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CSIS/STS Event: Peter Redfield, Associate Professsor of Anthropology, UNC Chapel Hill

Beyond the Bush Pump: Microworlds of Humanitarian Design
When Mar 13, 2013
from 12:00 PM to 01:30 PM
Where SSH 1246
Contact Name
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Abstract: At the turn of millennium, Marianne de Laet and Annemarie Mol published a provocative article on technology in the context of development. Entitled “The Zimbabwe Bush Pump: Mechanics of a Fluid Technology,” it followed the movement of a model mechanism in order to highlight a non-heroic vision of design, starring an object “that doesn’t impose itself but tries to serve, that is adaptable, flexible and responsive” — one that would, in their terms, prove seductively fluid and thus easy to “love” (de Laet and Mol 2000: 225-6). Fast-forwarding to the present, I recast their piece as a device to situate an expanding array of objects that engage the world in the name of improving human welfare. A wave of social entrepreneurs has sought to respond to social problems of disaster and extreme poverty with ingenious, small-scale projects, examples of which fill volumes with titles such as Design Revolution or Design Like You Give a Damn. Like the bush pump most are modest contraptions in technical terms and express similar claims to serve and adapt to shifting conditions, operating with minimal materials and an ecological ethos. Unlike it, however, some define themselves through market logic rather than against it. Moreover, not all share the assumed framework of de Laet and Mol’s Zimbabwean socio-technical landscape:  a postcolonial state happily en route to national self-definition. They are not, in other words, all so easy to love. And yet they clearly embody, convey and manipulate moral affect, often in the idiom of humanitarian concern rather than development.

Speaker Bio: Peter Redfield is an anthropologist of science and technology at UNC, Chapel Hill, whose work focuses on humanitarianism and human rights, colonial history and postcolonial relations, and ethics, nonprofit organizations and transnational experts. His first book, Space in the Tropics: From Convicts to Rockets in French Guiana, addressed the greater ecology of modern technology, examining the reconfiguration of French Guiana's social and natural landscape into a proper habitat for the assembly and launch of satellites into high orbit. His most recent book, Life in Crisis: The Ethical Journey of Doctors Without Borders (UC Press, 2013) tells the story of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and its effort to "save lives" on a global scale, drawing on fieldwork conducted at MSF's operational headquarters in Europe and multiple project sites in Uganda. For more information about Peter and his work, please click here.

Lunch provided - please RSVP here as soon as possible.

Co-sponsored by the Center for Science and Innovation Studies and the Program in Science and Technology Studies

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