Event Oct. 6, 4p.m. » Naomi Paik—Rightlessness: Hunger Strikes, Force-feeding, and Testimony at Guantánamo


Event on Oct. 6, 4p.m. Hart 3201

A. Naomi Paik will address themes raised in her new book, Rightlessness: Testimony and Redress in U.S. Prison Camps Since World War II, which grapples with the history of U.S. prison camps that have confined people outside the boundaries of legal and civil rights. Removed from the social and political communities that would guarantee fundamental legal protections, these detainees are effectively rightless, stripped of the right even to have rights. Specifically, this talk will focus on both the bodily practices of and discourses surrounding prisoner practices of self-harm and the U.S. state’s efforts to preserve life, in particular, its force-feeding of hunger strikers at the current Guantánamo camp. By interpreting the testimonies of hunger strikers, Paik examines the prisoner body as a site of power and struggle waged between the U.S. state and the prisoners, who attempt to seize their own form of habeas corpus, taking their bodies back from the camp regime, by inflicting self-harm.

AAG 2017 CFP: Crisis-modes: logics, practices and re-articulations

It’s that time of year – the run-up to the American Association of Geographers conference, with a flurry of paper calls and session organizing. I’m really happy to announce something that Melissa Fernández and I have been cooking up as part of a larger collaboration that she kindly initiated with enormous energy.

The collaboration starts with the idea, one could say, of “de-exceptionalizing” the crisis. That is, if unilateral colonial administrative decisions —here, we started thinking about the fiscal control board the U.S. Congress imposed on Puerto Rico— are presented as exceptional measures to avert a “humanitarian” crisis, then what are the actually-existing, common contexts of such governmentalities? We focused a lot of our attention on how such crises function beyond the legal jargon that underpins them. What are the emotional sensibilities that transform the abstraction of calculable debts into something material — something present in people’s lives that they understand through crisis logics and not merely as an individualized effect?

Secondly, we also had many hours of discussion around the importance of crisis in urban transformations, and started to talk about many communal and artistic modes of resistance that took the urban condition as a right to fight for. However, the paper call is not strictly urban by any means and in fact, we hope to bring attention to many geographic contexts where crisis-modes transform, restrict and violate rights, belongings, and relations.

Last but not least, we also spent a lot of time talking about the circulation of notions of home/land; the transposition of home to diasporic contexts, given the migration of dispossessed subjects to find a base elsewhere… And the ways in which imaginations of home worked to manage labor discipline, political participation, moral obligations, gender norms, and acceptable identities in new wage contexts for crises exiles.

Anyway, the call explains best what we came up with…

Continue reading AAG 2017 CFP: Crisis-modes: logics, practices and re-articulations

Harvard Design Magazine no. 42: Run for Cover!

c4_hdm42More mailbag stuff! — This one arrived last week: Harvard Design Magazine no. 42: Run for Cover!

In this issue, Demilit (of which I’m a member) has a piece on “thinking with suspicious packages,” an intervention into the discourse around tactical and informal urbanism(s). It draws from our research on urban securitization and electronic networks, particularly by using walking methods to intimately sense the city.

The piece begins:

Report suspicious activity. If you see something, say something. Do not leave bags unattended. These are the instructions for acceptable cohabitation in the secure city. But objects mediate between bodies. People are allowed to put materials into new and unexpected configurations, as long as such arrangements do not inspire fear or dread.

Objects in space must have an author or an owner who speaks for them, lest they leave interpretation up to undue speculation. Unknowability is insecurity.1 However, the alarmist idea of the “suspicious package” may unlock a different politics of urban life, one premised on sensuous materialism rather than security theater.2

Suspicious packages, or “suspacks,” as we have started to refer to them, are perplexing.3 They are material things that inspire dark thoughts in urban subjects, far surpassing what can be deduced from their ordinary thingness. Suspended in a state of possibility, suspacks flood the synapses with mental triggers like few other creations can. In other words, the suspack is matter in semiotic flux. A suspack is not (yet) a bomb or weaponized debris in motion, but neither is it a plain box. If it were a bomb, we would call it a bomb. If it were poison, we would label it with warnings. If it were a delivery, it would belong somewhere else—on a truck en route to its destination, say. But sometimes (most of the time, in fact), a box is just a box and an unattended suitcase is simply luggage that was misplaced. Suspacks are a little-understood entity—not quite a fixed category or a marketable commodity—that defies the certitudes of designed products.

The entire piece is up at the HDM website, along with many other excellent pieces. Our big thanks to editors Jennifer Sigler and Leah Whitman-Salkin for their careful work, and to the staff who handled corrections and bios. We’re continuing to expand this investigation into the suspicious package (and I gave a recent panel talk on this at the Regional Studies Assoc, North America conference).

Received: A Universe of Fragile Mirrors from the Pérez museum

Photo on 8-4-16 at 3.04 PM #4
Beatriz Santiago Muñoz: A Universe of Fragile Mirrors Exhibition Catalog

In “Ecologies of Practices in a Post-Military Cinema,” an essay for the exhibition catalog, I draw on my research with artists in Puerto Rico working internationally. Here, I discuss the relationship between walking practices in post-military landscapes and the video art of Beatriz Santiago Muñoz (BSM).

For several years, I participated in “walking seminars” (and hope to do so again) with Santiago Muñoz and artists, students, and many other makers, farmers, and activists.

In this essay (published in English and Spanish), I think about the ongoing, in-process creations that BSM fuses into video but that are not limited to the medium. In the activities of walking and art-making, a process of worlding (a term I borrow from Marisol de la Cadena) emerges. In this worlding, learning, making, and translating into art are intermixed beyond the point of being separable again — new worlds are created within the husk of the expired colony.

I also took this writing as a chance to think more deeply about the politics of walking and about the methodology of sensing through the activation of space—an activity that I argue is productive of new modes of life. There’s a lot more to explain, and the essay itself creates more questions I want to keep thinking about, but anyway, I’ll post a PDF of the essay after the exhibition closes later this year.

The catalog is a gorgeous publication in its own right, designed by Olga Casellas / Tiguere studio, and includes writings by the artist and curators. It can be ordered here. My huge thanks to Bea for inviting me to work on this project and asking me to join the walking seminars; and thanks to: María Elena Ortiz, the exhibition curator, who provided excellent feedback on the essay, and she also supervised copy edits and translation by Cherry Pickman into Spanish. Thank you!

A still from Post-Military Cinema, 2014 HD color video with sound. 11 min.

maneuver event

Nibia Pastrana Santiago, choreographer and dancer, sends her new zine, “maniobra, bahía o el evento coreográfico.” Nibia’s work as a movement artist frequently scrutinizes the biases, knowledges, and metaphors of geographical thought. One often sees in her work a desire to trouble choreographic practice by playing it off of ideas about making or marking territories—and often trying to transcend or break these controls by doing, as she says, nada (nothing) or as little as possible, practicing “immobility,” in her dance.

maniobra 2

In this small notebook, Nibia documents some kayaking trips to understand the operations of the port of San Juan. Additionally, she collects different documents and images in a low-fi format to try to archive some of the activities of the port, “a definite volume but no fixed shape,” as she suggests in this 2015 performance.


Navigation and choreography, compared. On this page I landed on (reading is also navigation), she is thinking about time, distance, velocity… How these are situated and established. What outlooks and sensibilities do these impose?

Relatedly, one might look at this expansiveness of field work as part of a performance practice to think more about what Shannon Mattern is cautioning in this new, must-read, exciting piece, “Cloud and Field,” for Places. But at least on a quick pass, this sort of field work that Pastrana engages in produces more of what Mattern calls “those aberrations” in the “cloudy vision” of the infrastructures around us. Rather than a didactic orientation of the manufactured world, Puerto Rican artists are exploring ways of disorienting; of uncommoning what’s common in their everyday.

Ante la precariedad

En el más reciente número de Arquine, la revista de arquitectura mexicana, aparece un dossier con tremenda cantidad de ideas sobre las condiciones sociales en la actualidad urbana. Tuve el placer de contribuir a este dossier con algunas respuestas. Mis gracias a Pedro Hernández por incluírme. Las preguntas abajo son del equipo editorial en Arquine.

76 Portada ArquineDadas las condiciones de espacio impreso y la cantidad de respuestas que recibieron, creo que no pudieron reproducir enteramente todos los textos, lo cual está muy bien. Aquí copio mis contestaciones originales para quien quiera leerlas.

1.¿Cuáles son las condiciones — sociales, políticas, económicas o ambientales— que hoy se plantean como más relevantes para la arquitectura y la ciudad? ¿Ocupan la desigualdad y la pobreza un lugar preponderante?

¿Son la desigualdad y la pobreza importantes para la arquitectura? Claramente, la contestación es: No.
El trabajo de interés social—a veces—ocupa atención en las bienales, las escuelas y la prensa. Pero la atención de los arquitectos en los despachos más famosos está mayormente fijada en otros lugares: la creación de estadios de lujo, la circulación cómoda entre condominio y museo, la seguridad camuflada para no manchar el paisaje y la producción de espacios especulativos para el capital. Las horas laborables de las oficinas de arquitectura día a día principalmente no se le dedican a “la desigualdad y la pobreza.” Cabría preguntarse a quién le sirve acusar al interés social de cobrar un lugar supuestamente descomunal en la arquitectura. Es curioso lo que sucede, en muchos registros diferentes, cuando las imágenes de las desigualdades se escapan, supongo, de su debido sitio en los noticieros y entran a las bienales.
Lo primero es contextualizar esta controversia manufacturada que gira en torno a la propuesta de Aravena. Hay mucho que require pensamiento y, si acaso, crítica, por supuesto, en cuanto al trabajo de Aravena y otras prácticas que se relacionan. No lo dudo. Tengo mis preocupaciones de la explotación misma de la pobreza que puede llevarse a cabo a través de un discurso de los derechos humanos en la disciplina. ¿Sin embargo, qué ansiedades le produce Aravena a la arquitectura? Me interesan esas ansiedades más que criticar en este preciso momento el contenido de la exhibición (el cual todavía desconocemos). Si la bienal de Venecia le produce ansiedades a algunos arquitectos, curadores y escritores, pues quizás es para bien.

Continue reading Ante la precariedad

Seeing and killing with police robots

The ending of a spectacular—in many senses of the word—act of violence in Dallas, Tx. this past week came when the police, according to…the police, ended the standoff with the alleged sniper, Micah Johnson, by detonating some kind of device delivered to the suspect by a robot (or what’s called a “slamhound” in the fictional universe of William Gibson).

The “targeted killing” of a suspect on “U.S. soil,” as opposed to extraterritorial declared or undeclared war zones, where this operation also has clear precedents too, has captivated the attention of scholars and the public. Partly due to the nature of policing close up while ‘at a distance,’ to borrow from Laura Kurgan’s terminology, the event raises many issues about the rules of engagement and the constitutional rights of a suspect—issues that obviously the Dallas police completely skirted, and do not seem too willing to discuss in the aftermath.

The additional fact that the manufacturers of the robot that they sold to the police did not seem to have been designed for this particular use also raises all kinds of issues in regard to the entanglements between design and policing — something else I’ve been interested in exploring, before or after Dallas. Who are the designers in this particular technology, after all – is it the police itself? And, should designers even work for police? (Something I’ve addressed elsewhere). Interesting also how the robot moves between the operability of decoding suspicion (as in, removing a suspicious package), and of killing a suspect, and also with such simple ease between the two.

The use of a robot to not simply capture, but to kill a suspect, brings to mind all kinds of fears of automated assassination and potentially the dangers to “innocent bystanders” in such engagements. We should be cognizant, meanwhile that this was a killing performed extrajudicially, after Johnson had been identified as the suspect of having killed five officers, but this has not been well clarified as of yet, I would add, all while there is a well documented history of “friendly fire” incidents (including victims in Orlando at the Pulse nightclub, it appears).

But not to digress. How “targeted” is targeting, really? All of this performative concern over the roboticized future has itself been spectacular, and in ways that happen to render such concern quite hollow, by the way. Perhaps more concern has been shown over the hypothetical police power that is yet to come, and for future alterations to “our” rights, than for the dead at the hands of police or police-inspired killers (such as Omar Mateen in Orlando and George Zimmerman, also in an Orlando suburb, invoking stand-your-ground laws), as proven time and again, in recent and not-so-recent memory. Not to be forgotten, either, that the Johnson case in Dallas presents another troubling example of someone who kills after his time in a military institution (the Army, in this case).

Seperately but not unrelated to the previous, I am especially troubled by the persistent discourse of how automated warfare supposedly brings us the safe, clean, and precise police robot that makes no targeting errors (false, anyway). But this popular discourse omits how such automated warfare –somehow– also happens to continue propagating such socially abhorred and feared figures like a trigger-happy veteran/killer in the vein of Micah Johnson. This is not to say that I know what moved Johnson to do what he did; only to point out a central tension in this problematic promotion of robotically-enhanced warfare.

Much more will need to be studied in the weeks, months, and years ahead. However, I wanted to touch on a question about how “unprecedented” this case was, given how oft the words “first” and “unprecedented” are being thrown around. Anyone familiar with the MOVE bombing in Philadelphia should not be so surprised by this supposed “first”. More recently, the outcome of a standoff with Chris Dorner, a Black officer, ended with a robot shooting smoke bombs that burned down the cabin Dorner was hiding in. So, since it was not unprecedented, in effect, how come ‘we’ (what we?) are caught by surprise, playing catch-up with the ethics and capabilities of the police? Perhaps this raises more questions about the culture around policing with a certain lack of critical memory, than about the policing itself.

In the immediate hours after the news about the already-heroic robot (sarcasm), I started to do a bit of digging. One of the first instances of shooting at a target from a robot I could find can be located in the pages of (where else?) Wikipedia, citing The Hunt for the Engineer: How Israeli Agents Tracked the Hamas Master Bomber by Samuel M. Katz. According to this page, Israeli police remotely shot a fuse to deactivate a car bomb (and instead set off a massive explosion) in 1992.

But perhaps the most interesting document I came across in my search was a research study conducted by the Navy Systems Center in San Diego and published in 2000, which surveyed law enforcement personnel on their perceived needs for robots: “Robotics for Law Enforcement: Beyond Explosive Ordnance Disposal” (pdf), by H. G. Nguyen and J. P. Bott. Maybe what most caught my eye about this report is how the respondents mostly did not perceive a need for robots that would shoot weapons (or deliver, say, an explosive). Or to be more clear, they did not imagine robotic weapons used very frequently, although that does not mean they wouldn’t want to have them around, just in case. By contrast, respondents wanted to use the robot more frequently to “see” (with cameras or infrared), as the graphs below show:


I’m curious about these two goals for the robot; one as a ‘seeing’ entity, and another as a killing machine. These separated endeavours, anticipated more than a decade-and-a-half ago, bring up many questions about the nature of identification and violence. As a relative of mine put it, they did not send a robot to capture or kill, for an example, white supremacist Dylann Roof, the suspect in the mass killing inside a Black North Carolina church. So, thinking about the writing of Simone Browne here, in the very same context of the Black Lives Matter protests that were going on in Dallas in the wake of more police killings this past couple of weeks, it’s impossible to separate who becomes targeted by automated or semi-automated killing machines, and who is taken alive, and how are the visual regimes of each sort of operation organized.

*Thanks to my collaborator, Bryan Finoki @subtopes, for several links referenced above.

Queer Boricua Geopolitics and the Pulse Shooting


Queer anthropology’s focus must turn attention to these understandings of the queer geopolitical if we are to understand how homosexuality gets attached to values whether or not they have anything to do with actual lived experiences of LGBT, homosexual, or non-heterosexual peoples.

 Tamar Shirinian, “The Queer Political is Geopolitical”

In the colony, the “world” is often thought of as the U.S. After all, that is where you go if you want to be a citizen for real. But, in reality, the world in the colony is so tiny and beautiful and heartbreaking, it fits in a dance club.

Guillermo Rebollo Gil, “As It Regards The Ones We’ve Lost


The June 12, 2016 attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fl. will continue to reverberate for much time to come. While processing all of it, and continuing to mourn, I have wanted to mention what strikes me as a persistent exclusion, even in responses that are otherwise thoughtful and intelligent. The core of what I find missing has three parts that are combined in inseparable ways, as I see it (and I stress, coming from my own partial perspective as a Puerto Rican cis-male in a hetero partnership, and not a queer studies scholar per se).

First, by some counts, 23 or more of the 49 killed at Pulse were Puerto Ricans (born either on or off of the official territory marked as Puerto Rico), and more than 50 injured. While the queer latinidad of the space is sometimes mentioned—but not mentioned frequently enough—the Puerto Rican identity of so many patrons of Pulse, part of the significant Boricua diaspora in Orlando (living there more permanently or simply visiting) persistently gets swept aside. Again, this exclusion happens unfortunately even within radical queer responses that do have a critique of the opportunistic ways in which the “Latino” identity, or a reductive LGBT abstraction of those targeted, is selectively deployed to bolster militaristic and islamophobic goals. (Check out, for example, this program w/ Mattilda B. Sycamore and Yasmin Nair, and this piece by Jack Halberstam).

Yet the Puerto Rican presence at Pulse should be central to this story, as reflected briefly in this piece by Berkeley professor Juana María Rodríguez, just as queer and LGBT Boricuas in the United States and the Caribbean have long been integral to queer performance, rioting, visibility, HIV/AIDS struggles, and more. In Puerto Rican circles, a number of news and blog articles have been circulating with intensity.

This is acutely critical to understand in relation to what emerges as the second part of this absence in the narratives around the hate-driven massacre. The US Congress, with the boost of recent Supreme Court decisions, is in the process of passing legislation that, for all intents and purposes, throws away Puerto Rico’s already-fictitious Constitution, imposing unilaterally a “fiscal control board” to “help” Puerto Rico with “the tools” to resolve the sovereign debt crisis. Nota Bene: While the fiscal control board is presented as a humanitarian intervention, the ongoing (inhumane) crises in coordinates like Flint’s lead pipes, Detroit’s water shutdowns, or Chicago’s shuttered schools portray a different picture of where neoliberal austerity is going with this.

Another way to look at the second element—colonization—is to start with this question: Why are so many Puerto Ricans in Orlando, anyway? Few, except for Puerto Ricans themselves (see for example: Rebollo-Gil; La Fountain-Stokes), have stopped to ask what connects the colonization of Puerto Rico to Pulse. Furthermore, as La Fountain-Stokes points out, LGBT and queer Boricuas also migrate to Orlando precisely because they are sometimes escaping from violence and harassment in Puerto Rico (or some combination of several factors, of which anti-gay hate may be one component among many, and influential to a smaller or a larger extent in these territorial mobilities, depending on each case), of which I’ll say a bit more below.

To be perfectly clear, it is not only historical imperialism undergirding dispossession, poverty, and lack of political agency that has driven Puerto Rican migration. It is also the very present state of US bipartisan politics that treats queer Puerto Rican lives, like Omar Mateen apparently did, as disposable. One should also be aware here that when it comes to LGBT and queer rights in Puerto Rico, colonial governance and dispossession is important to note, but it’s not merely about a local driver, as the US media is often quick to conclude, although figures like statehooders Ricky Rosselló, Tata Charbonier, and Tomás Rivera-Schatz deserve a ton of scorn (as do many independentistas, soberanistas, and estado-libristas—that is, all the political stripes—who’ve also propagated hate). The local interacts with the federal and the global. By the way, another clarification: I don’t presume that everyone who identifies as an LGBT Puerto Rican sympathizes with anti-imperial politics, although most who would identify as queer, aware of the radical politics bundled with the term, more than likely do oppose US occupation, as well as perhaps citizenship-based, borderized, exclusionary notions of settler-colonial rights.

But anti-LGBTQ hate in Puerto Rico functions in combination with myriad forms of metropolitan disinterest as well as US capital flows. One might examine, e.g., fundamentalist church finances, gay “conversion” therapies, and anti-LGBT resource networks that fund local politicians or anti-adoption legal cases. And not to mention, while also keeping in mind the importance of religious beliefs to many survivors, the hate reproduced—despite the diversity of practitioners and clergy—at the hands of the global Catholic church with deep roots in Puerto Rico, given that other European, pre-1898 occupying empire – Spain.

Third, the colonized Puerto Rican figure (see the two points above) targeted in the attack, along, certainly, with many more diverse identities, is also a queer geopolitical subject, as I take it from a smart short piece by Tamar Shirinian (albeit with no mention of Puerto Rico). As scholars, we are often able to connect the effects of hate across geographical space — and connect hate to a co-constitutive power, the increasingly global pinkwashing industry to justify liberal militarism. In this regard, it is no coincidence that the Friends of the IDF had a Puerto Rican gay man, Ricky Martin, play a benefit show. But Puerto Ricans and Latinxs, as well as a broader general public and thinkers, tend to (conveniently) forget that some Latinxs also identify as Arab, Palestinian, and/or Muslim, or are of Arab or Muslim ancestry — and some Arab Latinxs also happen to be part of the LGBT and/or Queer community.

Meanwhile, as many have explained, however much it is lost in the CNN/Fox News hysteria, the US security apparatus’ response to the bloodshed is to callously and cynically intensify islamophobia, calling for Muslim bans, racial profiling, and more aerial bombardment and special forces against an indefinite enemy. Persistent militarized readiness from the state is also co-existent with casual, everyday forms of insults, harassment, and militant attacks against mosques or persons’ bodies (inflamed more and more by the Trump campaign, although not unique to it by any means, as is also paralleled in Europe).

The third part of the composite absence I am describing matters because it is not simply the catch-all, popular term “Latinos” (or sometimes now the term Latinxs to encompass gender-queer and cis Latino/as) who are interpellated for the “war on terror,” pitting ‘us’ against ‘them,’ or against those Others reduced to a violent ethno-religious abstraction. Let’s recall that one of the most exemplary cases of the stripping of habeas corpus in the war on terror was against a Puerto Rican from New York converted to Islam, José Padilla. The figure of José Padilla reminds us how ethnically fluid lawfare can be.

It is precisely Puerto Ricans—historically, fighting grunts in US wars starting with World War I—who are once again being hailed to participate, including through affective mobilizations, in a global war, now without limits or borders, and in particular, specific ways. This is a war apparatus that, in fact, also has been deployed—from 1898’s invasion—against Puerto Ricans themselves, and has been / is being actively used to pacify insurgency against imperialism and colonialism.

In other words, Puerto Ricans are commonly coerced to endorse, vote, and accept this apparatus against, no doubt, themselves (that is, ourselves). Thus, it is at this specific moment when the intermittent visibility and invisibility of queer Puerto Ricans operates to justify security logics, especially versus populations and territories similarly racialized and occupied (though different in specific geopolitical ways).

For those of us who identify as Puerto Ricans in the United States, we have to ask ourselves when does our presence, or perhaps our memory, become important—visible—and when does our visibility, and our collective memory, not matter; why, how, and where, specifically, are we erased, and what are the geopolitics of that erasure, deliberately or not — even amongst radical allies?

Finally, let’s take for example the infamous Democrats’ Sit-In at the US Congress last week to promote war on terror measures that apply terror watchlists to gun background checks. This comical episode was, quite specifically and egregiously, an appropriation of queer geopolitical Boricua and Latinx lives to score political capital through the semiotics of gun control (and promote Dunkin Donuts), while the very same Congress, with the approval of the White House, is passing anti-Puerto Rican legislation — the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act, or PROMESA. Briefly, PROMESA (the fiscal control board legislation) will lower wages, privatize infrastructure, and prohibit public sector strikes, among more impositions. Needless to say, PROMESA is also endorsed by a diverse array of colonial elites, the governor, the Clintons, and Puerto Rican members of Congress …And, Lin-Manuel Miranda.

However, it is legitimized US military weaponry and expertise—immune from gun control—that has often been used against Puerto Ricans, Latinxs, and Latin American geographies. Congressional Democrats are not protesting the School of the Americas, for instance, or to end the War on Drugs that drags on and takes in so many Latinx and Puerto Ricans lives, queer and not queer (relatedly, see especially the work of Marisol LeBrón on neoliberal policing in Puerto Rico, and Zaire Dinzey-Flores on policed housing segregation). Or elsewhere, US politicians, to wit, are de facto in favor of an unfolding coup in Brasil (just as Hillary Clinton backed a coup in Honduras). By and large, the US political class, in spite of minor differences between GOP and Democrats, favors borderization and violent policing, while denying Latinx migrants their rights, running an immigrant detention gulag system. And this list could go on and on. I don’t mean to simply point out hypocrisy here; I mention these inconsistencies and contradictions because these are specifically structural ways in which Latinxs and Puerto Ricans, including queers, are expected to mobilize—including as, and sometimes especially as, selectively memorialized dead bodies—for US empire, all while they themselves—we ourselves—are expendable.

All of this is to say that while the queer latinidad of Pulse is unevenly recalled, let alone its Boricua queer latinidad, merely invoking Latinxs and Puerto Ricans, the living and the dead, can have ambiguous and even reverse effects that run counter to the life and survival of Latinxs and Puerto Ricans. But at the same time, we must not forget the multifaceted trajectories of queer Boricuas to Orlando, an amnesia that could be even deadlier.

My Summer Readings on Technology in American Lives

Building on a previous round of notes for Technology in American Lives… I wanted to think of this course as “tracing a technological arc from the earth to waste, traversing through many different spaces, including the atmospheric, the microbial, and the extraterrestrial.” I had (or, have?) a schematic plan of what each week could address. Best laid plans, though…?

As I started to compile a bibliography, I immediately started to run into problems. As I had sort of expected, although not sure to what extent, the neat and tidy arc was more like a maze.  So, for the time being, there is no order to anything yet. But it’ll come.

I’ll quickly be tossing out what won’t be useful to the class, while also paying attention to references for what emerge as important foundational research and conceptual ideas that an intro-level course might benefit from.

Although I had a lot of topics I wanted to cover, it looks like certain overarching themes might become more important. Something that immediately jumps out from the bibliography is that, in order to dig into critical lessons a little deeper, it might make sense to sacrifice some of the different and disparate strains in favor of certain clear genealogies (like nuclear science, urban technologies, and bioscience, perhaps).

Shorter chapters or articles are also good for a reading packet. Some books might be good for the reserve shelf as additional material for students.

A few caveats about the following list:

  • Most of the biblio, though not all, consists of book-length studies.
  • In case you want to try to read all this, I’m certainly not expecting to read every single book cover to cover. Some only have relevant sections or chapters, and I’m looking to see if these start to reveal other readings that could be more vital to the class.  I will post other updates later on, as I start to get better organized and shape the course.
  • I will usually go over the intro and conclusion to get a quick sense of what the main claims are, in order to assess how it can fit. I’m also looking to bookmark what might be necessary for lecture prep, even if it doesn’t make it into the required readings for whatever reason.
  • The list is (always) incomplete. There are still several areas I would like to include (sailing! knots! textiles and sails!), but haven’t stumbled upon the right readings. Suggestions are more than welcome!
  • The list is sort of heavy on historical monographs, not (yet) covering theoretical and critical texts that will be folded in later (e.g. Butler; Benjamin), as guided by the readings. It also gravitates, for many reasons both personal and historiographic, toward spatial, architectural, and military studies.
  • Sorry but I haven’t tidied up my Zotero database, so there might be some errors in the biblio export file and extraneous categories.
  • I’ll be updating as I go along.
  • Jump here to get it:


Prep for Technology in American Lives

I am starting to prep a new course (new to me, but existing in the American Studies slate) on Technology in American Lives. I’ll teach this class in the Winter quarter, starting in January 2017.

I’ll post a reading list for the summer. The readings will serve a number of functions. They’ll help me prepare lectures and give me the context I need to teach the class, plus set up expectations and questions for discussion section, while giving the students some starting points if they want to pursue further research beyond the class reader. They will probably lead to other finds that will have to be added to the prep list, and ultimately serving as the bank from which to select the final course packet. The course is an intro level undergraduate lecture, so the final readings will be selected with this criteria in mind.

The cover of Schüll's book on the technology of addiction, Vegas mechanical gambling.
The cover of Schüll’s book on the technology of addiction, Vegas mechanical gambling.

Technology in American Lives has been taught in myriad ways before and my version won’t be any better or worse than those. My own swing at it will doubtless reflect my personal background in the fields of architecture, geography (especially on critical militarization studies), arts, and media. I’m certain it will have many blind spots too.

Broadly, I want the class to expose the students –obviously– to the idea that technology is not a fixed ‘thing;’ that it is socially constructed and contested – and changing. And furthermore, I hope the class also inspires them to understand and question the role of the nation-state in simultaneously researching, producing, and ‘liberalizing’ (privatizing) technologies. UC Davis will also be an ideal place to see this in practice, especially in the world of food and ag research. I’m hoping that every week I can draw on a few local examples to help illustrate the issues raised in class.

At the same time, saying that something is “socially constructed” can be deceptive — the social labor embedded in making a technology, as Marx long ago observed, has to contend with the limits and possibilities of nature in the world; possibilities are not endless — e.g. flight has to deal with gravity, etc. etc. Furthermore, perhaps my main take away for the class is that just because something is socially constructed within given parameters in space, time, nature, and economics doesn’t mean that it is finalized. The given social appearance of a technology is not a zero sum game. Americans have created technologies under many rubrics of racial ideologies, gender determinisms, and accumulative goals, to name a few, and these rubrics have been and can be resisted. (Besides, the title of the class can be misleading; we may read a lot of authors who are not “Americans” but have important concepts and contributions on thinking about—and with—technologies and Americans).

Perhaps more challenging is the question of ‘What is an American life?’ This question opens up an inquiry into how a technology traverses the world through trade, media, and infrastructure. In fact, technologies traverse with and within human and animal pathways and bodies; an American “life” can thus be understood—biologically, philosophically, legally—in many ways. The course will ask the students to question their perceptions of borders, populations, and what is a body or a life, ultimately. And in the end, hopefully we can have a conversation about that pesky, little issue of power and how it is wielded (like, over which lives?). The idea here is that technologies can (probably) only operate through bodies. The effects of radiation, for example, were known because they were tested on thousands of bodies (such as Pedro Albizu Campos’, the Puerto Rican radical nationalist, imprisoned by U.S. occupying forces) – and weapons are not merely for an imaginative ‘threat,’ no matter the ideologies in their production; they exist in and through their use upon other bodies—and affect entire ‘lives.’

For the time being, my prep will be messy as I jump through a lot of “technologies,” their histories, and useful concepts to make sense of the social life of technology. I felt that a certain logic to the course could be obtained from tracing a technological arc from the earth to waste, traversing through many different spaces, including the atmospheric, the microbial, and the extraterrestrial.

I’ve decided to structure the first pass in the following draft format (this is not a final format for the course at this point):

INTRO – What is technology; what is an “American life”? Is American life a technology itself?

ELEMENTS – substances, pharma, air, heat, atoms and atomic tech

WORDS – printing, military communications, transmissions, radio, etc

IMAGES – colors, paints, the media, reproduction, images, films, etc

BODIES – sex, reproduction, race, food, accumulations, queering tech, mobilities (and velocity)

SPACES – prisons, elevators, navigation and sailing (ropes, sails, knots!), surveys, and land measure, CAD, outerspace

FORMS – construction tech (balloon framing), lumber, buildings, gardening

SURFACES – fabrics, textiles, glass, claddings, plastics

NUMBERS – algos, data, control, surveillance, populations

WASTE – E-waste, toxics, water, demolition, discards and discarded tech.

I’m pretty sure that each of these categories will include, on the one hand, historical and ethnographic works paired with, on the other hand, conceptual/theoretical texts that help interpret, critique, and deepen the case studies. Of course, the categories can be a little confusing, since larger issues—race and racisms, for one—will span many of the categories. I’ll also try to provide some supplemental materials, like podcasts, documentaries, and fictional works. We’ll see how it plays out…

Several people have sent suggested readings; I have a bunch of my own. My thanks already to folks like Braulio Agnese, Martha Bridegam, Alexandra Lange, Jacqui Shine, Aaron Wilcher, John Stehlin, and Vera Khovanskaya (among more that I am perhaps forgetting – sorry!). Also, much gratitude to previous instructors and TA’s, particularly Toby Smith and Xan Chacko, for their feedback. I’ll be posting in the coming days a reading list and rough schedule I want to have. Anyone is welcome to follow along and sent questions/comments.

*N.B.: WordPress for UC Davis has comments set to off and there’s no way to change it (fine with me); I’ll duplicate this post on Medium and comments can be posted there, as well as via Twitter.