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The Government of Emergency

My book with Andrew Lakoff, The Government of Emergency: Vital Systems, Expertise, and the Politics of Security has been published by Princeton University Press.

A comment on Jacquie Best’s “Security, Economy, Population” in Security Dialogue

My comment on Jacquie Best’s excellent paper on economic exceptionalism can be found here and after the jump.


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Limn in EASST

Chris Kelty, Andrew Lakoff, Martin Hoyem, and I wrote a short article on Limn for the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology Review.

Limn 9: Little Development Devices — Preface

The Preface to Limn 9, Little Development Devices, Humanitarian Goods–which I wrote with Jamie Cross, Peter Redfield, and Alice Street–is now available online. You can see our preface and the entire issue, as well as much of our next issue, on Chokepoints, on our redesigned website. Among the new features is that you can now pay what you like for PDFs of the print version of the issues (which are also available, as before, in print-on-demand format).

New Limn: Little Development Devices/Humanitarian Goods

Articles coming out beginning this week. Follow the action at Limn twitter.

Coming soon! This issue of Limn examines the recent profusion of micro-technologies in the worlds of humanitarianism and development, some focused on fostering forms of social improvement, others claiming to alleviate suffering, and many seeking to accomplish both. From water meters, micro-insurance and cash transfers, to solar lanterns, water filtration systems, and sanitation devices, examples proliferate across the early 21st century landscapes of international aid. Although small-scale endeavors are far from novel, today these devices are animated by different intellectual and moral energy, drawing on novel financial and organizational resources. Many blur distinctions between public and private interests, along with divisions between obligations, gifts and commodities. At the same time, they entail novel configurations of expertise, political obligation and forms of care. The articles in this issue explore these new convergences of developmental and humanitarian projects, alongside reworked relationships between experts, governments, and purported beneficiaries, focused on fostering “participation” and “partnerships” rather than nation-building.

Contributors include:

Jacquie Best on micro-devices and development failure
Marc Boeckler on micro-insurance in the global South
Brenda Chalfin and Xhulio Binjaku on ‘dwelling based public toilets’ in Ghana
Jamie Cross on the photovoltaic cell
Vincent Duclos on mobile health in Burkina Faso
Robert Foster on customer care in Papua New Guinea
Christopher Kelty on participatory development
Meena Khandelwal and Kayley Lain on cook stoves in India
Austin Lord on small hydro-electric devices in Nepal
Amy Moran Thomas on the gluclometer
Jonathan Morduch on microcredit
Peter Redfield on band-aids and magic bullets
David Reubi on sin taxes
Anke Schwittay and Paul Braund on humanitarian design cultures
Tom Scott Smith on IKEA’s ‘Better Shelter’
Alice Street on point of care diagnostics
Tatiana Thieme on sanitation in urban Kenya

David Edge Prize for Vital Systems Security

A prize! The Society for the Social Studies of Science awarded its annual David Edge Prize for an outstanding article in STS to my article with Andrew Lakoff, “Vital Systems Security: Reflexive Biopolitics and the Government of Emergency,” published in Theory, Culture & Society.

The commendation is below.


Edge Prize 2017: Stephen J. Collier and Andrew Lakoff

“Vital Systems Security: Reflexive Biopolitics and the Government of Emergency,” from Theory, Culture & Society, vol. 32, no. 2 (2015), pp. 19-51.

The Edge Prize Committee is pleased to present the award to Stephen J. Collier and Andrew Lakoff for their article, “Vital Systems Security: Reflexive Biopolitics and the Government of Emergency,” from Theory, Culture & Society, vol. 32, no. 2 (2015), pp. 19-51.

In a piece that seamlessly weaves deep theoretical engagement with rich historical analysis, Collier and Lakoff complicate our understanding of biopolitics as an organizing logic of modernist governance.  They demonstrate that the techniques of population management that emerged in the 19th century, such as public health and urban planning, and which have formed the basis of social scientists’ theories of biopolitics, represent but one approach taken by states to securing the health and well-being of their national populations.  Alongside these techniques of “population security,” Collier and Lakoff argue, the 20th century witnessed the emergence of “vital systems security,” which takes as its object the distributed, sociotechnical systems on which human populations have come to depend and aims at assessing and avoiding unpredictable, episodic threats to these vital infrastructures.

By demonstrating the distinctiveness of vital systems security and its significance in contemporary governance, Collierand Lakoff do more than extend theories of biopolitics–though that in itself would make a significant contribution to the field. They also engage theories of the risk society, showing how the techniques of vital systems security address potentially catastrophic events that exceed traditional forms of risk management. In addition, while adopting a rigorously neutral stance, the authors open up new possibilities for assessing techniques of contemporary governance, especially in times of disaster acute and chronic.  Arguing that the notion of the “state of exception” has been overgeneralized, thereby obfuscating whole realms of expertise and governance, they ask us as researchers to consider instead the ways vital systems security thinking shapes how states exercise power in their normal, and normalized, management of emergencies.

Collier and Lakoff’s paper was selected from among 22 nominees from the journals East Asian Science, Technology and Society: An International Journal, Asian Medicine, Configurations, Social Studies of Science, Science, Technology, & Human Values, Theory, Culture & Society, Kronos: Southern African Histories, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Cities, and Engineering Studies. In evaluating this field of high-quality papers, the committee looked for work that combined empirical data with a clear theoretical framework in a way that reached beyond the boundaries of a particular case to advance thinking in STS.

2017 Edge Prize Committee: Gwen Ottinger, Drexel University, USA (Council Member, chair), Kristoffer Whitney, Rochester Institute of Technology, USA (2016 Winner), and Margarita Rayzberg, Northwestern University, USA (Student Representative to Council)

Awarded annually for an outstanding article in the area of science and technology studies.

The Prize is named in memory of David Edge (1932-2003). David was trained in astronomy, and worked with the BBC before becoming the first Director of the Science Studies Unit at the University of Edinburgh in 1966. He had a strong administrative and intellectual role in the development of science and technology studies, as we know it today. He was active with the 4S from its beginning, and served as President and received the Bernal award for lifetime achievement. Throughout his life, David lent his tremendous energy to a broad range of interests and activities. Especially pertinent for this award was his role as co-founder and long-term editor of Social Studies of Science (1970-2002). He was no ordinary editor: his unparalleled enthusiasm and unique personal touch pervaded even the most routine aspects of editing, and his encouragement and diligent work with new authors helped launch many careers in the field.

Acceptance Statement: Stephen J. Collier and Andrew Lakoff

We are honored to accept this year’s David Edge Prize, and grateful to the prize committee for its perceptive and careful reading of our article. It is especially gratifying for our work to be recognized within the field of Science and Technology Studies, which has been a site of continuing inspiration and lively engagement for us. Our article was the product of a lengthy process of collaborative research and writing, and we are grateful to a number of colleagues who provided feedback and encouragement along the way. In particular, we would like to thank the editors of the special issue of the journal Theory, Culture and Society in which the article appeared: Pete Adey, Ben Anderson, and Stephen Graham. We are also grateful to the Science, Technology and Society program of the National Science Foundation for its support of our ongoing research on contemporary forms of security.

Limn 7 — Public Infrastructure/Infrastructural Publics — Is Out in Print

Limn Number 7Buy it today. Or check out the articles online, from our terrific collection of contributors to this issue: Nikhil Anand, Soe Lin Aung, Jonathan Bach, Andrea Ballestero, Andrew Barry, Ashley Carse, Stephen J. Collier, Savannah Cox, and Kevin Grove, Kevin Donovan and Emma Park, Catherine Fennell, Andreas Folkers, Gökçe Günel, Penny Harvey and Hannah Knox, Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer, Andrew Lakoff, James Christopher Mizes, Canay Özden-Schilling, Ute Tellmann and Sven Opitz, Antina von Schnitzler, and Alan Wiig

Trump’s Fictional Crises and the Real Threats to American Democracy

Andy Lakoff and I published a short piece in The New Republic that recalls how some of the architects of the modern American state created mechanisms of executive power that, they hoped, would make crisis government compatible with democracy. The upshot, not surprisingly, is that President Donald Trump has been using these very mechanisms to undermine American constitutional order rather than to preserve it.

Public Infrastructures/Infrastructural Publics

The Preface to Limn #7 — “Public Infrastructures/Infrastructural Publics,” which I edited with Antina von Schnitzler and Chris Mizes  — is now online! The issue is worth checking out in full. See the description and list of contributors (with links to their articles) below.

Infrastructure has always had a privileged relationship to both expertise and the public in modern government. But in the early 21st century, this relationship is inflected in novel ways. The purposes public infrastructure was meant to serve—welfare, quality of life, economic development, and so on—persist. But they are often conceptualized differently, promoted by different agencies, and articulated through novel technological and collective relations. This issue of Limn explores new formations of infrastructure, publicness, and expertise.The contributions examine how new forms of expertise conceive the public and make claims in its name, how publics are making novel claims on experts (and claims to expertise), and how earlier norms and techniques of infrastructure provisioning are being adapted in the process.

Contributors: Nikhil Anand, Soe Lin Aung, Jonathan Bach, Andrea Ballestero, Andrew Barry, Ashley Carse, Stephen J. Collier, Savannah Cox, and Kevin Grove, Kevin Donovan and Emma Park, Catherine Fennell, Andreas Folkers, Gökçe Günel, Penny Harvey and Hannah Knox, Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer, Andrew Lakoff, James Christopher Mizes, Canay Özden-Schilling, Ute Tellmann and Sven Opitz, Antina von Schnitzler,
and Alan Wiig

Rebuilding by Design article “Rebuilding by Design in Post-Sandy New York” with Savannah Cox and Kevin Grove is out in the new issue of Limn (#7) on public infrastructures. The whole issue, which I edited with Antina von Schnitzler and Chris Mizes, is worth checking out.