Accidents and the Origins of Forensic Reason

Monday, May 18, 2015
Girvetz 2320
Greg Siegel

Greg Siegel is an associate professor in the UCSB Department of Film and Media Studies, specializing in media culture and the history and theory of technology. He is the author of Forensic Media: Reconstructing Accidents in Accelerated Modernity (Duke University Press, 2014). His essays have appeared in Cabinet, Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, Discourse, Grey Room, Rethinking Disney: Private Control, Public Dimensions (Wesleyan University Press), and Television: The Critical View, 7th ed. (Oxford University Press).

Accidents have troubled Western thought and discourse since Aristotle. In the modern technological era, the ancient problem of the accident has assumed a peculiar and terrible aspect, its brutal reality reflected in every industrial mishap, its violent intensity exhibited in every high-speed crash, its frightful enormity demonstrated in every engineering disaster. Today, forensic logics, devices, and practices—all elements of what I call "forensic reason"—offer themselves as a sort of solution to the problem of technological accidents. In this talk, I trace the rise of forensics back to nineteenth-century attempts to scientifically ascertain the causes of mechanical and structural catastrophes. I emphasize the role played by forensic reason in the shaping of modern perceptions of accidents and failures, and in the creation of a particular ethos of safety and protection.