The Political Aesthetics of Generators

  • Language: English
  • ca. 40 pages
  • illustrations
  • Vol. 13, 2019
  • Print: 978-3-906927-10-7
  • PDF: 978-3-906927-11-4
Brian Larkin

The Political Aesthetics of Generators

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Like a living being, the generator ingests and expels. At one end of a generator, petrol pours in. At the other, electricity, smoke, fumes, and sound flood out. In Nigeria, generators emerged as a response to breakdowns in the electric grid but are now so broadly disseminated they have become formalized into a system of their own. Ubiquitous in all urban and rural areas, coming in all sizes, their sound, smell and presence is integral to what Nigeria is and how it functions. In this lecture, Brian Larkin examines generators as aesthetic objects, drawing on the older idea of aisthesis as a felt experience. He examines how generators shape the technologized, ambient environment of urban Nigeria – how it is one feels, hears, or smells the world one lives in – and how that environment is part of the reshaping of Nigerian urban life.

Brian Larkin is the Director of Graduate Studies and a Professor of Anthropology at Barnard College, Columbia University. He is also Co-Director of the Comparative Media Initiative at the same university and co-founder of the University Seminar on Media Theory and History. His research focuses on the ethnography and history of media in Nigeria, the introduction of media technologies and the religious, political, and cultural changes they bring about. He explores how media technologies comprise broader networked infrastructures that shape a whole range of actions from forms of political rule, to new urban spaces, to religious and cultural life. Larkin has published widely on issues of technology and breakdown, piracy and intellectual property, the global circulation of cultural forms, infrastructure and urban space, sound studies, and Nigerian film. He is the author of “Signal and Noise: Media Infrastructure and Urban Culture in Nigeria” (Duke University Press, 2008) and, with Lila Abu-Lughod and Faye Ginsburg, co-editor of “Media Worlds: Anthropology on New Terrain” (University of California Press, 2002).

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