Twitter #moralhorizons
(Tem01)
Technological visions of the future: political ontologies and ethics
Location Old Arts-155 (Theatre D)
Date and Start Time 04 December, 2015 at 11:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Jonathan Marshall (University of Technology, Sydney) email
  • Rebekah Cupitt (UCL Anthropology) email

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Short Abstract

This panel aims to explore the complex interrelations of technology, ethics, politics, conflict, uncertainty, unintended consequences and visions of the future.

Long Abstract

The future cannot be predicted in detail and is radically uncertain. Consequently visions of the future represent ontologically based understandings of what it could be, ought to be and ought not to be. Technology is often important in imagining these futures and can be framed as empowering, alienating, transformative or destructive. Persuasive technological visions of the future draw upon 'underlying' moralities and ethics which express conflicting social and political 'realities'. Visions of the future proposed by one group can appear unwanted, or destructive, to another. Technologies and other future-making projects can also have unintended consequences which compound moral and visionary complexities.

We aim to explore contrasting views of technology, its ontologies and moralities, by understanding morality as fundamentally driven by disagreement, uncertainty and difference. We are interested in how moralities are strategically employed to reinforce particular technologically-driven visions of the future. Relevant questions include: a) How does technological intervention in the name of higher moral goals such as 'saving the planet' from the ecological crisis, or enhancing equality for those suffering discrimination or disempowerment, actually function in its political complexity and deal with unintended consequences? b) How does technologically mediated communication affect moral and political discourse, activism and our ability to handle futures? c) Does technology, or technological research implicitly carry a gendered ethics? d) What kind of ontologies and ethics are implied by, or implemented by, particular technologies?

The panel welcomes multidisciplinary, as well as anthropological, studies.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Mining and displacement: introducing the concept of eritalgia

Author: Hedda Haugen Askland (University of Newcastle)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper, I explore displacement as a moral dilemma intrinsic to mining. I introduce a third component to the conceptual dyad nostalgia-solastalgia, which adds a phenomenological, future-looking element to the question of displacement as it forms part of exogenously generated land-use change.

Long Abstract

Resettlement and displacement are embedded elements of the moral encounters of mineral extraction. Dislocation and relocation (or rehabilitation) are, however, not necessarily migratory patterns consisting of physical movement. Conversely, these phenomena—in particular displacement—can occur when still 'in place'. Albrecht (2005) has termed this sense of homelessness solastalgia, which he defines as 'the pain or sickness caused by the loss or lack of solace and the sense of isolation connected to the present state of one's home or territory' (Albrecht 2005: 45). Solastalgia entails a 'ghost reference' to nostalgia. In contrast to nostalgia, which refers to the longing or pain caused by the loss of a place—real or imagined—of the past, solastalgia points to the sickness or disruption derived from present physical desolation. Through reflection on ethnographic material from the Upper Hunter, I seek in this paper to expand this dyadic construct by introducing a third concept—eritalgia—to understand desolation, disruption and displacement as the sickness, pain or distress endured when the connection between lived realities and ones imagined future self (in place) is broken. I will explain the conceptual triad, and examine how each of the concepts can be seen as descriptions of the existential condition of loss, as it manifests in relation to the past, the present and the future. The paper will look at how displacement due to mining retains a sense of coercion, and will pose questions about the moral dilemmas of settlement, displacement, relocation and repatriation (efforts of continuity) as they relate to large-scale extraction projects.

'Life. Brought to you by mining': narratives of coal in the Hunter Valley of NSW

Author: Vanessa Bowden (University of Newcastle)  email

Short Abstract

As the morality of coal is increasingly questioned, the industry has rolled out a campaign which emphasises it’s place in our economy, history and culture. The effectiveness of this is seen in the views of business leaders who imagine our future to be written in it’s past; to them, coal is doxic.

Long Abstract

In the Hunter Valley of New South Wales, the morality of coal use is increasingly being questioned. From conflicts over land use, to the impacts that burning coal has on climate change, the industry is increasingly aware of the tenuous place it's social license to operate now occupies. In response the industry has, over a number of years, rolled out a campaign which emphasises the role of the industry in building not only the local regional economy, but it's presence as one of historical and cultural value. Such campaigns build a narrative about the centrality of electricity to everyday life, and present the use of coal as inevitable and unavoidable as long as it is present. The effectiveness of this narrative can be seen in research carried out with business leaders in the region, who reveal a doxic view of the role of coal. This view limits the leaders' moral concerns when it comes to climate change and land use, as the future of the region is seen to be written in it's past. As the pressure on coal from international forces increases, this restrictive view risks hysteresis, with the region potentially being left with no transitional plan as demand for coal slows.

Developmental moral cosmology, climate turmoil and geoengineering

Author: Jonathan Marshall (University of Technology, Sydney)  email

Short Abstract

Cosmologies and morality are connected through prediction. When faced with climate turmoil developmentalist cosmologies lead to geoengineering and disaster.

Long Abstract

Moralities assuming that the results of actions are predictable, and therefore that moral actions should always result in beneficial consequences, or at least the avoidance of vitally unpleasant consequences, are based in cosmologies assuming such prediction is possible. However, in complex interactive systems, accurate predictions are rarely viable. Social and ecological systems are such complex and surprising systems; while predicting trends may be possible, it is impossible to predict events or consequences in detail. This dilemma has particular force with climate change, especially when the main drivers of the problem appear to be the success of carbon fuel based development. Development relies on the supposed predictable benefits of using particular kinds of technology, and is seen as the only way to gain international recognition and preserve sovereignty. One way of saving developmentalist cosmologies from the challenge of climate turmoil is through the fantasies of geoenegineering. Geoengineering proposes that technological developments such as Solar Radiation Management or Carbon Capture and Storage can change the complex natural systems of the world and preserve both developmentalism and fossil fuel company profits. If accepted, this move is likely to lead to greater problems later on, yet most opposition is also bound into ethics of prediction, and suffers similar paradoxes.

While exploring the moral cosmological nexus of developmentalism and climate turmoil, this paper wonders if an ethics of non-predictability and non-destructiveness can arise in contemporary life. Data comes from official documents from corporations, governments and NGOs, and from 'popular' arguments on various internet sites.

The ambience of automation: big data, A.I. and drone culture

Author: Mitch Goodwin (James Cook University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will discuss the moral ambiguities at play in the development of autonomous systems of war and mass surveillance and how as a society we are challenging the orthodoxy of the machine through art and media production.

Long Abstract

See like a camera / listen like a microphone / track like a satellite. Big beautiful data is everywhere. The sound is constant. The image bank immense. And yet the end game of complete machine autonomy is ambiguous. The notion of the vision machine is embedded in our popular cultural fictions and scientific explorations. It operates at the foundation of our interpretation of the farthermost reaches of space and the inner most structures of matter. The machine sees the machine knows but the mechanics are invisible. Concepts such as military futurism, meta-data, kill lists, terra-forming and drones are riddled with ethical conundrums that are rarely discussed in mainstream media discourse yet haunt the background atmosphere of contemporary technoculture. How do artists, designers and film makers working in the epicentre of the Hollywood dream machine and at the further most extremities of media arts practice depict notions of A.I. and machine ambience? What meaningful opportunities exist for informed open debate about their moral implications in the crowded vision streams of contemporary screen culture?

Mobilisation against land reclamation - Social media activism on Bali

Author: Birgit Bräuchler (Monash University)  email

Short Abstract

A nonviolent protest movement on Bali is currently articulating and mediatising dissatisfaction with the reclamation of land in Bali's south. Drawing on debates about global protest aesthetics and nonviolence the paper critically reflects on the challenges of social media activism on Bali.

Long Abstract

A nonviolent protest movement on Bali is currently publicly articulating and mediatising its dissatisfaction with the reclamation of land in Bali's south, meant to open up new space for tourism development. Drawing on current debates about performative aesthetics and nonviolence in global protest movements this paper looks at contemporary forms of mediatised resistance in Indonesia. Social movements, grassroots and marginalized people all over the world make increasing use of media to promote their cause - locally, nationally and internationally. Media have become a crucial means for nonviolent resistance and protest. In Indonesia, media were once the cornerstone of national unity. After an end was put to authoritarianism and press freedom was granted, media have become important means for subversive politics, empowering the marginalized, and resistance against the government, among others on Bali, the main tourist destination in Indonesia. Despite the Bali bombings in 2002 and 2005, the tourism industry is now booming more than ever before. The government is building on Bali's cultural capital, but its development policies are oriented towards increasing tourist numbers and infrastructure. Its aggressive development policies start to trigger resistance among the Balinese, who have long been depicted as peaceful, harmonious, cultural and apolitical people. In line with Balinese tradition, culture and art are being employed as weapons against outside intruders and as a means to criticise politics. The paper critically reflects on the potentials and the limits of social media activism on Bali.

Deaf futures: moralities of technology in a deaf/hearing workplace

Author: Rebekah Cupitt (UCL Anthropology)  email

Short Abstract

Empowering a disabled deaf minority through new technologies is only one moral view of a better future. This paper presents a workplace example of how technology, deafness and multiple moralities intersect in potentially transformative ways.

Long Abstract

In a setting where Deaf and hearing employees working together to produce television content, this study highlights the intersections of multiple visions of video meeting technologies. Like most technological innovations, video meeting technology has its own rhetoric founded on working towards a better future. This future is a 'virtual reality' of mediated meetings that are indistinguishable from face-to-face meetings. When it comes to communication between deaf and hearing, visions of the future created by technological innovators, shift to focus more on 'enabling' flawless communication across language and cultural barriers. Visions of the future for these types of video meetings focus on creating equality for a 'disabled deaf' through increased access to information and communication alternatives. This contrasts slightly with how Deaf employees' express their video meeting needs and the moral concepts they invoke. These underlying moralities of these visions emerge in the ways hearing employees talk about their deaf colleagues' needs and especially through how they summon up notions of deafness and tie them to the morally powerful concepts of empowerment and discrimination.

These different moral views are situated within a state-run and funded, centralised organisation with its own moral ontology (at times, shared by its employees - deaf, hearing and translators alike). On occasions when individual and organisational agendas collide, there is potential for employees to manipulate and strategically employ the moral discourse and rhetorics of future visions of video meetings to influence policy and procurement processes in interesting and arguably, unintended ways.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.