Short note on Vital Mobilizations Workshops in Paris
Just returned from this excellent event at Collège d’études mondiales organized by Vincent Duclos.
For the sake of accountability 😉 my paper focused on the noncognitive ecologies of network culture. That is to say, the inverse of the discourses of collective intelligence and cognitive ecology (or neurological manifestations of collective consciousness); a social media marketing model that can be seen to route around collective cognition. The recent Facebook emotional contagion experiment is just the tip of a iceberg of efforts to steer these mostly nonconscious contagious forces online. However, the most interesting aspects of the event for me were the attention it drew toward a possible exchange of concepts between disciplinary viralities. While in the digital culture field I have made a concerted effort to escape the metaphors of biological contagion, which seem to me to shroud the material concepts of viral ecologies, events, affects and assemblages in a figurative, cultural space of representation and discourse, I have not perhaps given enough thought into how these material concepts could be potentially (and productively) used in biological contexts, and incorporated in e.g. field studies of epidemiological work.
There was certainly some interest from Vinh-Kim Nguyen (Université de Montréal/Collège d’études mondiales) in the role some of these concepts (affect and events) might play in thinking through the recent Ebola outbreak.
Ebola shocked a global health system that had gravely underestimated how the virus could interact with the assemblages it came into relation with in unanticipated ways. In short, we might say that organizations like the WHO, and their standardized medical kits, were caught out by the events of life (Duclos’s vital mobilizations), which are not accounted for in their viral models or become manifest in the infrastructures designed to combat an outbreak.
I also stayed on for Andy Lakoff’s fascinating and revealing talk on Ebola. What we have here also brings together some of the notions of assemblage theory and questions concerning failures in global health infrastructures. There was a lot said about the failure of existing risk models in biomedicine and moves towards Beck’s models of anticipation.
This quote from an issue of LIMN nicely captures Lakoff’s examination of how…
… the [Ebola] epidemic has put the norms, practices, and institutional logics of contemporary global health into question, and looks at the new assemblages that are being forged in its wake. The concept of “disease ecology” typically refers to a pathogen’s relationship to a natural milieu—particularly animal hosts and their environmental niche—and to how this milieu is affected by human behavior. Here, however, we conceive of Ebola’s ecologies more broadly to include the administrative, technical, political, and social relationships through which disease outbreaks evolve, and into which experts and officials are now trying to intervene in anticipation of future outbreaks.
Returning to noncognitive ecologies at a talk on June 16th at Winchester School of Art. Some of these ideas will be very useful to that discussion.
See the Paris workshop blog
Full LIMN issue on Ebola’s Ecologies