Peter Redfield

From Humanitarian Design to Technopolitical Imagination

Peter Redfield (University of Southern California)
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H4.01, HEAD – Genève, Bâtiment H, Av. de Châtelaine 7

Join us for the fourth and final keynote of the What's the Future of Humanitarian Design Symposium where Peter Redfield (University of Southern California) will present on "From Humanitarian Design to Technopolitical Imagination".

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Humanitarian action inspires both public accolades and academic critique, sometimes in equal measures. When filtered through design, the humanitarian impulse has generated an array of ingenious micro-scale devices like water filters, low-cost incubators, and alternative toilets. Such objects may meet the urgent needs of some recipients, but rarely offer much prospect of an expansive future or address the political and economic forces that frame most human suffering. Nonetheless, they serve as a mirror for ethical imagination about innovation, along with claims and counterclaims over its potential significance. In this talk, I approach the topic from the perspective of “technopolitics”, a conceptual frame that scholars in science and technology studies have deployed to analyze the constitution of material projects through relations of power (e.g. Hecht 1995; Mitchell 2002; Von Schnitzler 2016). Here I broaden the scope and shift the accent of the term, underscoring the technical implications of political projects, along with the larger web of dreams and expectations now woven between norms of life and material infrastructures. The goal is to suggest that political aspirations – including those that seek to promote structural change – demand material reconfigurations: just as artifacts have politics, politics have artifacts. When debating terms of potential futures, then, it helps to foster an explicitly technopolitical imagination. Through their very presentism and limits, even the modest implements of slightly better survival might invite that.



Peter Redfield (University of Southern California)
Peter Redfield is Professor of Anthropology and Erburu Chair in Ethics, Globalization and Development at the University of Southern California. Trained as a cultural anthropologist sympathetic to history, he concentrates on circulations of science, technology and medicine in colonial and postcolonial contexts. He has held fellowships at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe and the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, in addition to serving as President of the Society for Cultural Anthropology. His publications include Life in Crisis: The Ethical Journey of Doctors Without Borders and a co-edited issue of Limn on humanitarian goods and development devices.

This event is the forth public keynote of the "What's the Future of Humanitarian Design Symposium", a part of the The Future of Humanitarian Design project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.



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