evaluating safe living, whether it is desirable as a politics, as an ethics, and as a day-to-day way of life necessarily involves paying attention to the way safe living is designed. But it also requires sensitivity to the experience of this or that form of safe living. A crucial question then concerns the stratification of experience of a particular conception of safe living, as it is designed and operationalized on the ground. Does it make everyone feel safe in the same way, or does the experience of safety for some necessarily involve generating feelings of unsafety for others? And more generally, what is the relationship between feelings of safety and unsafety? Who decides on what is considered safe living and who it is for? What is the strategic calculus for determining the acceptable amount of unsafety generated for some in the realization of safe living for others? Lastly the panel discussed how, as ‘social scientists’ and as ‘designers,’ it is possible to critically interrupt and intervene in the processes of conceiving, designing and operationalizing safe living: a process which is increasingly presented as a smooth and unproblematic ‘designer politics.’

Thank you to our fabulous Joseph Rigby for this great summary

The Designing Safe Living conference

Images: Women with fire masks, Priscilla Huggable Mushroom Cloud, Surveillance light

The international conference will be held at the conference centre in Lancaster University from 10th – 12th July with a variety of keynote and panel session speakers. Subjects raised include Genomics and Design, Designing Safe Citizens, Design , Body and Control, etc. To view in more detail about the topics that will be discussed check out the programme here>

Keynote speakers:

Fiona Raby (Royal College of Art, London, UK and dunneandraby designs, author of Design Noir)

Professor Lucy Suchman
(Lancaster University, UK, ‘Human-Machine Reconfigurations: Plans and Situated Actions 2nd Edition’)

Lynn Hershman Leeson (Director of ‘Strange Culture’) this will be conducted via Second Life

Benjamin H. Bratton (Director Advanced Strategies Group at Yahoo!, SCI_Arc and UCLA Design|Media Arts, author of Design and Terrorism)

Timothy W. Luke (Virginia Polytechnic University, author of ‘Vectors of Visualization’)

Sheila Jasanoff Harvard University

Patricia Clough CUNY

Strange Culture: miniclip

Strange Culture at the Designing Safe Living conference

Next month during the Designing Safe Living conference in Lancaster, director Lynn Hershman-Leeson‘s film about the artist Steve Kurtz called ‘Strange Culture’ will be screened on Friday, July 11th. Lynn will then be giving an interview live on Second Life after the screening.

Strange Culture examines the case of artist and professor Steve Kurtz, a member of the Critical Art Ensemble (CAE). The work of Kurtz and other CAE members dealt with genetically modified food and other issues of science and public policy. After his wife, Hope, died of heart failure, paramedics arrived and became suspicious when they noticed petri dishes and other scientific equipment related to Kurtz’s art in his home. They summoned the FBI, who detained Kurtz within hours on suspicion of bioterrorism.

As Kurtz could not legally talk about the case, the film uses actors to interpret the story, as well as interviews with Kurtz and other figures involved in the case. Through a combination of dramatic reenactment, news footage, animation, and testimonials, the film scrutinizes post-9/11 paranoia and suggests that Kurtz was targeted because his work questions government policies. At the film’s close, Kurtz and his long-time collaborator Dr. Robert Ferrell, former chair of the Genetics Department at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, await a trial date.

As of late May, 2008, the Buffalo Prosecutor has declined to reopen the case within the 30 day window in which he was allowed to do so. So, Steve Kurtz is free.