publicETHOS #28: Orit Halpern

We will be visited by Dr. Orit Halpern, senior fellow at IKKM Weimar. On Monday 11 June she will give a public talk entitled “Resilient Speculation”.

When: 13:00-14:30
Where: Auditorium 4, ITU

Dr. Orit Halpern: “Resilient Speculation”


Today few terms are more central to policy, planning, or economics than the term “resilience.” From urban planning to stress testing in economic markets, we have come to understand systems as constantly in a state of crisis that needs perpetual management. This paper traces the rise of resilience as a dominant epistemology and practice in environmental management, urban development, and finance. I will argue that resilience has become the dominant discourse by which time and uncertainty are currently being managed in computation, finance, and design. Moreover, resilience has become a new logic making the planet, and its living populations, computationally measurable and representable, and amenable to new forms of technical manipulation and action. 

To do so, I will tie together three genealogies: 1) the rise of ecology as an information science, including C.S. Holling’s research into resilience in the management of natural resources and the Club of Rome’s 1970s reports which first used computers to simulate planetary futures. These practices went on to influence population management, industrial design, architecture, and urban planning through figures such as Jay Forrester at MIT and designer Buckminster Fuller, 2) the histories of resilience planning and scenario planning in the energy, urban, and security sectors with focus on organizations such as RAND and Shell Oil that pioneered the practice, and 3) the emergence of noise, cybernetics, and information as central to redefining the agent in economics and finance, concentrating on the late work of Friedrich Hayek, Lawrence Sanders, and Fischer Black and Myron Scholes. By linking these three, seemingly disparate vectors, I intend to create a new topography of the political economy of resilience that links new forms of measurement and datafication of populations with financial logics to produce new forms of governmentality and territory.

DR. ORIT HALPERN is a Strategic Hire in Interactive Design and Theory and an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Concordia University, Montréal. Her work bridges the histories of science, computing, and cybernetics with design and art practice. Her most recent book Beautiful Data: A History of Vision and Reason since 1945 (Duke Press 2015) is a genealogy of interactivity and our contemporary obsessions with “big” data and data visualization. She is now working on two books. The first, titled The Smart Mandate, is a history and theory of “smartness”, environment, and ubiquitous computing and the second tentatively titled Extreme Futures investigates how design and actuarial technologies manage un-representable and un- calculatable catastrophes of environment, security, and finance.

She is also a co-director of the Speculative Life Research Lab, a speculative design research cluster at the intersection of art and the life sciences, architecture and design, and computational media that is part of the Milieux, Institute for Technology, Art and Culture. She has also published and created works for a variety of venues including Grey Room, E-flux, Volume, The Journal of Visual Culture, Public Culture, Configurations, C-theory, and ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany.

She has an MPH. from Columbia University School of Public Health, and completed her Ph.D. at Harvard University in the History of Science.