Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University


1.a. Possessed of certain physical virtues or capacities; effective in respect of inherent natural qualities or powers; capable of exerting influence by means of such qualities.
3.a. Capable of producing a certain effect or result; effective, potent, powerful.
g. Computers. Not physically existing as such but made by software to appear to do so from the point of view of the program or the user.

Information on accomodation and location is available here.


With the support of the Ford Foundation, the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University will host a three day conference—VIRTUALY2K—from Friday to Sunday, November 5-7, 1999. The conference will explore how digitized and networked technologies are transforming the world and our lives. As distances collapse under globalization, as our lives and the world around us become ever more media-intensive, as the new velocity of virtual networks transforms warfare, diplomacy and politics, VY2K will bring scholars, writers, practitioners and critics from many parts of the actual world to interrogate the nature and future of virtual worlds.

Can we see following the postmodern condition the emergence of a "virtual condition"? If so, what are the technical, political, and ethical implications? Definitions of the virtual are not easy to come by. Before microchips were invented philosophers were debating the elusive power of the virtual. Yet now, thanks to the viral spread of networked computers, the virtual is not so much elusive as pervasive. Even so, like the puzzle of the philosophers, this contemporary virtual produces effects and results which blur our usual ways of seeing things. We find new worlds emerge which though real are less than physical. We find spaces emerge which though extensive are immediate and not at all distant. In short, as the virtual becomes ever more actualized in our daily lives, many of the famliar ways in which we’ve looked at the world are being reversed, if not turned upside down.

World events—if only just keeping pace—are being transformed. From Desert Storm to Dayton we witness the convergence of warring simulations and public dissimulations, of battlesites and websites, of the PC and TV. Infowar, netwar, cyberwar, pure war. Coming next, "virtual war". Meanwhile, think-tanks and peace institutes promote ‘virtual diplomacy’ as the means to avoid actual insurgency; be that terrorism, ethnic conflict or nuclear proliferation. As the electronic eye replaces the human eye, and surveillance and sanctions afford "action-at-a-distance", virtual rather than actual is the order of the day. Never in history have so many been watched with so few at risk and so little missed. Never before in history has such a concentration of information become not only possible but a sanctioned reality.

This is not to mention the effects of the virtual not only on global politics but everyday politics: identity, economy, environments, people. If Gilles Deleuze was correct to suggest that, " .. the virtual is not opposed to the real; it posesses a full reality by itself. It is on the basis of its reality that existence is produced.", the politics of the virtual indeed will touch every aspect of our lives. As the century ends and a millennium begins, VY2K will break open the debate about the powers and dangers and politics of virtuality.

Is virtualization the continuation of war by other means? Is it the harbinger of a new world order, or a brave new world?

Contact Information

James Der Derian,
Watson Institute for International Studies,
Box 1971,
Brown University,
Rhode Island,
02912, USA

tel: (401) 863-1814
fax: (401) 863-1270

Ian R. Douglas,
Watson Institute for International Studies,
Box 1831,
Brown University,
Rhode Island,
02912, USA

tel: (401) 863-2420
fax: (401) 863-2192

General Information

available here.

info dialogue links
symposium participants netcast