This Week: Elizabeth Povinelli at the University of Melbourne

I had the pleasure of hearing Elizabeth Povinelli speak at Duke University in December of 2007. If you’re in Melbourne on Thursday, May 27, don’t miss what ought to be a fascinating, insightful, and challenging lecture, “The end of knowledge in virtual repatriations.” Here’s the abstract, thanks to Emma Kowal.

This paper examines the transformations of the “ends of knowledge” through a discussion of an augmented reality project that I am currently collaboratively constructing. Using what are called mixed reality (also called “augmented reality” and “interreality”) technologies, this project aims to bridge the technology gap while examining the cultural biases inherent within new media technologies in order to re-purpose them to serve Indigenous applications and protocols. More specifically it will create a land-based “living library” by using an xml design format in which media files are GPS encoded in such a way that media files are playable only within a certain proximity to a site. It will develop software that creates three unique interfaces: for tourists, land management, and Indigenous families who will have management authority over the entire project and content, and provides a feedback loop for the input of new information and media.This project focuses on mixed reality because of its surface resemblance to local Indigenous understandings of how knowledge should be socially produced and acquired, and the social purpose of its production and acquisition. In Indigenous Australia, scholars long ago demonstrated that the purpose of knowledge acquisition is not merely socially detached “truth”, but is more ontologically rich. Among the Indigenous collaborators the ends of knowledge is not truth, though truth was a critical anchor of knowledge, but embodied obligation.  This paper seeks to go beyond these surface resemblances to ask how, from the focus on code, hardware and software, are the ends of knowledge being refigured as information circulates across new media technologies and is virtually repatriated.

Professor Povinelli is a Professor in the Department of Anthropology and the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at ColumbiaUniversity, where she is also co-director of the Center for the Study of Law and Culture. Her most recent books areThe Cunning of Recognition: Indigenous Alterities and the Making of Multiculturalism(Duke UP, 2002) andThe Empire of Love: Toward a Theory of Intimacy, Geneology, and Carnality(Duke UP, 2006). Her research has focused on critical theory of late liberalism, drawing on decades of research in Belyuen in the Northern Territory and also North American queer worlds.

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