Technopolitics in Transitional Societies

Technopolitics in Transitional Societies
Intensive Graduate Seminar, June 18–19 2015

Dates and time: 18–19 June, 2015,

Venue: Estonian Institute of Humanities, Tallinn University

Credits: 3 ECTS

Language of the course: English

Hosting institutions: Estonian Institute of Humanities, Tallinn University; Estonian Graduate School of Culture Studies and Arts

Programme directors: Dr. Aet Annist (Tallinn University), Aro Velmet (New York University)

Programme coordinator: Riina Trofimova (

This intensive seminar invites PhD students to think about the relationship of technology, politics, and culture, particularly during moments of intensive social change. Technological decisions play an increasing role in the structuring of social power and the making of various identities. Through this process – what Gabrielle Hecht calls “technopolitics” – politically and culturally meaningful decisions are depoliticized and made “technical”. Vice versa, what can begin as purely engineering decisions often result in debates over their impact on national identity, geopolitics, gender relations, notions of the self, forms of democracy, and the very future of Western civilization. How is it that an engineering decision between two types of nuclear reactors can become a question about the very nature of Frenchness? Or, closer to home, how does an online method of personal authentication become a metaphor for a particular vision of Estonian openness and innovation? Who decides the border between the “political” and the “technical”? How does the materiality of technological choices impact their cultural meaning? And what are the consequences of these transformations for societies undergoing rapid change due to political, social or economic upheaval?

The seminar consists of

1) lectures and discussions conducted by Estonian and invited lecturers.

2) group meetings structured around student presentations and constructive feedback.

Participants are invited to submit presentations on work in progress or future projects, limited to twenty minutes. We welcome proposals in all relevant disciplines, including but not limited to: history, cultural theory, semiotics, anthropology and ethnology, sociology, political science, public administration, art history and theory, visual studies, communication, and literary studies. Presenting at the workshop is recommended but not required. Possible topics include:

technology, expert knowledge and national identity
the politics of national statistics, national accounting, economics and other forms of quantitative knowledge
technology and reconfigurations of selfhood
aesthetic politics of technology
repurposing technology by end-users
technological utopias and dystopias
constructing and contesting the boundaries between “politics” and “expert” knowledge
technopolitics of governance and democracy
literary, visual and aural representations of technological change
the unintended political and cultural consequences of technological change
Students are expected to participate in the full study programme, and either present a paper at the workshop or submit a symposium diary (this can be a reflexion or summary of presentations most relevant to the student, about 2000 words) by July 15th.

Interested graduate students can apply for the seminar by sending following information to Riina Trofimova ( by May, 10:

1) a short curriculum vitae;

2) an abstract of the presentation or a statement of interest (ca 300 words);

All graduate students and immediate post-docs working on the above topics are welcome to apply.

Invited speakers:

Gabrielle Hecht (Professor of History and Director of the Science, Technology and Society Program, University of Michigan)

Professor Hecht’s work explores the construction of national identity and global politics through the making of nuclear things. Her first book, The Radiance of France, looks at how nuclear power became the cornerstone of French national identity, and through a process she calls ‘technopolitics’ radically reshaped what it meant to be French in the twentieth century. Her latest book, Being Nuclear uncovers the forgotten role Africa has played in the global uranium trade, asking why, despite Africa’s central role in producing the fuel for nuclear plants and weapons, countries like Niger were never admitted to the exclusive club of “nuclear states”. Being Nuclear forces us to rethink the meaning and use of the “nuclear” as a political, cultural, and technoscientific category.

Andrew Barry (Professor of Geography, University College London)

Andrew Barry is a leading theorist of technological governance on a transnational scale, focusing in particular on the politics of energy. His book, Political Machines: Governing a Technological Society (2001) focused on the vital role of technical devices in the constitution and politics of a transnational political space: the European Union. His recent book, Material Politics: Disputes along the Pipeline (2013), interrogates the way in which the production of information about materials enables the activity of materials to be managed and monitored, while also generating the conditions within which controversies can proliferate. He is currently interested in the politics of the idea of the anthropocene and, more broadly, the geopolitics of the carbon economy.

Judy Wajcman (Anthony Giddens Professor of Sociology, London School of Economics)

Professor Wajcman’s scholarly interests encompass the sociology of work and employment, science and technology studies, gender theory, and organizational analysis. Her latest book, Pressed for Time: The Acceleration of Life in Digital Capitalism, engages with theories about the impact of digital technologies on time poverty and the speeding up of everyday life. Most of us complain that there aren’t enough hours in the day and too many emails in our thumb-accessible inboxes. This widespread perception that life is faster than it used to be is now ingrained in our culture, and smartphones and the Internet are continually being blamed. But isn’t the sole purpose of the smartphone to give us such quick access to people and information that we’ll be free to do other things? Isn’t technology supposed to make our lives easier?

The event is supported by European Union through the European Social Fund (Estonian Graduate School of Culture Studies and Arts).