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Technologies of State Power, Technologies of Dissent

Sat, November 11, 2:00 to 3:45pm, Hyatt Regency Chicago, Water Tower, Concourse Level West Tower

Session Submission Type: Paper Session: Traditional Format


As revanchist political leaders take control of the apparatus of state power in the United States, scholars and teachers must increasingly reconsider the role the US state has played in projects of racialization, settler colonialism, and empire throughout its two hundred twenty-seven-year history. This panel calls for a longue durée reconsideration of the operations of the US state as an agent of cultural production, racialization, and hegemony. It asks, in essence, how grappling with the hegemonic impulses of US state power over its long history might better enable scholars to confront the potential shift from a liberal or neoliberal state to an illiberal one. What technologies—from the printing press to the stereoview to the supercomputer—have enabled the production and re-articulation of state power, and how might similar technologies be redeployed in the future? What cultural practices—from the imperial presidency to the spy novel—have likewise concretized the authority of the state itself?

Building upon an array of scholars, from James C. Scott to Neda Atanasoski, Hsuan L. Hsu to Laleh Khalili, this panel will consider how current methodological tools might be brought to bear in considering the operations of governmentality in the United States. Most importantly, the panel will consider how present technologies of state power, both cultural and material, are continuous with those of the past. The panel’s discussion will begin in the 1790s, when agents of the nascent federal state attempted to distribute detailed astronomical information about the position of the new capital of Washington, DC, in relation to land seized from indigenous peoples. From this beginning, the panel will then turn to the role of nineteenth-century photographic technologies, from the magic lantern to the stereoview, in contesting the state’s role in authorizing violence against black bodies in the middle of the nineteenth century. Moving into the twentieth century, the panel will consider the technologies of disaster preparedness, demonstrating how “preparedness media” provide observers with a totalizing, state-authorized fiction of control over the contingent natural world. Finally, the panel will end on a consideration of cyberwar. As warfare moves into the so-called “fifth domain” of cyberspace, the panel will consider how such warfare is continuous with a longstanding effort to humanize state violence through the militarization of new technologies.

Ultimately, this panel will ask whether the state (as opposed to national, racial, or other formations) offers conditions of possibility through which we might imagine an alternative future. The panel will ask, in essence, whether the US state should be regarded solely as an agent of hegemony, or whether it might yet serve as a site of dissent or even emancipatory collaboration.

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