Thinking with Noise


5th December 2018 | 4.30-6.30pm
Margaret Macmillan Building (MMB) 220 |
Goldsmiths, University of London

Part of the Pluralistic Variations Series
Organised by Dr Martin Savransky (Sociology)


Cecile Malaspina (Paris 7 & Nanterre)

Noise immediately evokes sound. Yet when “noise” crops up in finance, it is not the din of the trading floor we mean, nor does “noise” in population genetics refer to a zoological cacophony. Even sound has been transformed by the statistical attention to “noise” as stochastic fluctuations, non-deterministic or random variations. Notwithstanding the drifting of knowledge into archipelagos of specialization, “noise” has become an eminently shareable concept. This alone says something about knowledge itself, about the relation between different fields of knowledge in the “information era”. This is also where it is worth being sensitive to traces of the intuitive notion of “noise” in scientific conceptualizations, insofar as they elicit a judgement: be it an aesthetic one, regarding worthiness of attention, or a quasi-legal one, i.e. regarding the legitimacy of a theoretical model. What risks going unnoticed is the way in which the idea of “noise” appears to move seamlessly from an epistemological question, pertaining to how we know, to a wider problem of normativity, pertaining to the exercise of control through the norm (statistical or moral), the rule (as method or convention) and the law (governing physics or social bodies). The opportunity that must not be missed in the epistemological momentum towards “noise”, is the move from the classical elimination of “noise” to thinking with “noise”.

Cecile Malaspina is the author of An Epistemology of Noise (Bloomsbury, 2018) and translator of Gilbert Simondon’s On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects (with the collaboration of John Rogove, Univocal / University of Minnesota Press, 2017). She is commissioning editor for Copy Press and is affiliated with the CNRS Paris 7 (Laboratoire SPHERE) and Universite Paris Nanterre.

Cecile Malaspina, “Thinking with Noise” – Audio Recording