Sensors made of meat (cancelled)

Track:
COMING TO BE OF THE SENSOR SOCIETY
What:
Talk
When:
16:30, Sunday 9 May 2021 (30 minutes)
Discussion:
0

J. Martin Vest, University of Michigan, USA

In their article “Defining the Sensor Society,” Mark Andrejevic and Mark Burdon identify an emerging modern surveillance paradigm. Characterized by the passive collection of data by cellphones and other elements of modern data infrastructure, the “sensor society” processes hitherto unimaginable volumes of data on every facet of subjects’ daily lives.

Might historical antecedents be found, however, for this rage for “data collection?” This paper argues that the origins of the sensor society lay partly in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when the increasingly complex nature of warfare, industry and civil administration necessitated a more granular approach to data collection. In response to this evolving state of affairs, military personnel and corporate managers sought to extend a greater measure of control over the senses of their human subordinates.

As an entree to this historical dynamic, the paper will explore the institution of tests for hearing and vision in nineteenth-century industrial and military contexts as well as efforts to shape the sensing practices of subjects in various occupational roles beginning around the turn of the twentieth century.