Katherine Verdery

Katherine Verdery is Julien J. Studley Faculty Scholar and Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Since 1973 she has conducted field research in Romania, initially emphasizing the political economy of social inequality, ethnic relations, and nationalism. With the changes of 1989, her work shifted to problems of the transformation of socialist systems, specifically changing property relations in agriculture. From 1993 to 2000 she did fieldwork on this theme in a Transylvanian community; the resulting book, The Vanishing Hectare: Property and Value in Postsocialist Transylvania, was published by Cornell University Press (2003). She then completed a large collaborative project with Gail Kligman (UCLA) and a number of Romanian scholars on the opposite process, the formation of collective and state farms in Romania during the 1950s. The resulting book, Peasants under Siege: The Collectivization of Romanian Agriculture, 1949-1962, was published by Princeton University Press (2011).

Katherine Verdery’s teaching interests include contemporary and socialist Eastern Europe, the anthropology of property, and time and space. Her most recent project takes off from her Secret Police file, which she received from the Romanian government in 2008. Using it, in the book My life as a spy: Investigations in a Secret Police File (2018), she writes her field memoirs from the vantage point of the police who followed her.

Keynote title: States of Surveillance
Abstract: Modern state forms associate themselves with the collection of data about populations—not just “their own” but those of other states, to varying degrees. The types of surveillance differ at least in part according to the kinds of states that carry it out.  This paper suggests some of these types, and asks what effects they have on the kind of data they collect. Examples come from the author’s reading of her own secret police file, kept on her during her research in Romania in the 1970s and 1980s.


Hannah Knox

Hannah gained her PhD from the University of Manchester in 2003 and joined UCL in 2014 after from the ESRC Centre for Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC) at the University of Manchester.

Her research is concerned with understanding processes of social and political transformation through the ethnographic study of technical relations and expert practices. Over the years her work has moved from a focus on struggles over knowledge and expertise to incorporate the role that materials of different kinds play in shaping techno-political relations. She has conducted research with new media entrepreneurs and economic development practitioners in the UK, IT managers and digital modellers in global corporations, and road construction and design engineers in Peru. Most recently she has been studying the politics of energy and climate change in a project that has been following the pursuit of carbon reduction strategies by a network of scientists, activists and local authority officers in Manchester, UK. Her work is concerned with understanding contemporary manifestations of risk and responsibility, territorial politics, expertise, knowledge and technology. 

She is the co-editor of Ethnography for Data Saturated World (2018) and Objects and Materials: A Routledge Companion (2013), and author of Roads: An Anthropology of Infrastructure and Expertise (2015). Her next book Thinking like a Climate is due to be published in 2020.

Keynote title: In the Shadow of the Future: Reckoning with Climate Data
Abstract: In this talk I seek to turn our attention to what I call the temporality of predictive analytics in order to explore how predictive climate models work to demarcate futures and with what effects. A crucial aspect of the allure of contemporary data is its capacity to create a picture of the future – whether of the economy, consumption behaviour or the climate. But the future that modelled predictions generate are not straightforward. Located in computational networks, such futures are not simply the plans or imaginaries of ideologues or engineers but the effects of an ‘autopoetic unfolding’. This unfolding embraces a range of contingent material inputs all of which render traces of the past and present into plausible stories of what might happen next. These futures are neither fictions nor realities, but sit somewhere between the two, describing what is to come whilst also undoing themselves in their injunction to change the present with a view to altering the trajectories that they project.

While anthropologists have developed a sophisticated vocabulary for talking about the past (tradition, genealogy, inheritance, myth, totem) and the present (culture, relationality, kinship, exchange), we have a less developed set of conceptual resources for understanding the kinds of futures being made by predictive analytics, or participating in the re-imagination of their form. Our current methods (oral history, archival research, ethnography) are arguably ill-equipped to address the implications of futurities produced by computational models. How then might we gain a better handle on the futures that predictive analytics are generating? And how might this help us, as critical scholars, to participate more effectively in redirecting the at-times apocalyptic trajectories now being revealed by data science.


Kirsten Astrup & Maria Bordorff

Kirsten Astrup & Maria Bordorff is an artist duo working with film, music and performance. Since 2017, they have been working on a film trilogy about the infrastructures of the Danish welfare society and issues around the nation state in globalised times. The first film, which was Astrup’s graduate work, dealt with the decline of the postal service, while the second one questioned the conditions of the railways and public transportation. Based on a collaboration with the Data as Relation research group, Astrup & Bordorff have been working on the script for the third film, which will move towards the digital infrastructures of the Danish welfare society and the impact that omnipresent digitalisation has on politics, collectivity, imagination, and eventually on democracy itself.

Kirsten Astrup holds a Master of Arts from The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and a BA in Film & Media Studies and Rhetorics from University of Copenhagen.

Maria Bordorff holds an MA in Modern Culture from University of Copenhagen and a BA in Danish Literature and Cultural Encounters from Roskilde University.

Their pieces have been shown in various museums such as the Museum of Contemporary Art, ARKEN, Holstebro Art Museum, and The Munch Museum. In 2018, Kirsten Astrup received a 3-year work grant from The Danish Arts Council, and numerous awards and scholarships have been given, including a Medal of Honour from The Academy Council in 2019.