Speculative Futures -- Symposium II: "Security and Catastrophe"

Friday, January 13, 2012
McCune Conference Room, 6020 HSSB
Professor Peter Van Wyck (Concordia University) and Professor Andrew Lakoff (USC)


Catastrophic events produce radical uncertainty. The temporality of such events varies: they could be sudden, unexpected, but ever–possible (e.g. natural disasters or terrorist attacks) or protracted events whose long duration escapes the human imagination (e.g. radiation toxicity). Speculative projections of disaster, catastrophe, and crisis trigger endless efforts at securing a collective future against various forms of macroscalar destruction. This symposium hosts two distinguished speakers, Professor Peter van Wyck (Professor of Communications Studies, Concordia University, Montréal) and Professor Andrew Lakoff (Professor of Anthropology, University of Southern California), who have variously addressed speculations of catastrophe in their work. Professor van Wyck has written extensively on nuclear threats (Signs of Danger: Waste, Trauma, and Nuclear Threat, 2005) and Professor Lakoff on public health and biosecurity (Disaster and the Politics of Intervention, ed., 2010).

An Archive of ThreatPeter Van Wyck

I will be presenting a text in development that attempts to follow an itinerary of images from Signs of Danger, and Highway of the Atom. In this text I trace a route from Canada's far north, to Japan, Finland and New Mexico. A history written not with lightening, but close; a history written with the energy of restless, recalcitrant matter. I want to convey some small piece of this story of the nuclear, at least as I have been following it. For this, to paraphrase Isabelle Stengers, is not simply a matter of power, but an affair of a process, or processes that one must follow. Here, as elsewhere, my concern is about the constellation of effects wrought by atomic and nuclear threats and disaster. In particular I am interested in aspects of memory in relation to traumatic transformations of place, of landscape.

Biopolitics in Real Time: The Actuary and the Sentinel in Global HealthAndrew Lakoff

Focusing on recent developments in biosecurity and global health, this talk contrasts two ways of understanding and managing catastrophic disease threats. Whereas an actuarial approach projects the past into the future, a sentinel–based approach assumes that the future cannot be known and that one must remain vigilantly prepared for surprise.

For more information, please visit the Speculative Futures Website.