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Research The Groningen Research Institute for the Study of Culture (ICOG) Research Research centres Research Centre for the Study of Democratic Cultures and Politics Events & Colloquium

DemCP colloquium - JENNIFER SCHNEPF: "Reading for Swarm"

When:We 28-04-2021 16:00 - 17:15

Research colloquium of the Centre for the Study of Democratic Cultures and Politics.

Jennifer Schnepf, University of Groningen
Reading for Swarm


The narrative voice that closes Namwali Serpell’s 2019 novel, The Old Drift, poses a series of ontological questions: “Are we really a we? Or just a swarm in the swarm? Worse, is this me?! Was it the dread royal we all along?” The one or the many, the singular or the plural, the narrator(s) really can’t say. Stranger still, these questions come from a nanobiological swarm of “[h]alf insects, half drones; perhaps all drones or none; maybe something between will emerge.” Bookending the novel, and appearing at pivotal moments throughout it, mosquitos and microdrones model the distributed and centralized nature of swarming ontology. Informed by media studies and political philosophical accounts of swarming, this paper considers how Serpell’s novel tests the affordances and limitations of swarming as a useful analogue for human social organization.

About the speaker

Jennifer D. Schnepf is assistant professor of American Studies at the University of Groningen. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Contemporary Literature, Feminist Media Studies, Genre, International Feminist Journal of Politics, Media and Environment, MFS Modern Fiction Studies, Review of International American Studies, Surveillance & Society, and other venues. She is currently writing a book manuscript on aerial systems and women’s work in contemporary U.S. literature and culture.