DIGITAL EXISTENCE II: Precarious Media Life – Call for contributions

Call for contributions

“DIGITAL EXISTENCE II: Precarious Media Life”

Conference October 30-November 1, 2017, at the Sigtuna Foundation, Sweden

Digital media have the power to transform our existence, raising particular questions and vulnerabilities as part of the experience of being human in the digital age. Big data and hyperconnectivity, tracking and trolling, digital life and digital death are only some of the issues that require an existential media analysis that underscores the precarity of human existence. This conference will be devoted to critically mapping the various digital vulnerabilities that face us in our contemporary media age.

Confirmed keynote speakers:

Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Brown University, USA
Jeremy Stolow, Concordia University, Canada
Beverley Skeggs, Goldsmiths College, UK

Endnote speaker: Peter-Paul Verbeek, University of Twente, Holland

Following on from the conference “Digital Existence: Memory, Meaning, Vulnerability” organised by DIGMEX and the Nordic Network for Media and Religion in October 2015 (et.ims.su.se), which successfully opened up the field of existential media studies, the second Digital Existence conference will specifically focus on the precarity and vulnerability of the digital human condition.

Focusing on the keyword vulnerability raises a number of questions that invite fresh answers. For instance: does hyper-connectivity imply a heightened sense of connective presence – through social media, tagging, and sharing selfies – and/or is anxiety and loneliness saturating our mundane being-in-and-with-the-digital-world? How do big data, tracking and mass surveillance affect our sense of ‘existential security’? What is the role of technological affordances for producing cultures of affirmation and shared celebration – as well as cultures of trolling and hate? What existential challenges are involved when our selves are distributed? What kind of human being and types of sociality are normatively forged in digital culture? And what regimes of knowledge, truth and belief are prompted by digital means for measurement, recording and visualization? How are digital tools meaningful (or not) for those exposed to extreme conditions of precarity, such as displaced and refugee populations?  How does the internet shape how we are born and celebrate, die and mourn? And if digital technologies mediate transcendence, what are the exposures and values of such forms of technospirituality? Such questions will need to be engaged within a reframing of the digital beyond the prevailing frameworks of  social, cultural, political and economic analyses. They invoke existential issues that require an existential media analysis that foregrounds the precarity of human existence (Lagerkvist 2016). This conference will therefore unearth the diverse renditions of vulnerability that face us in digital existence.

In Precarious Life, Judith Butler (2004) argues for conceiving of vulnerability as a precondition of being and becoming human – as an ontological given – bound by the fact that we are relational beings, exposed to one another. We are exposed, that is, by virtue of being finite, dependent and limited; and that exposure and vulnerability are what constitutes us as moral beings. The utterance of vulnerability, she holds, will enact its very acknowledgement, and such a performance will bring about something important: “Vulnerability takes on another meaning at the moment it is recognized and recognition wields the power to reconstitute vulnerability“ (2004: 43). This conference takes this acknowledgement as its point of departure: naming vulnerability as part of the preconditions for being human in the digital age, may similarly forge a fresh and timely perspective on our precarious media life. Our very being is one of limits and incompleteness. Human communication itself is limited (cf. Pinchevski 2005). The boundedness by limits also applies to the limitations (and vulnerabilities) of technologies themselves, due to breaches of and glitches within the systems. Digital existence is constituted both of and within limits. In Karl Jasper’s philosophy the limit-situation of crisis, loss or guilt (Jaspers 1932) in itself constitutes a space that also brings forth or enables new possibilities; these are today entangled with the digital. The conference will therefore also seek to highlight the enabling aspects of limitation and vulnerability. While concurring with a cautious universalist position, conceiving of vulnerability and suffering as transformative existential experiences that create a “tenuous ‘we’ of us all” (Butler, 2004: 20), the conference will simultaneously stress the diverging, unevenly distributed, locally specific, and often culturally-variable dimensions of our digital vulnerability. Thus, our inescapable existential uncertainty is amplified both by the technological culture and socio-political order (Bauman 2007). And aspects of digital media expose us differently in different national and cultural settings across the world, and with different racialized and gendered implications (Citron 2014, Chun & Friedland 2015). Hence, in conversation with existential philosophy, the interrogation of the ways in which our media societies and technologies position us as vulnerable, may furthermore harness broader debates on vulnerability, frailty and debility in feminism, crip theory, posthumanism, sociology, postcolonial theory etc.

We are looking for contributions in the shape of position papers that highlight various thematic aspects of digital vulnerability, relating for instance to birth, death, presence, memory, trauma, selfhood, agency, sociality, ethics, religiosity, exile, trolling, hate, surveillance, virality, automation, mental illness, debility or the precariousness of technologies themselves.

Conference format
The conference will adopt an exploratory workshop format with the aim of creating new trajectories of thought. This is by deliberately veering away from conventional paper presentations followed by a discussion toward a more open-ended but at the same time intellectually intensive framework.  The success of the conference will therefore depend on participants’ commitment, which will involve a fair amount of in advance preparation.  First, each participant is required to submit beforehand a concise position or ‘provocation’ paper consisting of 1000 words, or 2 pages. These position papers will be used as a starting point for opening the discussion, and need not include polished statements or comprehensive conclusions/arguments but should present ideas or cases in relation to the overarching theme.

All participants will be expected to read all positions papers, which will be made available electronically well before the conference. Participants are also expected to come well prepared with comments and feedback. A chair will be assigned for each session, and those selected for the job will be contacted with specific instructions.  Each session will begin by a short recap of relevant position papers, followed by invited responses by 2-3 discussants, continuing with an open discussion. The overall idea is to build on previous reading and preparation by participants in order to advance in our thinking on the conference themes as far as possible.

During Day II of the conference there will be a walk-and-talk session where participants will be encouraged to step outside and walk in groups through the magnificent Sigtuna area while continuing the conversation. These walking-and-talking discussion groups will then reconvene to a full plenum discussion.  Later that day there will be a screening or performance in relation to the theme of digital vulnerability. On the final day there will be a writing session. The conference will end with a final plenary with keynote speakers and respondents, and an assigned discussant who will be asked to also round up the conference in a brief endnote. This will be followed by an open discussion with a focus on how to move further within DIGMEX in terms of conferences, workshops, publications and research collaborations.

Important dates
Deadline for abstracts of 200 words, bio and contact details: March 15, 2017 (Send them to katerina.linden@ims.su.se)
Notification of acceptance: April 15, 2017
Deadline for confirmation of attendance:  April 30, 2017
Deadline for submitting position papers: August 20, 2017

Practical information
The Sigtuna Foundation is a beautiful venue, located in medieval Sigtuna. only 15 minutes from Stockholm’s main airport (Arlanda). http://www.sigtunastiftelsen.se/?lang=en

No fee will be charged for this event, and lodging and food for attendees presenting a position paper will be covered by the conference budget. There is an option to participate without presenting and this would imply covering the expenses by other means. Presenters will cover their own trips to Sigtuna! A limited number of master students may receive a scholarship covering their travels.

The organising committee consists of Amanda Lagerkvist (Head of programme), Katerina Linden (Conference co-ordinator), Michael Westerlund, Timothy Hutchings, Amit Pinchevski, Charles Ess, Mia Lövheim, Anna Reading and Tony Walter.

Funding
The conference is organised by DIGMEX, a network within the research programme EXISTENTIAL TERRAINS: Memory and Meaning in Cultures of Connectivity (2014-2018) and funded by Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, the Marcus and Amalia Wallenberg Foundation and Stockholm University, in collaboration with Sigtunastiftelsen. The programme is headed by Amanda Lagerkvist, PhD. Associate Professor, Wallenberg Academy Fellow in The Department of Media Studies at Stockholm University. Questions about the research programme may be directed to Amanda Lagerkvist:  amanda.lagerkvist@ims.su.se<mailto:amanda.lagerkvist@ims.su.se>

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