Concept note for the third workshop

The third workshop of the Knowledge/ Value series was held at The University of Chicago Center in Beijing on September 7–9, 2012. After the first two conferences it was hard to draw clear or substantive conclusions — we did not have a formula for thinking about Knowledge / Value, nor do we wish to. What has been interesting in the first two conferences, however, has been seeing what ends up emerging as a critical emphasis, or locus, of conversation.

In this third conference, our concern was with the problem of information. As with earlier problems we have wrestled with, around fact and translation, information wasn't a new topic in social theory. But it demands to be continually theorized afresh in the context of contemporary developments. Specifically, we were interested in the relationship between information, databases and archives. At one level, this is a question of process — how does information come to be a resource and a problem in science and technology, and in society and politics? How is it managed and stored; what does it mediate, and how? But at another level, the attempt was to actually figure out what the materializations and abstractions of old and new forms of information might be. What actually is a database? Or an archive? What were they? What might they have been, in other cosmologies or historical trajectories?

There are (at least) three levels of conceptualization at stake in our conversations. Firstly, the empirical importance of working through a contemporary moment of informationalization, one that is often considered to be data-saturated, in all of its historical specificity. Secondly, there is the work on conceptualizing these emergences in relation to broader concerns with social theory. And thirdly, there is the question of what critique comes to mean, and how it operates, in these conceptualizations. It is left to the papers and the discussions around them to flesh these out.

Conference Schedule

The public conference was held on the first two days of the workshop, consisting of five 120min panels and one 150min panel. The third day was reserved for breakout sessions and a closed discussion round.

  • Panel 1: Histories and Cosmologies of Information (9h30–12h00). Chair: Michael Fisch

    • Orit Halpern: “The Image of the World as the Inscription of Data: Vision, Communication, and Design in Post-World War II America”. Fisch
    • Thomas Mullaney: “Information Crisis in Republican China”. Kelly
    • Marisol de la Cadena: “Mariano’s Archive: The Eventfulness of the Ahistorical”.
      • Commentary by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
  • Panel 2A: Information and Classification in Relation to Ethnic and Traditional Knowledge
 (13h30–15h30). Chair: Xudong Zhao

  • Panel 2B: On the Indian Experience (16h00–18h00). Chair: John Kelly

    • Jean-Paul Gaudillière: “An Indian Path to Biocapital?: Ayurvedic Drugs, Traditional Medicine, and the Regime of Reformulation”. Fish
    • Allison Fish: “‘I am the Author’: Conceptions of Digital Authorship and the Management of India’s Yoga”. Lai
  • Panel 3: System and Database in China: Problems and Promises
 (10h00–12h00). Chair: Lili Lai

Jinsong Jiang.
    • Zhihua Zhang
    • Xiaoting Song.
    • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
    • Yishan Wu.
  • Panel 4: Data-driven Science
 (13h30–15h30). Chair: Michael Fischer

  • Panel 5: Questions and Modalities of Representation
 (16h00–18h00). Chair: Kaushik Sunder Rajan


    • Kaushik Sunder Rajan: “Eight Reflections on Helen Scalway’s conversations with Gail Davies”.
      Sunder Rajan

This workshop was co-organized by Judith Farquhar, Lili Lai, Tian Song and Kaushik Sunder Rajan. The conference was co-sponsored by the University of Chicago Department of Anthropology, The University of Chicago Beijing Center Committee on Culture, Society and the Arts, and the Renmin University Institute of Anthropology. Thanks are owed to the faculty and staff of the Beijing Center, to the Adolph and Marian Lichtstern Fund for Anthropological Research, and to Professor Zhao Xudong, Professor Zhang Youchun, and Feng Shizheng of Renmin University.