Capitalism’s claims to predictive success seem to have gone bust. In the midst of the recent global economic turndown, certainty seems harder than ever to define and determine. While we might be tempted to see the current financial pandemic as a devastating if not definitive event, capitalism has always been in crisis; indeed, the creative destruction of capitalism is typically regarded as its gleaming promise. Yet, scholars may have highlighted the terrifying consequences of uncertainty all to persuasively: from David Harvey’s “simultaneous crisis formation” and Ulrich Beck’s “worst imaginable accidents” to “total rish of catastophe” (Francois Ewald). Furthermore, a number of more traditional scholars including Charles Perrow and Karl Weick have explored the “normal accidents” of complex systems which give substance to modern existence. In either case, the response to indeterminacy has been to find even greater certainty: unpredictability is either imaginably worse than we suspected or decidedly the worst.
But the scale of mobility and vulnerability that characterizes capitalism nevertheless leave in its wake new possibilities of knowing, being, and acting. In his recent analysis of the global financial crisis, Slavoj Zizek cites the radical contingency and uncertainty that both structure and drive twenty-first century market systems (and their inevitable meltdowns) as yet additional examples of the ways in which unpredictability defines (post)modern existence. To take an example, the crisis resulted in demands for material responses, be they significant changes in consumer practices or overhauling the economic infrastructure. In this way, Zizek, Perrow, and Harvey and other offer various points of departure for this conference’s speculations and investigations into the nature and function of uncertainty.
What new forms are simultaneous with the collapse of familiar forms?
This conference will explore how writers, filmmakers, artists working in all forms of media, philosophers, economists, and critical and cultural theorists have responded to the prospect and reality of global crises. Moreover, it was ask how the methodologies of scientific and humanistic inquiry might offer new insights into our afe of global uncertainties.
Questions we wish to address include: In way ways does contingency shape the arrival of future events? What “new” forms (aesthetic, economic, political, biological, cultural, or social) are simultaneous with the collapse of familiar forms? In what ways may we best theorize, understand, and represent the idea of interdeterminacy? What are the cultural implications of living under conditions of uncertainty? How do we define statistical knowledge(s)? What are the roles of catastrophe and disaster in the matter of forms?
September 24 – Herman Rapaport, Professor of English, Wake Forest University
September 25 – Neil De Marchi, Professor of Economics, Duke University