Boundary Conditions

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.  


[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.

Pre-conference Screening
February 11, 5:00-7:00 pm

5:00 PM   Introductory Remarks

Jamie Berthe, Media, Culture and Communication, New York University

5:15 PM   Ethnography of Boundary Formations
Screenings followed by a Q&A; moderated by Jamie Berthe, Media, Culture and Communication, New York University

“Emergent Boundaries on the Slaughterhouse Kill Floor,” Kara Wentworth, UC San Diego Communication & Science Studies

“Heroica Matamoros: Cycling, Affectivity and Film on the US-Mexico Border,” Daryl Meador, School of Media Studies, the New School

7:00 PM   Reception

Main Conference: February 12, 9:00 AM-5:30 PM
Graduate Student Panels + Mbembe Keynote

9:00 AM   Breakfast

9:30 AM   Welcome

9:45 AM   Panel I: Necropower and Martyrdom
Moderated by Ayesha Omer, Media, Culture and Communication, New York University

“Minor Icons in Death: Visualizing Necropower in Sikh Martyrdom,” Balbir K. Singh, English, University of Washington

“Anti-colonial Hacking,” Sophie Toupin, Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University

“Becoming Flesh: Refugee Hunger Strike, Colonialism and German Politics of Racialization,” Michelle Pfeiffer, Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University

11:00 AM   Coffee Break

11:15 AM    Panel II: Negativity and Identity
Moderated by William Lockett, Media, Culture and Communication, New York University

“Human Dignity and Bare Life – Privacy and Surveillance of Refugees at the Borders of Europe,”  Paula Kift, Media, Culture and Communication, New York University

“Affective Divisions: Online Dynamics and Political Identity in Israel,” Yoav Halperin, Media, Culture and Communication, New York University

“Not a ‘ Trans Trajectory’: Borderlands, ‘Bare Life’ and Transgender Refugees and Asylum  Seekers in South Africa,” B Camminga, Institute for Humanities in Africa, University of Cape Town

12:45 PM   Lunch

2:15 PM     Panel III: Infrastructure and Publics
Moderated by Rory SolomonMedia, Culture and Communication, New York University

“Tunnel Publics,” Juan Llamas-Rodriguez, Film and Media Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara

“‘El paquete’: Digital  Circulation, Circumvention, and Exclusion in Cuba,” Andrés García Molina, Ethnomusicology, Columbia University

“Visualization and Security: Mapping Flows of Incarceration,” Alex Campolo, Media, Culture and Communication, New York University

3:30 PM    Coffee Break

3:45  PM    Introduction

Arjun Appadurai, Media, Culture, and Communication, New York University

4:00 PM    Keynote

Achille Mbmebe, Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Witwatersrand

5: 30 PM   Reception

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.