The State of Cybernetics. The digitalisation of cities, bodies and communities – Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research – University of Amsterdam


What do cities, robots, corporations, political organizations, human bodies, and ecosystems have in common? For the scientists involved in the development of cybernetics from the 1940s to the 1960s, this was all but an awkward question.

In their intellectual and hands-on experimentations, cyberneticians called forth a world in which machines, bodies and nature are entangled as complex and dynamic systems. They theorized that information would and should flow ever more effortlessly within and between these systems.

The purpose of the seminar is to revisit the legacy of cybernetics to shed light on contemporary digital politics. Many of the fundamental questions asked by cyberneticians regain salience today. What remains of liberal individualism when the boundaries between humans, machines and nature are blurred? What are the systemic properties and operating routines of democracy in a world in which machines and humans are increasingly entangled?


Scholars from fields as diverse as Philosophy, Anthropology, and Artificial Intelligence will give presentations. The speakers include Simon Marvin, Noortje Marres, Andrew Pickering, Willem Schinkel and Tsjalling Swierstra.


There is limited seating. Are you interested in taking part? Please inquire with Anne Hovingh: After you register you will receive a more detailed program with abstracts, locations and times.

Public event

The seminar will be concluded by a public event ,The Politics of a Cybernetic World, on Friday March 23 at 4PM at Crea with lectures by Luc Steels and Katherine Hayles, a theatrical performance prepared by Ricarda Franzen and concluding reflections by Andrew Pickering.

Funded by

The event is funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) as part of the research project Safeguarding long-term equal stakeholdership in the Smart City & the Center for Urban Studies of the University of Amsterdam as part of a collaboration with the Sheffield Urban Automation Institute.

Published by  AISSR

The event itself:

23 Mar 2018

The Politics of a Cybernetic World

A creative and engaging event exploring the politics of cybernetics with professor Katherine Hayles, professor Luc Steels, professor Andrew Pickering, and dramaturg Ricarda Franzen


What forms of political subjectivity and social organization emerge when people and things are increasingly connected through digital infrastructures? What can robots teach us about inequality or democracy?

During this event, speakers and performers revisit the legacy of cybernetics to shed light on contemporary digital politics.

This is the concluding event of the two-day seminar The State of Cybernetics. The digitalization of cities, bodies and communities


This even is funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) as part of the research project Safeguarding long-term equal stakeholdership in the Smart City and the Center for Urban Studies of the University of Amsterdam as part of a collaboration with the Sheffield Urban Automation Institute

The programme

  • Theatrical performance directed by Ricarda Franzen
  • Lectures by Katherine Hayles and Luc Steels
  • Discussions with speakers, audience and Andrew Pickering


CREA ‘Muziekzaal’, Nieuwe Achtergracht 170, Amsterdam


Attendance is free of charge but seats are limited, so please register with Anne Hovingh:

The speakers

Katherine Hayles is Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Program in Literature at Duke University, and Distinguished Professor Emerita at the University of California, Los Angeles. She teaches and writes on the relations of literature, science and technology in the 20th and 21st centuries. Amongst her distinguished works are How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary TechnogenesisHow We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics, and Writing Machines.

Luc Steels is professor of computer science at the University of Brussels (VUB), co-founder and chairman (from 1990 until 1995) of the VUB Computer Science Department (Faculty of Sciences) and founder and first-director of the Sony Computer Science Laboratory in Paris. His main research field is Artificial Intelligence covering a wide range of intelligent abilities, including vision, robotic behavior, conceptual representations and language.

Andrew Pickering is an emeritus professor at the University of Exeter. He is internationally known as a leader in the field of science and technology studies. He is the author of Constructing Quarks: A Sociological History of Particle PhysicsThe Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency and Science and Kybernetik und Neue Ontologien. In his book The Cybernetic Brain: Sketches of Another Future, he analyses cybernetics as a distinctive form of life spanning brain science, psychiatry, robotics, the theory of complex systems, management, politics, the arts, education, spirituality and the 1960s counterculture, and argues that cybernetics offers a promising alternative to currently hegemonic cultural formations.

Ricarda Franzen works as a dra­maturg, sound artist and researcher at the University of Amsterdam. Coinciding with her interests in art practice, she is interested in aspects of sound in relation to its environment but also as being used in theatre and radio dramas. For the Rotterdam-based laboratory for Unstable Media she co-produced a performance based on the ideas of Buckminster Fuller and Marshall McLuhan. For the theatrical performance she developed for ‘the State of cybernetics,’ she similarly draws inspiration from a group of historical cutting-edge thinkers and tinkerers.

The organizers

Justus Uitermark is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Amsterdam. He is affiliated with the Center for Urban Studies and the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research. Uitermark’s research uses relational theorizing and network analysis to examine self-organization, political conflict, and the social organization of the city. With colleagues at the University of Amsterdam, he is currently researching the online/offline interface, utilizing data sourced from Twitter and Instagram to analyze subcultures and social movements. Recent publications include “Longing for Wikitopia. The study and politics of self-organization” (in Urban Studies) and Cities and Social Movements (co-authored with Walter J. Nicholls, Wiley).

Dorien Zandbergen is an anthropologist of digital culture and politics, currently working as a postdoc researcher at the Sociology Department of the University of Amsterdam. Her current work critically explores the politics of urban digitization. In the documentary In search of the Smart Citizen, which she co-produced with Sara Blom (Creative Commons 2015), she interrogates the vision of the “smart city.” She founded Stichting Gr1p  to support artistic and literary interventions that help make complex technological themes, visible, debatable and tangible for a broad audience. Her recent academic publications include “From data fetishism to quantifying selves” (with Tamar Sharon, New Media & Society, 2016) and “We Are Sensemakers.” The (Anti-)politics of Smart City Co-creation” (Public Culture, 2017).

Published by  AISSR