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CfP: Boundary Conditions (2016 Neil Postman Conference)

CFP 2016: Boundary Conditions

The 2016 Neil Postman Conference | New York University

Keynote: Achille Mbembe

CFP Deadline: October 10th

Conference Date: February 12th

Through their interrogation of boundaries, theorists of the postcolony, of affect, and of digital media have discovered conditions governing selection, maintenance, and authority over membership. In On the Postcolony, Achille Mbembe speaks of conviviality and complicity, of a play between surgical strikes and martyrdom, and of a divergence between the mythical time of the sovereign and “the compression, world wide, of ‘finance time’ and its reduction to purely computer time” [1]. The affective and the informatic—each with internally consistent temporal logics—are entangled yet discrete. Each prescribes its own conditions of admissibility, of possibility, of counting. These conditions are the substantive content of boundaries; the former’s arbitrariness opens the latter to contestation. Boundary conditions allow for the constitution of an authority that decides on the legitimacy of forms of life through the right to kill; they also enable embodiments and affects that align, mirror, and produce alternate networks of affinities.

“Rather than police these boundaries”, writes Katherine Hayles, “we should strive to understand the materially specific ways in which flows across borders create complex dynamics of interdetermination” [2]. Affect theory, digital media theory, and postcolonial studies have all equipped us for this task. At the scale of migration and displacement, new mobility protocols govern exit strategies at the same time as subjects sutured to violent authorities hold it together as it all comes apart. Yet the messianic temporality of a martyr challenges the sovereign’s monopoly on violence by punctuating the homogeneous, slow grind of coping. Theresa Senft’s work on camgirls charts this tie between implosion and coping at a micrological scale, showing that intimate online content generates economies of affects animated by the pressure points of the other’s personal limits [3].

This conference calls for investigation of techniques, technologies, infrastructures, and practices that facilitate the (re)definition of boundaries, and the prescription of conditions of inclusion, at the macroscopic and microscopic scales: shifting religious, economic, and national affiliations, as well as a subject’s limitations, vulnerabilities, and basic needs when confronted by these overriding/overwhelming contexts. Possible topics include (but are by no means limited to):

The Postcolony — necropolitics; multinationals and primitive accumulation; political theology technocratic warfare; checkpoints, displacement, and migration; informal economies, repair culture; mobility and territory.

Digital Media Theory — online performance, emotional labour, trolling, and sex work; network dynamics, information economies, and systems theory; addiction, dependency, and impossible objects; STS of coding, modelling, and standardization.

Tactical Media — network-mediated political topographies; social movements, temporary autonomous zones; victim politics; witnessing, race, violence, and citizen journalism; solidarity, alliance.  

Affect Theory — vulnerability, ambivalence, and abuse; affinity, complicity, conviviality, and self-medication; vulgarity, obscenity, and pessimism; pre-emption, security, and threat; lateral politics.

Queer Theory — withdrawal, finitude; preference; popular culture and the mainstreaming of transgressive sexualities; transpolitics, endocrinology, and the sex-gender binary; virology, Truvada, liberalism, and gay rights.  

The New York University Department of Media, Culture, and Communication invites graduate students, academics, activists, workers, and artists to submit conference paper proposals. Paper proposal submissions (no more than 300 words) should be submitted by Saturday October 10, 2015 to this Google Form. The conference will be held on February 12, 2016 at NYU.

KEYNOTE: Achille Mbembe is a Research Professor in History and Politics at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. He is also a Visiting Professor in the Romance Studies Department and at The Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University as well as a Convenor of The Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism (JWTC). For a long time a Contributing Editor for Public Culture, he is now the Editor of the online cultural magazine The Johannesburg Salon. Mbembe has written extensively on African history and politics, including La Naissance du maquis dans le Sud-Cameroun (Paris, Karthala, 1996), Sortir de la grande nuit. Essai sur l’Afrique decolonisee (Paris, La Decouverte, 2010), Critique de la raison negre with La Decouverte in Paris (2013), and the On the Postcolony (Berkeley, University of California Press, 2001), which has been translated into many languages.


[1] Achille Mbembe, On the Postcolony (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), p. 53.

[2] Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), p. 280. For commentary on Hayles’ approach to boundaries, see also Clarke, Bruce and Mark Hansen. “Introduction: Neocybernetic Emergence” and Mark Hansen, “System Environment Hybrids” in Emergence and Embodiment: Essays on Second Order Systems Theory, (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009), especially p. 6-10, 114-139.

[3] Theresa Senft, Camgirls: Celebrity and Community in the Age of Social Networks, (New York: Peter Lang, 2008), for Senft’s reading of Spivak, see pp. 52, 104. Our source on similar relations between affect, emotional labour, and network formation in the African context is Jenna Burrell, Invisible Users: Youth in the Internet Cafés of Urban Ghana (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012), see especially chapter 3 on email scams pp. 55-78.


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