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Playing with Buttons: Liberal Subjects at the Binary Switch
October 31, 2016 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
UW System Fellow (2016-2017)
The pushbutton is one of the simplest mechanical interfaces in the modern world, and one of the most prevalent. But what accounts for its enormous appeal, and what kinds of effects does it have on the people who use it? In this talk, Jason Puskar will present part of his research on the cultural and political history of the pushbutton, a device that scarcely existed before the mid-nineteenth century, but that has proliferated wildly ever since. What happens when buttons mediate childhood, even infancy? How might they influence the process of subject-object differentiation? And to what extend do they inform people’s perceptions of their own agency, freedom, or will? By looking at children’s toys, autistic gamers, and women typists, we can see that the button has an especially complex relationship to liberal subjectivity, and especially for children, women, and the disabled.
Jason Puskar is Associate Professor of English at the UW–Milwaukee, specializing on late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American literature and culture, with recent emphasis on business and economic history and the history of science and technology. He is the author of Accident Society: Fiction, Collectivity and the Production of Chance (Stanford 2012), and he has published articles in journals including American Literary History, Daedalus, Nineteenth-Century Contexts, and Mosaic.