MIT Symposium on Gender + Technology – KEYNOTE

Events,Liveblog,Series February 23, 2014 4:20 pm

Saturday, February 22, 2014  |   MIT


12:45-2:15PM – LUNCH + KEYNOTE

Introductory Remarks: Michael M.J. Fischer, Professor of Anthropology and STS, MIT

By way of introducing Kim Fortun, the featured keynote of MIT’s Gender and Technology Symposium, Michael Fischer talks about the ways in which feminist studies and poststructural feminist studies have influenced Kim’s work.  One method of analysis is playing with scale based on the first wave of feminist analysis, which focused on the role of women to give them recognition and voice.  By using the affordances of feminist post-structuralism, playing with scale can also shift the balance of power dynamics by rejecting all existing ontologies that determine how the world works and instead ethically engage with ‘others’.  So we can see how this influences Kim’s take on toxics as a “subaltern” science in industrial culture.  Mike explains that “subaltern” means things that are “ubiquitous, disavowed, ignored, yet depended on.”  Toxics can be seen as poisons and as medicines.  They also don’t affect all individuals in the same way.  So, the body is a complex signaling system where science doesn’t generate singular results, but is emergent from partial findings.  This kind of science is intensifying and changing.  And so, Kim brings to us new forms of collectivities and new forms of politics.

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Keynote: Kim Fortun, Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Rensselaer Polytechnic University

A liveblog of Kim’s talk by Nathan Matias can be found here.

Although she hasn’t explicitly written about gender, feminist studies has served as the primary framework for her work.  Some of her main concerns draws from feminist studies on how expertise is technologized.  Especially in her work on industrial disasters, expertise is intensified in a way that leads to the lack of regulation of aging industrial infrastructures.  At the same time, intensified expertise  produces new modes of high-risk industrial activity that is entangled with the desires of people to rely on toxic products.

So how can one address the problem of expertise in this period of late industrialism?  One way, which is rather old in feminist critique, is queering expertise.  This is what Kim describes as a “kaleidoscopic” mode of insight. In approaching the understanding of toxics and the description of patterns in industrial disasters, Kim explains that the main problem is that disaster response de-historicize disasters by describing them as “unpredictable events”.  But there are patterns in how they happen.  And they can be prevented.  The best way to understand them is to work collaboratively through multiple frames of reference.  This way, you can flip between frames, which allows a different form of reason and rigor.


Event sponsored by:
MIT Program in Women’s and Gender Studies
Program in Science, Technology, and Society
Foreign Languages and Literatures

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