Technopolitics and Empire: New Directions in Science Studies

2 Nov 2017
9:30 am - 4:30 pm

470 Stephens Hall

Event Type

The day-long workshop will offer graduate students and faculty an opportunity to share current research and to envision new directions in science and (neo-)empire studies.

The workshop is open to the academic community at U.C. Berkeley and to the general public. Faculty, graduate students, and community members interested in cultural, social, and humanistic understandings of science, technology, environment, and empire are encouraged to attend.

Please RSVP.

9:00 to 9:30 am Breakfast and Morning Reception


9:30 to 10:00 am Opening Remarks


10:00 to 11:45 am Panel I: Units of Analysis 

Moderator: Julie Pyatt, Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, University of California, Berkeley


“Thinking the Political Economic Body in Egypt”

Jennifer L. Derr, Department of History, University of California, Santa Cruz

Beginning in the early nineteenth century, the introduction of cotton and the transformation of Egypt’s irrigation system produced an uptick in the prevalence of environmental diseases among Egypt’s rural population. Rates of infection with schistosomiasis, hookworm, and pellagra skyrocketed in regions with access to new irrigation systems and normative habitations of the body evolved, as symptoms of disease came to constitute everyday embodied existence. This talk explores how to think the materiality and experience of the human body and its encounters with disease within a framework of critical political economy.


“Narrating Technology and Morality in Postcolonial Indonesia: A Historical View”

Suzanne Moon, Department of the History of Science, University of Oklahoma

This talk will briefly explore the role that moral narratives of technological change played in the history of Indonesia’s postcolonial industrialization. In an effort to push beyond the industrial experience understood as primarily related to broad economic change on the one hand, or isolated stories of personal alienation from moral traditions on the other, this work looks at moral themes that resonate in different parts of Indonesian society and are taken up by historical actors whose visions of Indonesia’s future are decidedly sociotechnical. This techno-moral discourse, shaped by the particularities of power relations of Indonesia’s domestic national context, also drew inspiration and challenges from broader international dialogs (and silences) regarding the character of a global industrial future. Historically tracing the ways historical actors narrated technological choices and change as moral challenges and opportunities speaks to the postcolonial struggle to define and materialize a society of worth.


11:45 to 12:30 pm Lunch


12:30 to 2:00 pm Panel II: Interdisciplinary Methods 

Moderator: Diana K. Davis, Departments of History and Geography, University of California, Davis


“From Jeepneys to Rocket Ships: Cold War Traffic in Kidlat Tahimik’s Perfumed Nightmare

Jennifer Duque, Department of Ethnic Studies, University of California, Berkeley

Kidlat Tahimik’s 1977 film Mababangong Bagungot, translated widely as Perfumed Nightmare, has been characterized as a magical realist allegory of Philippine national history; as a playful critique of late capitalism; as paradigmatic “third world” postmodern cinema. In this project, I turn to a less-discussed aspect of the film: the technological bricolage that both composes and “drives” the narrative forward, backward, and (eventually) upward. I focus here on the film’s polyvalent thematic of movement — the Cold War “space race,” the modernization of transportation, the circuits of global capital, the history of moving images itself, etc. — to draw out Tahimik’s meditations on technology’s ambivalent role in a post/neo-colony, as well as the adjacent problematics of narrating a “history from below.”    


“‘Ingeniously lashed in place’: Philippine Craft Technologies in the Historical Study of Botany”

Kathleen Cruz Gutierrez, Department of South & Southeast Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley

During the Spanish-to-U.S. colonial transition in the Philippines, Spanish and U.S. botanists feverishly collected and cataloged flora of the archipelago. Largely unseen in current histories of Philippine botany are the local and varied botanical traditions that informed the volumes of botany tracts produced by both empires. To explore this overlooked aspect this talk opens the possibility of a new base of source material: craft technologies and craft production. Tagalog and other Philippine-language sources on local botanical traditions are sparse, especially in the absence of an institutional archive. How might we then approach craft–specifically that of weaving and dyeing–to discover more about local knowledge of flora in the colonial Philippines in particular and in other colonized contexts more broadly?


‘It Came from the Gorge…’: Bio-Surveillance Technology in the Settler Colonial Pacific Northwest U.S.

Ashton Wesner, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California, Berkeley

The ScanEagle Drone–represented by its parent company, Insitu, as locally and organically grown amongst the apple trees of a local Columbia River Gorge orchard–is used in conservation projects, animal biomonitoring and critical infrastructure maintenance, as well as international U.S. military operations and global surveillance and reconnaissance markets. In this paper, I trace the various ecopolitical narratives that both constitute, and emerge from, a broader assemblage of drone technology at work in producing organic life. As Kaplan, DeLanda, and many other theorists of militarization have pointed out, the ways in which military institutions, resources, and discourses structure facets of nonmilitary life are mystified in the energetic “forgetting” of the military sources of technologies that many people enjoy or feel required to use in everyday life. In this case, however, I am interested in how the military sources of these technologies are sometimes not forgotten, but actually leveraged as part of the logics of innovation, safety, and protection that “revolutionary” developments in UAVs that “save lives”. How are the languages and practices of military strategy, tactical operation, and security-making coproduced by scientific practices of cataloguing and conserving ecological terrains? At stake here is a kind of military-environmental politic produced in and through these iterative translations—both discursive and material—between targeting ‘terrorists’ and watching whales.


2:00 to 2:30 pm Coffee Break


2:30 to 4:15 pm Panel III: Locations and Scale 

Moderator: Camilla Hawthorne, Department of Geography, University of California, Berkeley 


“Residual Governance: Mining Afterlives and Molecular Colonialism, seen from an African Anthropocene”

Gabrielle Hecht, Department of History, Stanford University

Over the last three centuries, humans have turned the earth inside out at an unprecedented pace. The topographical inversions performed by subterranean extraction have transformed geological temporalities and molecular alliances. Summoning “the Anthropocene” evokes the vast scope of these transformations, and invokes the need for global governance to keep carbon compounds from suffocating our species. But what about the many other residues of extraction? Grounding the Anthropocene in place confronts the urgency of governing these remainders. This talk discusses the technopolitics of residual governance in South Africa, exploring the effects of molecular colonialism on regional political futures.


“Ecologies of the Colonial Present: Pathological Forestry from the ‘Taux de Boisement‘ to Civilized Plantations”
Diana K. Davis, Departments of History and Geography, University of California, Davis 

Paul Robbins, Director, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison 

Tree planting has long been an obsession of postcolonial environmental governance. Never innocent of its imperial history, the practice persists in global regimes of forestry today. For nearly three centuries, afforestation has been viewed as a panacea for a variety of ills including civilizational decline, diminished precipitation, warming temperatures, soil erosion and decreasing biodiversity. As a result, tree plantations, despite their many demonstrated failings, have flourished as an art of environmental governance.

This paper traces the origins and importance of the taux de boisement in such plantation efforts, typically understood as a percentage of appropriately wooded land within a territory. Likely first developed in France by the early 19th century, this notion was promulgated in colonial territories assumed to be massively deforested. Targets of 30-33% forest cover, the minimum assumed for European civilization, were built into French forest training and policy and exported globally. Indeed, we demonstrate here that these French colonial policies and influences were as significant in many regions as those of better-documented German forestry traditions, especially in British India.

We further attend to the implications of these influences, and the degree to which the attendant concept of a taux de boisement traveled to colonial forestry in India, further shaping forest policies of the post-independence era. We provide the example of the “National Mission for a Green India” (NMGI), an effort by the Government of India to increase forest/tree cover by 5 million hectares and improve quality of forest/tree cover on another 5 million hectares forest/non-forest lands.  Ostensibly aimed at improving forest-based livelihoods, the initiative has all the qualities of past forestry efforts in India, which have historically performed a reverse role: to disinherit forest-rooted populations.  French colonial forestry, we therefore conclude, continues to haunt contemporary policy, contributing pathological ecologies with pernicious effects on local people.


4:15 to 4:30 pm Closing Remarks


This event is made possible with support from the Townsend Center for Humanities; Center for Science, Technology, Medicine, and Society; Center for Southeast Asia Studies; Department of History; Center for African American Studies; Science and Technology Studies Working Group; and Filipino and Philippine Studies Working Group.

This event is sponsored by CSTMS.
Additional sponsorship comes from:  CSTMS

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