‘Time, Thought and Materiality and the Fourth Industrial Revolution’
2019 SAHUDA-NIHSS Conference 2019
3-4 September 2019
University of Johannesburg, South Africa Organized by the UJ Faculty of Humanities
Across global society a diversity of new technologies – disruptive, constraining and enabling in complex ways - are changing not only the ways that we live, love and work, but the very conceptual tools through which we understand human (co) existence in and with the world. For many the culmination of the diverse political and socio-economic implications of these technological changes, and the epistemological and even ontological implications they carry, amount to something greater; that we are entering a Fourth Industrial Revolution, or 4IR. For many, this revolution is potentially ‘time defining’. That is, its transformative potential may come to define an age of human existence, much like the notion of the ‘anthropocene’ has come to constitute a particular temporal epoch (one that is perhaps the other side of the 4IR coin and is certainly not an unrelated phenomena or concept). Like this sibling notion, 4IR has begun to acquire wider cultural and political capital, and intellectual traction, beyond the niche circles of engineers, technicians and policy buffs from where it first came. In 2016, the World Economic Forum defined 4IR as consisting of those “technological developments that blur the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres…it integrates cyber-physical systems and the Internet of Things, big data and cloud computing, robotics and artificial intelligence-based systems”. It is still too early to judge whether we are indeed in the early phases of yet another industrial revolution, although something like a consensus is emerging. But what is clear is that new technologies, and the apparent accelerating pace of technological change, is reshaping our political, ecological, and social environments in profound ways; shaping new ways of living, working and dying, and new forms of knowing, thinking and existence. These changes at once inspire both techno-optimism and techno-pessimism. They create both opportunities for better lives, governance and equality, and risk deepening existing exclusions, inequalities and precarity. Just as the any consensus about 4IR remains contested and emergent, so these verdicts remain uncertain: full of danger and opportunity in equal, undecided, measures.
In this context it becomes particularly urgent for the humanities to become part of the conversation around the 4IR. The stakes are simply to high – for good or for ill (and everything in between) – for this discussion to be left to the natural sciences. More to the point, the new frames of knowing and being that the 4IR provokes, collapse conventional distinctions between different arms of the intellectual activity in academy. The humanities are already involved in 4IR, like it or not, and so this conference seeks to explore what forms that involvement in 4IR can and should be, and has already taken. We ask how the humanities are already part of this revolution, if that is what it is, and what roles they should play to shape it in a way that avoid the pitfalls of extreme inequality, exclusion and precarity that previous industrial revolutions engendered. The theme for this 2019 SAHUDA conference is therefore “Time, Thought and Materiality in the Fourth Industrial Revolution’ to reflect, firstly, how 4IR embodies profound temporal propositions, even as it is also often understood to effect a speeding up of time and a compression of space. And secondly, because at its conceptual core lies an attempt to reconceptualise how thinking and doing, meaning and matter, existence and understanding are relationally constituted and mutually dependent. Our focus on the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” is therefore not intended to constrain intellectual engagement, but rather, interpreted imaginatively, to foster new forms of analysis and scholarly collaboration around what the consequences might be of the self-evident acceleration of ‘technologically advancement’ on human conditions and existence in and with the world.
The conference will cover the following seven themes:
If you are interested in submitting a paper for one of these themes, please contact Dr Dawn Nagar (firstname.lastname@example.org) the conference coordinator directly.
The deadline for the submission of paper proposals is 20 April 2019. All proposals should include: 1) Proposed paper title, 2) Author name(s) and contact information, 3) Author affiliation(s) and position(s), 3) A 100-200 word abstract and 4) The name of the panel for which the paper is being proposed.