Monday, November 26, 2007

Frontiership and technology

In her book Friction, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing explores the idea of frontiership, contrasting a “savage vision of the frontier” with “later frontier optimism,” then looking forward to “the concept of the technofrontier, the endless frontier made possible by industrial technology… the technofrontier is open and expanding” (31-32).

Yet she conflates these different frontiers under confusing statements. “Frontier-making is destructive of forests and indigenous cultures,” she says, invoking the geographic and environmental, but “by frontier I don’t mean a place or even a process but an imaginative project capable of molding both places and processes” (32).

When Tsing writes of “technofrontiers” and “imaginative project,” is she suggesting that frontiers are themselves forms of technology? Or do “frontiers have their own technologies of time and space” (32, italics mine), frontiership and technology connected but distinct? “[The frontier] is a site of transformations… It is a space of desire” (32), she writes, but it “is not a philosophy” (33). I’m confused about whether she considers frontiers to be physical places, conceptual places, technologies, or symbols.

What are Tsing’s frontiers? In assessing our own culture, can we conflate physical frontiers with more abstract ones to build some kind of cohesive analysis, or does this approach further fragment an already complicated study? In a world where technology renders geographic borders increasingly obsolete, are frontiers and technology working together or in opposition?

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