“Innovation and the Neoliberal Idioms of Development” – out now at boundary 2 online

I have an essay in a great new collection edited by David Golumbia at boundary 2 online, on the Digital Turn–it’s a group of essays offering critical appraisals of the practice and history of technological evangelism in the present day. My contribution is called “Innovation and the Neoliberal Idioms of Development.”

“Human creativity and human capacity is limitless,” said the Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus to a darkened room full of rapt Austrian elites. The setting was TEDx Vienna, and Yunus’s address bore all the trademark features of TED’s missionary version of technocratic idealism. “We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world,” goes the TED mission statement, and this philosophy is manifest in the familiar form of Yunus’s talk (TED.com). The lighting was dramatic, the stage sparse, and the speaker alone on stage, with only his transformative ideas for company. The speech ends with the zealous technophilia that, along with the minimalist stagecraft and quaint faith in the old-fashioned power of lectures, defines this peculiar genre. “This is the age where we all have this capacity of technology,” Yunus declares: “The question is, do we have the methodology to use these capacities to address these problems?… The creativity of human beings has to be challenged to address the problems we have made for ourselves. If we do that, we can create a whole new world—we can create a whole new civilization” (Yunus 2012). Yunus’s conviction that now, finally and for the first time, we can solve the world’s most intractable problems, is not itself new. Instead, what TED Talks like this offer is a new twist on the idea of progress we have inherited from the nineteenth century. And with his particular focus on the global South, Yunus riffs on a form of that old faith, which might seem like a relic of the twentieth: “development.” What is new, then, about Yunus’s articulation of these old faiths? It comes from the TED Talk’s combination of prophetic individualism and technophilia: this is the ideology of “innovation.”

The rest can be found here: http://www.boundary2.org/2018/08/leary/

Read the whole issue here: http://www.boundary2.org/category/b2o-an-online-journal/the-digital-turn/

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