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.

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