2020 Summer Seminars
TEETERING ON THE BRINK: WILL CIVILIZATION LONG SURVIVE?
The question is all too real. Since 1945, civilization has survived—barely—under the shadow of destruction by nuclear weapons, and the threats are growing, enhanced not only by near-lunatic development of new weapons systems but also by reckless policies that are undermining the fragile structure of global order. The postwar period also witnessed a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, marked by sharply increasing human harm to the environment, along with species destruction at an unprecedented rate. A striking feature of contemporary malaise is the willingness to choose what are known to be suicidal measures for short-term gain, a deep moral and institutional crisis that cannot easily be remedied. These and other threats to survival are exacerbated by the erosion of the political systems that must confront them, an entirely predictable consequence of the imposition of neoliberal doctrine in the past generation and its many concomitants. The notable decline of functioning democracy undermines opportunity for constructive political action—while at the same time, serious voices have questioned whether democratic systems, even if they were to function, are capable of addressing the today’s challenges. Alongside of many “morbid symptoms” of the decline of the old order are many rays of hope in popular activism that might offer a solution to the most severe challenges that have ever arisen in human history.
Noam Chomsky is Laureate Professor at the University of Arizona and Institute Professor (emeritus) at MIT, where he taught from 1955. He is the author of many books and articles on linguistics, cognitive science, philosophy, intellectual history, and a wide range of social and political issues. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and numerous other professional societies in the US and abroad. He is the recipient of many awards and honorary degrees here and around the world. He has been active in peace and social justice movements for 60 years.
Expulsions: The Rise of Extractive Logics
in Our Economies and Societies
Among the strong patterns of the post-1980s period in “Western” economies is a mix of economic and political vectors marked by extractive logics. We can find such extractive logics in entities as diverse as mining and Facebook. The rise of such extractive logics is partial, but sufficiently powerful to have altered key features of our economies and societies. For instance, when mass consumption is the shaping sector of our economies (until about the 1980s) even the nastiest corporation wanted the sons and daughters to do better than their parents so they would consume more (and supported government initiatives that transferred money to households directly and indirectly). This began to change with the privatizations, deregulations, and rise of finance/financialization in the 1980s. One way of putting it is to emphasize the extractive character of leading economic sectors. How did Google make its first billion so fast and so unencumbered by all kinds of traditional constraints? It got information about all of us for free and then sold it to businesses. I want to argue that this is one instance of extractive logic. I will focus especially on finance and its sharp differences from traditional banking (which was/is basically commerce: it sells something (money) for a price). A second aspect I want to emphasize is the extent to which our major categories of analysis do not help us to track the trajectories of that which is expelled. To a large extent, these categories were developed at a time when mass consumption was dominant and more and more people and households became part of that mass consumption logic. But since the 1980s this dominance of mass consumption weakened and other logics became dominant, notably the financializing of a rapidly growing range of material and immaterial elements in our political economies.
Saskia Sassen is the Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology at Columbia University and a Member of its Committee on Global Thought, which she chaired until 2015. She is a student of cities, immigration, and states in the world economy, with inequality, gendering and digitization three key variables running though her work. Born in the Netherlands, she grew up in Argentina and Italy, studied in France, was raised in five languages, and began her professional life in the United States. She is the author of eight books and the editor or co-editor of three books. Together, her authored books are translated in over twenty languages. She has received many awards and honors, among them multiple doctor honoris causa, the 2013 Principe de Asturias Prize in the Social Sciences, election to the Royal Academy of the Sciences of the Netherlands, and made a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres by the French government.
In recent years, a research group named Forensic Architecture began using novel research methods to undertake a series of investigations into cases of state violence that were denied or covered up. Today, the group provides crucial evidence for truth commissions, international courts and works with a wide range of activist groups, and NGOs. artistic public truth, technologically, architecturally, and aesthetically produced. Their practice calls for a transformative politics in which architecture as a field of knowledge and a mode of interpretation exposes and confronts ever-new forms of state violence and secrecy.Beyond shedding new light on human rights violations and state crimes across the globe, Forensic Architecture has also created a new form of investigative practice that bears its name. The group uses architecture as an analytical device to investigate armed conflicts and environmental destruction, as well as to cross-reference a variety of evidence sources, such as machine learning, remote sensing, material analysis, witness testimony, and crowdsourcing. In this seminar, Eyal Weizman will provide an in-depth introduction to the thinking and double binds of this practice, rooted in political media and material theory. The seminar and lecture will provide detailed documentation that records the intricate work the group has performed. We will touch upon investigations that traverse multiple scales and durations, ranging from the analysis of US drone strikes in Pakistan, through cases of environmental violence in the desert and forest thresholds, to the reconstruction of a police shooting in the US and the UK, and the architectural recreation of a secret Syrian detention center from the memory. Each case provides an illustrated critical narrative that presents a new form of practice bringing together art, science, and politics.
Eyal Weizman is Professor of Spatial and Visual Cultures and founding director of the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London. In 2010 he founded the research agency Forensic Architecture and directs it ever since. The work of the agency is documented in the exhibition and book FORENSIS (2014), as well as in Forensic Architecture: Violence at the Threshold of Detectability (2017) and in numerous exhibitions world-wide. In 2007 he set up, with Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti, the architectural collective DAAR in Beit Sahour/Palestine. This work is documented in the book Architecture after Revolution (2014). In 2013 he designed a permanent folly in Gwangju, South Korea which was documented in the book The Roundabout Revolution (2015). His other books include The Conflict Shoreline (2015), Mengele’s Skull (2012), The Least of all Possible Evils (2011), Hollow Land (2007), and A Civilian Occupation (2003). Weizman is on the editorial boards of Third Text, Humanity, Cabinet, and Political Concepts. He is on the board of directors of the Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ) and on the Technology Advisory Board of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. He previously sat on the advisory boards of the ICA in London and B’Tselem in Jerusalem, amongst others. He graduated in architecture in 1998 from the Architectural Association in London and completed his PhD at the London Consortium/Birkbeck College in 2006.