Friday 1 April 2011

Restoring Information's Body - talk by Lucy Suchman

Professor Lucy Suchman, Professor of Anthropology of Science and Technology, Department of Sociology, Lancaster University, yesterday spoke at the OU on Restoring Information's Body.

Here's the abstract of her talk:
In her book 'How we became post-human' Katherine Hayles has famously explored the question of how information lost its body in the formative years of the information sciences in the middle of the last century. Professor Suchman's lecture takes off from this question to explore recent developments in the study of digital media that recover the entanglements of bodies and technologies. Drawing on a series of examples from her own research and others within Science and Technology Studies (STS), Professor Suchman will make the case for an understanding of information as irreducably social and material, virtual and real.
A few things I noted from what she said.
  • The slogan of the National Rifle Association (NRA) in the USA: "Guns don't kill people, people kill people". Illustrated by Suchman with the iconic image of the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald.
Source: AND magazine

Suchman spoke of Bruno Latour's analysis that you are different when you hold a gun, and the gun is different when it is held by you. This morning I've tracked down a paper in which Latour discusses the NRA slogan("On Technical Mediation" Common Knowledge Vol.3, n°2 p.29-64 which I downloaded from here)

I wouldn't have thought of this in terms of information, and that's not how Latour is presenting it in this paper - it's about agency ("do artefacts - guns - have agency?") But perhaps that wasn't Suchman's point. She extracted from the story Latour's idea of identifying the 'unit of analysis' (the gun plus the person) which is what is needed when considering information too - the information plus the body?
  • The concept of the figural, extracted from the word configuration. This being the way things are configured. Then, from Donna Haraway (Modest_Witness 1997) the idea of technologies as 'materialised figurations'.
  • "Multiple partial information sources, assembled into a working system." "Embodied ways of knowing" (Vivian Sobchack). Suchman talked about observing the activities of air traffic controllers. (I was reminded in this of Paul Lefrere's chapter in our upcoming book Perspectives on Information, and the idea of exformation, the context that is needed to make sense of communicated information.)
  • A paper she has shortly to be published about the 'robot' Mertz.
  • The idea, from Susan Star, of 'Things that are invisible'.
  • "We need to give up on the idea of comprehensive capture." "Work with 'cases' or 'fragments'". (I might say 'map'?)
  • The art installation "Standard Time"

1 comment:

David Chapman said...

The talk is now available to view or hear on the Walton Hall 'Stadium' website: