The School of History and Sociology presents the spring 2021 Graduate Forum Speakers Series.
All talks are Wednesdays from 12:00 - 1:30 PM via BlueJeans video conference.
January 27, 2021
Trevor Pinch, Ph.D.
Goldwin Smith Professor of Science & Technology Studies, Cornell University
“From Bikes to Synths: On the Road with Social Construction of Technology”
In this talk Professor Pinch will review the main ideas of social construction of technology (SCOT), such as interpretive flexibility of technologies, and show how its ideas have gained traction over the years. He will argue that the attention SCOT gives to technological artefacts as hidden carriers of society and culture is one of its enduring strengths. With a detour via the automobile, Pinch will remind us of SCOT’s attention to users, gender and power. He will use his case study of the Moog electronic music synthesizer to bring it all together and show where SCOT may be heading with its encounter between music and Sound Studies.
February 24, 2021
Jon Lindsay, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto
"The First Cyber Campaign: Bletchley Park and the ‘Extraordinary’ Conditions for Intelligence Success"
Download a flyer about the talk.
There is a huge literature about Bletchley Park, one of the most stunning success stories in intelligence history. Yet questions remain about how to explain the extent and persistence of British signals intelligence success. This case takes on renewed importance in an era of endemic cyber conflict. Indeed, the cryptologic contest of World War II, a duel between encryption and decryption machines, might be described as the first cyber conflict. This essay develops a practice-based account of the exploitation and protection of the human and machine performances that facilitate organizational control. I infer three necessary but hard to meet conditions for intelligence success and show how Bletchley park met all three of them. First, shared sociotechnical protocols for communication and computation provide the potential for deception. Second, the intelligence agency combines the strengths of both top-down management and bottom-up adaptation. Third, the intelligence target combines the weaknesses of both organizational modes. If these conditions are met, then an organization can construct a secret information channel for collection or influence, but even this success will only ever have an indirect effect on political or military outcomes. Modern intelligence operations in and through global information infrastructure depend on these same conditions, although meeting them is often more difficult.
April 14, 2021
Nicole Starosielski, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication, NYU
"Cable Supply: The Historical Chokepoint of Global Networks"
This talk examines how the manufacturing and installation of global internet infrastructure is bound up in political formations. In particular, it focuses on the supply chain for undersea cables. In contrast to the flexibility and modularity of many global supply chains, submarine cable supply remains anchored in a small set of locations and companies. Describing the suppliers of transoceanic cables, the talk foregrounds these companies’ historical ties to governments and how this continues to play a role in their centrality to the global internet. The talk also unpacks how rumors about hidden spying equipment in cable systems, alongside backlash by the American and Australian governments, made it difficult for the Chinese cable supplier Huawei Marine to break into the transoceanic cable industry. Collectively these cases show how the cable supply chain resembles the nineteenth and twentieth century colonial cable system more than the contemporary network society.