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Container technologies are apparatuses of human life that hold, contain, distribute, or supply. A lovely summary of the shape of this technology is available in the work of Zoë Sofia and her concept of container technologies. For example spoons, kilns, electrical power grids, ecosystems and other totalities. Sofia brings together Winnicott's environmental mother with Gregory Bateson’s cybernetic ecology and Lewis Mumford’s account of tools and utensils to inquire into an image of the world as an infinite container of resources.

Sofia calls attention to the socio-technical bits of outer reality that make their way into the intermediate zone of potential space by simultaneously occupying a major role in the fantasy, or inner world of an infant. According to Sofia, Winnicott’s dictum that "there is no such thing as an infant [apart from the maternal provision]” should be held alongside Bateson’s ecological definition of survivability, that “the unit of survival is organism plus environment.” Bateson’s cybernetic unit of survival has “receptivity and intelligence…‘beyond its skin,’” in that “the individual mind is immanent but not only in the body. It is immanent also in pathways and messages outside the body.” We might thus better understand the ways in which “the organism which destroys its environment destroys itself.”

Sofia notes the sexual morphological associations Mumford makes by identifying container technologies with women, but disputes the essential femininity of containing, as many organic analogies of containment are present in human bodies across genders through “skin, mouth, stomach, bladder, bowel, blood vessels; even the penis is an expandable container of sorts, and eyes and ears are experienced as receptive organs.” Instead, Sofia connects container technologies to women through their traditionally designated labors, arranged to perform a “technics of the unobtrusive.”[1]

The capacity of providing while remaining unobtrusive can seem next to impossible to the average parent, as indeed it is. Domestic servitude is an equally apt name for this kind of work, and where parenting is scarce, any domestic worker will be called upon to establish a basic environment of continuity and care. The difference is that mothers of any gender are expected to care within and through a boundless form of containment called love. But a love like this requires accuracy, which is to say attunement, so as to perform care work adequately and without perfection.

The skill of providing care while remaining unobtrusive is the learned behavior of a parent who has generally adapted empathic resources from their external environment but not accumulated and retained so many kilowatt hours as to overheat and underperform. Skilled observation replaces the excess energy of an existential crisis. An exhausted parent can be optimally empowering because temporarily unable to move.

The upshot of combining Mumford with Winnicott is that “space and container technologies may not be as dumb or static as we traditionally assume,” and that “containment is not just about what holds or houses us, but what we put our stuff into, and thereby identify with; what of ourselves we can and cannot contain.” Sofia draws upon the work of Don Ihde to identify one of the human-technology-world relationships resonant of affect. Forming "background relations," container technology functions "as shelter, cocoon, or a world" in addition to a cultural "atmosphere" like an apocalyptic fear. [2] The way a feeling can hold a room, those background intensities that make up a socio-political zone is how container technology is affective, allowing the production of identities, political movements, and policies.

Chora is affect, utility, container technology.

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The Matter of Mind


[1] Zoë Sofia, "Container Technologies," Hypatia 15.2 (2000) 181-187, referencing Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind; Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology (1972) and Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization (1934).

[2] Don Ihde, Technology and the Lifeworld: From Garden to Earth (1990) 112-115, as quoted in Sofia, Container Technologies 2000.

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