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Modern disinhibitions: a history of technological risk

Dr Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, Imperial College
Date: 12 February 2013
Time: 1pm - 2.30pm
Venue: KSW 3.01


Nineteenth-century technological modernization did not occur in a fog of unconsciousness or a modernist frenzy. The men who accomplished and lived through the industrial revolution were clearly “conscious” of the gigantic uncertainty produced by their technological choices, and they knowingly chose to go ahead regardless. So not only have we never been modern (Bruno Latour), but we have also always known this. From the perspective of historical writing, the postmodern narrative of "reflexive modernization" (Ulrich Beck) thus has the disadvantage of writing off the past experience of our technoscientific situation. By obliterating the reflexivity of past societies, that narrative depoliticizes the long history of environmental destruction and, conversely, by concentrating on our own reflexivity, it tends to naturalize our ecological concern.

About the speaker

Dr Jean-Baptiste Fressoz is a historian of science, technology and the environment. He has worked on the history of risk regulation in France and Britain in the 18th and 19th Centuries. He is currently working on two projects: a political history of climatic knowledge in the 18th and 19th Century; and a history of the practices of forecasting and creating futures (time preference, net present value, material fatigue, resource modelling). He is also the author of L'Apocalypse joyeuse, une histoire du risque technologique, Paris, Le Seuil, 2012., Paris, Le Seuil, 2012.