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Infrastructures of Certainty and Doubt

Matthew Carey and Morten Axel Pedersen

This special section explores the various ways in which states of certainty and doubt are generated and sustained, focusing on what we call the ‘infrastructures’ that undergird, enable or develop alongside them. The articles in this collection build on the growing literature on these topics, notably the very extensive recent work on doubt, uncertainty and opacity, and they extend it further by directing attention not to the consequences of these states or people’s responses to them, but instead to the various semiotic, material and social forms that make possible the assertion or recognition of certainty or doubt. We use the idea of ‘infrastructure’ as a heuristic device to explore these processes.

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Ritual Infrastructure

Roads to Certainty in Two Brazilian Religions

Inger Sjørslev

This article compares the ways in which two different religions in Brazil generate roads to certainty through objectification, one through gods, the other through banknotes. The Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé provides a road to certainty based on cosmological ideas about gods whose presence in ritual is made indubitable through performance and social consensus. Candomblé has historically gained its spiritual force by being both marginal to mainstream religion and spatially peripheral. In contrast, the Neo- Pentecostal Universal Church of the Kingdom of God is located in easily accessible places within urban life. There is a certain parallel between these different locations and the difference in ritual roads to certainty in the two religions. The article draws out connections between different levels of infrastructure – material, spatial and ritual. The comparison between the two religions points to a social imaginary that in both cases has to do with how to deal with indeterminacies in life through objectification.

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The Brothel Phone Number

Infrastructures of Transnational Pimping in Eastern Romania

Trine Mygind Korsby

Taking a point of departure in negotiations for access to a phone number for a brothel abroad, the article demonstrates how a group of pimps in Eastern Romania attempt to extend their local business into the rest of the EU. The article shows how the phone number works as a micro-infrastructure in its own right, providing an entry point into the wider infrastructure of transnational pimping. The pimps’ embodied certainty of how to operate successfully in their neighbourhood in Romania is produced in resonance with the local, urban materiality. This interplay generates body techniques, which in turn cultivate and maximize uncertainty about themselves in others. When making the move to go abroad into unknown terrains, accessing the infrastructure generated by the phone number can provide certainty and consolidate one’s position within criminal networks abroad. However, at the same time, mishandling the phone number can be dangerous and in that sense produce new doubts and uncertainties.

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Luca Verzichelli

Although the end of voting on the night of 13 May 2001 was not

accompanied by the same agonising wait that had preceded the

victory of the Ulivo (Olive Tree Coalition) five years earlier, it was

undoubtedly agitated. The margin of advantage that the exit poll

assured the Casa delle Libertà (CDL, House of Freedoms) constituted

a sufficient guarantee to go out on the streets or go to bed

with a reasonable certainty of finding a majoritarian parliament a

few weeks later, this meaning a considerable increase in terms of

seats following the superiority of votes already secured by the centre

right coalition.

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Lost Boys

An Estimate of U.S. Circumcision-Related Infant Deaths

Dan Bollinger

Baby boys can and do succumb as a result of having their foreskin removed. Circumcision-related mortality rates are not known with certainty; this study estimates the scale of this problem. This study finds that approximately 117 neonatal circumcision-related deaths (9.01/100,000) occur annually in the United States, about 1.3% of male neonatal deaths from all causes. Because infant circumcision is elective, all of these deaths are avoidable. This study also identifies reasons why accurate data on these deaths are not available, some of the obstacles to preventing these deaths, and some solutions to overcome them.

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Damnation in Doctor Faustus

Theological Strip Tease and the Histrionic Hero

David C. Webb

Generations of scholars and critics have gnawed at two juicy interpretative bones: why is Faustus damned, and when exactly does his fate become irrevocable? Using a rather tacky analogy, which is just about defensible on the grounds that death and what lies after death are now both taboo, and bare bodies are everywhere, I shall argue that, just as a stripper delays gratification, so, teasingly, the play flaunts a number of possible reasons why Faustus might be damned, yet never allows the audience the satisfaction of certainty, and that it is helped in this by having a self-dramatising hero.

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Henry Dyson

Lionel Blue became a residential fellow at Grey College at the University of Durham in 2000, an Honorary Fellow in 2002 and an Honorary Doctor of Divinity in 2007. He taught a course on 'Introduction to the Book of Genesis in Hebrew', and gave occasional lectures throughout the university and in the local area. Accompanied by his partner Jim, in informal ways and in many contexts, they played important pastoral and spiritual roles in the student life of the university. Lionel's 2005 lecture on magic and religion noted that faith at its best gives courage and strength for adventurous and creative living rather than religious certainty.

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Paul Walker

This article explores interactions with difference, highlighting what I call the “generosity paradox,” a term that refers to how we suspend disbelief and certainty in favor of a constructed potentiality not limited by preexistent knowledge or categories of authenticity and legitimacy. Touching on overlapping concepts from rhetoric, philosophy, gender studies, disability studies, and queer theory, the discussion explicates fictional encounters with radical alterity in the film Her (Spike Jonze, 2013) to show that attempted respite from frustrating, confusing, and frightening interactions limits our voice, undermines difference, and favors a unifying persuasive intent, which more likely than not involves an attempt to change Others rather than allowing our mutual differences to generatively remain.

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Edmund Ratka

In the midst of the European Union’s (EU) unprecedented crisis and a

rapidly changing international environment, Germany is redefining its

place in Europe and in the world. Long-cherished certainties such as a

staunch commitment to European integration and to its Western allies in

general seem being called into question. Critics like the former Chancellor

Helmut Kohl or the historian Heinrich August Winkler deplore a missing

compass and “politics without a project.”1 Against this background, this

article analyses the German policy toward an issue that forcefully marked

the year 2011 and continues to transform North Africa and the Middle

East—the so-called “Arab Spring”.

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An Intellectual Genealogy of the Revolt against “Esprit de Système”

From the Renaissance to the Early Enlightenment

Jeffrey D. Burson

This article suggests the further resituating of the origins of the early European Enlightenment in what William J. Bouwsma has called the “waning Renaissance.” The waning Renaissance was more than simply a Neoplatonic reaction first against humanism and second against a moribund Aristotelianism. Instead, it bequeathed to the early Enlightenment a chastened, initially less optimistic humanism among scholars whose work prepared the way for the eighteenth-century aversion to system-building, and a greater respect for meticulously circumscribed, useful certainties. This article argues that the “waning Renaissance” derived from the increasingly pervasive perception by writers that eclectic systems fusing Hermeticism, scholasticism, and humanism represented an overweening confidence in the ability of humankind to perfect the natural and human orders. In diverse ways, this article contends that the reactions to such overconfidence by John Calvin, Francis Bacon, the Paduan Aristotelians, and Galileo foreshadowed early Enlightenment skepticism and empiricism.