23rd June 2014

Repeat! The Logics of Exercises, Trainings, Tests and Rehearsals

Repeat! The Logics of Exercises, Trainings, Tests and Rehearsals

The Department of Sociology and the Centre for the Study of Invention and Social Process
Goldsmiths, University of London
5-7 November 2014

Confirmed keynote speakers: Tracy C. Davis (Northwestern University) and Trevor Pinch (Cornell University)

Organised by Michael Guggenheim, Joe Deville and Zuzana Hrdlickova
Funded by the ERC starting grant project: Organizing Disaster. Civil Protection and the Population

Exercises, tests and forms of training occur in many different places. Sporting and musical activity consists largely in training, with the actual competition or performance only being short-lived. In disaster and emergency preparedness, exercises are often one of the main ways to act, since actual catastrophic events are scarce and hugely complex. Our societies are based on the belief that without testing, bridges would fail, that without rehearsals plays and conference talks would be incoherent, and that without training, football and chess games would rarely feature any clever tactical moves and in disasters there would be no organisational infrastructure in place to help people. And whole professions have emerged whose task it is to create such exercises and forms of testing.

In this conference we are particularly interested in how these activities use particular knowledges, routines and objects to re-create their absent objects. What all these practices share is the absence of some of the main elements of the phenomenon they are dealing with. Different than the often discussed computer simulation, exercises, practices and tests do not replace the world with a world pared down to computer data. Rather, they recreate it in highly elaborate ways, inventing various objects, technologies and social forms. These range from ball throwing machines, to test apparatuses, to highly specific communities of practice, and even to building entire cities for the purpose of an exercise. Their goal is not to bring the whole world down to one flat digital level, but rather to render a small piece of it actual through various social and material means. The goal here is not realism, but making parts of the world amenable to repeat practice.

One way much of approaching such renderings of the world within social science and social theory has been to see them as involved in forms of performance or enactment. Following the ethnomethodology of Garfinkel, Goffman’s frame analysis and Turner’s ritual theory, a new wave of social theory has looked with fresh eyes at the enactment of the social and how it may be socially and materially achieved. Many of these ideas conceive of the performative as an ongoing accomplishment. But such a conception often tends to miss a crucial element of the performative: the time-based relationship between preparation and performance. In this conference, we would like to explore this temporal relationship and the social and material effects to which it gives rise, by focusing on the similarities and differences between the full range of social practices that depend on preparation. Rather than extending theories of theatre to the whole of society, therefore, we ask how a certain element of theatre — the rehearsal — exists in other social domains, including those of testing, training and the exercise.

Some questions we would like to consider:

– What are the logics of these tests and rehearsals? Can these be observed across different fields?
– What are the underlying routines, knowledges and technologies?
– What objects and practices are used to create the absent target of the exercise?
– Can we observe their transfer between fields?
– How is the future reality created in the present of the exercise?
– What differentiates the rehearsal from the actual performance? How do actors try to account for this difference?
– Is there a proliferation of practices of rehearsal and testing, and if so, why?
– Are there counter-movements of de-rehearsing the world? (Such as improvisation in music and theatre, but in other fields?)

We encourage participants to address any relevant field, including the role of rehearsal in theatre, music, and film, training in sports, management, in professional domains, the military and in human-animal relations and testing in engineering, medicine etc.

Please submit an abstract of ca. 500 words by July 20th to organising.disaster@gold.ac.uk

In case you do not have funding for travel and/or accommodation, the conference organisers may be able to cover it. Please indicate whether you need either or both travel and accommodation when you submit your abstract.