Uncertainty: ambiguities and doubt in knowledge production, Graduate student conference

April 23-25, 2010, Stanford University

What work does uncertainty do? How is it produced and how is it involved in settling questions of classification, causality, and accountability? What types of political engagements are made possible by making uncertainty and ambiguity–rather than certainty and consensus–a central analytical concern?

Recent scholarship in science studies and other fields suggests that the production and management of uncertainty is central to political, social, and ethical debates around many of today’s most controversial issues. Models of risk and uncertainty have been implicated in the recent financial crisis, and the threshold of certainty required by “sound science” has been a matter of contention in debates about anthropogenic climate change and environmental toxicity. Similar issues of uncertainty have marked a number of sites of critical inquiry, from the court room to the genetics lab to the experimental field plot. While a great deal of work on this topic and related inquiries into risk and ignorance have been motivated by the post-structural critique of certainty, truth, and objectivity, older debates in anthropology and related fields–about value and fetishism, purity and the sacred, risk society, the nature/culture distinction, and the production of race, gender, and sexuality–have also been centrally concerned with ambiguity and uncertainty.

This conference aims to foster productive dialogue across diverse areas of current study and long-standing scholarly discussion around these and related themes.

We invite submissions that engage with the problem of uncertainty from across the critical social sciences and humanities: papers that investigate the production, marshaling, or technical management of uncertainty from a historical, ethnographic, or theoretical perspective. Among other topics, papers might address the role of uncertainty in environmental management, scientific and actuarial forecasting, the deployment of medical technologies and treatments, and the crafting of identity. We also welcome submissions focusing on the methods and ethics of social scientific inquiry and how we understand and communicate uncertainties in our own research. The conference will feature Hugh Gusterson and Karen Barad as keynote speakers as well as faculty discussants from several institutions for student panels. There is no registration fee. Please send abstracts for 15 minute papers to [email protected] by February 1, 2010. Submissions should include a title, abstracts of no more than 250 words, and a short biography of no more than 100 words. Please email [email protected] with any inquiries.