automation & cultural production

Seb Franklin and Annie McClanahan join Nick Ridout for a conversation about automation and its relationship to cultural production.

Friday 17th July 2020

Instead of imagining a future in which our lives are managed for us by robots or AI, it may be time to think instead about how automation is already deeply embedded in our everyday lives. Automation is quietly reshaping human activity in manufacturing, logistics, finance, welfare, education and justice. Automation is not replacing human beings, but it may be changing how we work and act, and how we think and feel about ourselves and other people.

The current pandemic has made the entanglement of human behaviour with data more visible to more people than ever before: a contact tracing app, for example, draws attention to a human-data relationship in a way that using a contactless bank card to access public transport might not. But both are examples of how the human-data relationship may be automating humans, generating behaviours that shape new kinds of subject.

Seb, Annie and Nick talk about these changes and how they are manifesting themselves in cultural production. Will new kinds of subjectivity formed through our involvement with automation lead to the production of new aesthetic forms? Can an analysis of cultural production that recognises the contemporary and historical significance of automation offer a critical understanding of human relationships with the machines we make?

Seb Franklin is the author of Control: Digitality as Cultural Logic (MIT Press, 2015) and Forms of Disposal: Digitality, Racial Capitalism, and the Informatics of Value (forthcoming, University of Minnesota Press). He teaches contemporary literature, culture, and theory at King’s College London.

Annie McClanahan is an Associate Professor of English at the University of California, Irvine. She is the author of Dead Pledges: Debt, Crisis, and 21st Century Culture (Stanford UP, 2016), the first book to look at cultural responses to the 2007-8 financial crisis. She has published in South Atlantic Quarterly, Representations, Journal of Cultural Economy, theory & event, boundary 2, and elsewhere. She is currently working on a project titled “Tipwork, Microwork, Automation.”

Nick Ridout is Professor of Theatre at Queen Mary University of London. His new book, Scenes from Bourgeois Life, was published by University of Michigan Press in June 2020. As part of his ongoing historical materialist work on theatre, he is currently working on histories and theories of possession and automation in work, acting and performance.

Duration: 2 hours

Paul C. Johnson and Rebecca Schneider join Nick Ridout for a conversation about possession and performance. 

What if possession is a totally modern idea? Could it be a way for people who live modern lives in a supposedly secular culture to describe modes of being that don’t fit with their ideas of what it is to be yourself? How does performance help us think about possession? Are performance and possession both ways of becoming an automated or programmed self? 

Friday 24th July, 6-8 pm (BST), Online

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Kyla Wazana Tompkins and Roberto Strongman join Nick Ridout for a conversation about possession and subjectivity.

Might possession and other experiences in which people seem to lose control of themselves – like intoxication or narcosis – expand our understanding of what it means to be a subject, beyond the bounded subjectivity assumed and promoted in so-called ‘Enlightenment’ thought? Do subjects always and everywhere have to fit neatly into bodies?

Friday 31st July, 6-8 pm (BST), Online

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