SAM Seminar: The Cultural Turn in War: A Media Ecology

When:5 Sep 2017, 5pm - 6:30pm
Venue:Cinema 327, Robert Webster Building
Who:Mike Hill, University at Albany, State University of New York
Mike Hill - The Cultural Turn in War

The effect of narrative to the formation of community and identity is of longstanding concern in historical media studies. Critics like Benedict Anderson, Jürgen Habermas, and Walter Ong, for example, examine print-based media such as newspapers and the novel insofar as they provided the means by which specific kinds of selves could be created, how distinct communities could be imagined, and how narrative provided the basis for social organization itself.

This talk focuses on the culture-media-identity connection in the so-called cultural turn in modern warfare, as exemplified in two specific US military programs: Human Terrain System and applied war neuroscience. Specifically, I'll distinguish between narratological ways of practicing counterinsurgency, which goes back at least as far as colonialism, toward data-based war, as manifest in biometrics and military neuroscience. Looking closely at current field manuals as well as the latest in the defense industry's interest in the cybernetic features of the human brain, I'll compare the difference between storytelling and algorithmic communication as they reveal certain changes concerning time (memory, real time), category (whiteness, others), and ‘scale’ (planetary, molecular).

I'll conclude by arguing that the word ‘terrain’ in Human Terrain System becomes literally manifest once we move from narrative to numbers, in the sense that human anatomy can itself be weaponized as seen as a biological part of the terrestrial battle field. Synaptic networks function alongside cultural and technical ones and begin to be conceived as a single, all expansive, area of military operation that breaks down the distinction between human, data, and thing.

Mike Hill is Professor of English at the University at Albany, SUNY. He has published widely and teaches eighteenth-century studies, critical race theory, and contemporary cultural studies. His books are: The Other Adam Smith (Stanford:  2015, co-authored with Warren Montag); After Whiteness: Unmaking an American Majority (NYU: 2004); Masses, Classes, and the Public Sphere (Verso: 2000, contrib. ed.); and Whiteness: A Critical Reader (NYU: 1997, contrib. ed.). He is currently writing a book called Ecologies of War for the University of Minnesota Press.

Image credit: Elizabeth King

SAM Seminar Series

This series provides a showcase and forum for local as well as international scholars, researchers, industry practitioners and creative artists – ranging from early-career to well-established – to present on their work. No need to book, all welcome.

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