HANDOUT FOR: Flexible Knowledges: histories under globalization

Katie King, Women's Studies, University of Maryland, College Park &
a talk presented in the Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies Colloquia Series,
Colby College, Waterville, Maine, 4 March 2004

  • a friendly Sunday at the Smithsonian Institution visiting an exhibit, calledScience in American Life
  • Disney's The Discovery Channel's Gladiatrix: the true story of history's unknown woman warrior
  • Gary Urton's new book Signs of the Inka Khipu, Binary coding in the Andean Knotted-String Records
  • Chris Berry, Fran Martin and Audrey Yue's Mobile Cultures, new media in Queer Asia

Donna Haraway helps us think about how technologies and their histories, how they "might have been otherwise, and might yet be."

Katie's work: Genderqueer media studies and feminist technosciences as well as speculative histories
 emerging from conditions and conceptualizations of globalization are what my current research, writing and teaching are about today. I want to use this talk to look at what I call pastpresents, one word altogether, and I will drop in on the Science in American Life exhibit, and describe some reality TV documentaries to do so.
I will be asking that you listening do some of this tricky work of communication too. Being willing to play with words, ideas and interconnections is what I ask. I hope you too will be willing to ponder with me what sorts of flexible languages current globalizing knowledges condition us to expect, desire and judge.
I use this one word altogether, "pastpresents," as Donna Haraway uses her term "naturecultures," in order to wonder about rather than assume divisions between nature and culture, past and present; and to consider when and under what conditions we might resist these very distinctions. For example, we know more about khipu in their past precisely as we learn to connect them to the computers of our present, and the way we know how to make such connections is intimately related to our experiences with the products and processes of contemporary globalization.

From Chris Berry, Fran Martin and Audrey Yue, Mobile Cultures: "glocalization, or the localization and indigenization of globally mobile understandings of sexuality."
Glocalization assumes first that globalization processes are responsible for traveling dominations as media, money, politics, sexualities and knowledge practices. But it also, and very importantly, demonstrates that these meanings and powers can be glocalized, that is, altered, filled in, reunderstood within the local agencies, people, art forms, and other practices of everyday life. Use itself mattersin glocalization even though such use takes place within and through shifting and sometimes unanticipated limits and distributed agencies.I want to expand the range of this term glocalization, to point out its indications in U.S. worlds as well as in worlds around the globe, and even farther, to push it to help us describe how we access past worlds today as we engage in the strangely flexible knowledges we inhabit under globalization.

From Haraway: globalization is "that travelogue of distributed, heterogeneous, linked, sociotechnical circulations that craft the world as a net called the global."

Smithsonian Chronology
1991 = NMAA'sThe West as America1994 = NMAH's Science in American Life1995 = NASM's Enola Gay exhibit
1996 = NEA cuts

Bruno Latour on iconoclashes: "Thus, we can define an iconoclash as what happens when there is an uncertainty about the exact role of the hand at work in the production of some mediator: is it a hand with a hammer ready to expose, to denounce, to debunk, to show up, to disappoint, to disenchant, to dispel one’s illusions, to let the air out? Or is it, on the contrary, a cautious and careful hand, palm turned as if to catch, to elicit, to educe, to welcome, to generate, to entertain, to upkeep, to collect truth and sanctity?" Of course, as Latour points out, it could be all of these, simultaneously, both within persons and together with others.
But something different can be present too: " a new reverence for the images of science is taken to be their destruction."
And Latour notes some other curious and valuable points to emphasize: "If there is one thing toward which 'making' does not lead, it is to the concept of a human actor fully in command....What is interesting in constructivism is exactly the opposite of what it first seems to imply: there is no maker, no master, no creator that could be said to dominate materials, or, at the very least, a new uncertainty is introduced as to what is to be built as well as to who is responsible for the emergence of the virtualities of the materials at hand."

TV Chronology:
1992 = Highlander from France's Gaumont; formation of the EU
1995 = Xena US production off-shored to New Zealand
2000 = Museum of London's Coliseum excavation
2002 = Discovery Channel's Gladiatrix and companion book

complexity of address may also be attractive to specific global audiences. Indeed such complexity of address may be the form of "consciousness" cultivated by such cultural products, a consciousness appropriate in a globalized world not only of world-wide divisions of labor and production, but also of migrating populations, of cultural mixings in a range of media, of newly invented traditionalisms, such as religious fundamentalism and ethnic identities, and of sexual and family arrangements altered by the shape of global capitalism. Individual producers and advertisers are not in control of, indeed barely grasp, the commercial implications of these tastes and forms of consciousness. Nor do cultural critics know what they will come to mean in the future, what their political effects will be however much we might suspect terrors, or however much we might long for possibilities.
Latour on"things": "'objects' which had been conceived as wholly exterior to the social and political realm, have become 'things' again, that is, in the sense of the mixture of assemblies, issues, causes for concerns, data, law suits, controversies which the words rescausachoseaitiading have designated in all the European languages."

Lynn Mulkey and William Dougan on "Dummy Scientists" and "shadowing":"...models and sketched caricatures and photographs of scientists are objectified images of abstract norms....From visual icons of persons of varied racial, ethnic, gender, and age origins emerges science. Science is important and witnessable against the backdrop of the unimportant attributes that change in relation to what is constant. This one is black and this one is white, this one is female and this one is male, but they all do science. To produce science, we ignore aspects or cues for how to associate--according to gender, race, age, and more."
"Shadowing is a practice that styles, orders, shifts the observer's attention from 'knowing' to 'doing,' by encouraging the process of identification with the speaker, what is said and what is known. The observer first sees the scientists--'looks over her shoulder'--and then is the scientist. In essence, shadowing encourages the observer to identify with the object it observes. The persons speaking are no longer heard but may become internalized as the observer speaking. Shadowing distinguishes museum exhibition as a form of communication by accomplishing the task of getting the dissociated, estranged observer to 'act as if.' ...Particularly, the three-dimensional exhibits confront the observer with stark, life-sized scientist proxies. Viewers, in this case, unlike in television communication and in other forms of pictorial representation, are closely aligned with models of the subjects communicating."

Haraway on"witnessing": "Witnessing is seeing; attesting; standing publicly accountable for, and psychically vulnerable to, one's visions and representations. Witnessing is a collective, limited practice that depends on the constructed and never finished credibility of those who do it, all of whom are mortal, fallible, and fraught with the consequences of unconscious and disowned desires and fears. A child of Robert Boyle's Royal Society of the English Restoration and of the experimental way of life, I remain attached to the figure of the modest witness. I still inhabit stories of scientific revolution as earthshaking mutations in the apparatuses of production of what may count as knowledge. A child of antiracist, feminist, multicultural, and radical science movements, I want a mutated modest witness to live in worlds of technoscience, to yearn for knowledge, freedom, and justice in the world of consequential facts...." "What will count as modesty now is a good part of what is at issue. Whose agencies will revised forms of 'modest witness' enhance, and whose will it displace?"

do-it-yourself pastpresents invite forms of identification and dis-identification: communities brought together and also pushed apart as the "us" moves around. Chronology becomes a tool for scale-making which allows for grained historical analyses of varying degrees, creating layers of "locals": the day, the year, the decade, the century; for example each describe a different grain for assessing the level of detail, particularity, locality. Scale-making and chronology are engaging partners.

Kath Weston on"time claims": "There can be no time claim without a time frame: history, infinity, chronology, generation, era, future/past. Implicit in these claims are modes of temporality (regressing, moving ahead, modern traditions, coming back around) and morality (stolen futures, lost generation, better days). In relativizing fashion, time claims tether me, you, and our brother's keeper to our respective timespots .... Time claims can even naturalize or denaturalize the very modes of reckoning embedded within them."
"traveling through a racialized, sexualized museum called the past"

Since the days of the Silk Route, since the even earlier period of Buddhist maritime trade, the earth has witnessed many rounds of what could be called globalization. In the latest episode, capital flows and speculation cast a long shadow over trade."
Weston on Zero: "It can help to know that a genderless world is now and here.... In the nations that direct this global economy, gender zeros out on a regular basis as bodies are called in and out of classification.... During that flash of an instant when a person become unsexed, gender temporarily passes away, rather than bringing the curtain down on some world-historical stage.... Gender relations in the era of global capitalism constantly vanishing, never quite gone.... The zero that is unsexed holds open a place for regrouping in the wake of those moments when things come undone."

Science in American Life's photo-figure scientists: (* indicates which ones appear in later parts of the exhibit)The children are: Mitzuki Tanabe, 8th grade (young Asian woman; interest in genetic engineering); Kyle Connor, 6th grade (young black man; interest in chemical science)
  • *Vijaya L. Melnick, biology (South Asian woman)
  • *Cynthia Friend, chemist (white woman)
  • *Matthew George, evolutionary biology (black man)
  • *S.B. Woo, physicist (Asian man)
  • Jo Anne V. Simson, cell biologist (white woman)
  • Jonathan A. Coddington, arachnologist (young white man)
  • Samuel T. Durrance, astronomer and astronaut (white man)
  • Rita R. Colwell, microbiologist (older white woman)
  • *Susan Solomon, atmospheric chemist (white woman)
  • *Jose V. Martinez, chemical physicist (Hispanic man)

Materials refered to in my talk today:
Berry, Martin & Yue. 2003. Mobile cultures. Duke.
Bowker & Star. 1999. Sorting things out. MIT.
Haraway. 1997. Modest_Witness. Routledge.
Haraway & Goodeve. 2000. How like a leaf. Routledge.
Haraway. 2003. The Companion Species Manifesto. Prickly Paradigm.
Latour. forthcoming. "The promises of constructivism." In Idhe, Chasing Technoscience. Indiana.
Latour. 2002. War of the worlds. Prickly Paradigm.
Latour & Weibel. 2002. Iconoclash. MIT.
Mulkey & Dougan. 1996. `Science in American Life'. American Sociologist, 27(2), 61-78.
Sandoval. 2000. Methodology of the oppressed. Minnesota.
Star. 1995. "Introduction." In Ecologies of knowledge. SUNY.
Weston. 2002. Gender in Real Time. Routledge.
Urton. 2003. Signs of the Inka Khipu. Texas.
King. 2002. "Locals and Globals in Highlander and Xena." In Lay, Monk & Rosenfelt.Encompassing gender (101-121). Feminist.
King. 2003 ms. Speaking of Things.
King. 2003 ms. Flexible Knowledges.

King, K. (2004). "Flexible Knowledges: histories under globalization." Paper presented at the Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies Colloquia Series, Colby College, Waterville, Maine, 4 March.