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Sociology Departmental Seminar with: Matthew Kearnes

Date: 13 December 2011 Time: 16:15-18:00

Venue: FASS MR 2 & 3

Speculative Materialism and the Spirit of Technoscience

Matthew Kearnes - Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience, Durham University

Abstract: My concern in this paper is to articulate a series of twists in what Haraway (1997) terms "secular technoscientific salvation stories full of promise". For Haraway, foundational tropes of technological deliverance "sit cheek-by-jowl with ultimate threats", the threat of apocalypse alongside the promise of harmonious resolution. Drawing on Weber's classical sociology, and Foucault's more recent notion of 'political spirituality', I suggest that this interplay between threat and resolution might be understood as defining the vocational norms for a 'spirit of technoscience'. I suggest that this spirit is defined by two central doctrines: a conception of the market as providential and an understanding of technological artefacts as embodying a soteriological promise. Notions of human mastery over natural systems - and indeed the technological vitalization of matter itself - are cast as matters of faith, symbolising hopes for human progress, deliverance and prosperity.

What Haraway also makes clear is that though full of promise, these technoscientific salvation stories are deeply tragic. In this light I suggest that in recent years this spirit of technoscience has been marked by an emergent realisation of the consequences of having lost "the ultimate certainty of having the real on our side" (Meillassoux, 2011). While the doctrinal tropes of technoscience have been substantially revised in light of the contemporary environmental crisis - investing human technological imagination with the capacity to save both capitalism and the planet (Szerszynski and Reynolds, 2011) - philosophical responses to this challenge are characterised by a revived sense of realist nihilism. Reviewing the work of Jane Bennett and Quentin Meillassoux, I suggest that this 'speculative turn' in continental thought may be read as offering ethical and moral resources defined by notions of enchantment, entanglement and the ethical gestures that point toward an "abandonment of power" (Harman, 2011).


Who can attend: Anyone


Further information

Organising departments and research centres: Centre for Mobilities Research (CeMoRe), Centre for Science Studies, Politics and International Relations, Science, Technology and Medicine, Sociology


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Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Lancaster University
Lancaster LA1 4YD
United Kingdom

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