4S presentation on quality, trust, and the senses

Heading off to New Orleans next week to attend my first 4S (Society for Social Studies of Science) conference. I’m excited to be on a panel on “Technicalities of Trust and Technologies of Sensing.” Here is my abstract:

Verifying Paper Money: Quality-Control and the Materialization of Trust”

This paper explores sensory moments of quality-control, specifically through the case of the bank note as a trustworthy paper. Of interest are the ways that trust becomes produced, transmitted and known by security printers, so that certain bits of paper come to be objectively perceived and circulated as authentic and valuable. Trust is explored here as intimately tied to the sensory assessment of expertise and quality. Counterfeits and forgeries are often recognized as such because they are judged as technically inaccurate or imprecise. Part of this evaluation process lies in the education of the senses and learning to discern material characteristics that are legitimate, whether through sight, touch, smell or sound. Trust is thus inscribed or embedded in a paper through specialized and recognizable techniques and materials. This paper explores these moments of recognition as instances of quality-control, in which trustworthiness is decided through a sensory assessment. These occur in everyday life (e.g. knowing the feel of a real dollar bill), but also have historically been integrated into the production process of money. Indeed, verifiers, usually women, checked the quality of printed sheets of bank notes, an approval that would lead to the cutting of the sheet into individual bills, which then become “money.” While today’s machinic production processes have automated quality-control, paper notes can still only function if they are trusted by the public, whose evaluation relies on an ability to sense quality. Ultimately this paper contributes to STS by evaluating how trust is materialized through the continuous innovation of “trustworthy” materials and techniques, and how it is verified through processes of quality-control that must be both sensory and objective.

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