Wednesday, November 13,1:00-2:30
Sage 3510

How Do Disaster End? Expert Inquiry and the Politics of Risk Knowledge

Scott Gabriel Knowles is associate professor and interim head of department for history at Drexel University. Knowles is the author of The Disaster Experts: Mastering Risk in Modern America (2011).


abstract
How does a disaster end? Is it when the waters recede, the homes are rebuilt, when the relief funds stop? Disaster experts present one answer to this question through the conduct of expert investigations and technical post-disaster studies. For scientists and engineers working on risk the "learning" from a disaster helps bring about closure. This talk examines the politics of expert disaster inquiry using the cases of September 11 and 3.11, and considers the difficulties in "learning lessons" from a disaster.

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Wednesday, October 23, 1:00-2:30
Sage 3510

Thinking Disaster: From Bhopal to Late Industrialism


Kim Fortun, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Drawing on extended ethnographic work on the science, politics and lived experience of toxic chemicals, this presentation will describe the material and discursive conditions of what I have come to think of as “late industrialism,” a historical moment characterized by deteriorating industrial infrastructure, landscapes dotted with toxic waste ponds, bodies burdened by chemical exposures, climate instability, exhausted paradigms and disciplines, and incredible imbrication of commercial interest in knowledge production, in legal decisions, in governance at all scales. It is a period riven with hazards of many kinds (epistemic and eco-technological), which operate synergistically and cumulatively, requiring keen attention to what can’t be accounted for within entrenched discursive regimes, calling for new ways of thinking about time, responsibility and governance. Theorizing late industrialism thus requires “thinking through disaster,” as a means to chart new forms of both vulnerability and critical intervention.
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Wednesday, October 16, 1:00-2:30

Sage 3510


Struggles Over the Geo-Body Politic: Imaging Disaster in Sri Lanka

Vivian Choi is an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Society for the Humanities and the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Cornell. University. She recently completed her PhD in Cultural Anthropology at the University of California, Davis. Currently she is working on a manuscript that examines the social, political, and technological intersections of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and the Civil War in Sri Lanka. Choi is photo essay co-editor for Cultural Anthropology.

abstractThis paper explores how national politics can be both made and unmade through the production of images of the tsunami and the war. After the tsunami images and maps were given much credence and were heralded for their value in representing damage and destruction. By contrast, images of the conflict became highly fraught, illustrating different political interests. Because the Sri Lankan government forbade the presence of independent journalists and international organizations into the war-torn North, rumors of the “ground truth” swirled in both local and international media. The “unknown” during this time became a productive moment: humanitarian organizations and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) began publishing satellite images of the areas to which they did not have physical access. Organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the UN were able to mobilize these images as evidence of human rights violations, but the government was able to combat these “lies” by dispensing interpretations given by their remote sensing expert who concluded that these claims could not be verified without any “ground truth,” and furthermore, there was no scientific basis to uphold these accusations. Rather than focus on the “true” content of the images, I examine the politics that are created by and through them. I highlight the various political modes and motives and contradictions of truth-making in the war by both governmental and non-governmental regimes.
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Wednesday, September 25, 1:00-2:30

Sage 3510


Why Are the Workers Getting Sick?
Science, Law and Occupational Hazards in the Taiwan's Electronics Industry

Hsin-Hsing Chen is an associate professor at Shih-Hsin University Graduate Institute for Social Transformation Studies in Taipei. Long active in the student, environmental, and farmers-right movements in Taiwan, he earned a Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies (STS) from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Prof. Chen has worked closely with labor activists since the late 1990s, with special focus on campaigns against Taiwanese-owned sweatshops abroad such as Foxconn. In recent years, his research interest has focused up occupational disease and the use of theories of scientific causation within the judicial process.

abstract
During the decades of its operation in Taiwan, U.S.-based Radio Corporation of America routinely dumped chlorinated organic solvents into the same aquifer that supplied its employees with drinking and bathing water. Many workers believe that their cancers and other grave illnesses are caused by chronic exposure to the toxic substances, claims the corporation hotly denies. A social movement composed of workers, activists, public-health professionals, lawyers, and members of the STS community has now succeed in bringing the case to court. Prof. Chen will discuss the scientific, legal and political dimensions of this controversy and its historic litigation.
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