[csaa-forum] MINOR CULTURE PANEL PROPOSAL: Orientalism’s Technē: The Cultural Politics of Technology and the Orient

Timothy Laurie timothy.laurie at unimelb.edu.au
Tue May 12 13:29:21 ACST 2015

Orientalism’s Technē: The Cultural Politics of Technology and the Orient

Multiple Panel Proposal for Minor Culture 2015

NB: Some travel funding available for international panellists)


Panel Convenors: Dr Gilbert Caluya and Dr Jane Park

Techno-Orientalism initially emerged, through David Morley and Ken Robins (1995) and Toshiya Ueno (1999), as an update to the colonial ur-scene of Edward Said’s Orientalism. As opposed to the colonial practice of labelling minoritised cultures as ‘backward’, ‘regressive’ and ‘primitive’, techno-Orientalism, coinciding with the rise of post-Fordist Japan in late capitalism, instead focused on a futuristic, high-tech Orient. Among literary and film scholars, techno-Orientalism continues to name a thematic and stylistic tendency in speculative fiction and cinema to metonymically associate nanotechnological and cybernetic developments in Japan with anxieties about the future. This is often explored through the post-human cyborgs that litter the post-industrial landscapes of North American cyberpunk with the post-apocalyptic settings of Japanese anime alike.

Yet this body of work tends to elide a wider consideration of the relationship between technology, culture and Orientalism. The ‘techno’ in techno-Orientalism tends to fetishise developments in the fields of electronics, cybernetics, nanotechnology and cyberspace. In other words, technologies often touted as ‘futuristic’ (itself a construct that reflect cultural imaginings of the future) at the expense of other technological innovations or even technological regressions or displacements. It bears reminding that post-Fordism did not end manufacturing but displaced it elsewhere, to other parts of Asia, which reminds us of the fundamental role of Asia in the international division of labour (Gayatri Spivak) that supports the global information economy (both in terms of computer and mobile phone manufacturing but also because of the growth of outsourced service industries enabled by sophisticated telecommunication networks).

This demonstrates how the literature of techno-Orientalism itself begins to reflect the disparities of power and technology that underlie the gulf and interdependence between the developing and developed Orient.  In this context, the ‘Orient’ in techno-Orientalism has been almost exclusively relegated to Japan and to some extent East Asia. Yet given the rapid industrialisation of China and its role in stimulating the Southeast Asian ‘Tiger Cub’ economies and given the economic rise of India, limiting ‘the Orient’ to East Asia seems politically and economically unsustainable in the present. Shifting our focus outside Asia towards the Middle East we see technology imbricated with Orientalism in yet other ways. The three Gulf Wars, the War on Terror, and the contemporary undeclared wars in Yemen, Pakistan, Syria and Iraq, have left many parts of the Middle East scarred by military and surveillance technologies of one form or another. Or again, the widespread uptake of IVF technology in Muslim-majority Middle East and North African countries juxtaposed against the use of ultrasonic technology in South Asia and China in sex-selective abortions reflects the international scrutiny of Oriental overpopulation under the developmentalist framework of Cold War international relations .

One way to expand the ambit of techno-Orientalism might be to recall the etymological roots/routes of ‘technology’ itself. The Ancient Greek word technē, from which we get ‘technology’, originally referred to ‘art’ or ‘craft’, is also the root word for ‘technique’ – as Foucault so often signalled through his interchangeable use these terms when referring to practices of governmentality. With this in mind, Orientalism’s technē provokes us to reconsider the relationship between aesthetic practices, technological developments and governmental techniques:


      What would happen to techno-Orientalism if we thought of the technological present, the neoliberal techniques of global governance and contemporary aesthetic developments as co-constitutive elements?


      How might resituating techno-Orientalism in the context of the global political economy and/or various theatres of war reframe the relationship between the political, the technological and the aesthetic dimensions of Orientalism?


       Methodologically, how might various aspects of techno-Orientalism become salient when we take a comparative approach between regions or countries (eg. East Asia with Southeast Asia, Pakistan with Iran or Vietnam with Iraq)?

·         Thinking of technologies as material objects with a social life, what happens to techno-orientalism when we trace transversal cross-pollinations between different technologies (eg. gaming and surveillance technologies or reproductive technologies and screen cultures) in the Orient?


      What, on the one hand, are the local practices of cultural resistance (artistic, literary, documentary, etc.) to recent technological developments and governmental techniques and on the other hand, how do aesthetic traditions (such as genres and styles but also images and rhetorical tropes) contribute to technological governance of the Orient?

Call for Papers
We invite 15-minute papers for a series of 2 or 3 panels on ‘Orientalism’s Technē’ that consider contemporary relationships between technology (media, reproductive, military, robotic, computer, gaming, etc.) and culture (literary, cinematic, artistic, everyday, etc.) under Orientalism, to be eventually published as an edited collection.
Papers on any region of the Orient are welcome but we encourage submissions that address issues regionally or comparatively. We welcome submissions from the wider critical humanities but please be aware that this is a cultural studies conference and are seeking papers that can fit this conference (for information on the conference see: http://culture-communication.unimelb.edu.au/events/minor-culture-conference/call-papers).

Please submit 250 word abstracts to gilbert.caluya at unisa.edu.au<mailto:gilbert.caluya at unisa.edu.au> and jane.park at sydney.edu.au<mailto:jane.park at sydney.edu.au> by 1st June 2015. We will reach a decision by 15 June 2015 and assist successful applicants with travel planning. Some funding is available for travel and accommodation. However, successful international panellists will need to organise and pay for their own visas if necessary.

A copy of the paper will be requested just before the conference to be used to finalise the publication proposal. Full draft papers are due in April 2016 with the view to publication by the end of the 2016. We will be approaching North American academic publishers for interest.

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