Of Labs and Other Places: (Literary) Criticism in the Age of Social InnovationPublic Deposited
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In the aftermath of 2008, as economic planners grapple with the concurrent onset of secular stagnation and anthropogenic climate change, states have become increasingly jealous custodians of the public purse. In many of the world's advanced economies, policymaking has turned the promotion of lab-based "social innovation" research networks that target scarce resources toward precisely-designated areas of strategic concern. Researchers from across the disciplines are now expected to demonstrate the social, economic, or environmental "impact" of their research. In this research context, celebration of literature's "uselessness," long one of its special boasts, has become difficult to justify or sustain.It is admittedly hard to project what kind of contribution literary scholarship can make in this ends-oriented research context. All the same, this dissertation commits itself to running reconnaissance. Rather than blankly repudiate these new funding frameworks and R&D initiatives as neoliberal corruptions of a pastoral Keynesian campus - itself an expression of, and ideological bulwark to, the disastrous postwar modernization project - I ask how we might explore them as a new terrain of struggle, one whose constraints and dangers we can foreground together, self-reflexively. These are, after all, the kinds of questions that early-stage researchers will negotiate in practice, as they navigate R&D platforms and lab networks that more and more clearly subsist at the fraught intersection of a diverse array of conflicting "stakeholder" interests and commitments.As this thesis draws to its conclusion, it ultimately confesses to a secret hope that among those literary humanists that do make it aboard the new social lab programmes, one or two of them might bring, not a commitment to Bruno Latour's "post-critical" pragmatism, but rather copies of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy. Would that it could circulate there as a kind of gateway drug to the anarcho-communist critique of private property - as a tantalizing thought experiment concerning the unpredictable, and to some extent unmanageable, cascade effects that might be precipitated within these new lab networks, given a little luck.
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