What is a Horizon? Adriana Petryna in conversation with Elizabeth A. Povinelli

MAR 27, 2017 | 6:30 PM



The Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue


9100: Skylight Room


March 27, 2017: 6:30 PM




Intellectual Publics


Ecosystem changes are happening with surprising speed and within much shorter-than-projected timescales. Anthropologist Adriana Petryna explores the complexities of such abrupt environmental shifts, how scientists conceptualize an unfamiliar and “runaway” nature, and how uncertainty poses a problem of projection and action. Her ethnography engages points where rapidly faltering projections and policies are meeting the neglected dimensions of emergency response, especially around wildfires. Attuned to the political and existential hazards at work in a science of critical transitions and in a fantasy of a borrowed time, Petryna argues for the importance of a distinct kind of intellectual and ethical labor, a horizoning work, amid physical worlds on edge.

Adriana Petryna is the Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Term Professor in Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. Her award-winning books—Life Exposed: Biological Citizens after Chernobyl and When Experiments Travel: Clinical Trials and the Global Search for Human Subjects—address the cultural and political dimensions of science and medicine in Eastern Europe and in the United States (with a focus on a nuclear disaster aftermath and on the globalization of clinical trials respectively). In her work, Petryna is concerned with both public and private forms of scientific knowledge production, as well as with the role of science and technology in public policy and citizenship. She is currently working on an environmental humanities book titled What is a Horizon? exploring the sciences of abrupt climate change and emerging forms of collective response. Along with her theoretical explorations of biological citizenship, ethical variability, and experimentality, Petryna has advanced the critical study of global health. She coedited Global Pharmaceuticals: Ethics, Markets, Practices and When People Come First: Critical Studies in Global Health. Her body of work has recently been awarded the Royal Anthropological Institute’s Welcome Medal. Petryna directs the MD-PhD program at Penn and is currently a visiting faculty fellow at Princeton University’s Center for Human Values.

Elizabeth A. Povinelli is Franz Boas Professor of Anthropology and Gender Studies at Columbia University and a founding member of the Karrabing Film Collective. Her research focuses on developing an anthropology of the otherwise in late liberalism.  She is the author of five books including The Empire of Love: Toward a Theory of Intimacy, Genealogy, and Carnality, Economies of Abandonment: Social Belonging and Endurance in Late Liberalism and most recently, Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism.