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robertogreco : annalowenhaupttsing   12

Project MUSE - On Nonscalability: The Living World Is Not Amenable to Precision-Nested Scales
"Because computers zoom across magnifications, it is easy to conclude that both knowledge and things exist by nature in precision-nested scales. The technical term is “scalable,” the ability to expand without distorting the framework. But it takes hard work to make knowledge and things scalable, and this article shows that ignoring nonscalable effects is a bad idea. People stumbled on scalable projects through the same historical contingencies that such projects set out to deny. They cobbled together ways to make things and data self-contained and static, and thus amenable to expansion. In European New World plantations, the natives were wiped out; coerced and alienated plants and workers came to substitute for them. Profits were made because extermination and slavery could be discounted from the books. Such historically indeterminate encounters formed models for later projects of scalability. This essay explores scalability projects from the perspective of an emergent “nonscalability theory” that pays attention to the mounting pile of ruins that scalability leaves behind. The article concludes that, if the world is still diverse and dynamic, it is because scalability never fulfills its own promises."

"How is scalability created? It is not a necessary feature of the world. People stumbled on scalable projects through historical contingencies. They cobbled together ways to make raw materials (for both goods and knowledge) selfcontained and static, and thus amenable to expansion. In European sugarcane plantations, the natives were wiped out; exotic, coerced, and alienated plants and workers came to substitute for them. Profits were made because the general mess of extermination and slavery could be discounted from the books. Such historically indeterminate encounters formed models for later projects of scalability.

Do we live in a world of scalable nonsocial landscape elements—nonsoels? Yes and no. The great “progress” projects of the last several centuries have built on the legacy of the colonial plantation to make scalability work in business, government, and technology. But scalability has never been complete. In recent years, changes in global capitalism have challenged the assumption of scalability for labor and natural-resource management, and at least some theorists in the social sciences have pointed out the malevolent hegemony of precision. Meanwhile, critics of scalability have raised distress signals about the fate of biological and cultural diversity on earth. It is an important time to develop nonscalability theory as a way to reconceptualize the world—and perhaps rebuild it."

[PDF here: ]

"I can’t say enough how good Anna Tsing’s essay on nonscalabilty is. “On Nonscalability: The Living World Is Not Amenable to Precision-Nested Scales.” Common Knowledge 18, no. 3 (September 19, 2012): 505–24. "

"Scalability is the enemy of difference. (Page 507)

"On Nonscalability: The Living World Is Not Amenable to Precision-Nested Scales by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing" ]

[See also:
"“On Nonscalability” of teaching and learning"
annalowenhaupttsing  scale  scalability  slow  small  2012  difference  diversity  capitalism  knowledge  expansion  growth  degrowth  culture  technology  progress  labor  work  biology  humanism  humanity  sustainability  environment  sugar  teaching  learning  howweteach  howwelearn  unschooling  deschooling  antigrowth 
17 days ago by robertogreco
Dr Fish Philosopher🐟 on Twitter: "1. #AmAnth2018 is taking place in the midst of one of the deadliest fires in California history. If breathing in the smoke of burning trees, homes, cities doesn't convince us that we need radically different ways to en
"1. #AmAnth2018 is taking place in the midst of one of the deadliest fires in California history. If breathing in the smoke of burning trees, homes, cities doesn't convince us that we need radically different ways to engage beyond conference center model...I don't know what will

2. I have deep respect for labour that goes into planning these events. I know folks are doing their best+striving to make spaces for connection. I hope we can build on that spirit+find ways to support relationality while tending to the disasters (thinking with @hystericalblkns )

3. Things I am thinking about after the #RefuseHAU #HAUTalk panel is: how do we ensure those who are most marginalized within anthro (and beyond) are seen, heard, cited while also disrupting the structures that operate to exclude myriad voices. What can we salvage from anthro?

4. This year, with the smoke, #AmAnth2018 really feels like a salvage operation (thinking here with Anna Tsing). What can we take from the existing structures -- what can we reconfigure to make these more capacious spaces at the end of certain worlds?

5. It may very well be that the environment refuses these spaces for us -- makes it that much harder to operate as 'normal'. What ethical imaginations can we mobilize to maintain and foster connection while considering our nonhuman kin literally burning/vaporizing as we meet."

[See also:
"Two takeaways from #AmAnth18: ‘the smoke is telling us something’ @ZoeSTodd | ‘anti-capitalism is the only sane position - the alternative is just f*cking ridiculous’ @profdavidharvey"
"One utopian vision after smoky #AmAnth2018. Make the megaconference a biennial. Imagine instead, every other year, dozens of simultaneous regional gatherings, each streaming sessions online and holding virtual meetups. Gather with folks in person & tune in elsewhere. Speculating."
"Here's a description of the distributed model we used at @culanth for #displace18 this spring. Registration for $10, less than 1% of typical carbon emissions, and an average panel audience of 125 people. An alternative to the empty conference center room. "
"Reading this, I also realized I was able to attend more talks at Displacements by tuning in from home (cost: $10), than I was able to attend at #AmAnth2018 by actually flying to San Jose for two days with two days of travel on either end to present my paper (cost: over $900)."
"I like this, although for those of us at small teaching colleges with little intellectual community, conferences are a welcome (though exhausting and expensive) change."
"I have this problem. There are universities close by who could be more welcoming to those of us not working at research institutions. I am thrilled that this conversation is happening."
"Probably the most expensive academic conference I have ever participated/presented in coming from the Global South. My university covered me but what about those scholars who will never get an opportunity because AAA provides no bursaries or lower rates for membership. Ripoff."
"I'm trying to imagine how to salvage the promise of connection & kinship without binging so much on carbon & vaporizing life. No simple answer. Building & deepening regional intellectual communities as an alternative? A social foundation for a distributed conference model."
"Yes, the conversation today has given me lots to think about. How do we balance need for meaningful opportunities to engage while also addressing the visceral environmental, economic issues that come any professional organization converging on a city."
"I would also love to see develop a virtual platform for alternative access to the @AmericanAnthro annual meeting, not to substitute, but to supplement. Those who can't afford to attend in person, or can't stomach the carbon burden, shouldn't have to fly this far in a digital era."
"There's an obsession with attending all annual meetings. It's not necessary, exhausting and takes time from regional networking that could emphasize not just presenting but working with each other. Also, AAA could alternate between virtual and in-person (+virtual) meetings."]
zoetodd  conferences  sustainability  climatechange  2018  labor  accessibility  environment  anticapitalism  capitalism  davidharvey  lysalcayna-stevens    anandpandian  displacements  displacement  events  regional  distributed  decentralization  economics  academia  highered  culturalanthropology  anthropology  emissions  audience  virtual  digital  annalowenhaupttsing  nehavora  michaeloman-reagan  kristinwilson  nausheenanwar  #displace18  highereducation  education 
november 2018 by robertogreco
Cosmoecological Sheep and the Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet | Environmental Humanities | Duke University Press
"In recent decades, in the South of France some young people from urban backgrounds have chosen to become shepherds and to learn to reconnect with the herding practices that many livestock breeders had abandoned under the pressure of agricultural modernization policies. In some cases they have found themselves entrusted with sheep that are as naive about herding as they themselves were. Before their introduction to transhumance—seasonal movement between pastures—these animals were primarily confined and fed indoors or in small fenced areas. The shepherds had to learn how to lead, how to understand other modes of living, how to teach their sheep what is edible and what is not, and how to form a flock; the sheep had to learn how to “compose with” dogs and humans, to acquire new feeding habits, a new ethos, and moreover, new ways of living in an enlarged world. These practices cannot be reduced to a livestock economy: shepherds consider herding a work of transformation and ecological recuperation—of the land, of the sheep, of ways of being together. Learning the “arts of living on a damaged planet,” as Anna Tsing has termed it, humans and animals are making their own contributions to a new cosmoecology, creating cosmoecological connections and contributing to what Ghassan Hage has called alter-politics."
cosmoecology  cosmopolitics  sheep  shepherds  multispecies  morethanhuman  ethology  ethics  economics  2016  vincianedespret  michelmeuret  france  annalowenhaupttsing  herding  agriculture  livestock  animals  human-animalrelationships  human-animalrelations  ecology  alter-politics  ghassanhage  anthropocene  latecapitalism  annatsing 
december 2017 by robertogreco
Impakt Festival 2017 - Performance: ANAB JAIN. HQ - YouTube
[Embedded here: ]

"'Everything is Beautiful and Nothing Hurts': @anab_jain's expansive keynote @impaktfestival weaves threads through death, transcience, uncertainty, growthism, technological determinism, precarity, imagination and truths. Thanks to @jonardern for masterful advise on 'modelling reality', and @tobias_revell and @ndkane for the invitation." ]
anabjain  2017  superflux  death  aging  transience  time  temporary  abundance  scarcity  future  futurism  prototyping  speculativedesign  predictions  life  living  uncertainty  film  filmmaking  design  speculativefiction  experimentation  counternarratives  designfiction  futuremaking  climatechange  food  homegrowing  smarthomes  iot  internetofthings  capitalism  hope  futures  hopefulness  data  dataviz  datavisualization  visualization  williamplayfair  society  economics  wonder  williamstanleyjevons  explanation  statistics  wiiliambernstein  prosperity  growth  latecapitalism  propertyrights  jamescscott  objectivity  technocrats  democracy  probability  scale  measurement  observation  policy  ai  artificialintelligence  deeplearning  algorithms  technology  control  agency  bias  biases  neoliberalism  communism  present  past  worldview  change  ideas  reality  lucagatti  alextaylor  unknown  possibility  stability  annalowenhaupttsing  imagination  ursulaleguin  truth  storytelling  paradigmshifts  optimism  annegalloway  miyamotomusashi  annatsing 
november 2017 by robertogreco
Cap and Trade – The New Inquiry
"Q: Is that why the book is largely set in a forest? So much of the writing about capitalism is located in factories, fields, or counting houses. What can forests help us understand about capitalism?

A: Not all forests are just groups of trees. Much of the book takes place in the industrial forests of the Pacific Northwest. It was a center of industrial timber in the mid-20th century and is still considered an industrial forest today. Managed forests have become an important model for the industrial plantation. The sugar cane plantation of the New World was the early model for industrialization. Now when you look up the word plantation, tree plantations come up first. For me, writing about forests is a way of getting at industrial discipline.

Of course, the original New World colonial plantation haunts capitalism to this day. It is on the slave plantation that Europeans learn to create assets through the joint disciplining of people and crops. They also invented techniques to shield investors from the environmental and social consequences of the investments that they were making, often over long distances. The mid-20th century managed forest in the U.S. was a model for the intensive crop production of a forest. Weeds were removed through spraying, and the technical monocrop features of the forest were really exaggerated, even in national forests.

Q: In your essay “Gens” you make this statement of purpose along with your co-authors: “Instead of capitalism a priori, as an already determining structure, logic, and trajectory, we ask how its social relations are generated out of divergent life projects.” How did you come to this way of thinking about capitalism?

A: I came to it in part through feminist political economy. In the late 20th century, feminist political economy started asking questions about labor that weren’t getting asked, like why there were women factory workers and why certain industries preferentially hired women, or even certain kinds of women. In order to explain that, one simply couldn’t ignore complicated historical trajectories—colonialism, racism, and the way the state interacted with the family—and the way these histories intertwined to create a particular moment in capitalism. Those basic opening questions turned into fertile theoretical ground for feminist scholarship. Rather than starting from a monolithic structure of capitalism and asking about its effects, feminist scholarship asked how a set of histories congealed together to create a particular kind of economic moment.

Q: Matsutake mushrooms are very small. The mushroom trade is very small. But you convincingly argue that small does not mean unimportant. Scale is an important theme in the book. What can mushrooms help us understand about capitalism and scale?

A: We are seduced by our computers today. Computers have such an easy time making something bigger or smaller on a screen without appearing to distort its characteristics at all. It makes us think that this is how reality works. When reality does actually function this way, it is a whole lot of work to make it scale up and scale down. And it never works perfectly. The plantation chases that ideal. Its goal is to scale up or scale down without changing the manner of production at all. But doing that is an enormous amount of work, and the work is often violent.

Mushrooms turn out to be a good way to think about contradictory and interrupting scales, both in terms of political economy and ecology. In the supply chain, there’s not the same emphasis on maintaining production standards across scale. Instead, there are techniques for translating mushrooms produced in different local realities and scales into a single, uniform commodity. And these techniques never succeed completely. Ecologically, if you don’t have certain small disturbances between particular organisms, you wouldn’t have the effect of the forest at all."

Q: The book flips the geography of the supply chain we are most used to hearing about. The flexible labor is in rural America, and the buyers are overseas, in Japan. Is this a new historical period, economically speaking? How do you situate this in the context of the broader 20th century global economy?

A: I argue that there was a moment in the late 20th century when a particular model of Japanese supply chain became so powerful, it kicked over a big change in the way supply chains worked globally. Production was no longer the organizing force, which had been the case in the U.S. corporate supply chain, the predominant form before that. These changes disentangled the relationships between nation-states and powerful sourcing corporations. This disentanglement allows the rural northwestern resemble the global south in certain ways as a sourcing area for global supply chains. But the matsutake supply chain is an unusual case. If you want to find U.S. companies sourcing from other parts of the world, that’s still the dominant form of supply chain.

Q: The book seems hopeful.

A: I’ve been accused both ways.

Q: Well, it has “End of the World” in the main title, and “the Possibilities of Life” in the subtitle.

A: That’s true. We don’t have a choice except to muddle by. So that’s the hopeful part. We have to figure out what we’ve got and what we can do with it. To me, this is practical hopefulness. It is a hard line to pull off. The subtitle is not actually about hope in a traditional Christian sense of redemption. At this particular historical moment, I don’t think that makes much sense. There are plenty of people who want to use a set of philosophies or technologies to get us out of the soup. That’s tough. On the other hand, there’s just getting stuck in a big bundle of apocalyptic thinking.

The book asks us to pay attention to the imperfect situation in which we live, to recognize both the handholds and the pitfalls. Perhaps looking at this particular mushroom lends hopefulness. I’ve since realized I don’t have to go that direction. Lately I’ve been giving papers on killer fungi, the kind of fungi that grow unintentionally out of the plantation system. These fungi and other pests and diseases represent the plantation system gone wild in ways that negatively affect humans, plants, or animals. Fungus can be terrible too."
scale  scalability  capitalism  sustainability  annalowenhaupttsing  anthropology  anthropocene  2016  themushroomattheendoftheworld  growth  plantations  geography  supplychains  japan  us  forests  trees  mushrooms  nature  multispecies  labor  morethanhuman  annatsing 
october 2017 by robertogreco
Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing - A Feminist Approach to the Anthropocene: Earth Stalked by Man - YouTube
"To take seriously the concept of the Anthropocene—the idea that we have entered a new epoch defined by humans’ impact on Earth’s ecosystems—requires engagement with global history. Using feminist anthropology, this lecture explores the awkward relations between what one might call “machines of replication”—those simplified ecologies, such as plantations, in which life worlds are remade as future assets—and the vernacular histories in which such machines erupt in all their particularity and go feral in counter-intentional forms. This lecture does not begin with the unified continuity of Man (versus indigenous ontologies; as scientific protocol; etc.), but rather explores contingent eruptions and the patchy, fractured Anthropocene they foster.

Anna L. Tsing is a Professor of Anthropology at UC Santa Cruz, and the acclaimed author of several books including Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection and In the Realm of the Diamond Queen.

This Helen Pond McIntyre '48 Lecture was recorded on November 10, 2015 at Barnard College."
annalowenhaupttsing  2015  anthropocene  multispecies  morethanhuman  ecology  disentanglement  feminism  naturalhistory  anthropology  ecologies  plantations  capitalism  humans  entanglement  interdependence  animals  plants  trees  birds  farming  fordlandia  rubber  environment  hope  science  humanism  agriculture  annatsing 
september 2017 by robertogreco
Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet — University of Minnesota Press
[via: ]

"Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene

2017 • Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, Heather Anne Swanson, Elaine Gan, and Nils Bubandt, Editors

Can humans and other species continue to inhabit the earth together?

As human-induced environmental change threatens multispecies livability, Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet puts forward a bold proposal: entangled histories, situated narratives, and thick descriptions offer urgent “arts of living.” Included are essays by scholars in anthropology, ecology, science studies, art, literature, and bioinformatics who posit critical and creative tools for collaborative survival in a more-than-human Anthropocene.
Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet exposes us to the active remnants of gigantic past human errors—the ghosts—that affect the daily lives of millions of people and their co-occurring other-than-human life forms. Challenging us to look at life in new and excitingly different ways, each part of this two-sided volume is informative, fascinating, and a source of stimulation to new thoughts and activisms. I have no doubt I will return to it many times.

—Michael G. Hadfield, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa

Living on a damaged planet challenges who we are and where we live. This timely anthology calls on twenty eminent humanists and scientists to revitalize curiosity, observation, and transdisciplinary conversation about life on earth.

As human-induced environmental change threatens multispecies livability, Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet puts forward a bold proposal: entangled histories, situated narratives, and thick descriptions offer urgent “arts of living.” Included are essays by scholars in anthropology, ecology, science studies, art, literature, and bioinformatics who posit critical and creative tools for collaborative survival in a more-than-human Anthropocene. The essays are organized around two key figures that also serve as the publication’s two openings: Ghosts, or landscapes haunted by the violences of modernity; and Monsters, or interspecies and intraspecies sociality. Ghosts and Monsters are tentacular, windy, and arboreal arts that invite readers to encounter ants, lichen, rocks, electrons, flying foxes, salmon, chestnut trees, mud volcanoes, border zones, graves, radioactive waste—in short, the wonders and terrors of an unintended epoch.

Contributors: Karen Barad, U of California, Santa Cruz; Kate Brown, U of Maryland, Baltimore; Carla Freccero, U of California, Santa Cruz; Peter Funch, Aarhus U; Scott F. Gilbert, Swarthmore College; Deborah M. Gordon, Stanford U; Donna J. Haraway, U of California, Santa Cruz; Andreas Hejnol, U of Bergen, Norway; Ursula K. Le Guin; Marianne Elisabeth Lien, U of Oslo; Andrew Mathews, U of California, Santa Cruz; Margaret McFall-Ngai, U of Hawaii, Manoa; Ingrid M. Parker, U of California, Santa Cruz; Mary Louise Pratt, NYU; Anne Pringle, U of Wisconsin, Madison; Deborah Bird Rose, U of New South Wales, Sydney; Dorion Sagan; Lesley Stern, U of California, San Diego; Jens-Christian Svenning, Aarhus U.
books  toread  anthropocene  annalowenhaupttsing  multispecies  heatheranneswanson  elainegan  nilsbubandt  anthropology  ecology  science  art  literature  bioinformatics  2017  morethanhuman  humans  transdisciplinary  interspecies  karenbarad  katebrown  carlafreccero  peterfunch  scottgilbert  deborahgordon  donnaharaway  andreasheinol  ursulaleguin  marianneelisabethlien  andrewmathews  margaretmcfall-ngai  ingridparker  marylouisepratt  annepringle  deborahbirdrose  dorionsagan  lesleystern  jens-christiansvenning  earth  intraspecies  annatsing 
september 2017 by robertogreco
Profile: AURA: Aarhus University Research on the Anthropocene
"We have entered the Anthropocene - a new geologic epoch, defined by unprecedented human disturbance of the earth’s ecosystems.

The Anthropocene is a confusing age. At a time when humans have come to be a 'force of nature' that is instrumental in causing rapid, often unintended, changes to the earth they inhabit, nature in its classical sense is over. Nature itself has become a cultural side-effect, a side-effect full of unintended consequences.

At the heart of our confusion is the problem of unintentional design on anthropogenic, i.e. human disturbed, landscapes. Human projects do not always result in the landscapes of which we dream. Climate change is one example of unintentional design; new zoonotic diseases are another. As these examples suggest, we tend to imagine unintentional design as a danger to human survival. But what if anthropogenic landscapes were sometimes also sites of new designs for living—unplanned but still life-enhancing?

New approaches that cut across the conventional divide between the human sciences and the life sciences are required to consider these Anthropocene dilemmas.  "Living in the Anthropocene: Discovering the potential of unintentional design on anthropogenic landscapes" is a research project at Aarhus University that seeks to study these dilemmas.

Headed by Niels Bohr professor and anthropologist Anna Tsing, the project aims to open up a novel and truly trans-disciplinary field of research into the Anthropocene.  Applying insights and methods from anthropology, biology and philosophy, the  project will focus on the 'co-species landscapes' that humans and other species come to co-inhabit in the Anthropocene.  The projects suggests that a descriptive and trans-disciplinary approach is needed to understand the kinds of lives that are made and the futures that are possible in the ruined, re-wilded, and unintended landscapes of the Anthropocene."
annalowenhaupttsing  anthropocene  capitalism  climatechange  nielsbohr  aarhusuniversity  multispecies  ecosystems  landscapes  anthropology  biology  philosophy  morethanhuman  annatsing 
september 2017 by robertogreco
A theory of nonscalability | A Working Library
"Tsing on scalability:
Progress itself has often been defined by its ability to make projects expand without changing their framing assumptions. This quality is “scalability.” The term is a bit confusing, because it could be interpreted to mean “able to be discussed in terms of scale.” Both scalable and nonscalable projects, however, can be discussed in relation to scale. When Ferdand Braudel explained history’s “long durée” or Niels Bohr showed us the quantum atom, these were not projects of scalability, although they each revolutionized thinking about scale. Scalability, in contrast, is the ability of a project to change scales smoothly without any change in project frames. A scalable business, for example, does not change its organization as it expands. This is possible only if business relations are not transformative, changing the business as new relations are added. Similarly, a scalable research project admits only data that already fit the research frame. Scalability requires that project elements be oblivious to indeterminacies of encounter; that’s how they allow smooth expansion. Thus, too, scalability banishes meaningful diversity, that is, diversity that might change things.

(Emphasis mine.) I think about scalability and diversity in my work-life quite a bit: the tech and media industries have explicitly acknowledged the need for diversity (while so far only making token steps towards achieving it). But there’s often a notion that diversifying an organization will not require changes to that organization’s culture: the concept of “culture fit” presumes someone can neatly fit into the existing culture, as opposed to challenging it or expanding it—or even razing it. That tech (and, increasingly, media—and oh, that boundary is nothing if not fluid) also speaks of scalability in religious terms puts Tsing’s contention here in an even more interesting light. Scalability is expressed not only in the external artifacts of an organization—the software, the servers, the business model—but also the people who work for it and the people who interact with it as customers, clients, and, increasingly, inconstant laborers. That latter category—the Uber drivers, TaskRabbits, and Postmates—seems especially relevant to notions of scalability. Uber can scale, but the single parent who works as a driver and can’t predict what they’ll make from week to week cannot.

Tsing continues:
Scalability is not an ordinary feature of nature. Making projects scalable takes a lot of work. Even after that work, there will still be interactions between scalable and nonscalable project elements. Yet, despite the contributions of thinkers like Braudel and Bohr, the connection between scaling up and the advancement of humanity has been so strong that scalable elements receive the lion’s share of attention. The nonscalable becomes an impediment. It’s time to turn attention to the nonscalable, not only as objects for description but also as incitements to theory.

A theory of nonscalability might begin in the work it takes to create scalability—and the messes it makes. One vantage point might be that early and influential icon for this work: the European colonial plantation. In their sixteenth- and seventeenth-century sugarcane plantations in Brazil, for example, Portuguese planters stumbled on a formula for smooth expansion. They crafted self-contained, interchangeable project elements, as follows: exterminate local people and plants; prepare now-empty, unclaimed land; and bring in exotic and isolated labor and crops for production. This landscape model of scalability became an inspiration for later industrialization and modernization.

There’s the savage bit again: scalability often swamps all other considerations. If you define scalability as the solitary success metric, then you are bound to ignore—or violently overcome—all other measures. So another place to begin to build a theory of nonscalability might be to ask by what other metrics we should measure progress. Scalability cannot be our only aim."
mandybrown  leadership  management  scalability  hiring  scale  2016  annalowenhaupttsing  nonscalability  diversity  small  business  annatsing 
july 2016 by robertogreco
Generation Anthropocene: How humans have altered the planet for ever | Books | The Guardian
"We are living in the Anthropocene age, in which human influence on the planet is so profound – and terrifying – it will leave its legacy for millennia. Politicians and scientists have had their say, but how are writers and artists responding to this crisis?"

"Warren’s exhibit makes Bateley’s crackly recording available, and her accompanying text unfolds the complexities of its sonic strata. It is, as Warren puts it, “a soundtrack of the sacred voices of extinct birds echoing in that of a dead man echoing out of a machine echoing through the world today”. The intellectual elegance of her work – and its exemplary quality as an Anthropocene-aware artefact – lies in its subtle tracing of the technological and imperial histories involved in a single extinction event and its residue."

"Perhaps the greatest challenge posed to our imagination by the Anthropocene is its inhuman organisation as an event. If the Anthropocene can be said to “take place”, it does so across huge scales of space and vast spans of time, from nanometers to planets, and from picoseconds to aeons. It involves millions of different teleconnected agents, from methane molecules to rare earth metals to magnetic fields to smartphones to mosquitoes. Its energies are interactive, its properties emergent and its structures withdrawn.

In 2010 Timothy Morton adopted the term hyperobject to denote some of the characteristic entities of the Anthropocene. Hyperobjects are “so massively distributed in time, space and dimensionality” that they defy our perception, let alone our comprehension. Among the examples Morton gives of hyperobjects are climate change, mass species extinction and radioactive plutonium. “In one sense [hyperobjects] are abstractions,” he notes, “in another they are ferociously, catastrophically real.”

Creative non-fiction, and especially reportage, has adapted most quickly to this “distributed” aspect of the Anthropocene. Episodic in assembly and dispersed in geography, some outstanding recent non-fiction has proved able to map intricate patterns of environmental cause and effect, and in this way draw hyperobjects into at least partial visibility. Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (2014) and her Field Notes from a Catastrophe (2006) are landmarks here, as is Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate (2014). In 2015 Gaia Vince published Adventures in the Anthropocene, perhaps the best book so far to trace the epoch’s impacts on the world’s poor, and the slow violence that climate change metes out to them.

Last year also saw the publication of The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, by the American anthropologist Anna Tsing. Tsing takes as her subject one of the “strangest commodity chains of our times”: that of the matsutake, supposedly the most valuable fungus in the world, which grows best in “human-disturbed forests”. Written in what she calls “a riot of short chapters, like the flushes of mushrooms that come up after rain”, Tsing’s book describes a contemporary “nature” that is hybrid and multiply interbound. Her ecosystems stretch from wood-wide webs of mycelia, through earthworms and pine roots, to logging trucks and hedge funds – as well as down into the flora of our own multispecies guts. Tsing’s account of nature thus overcomes what Jacques Rancière has called the “partition of the sensible”, by which he means the traditional division of matter into “life” and “not-life”. Like Skelton in his recent Beyond the Fell Wall (2015), and the poet Sean Borodale, Tsing is interested in a vibrant materialism that acknowledges the agency of stones, ores and atmospheres, as well as humans and other organisms.

Tsing is also concerned with the possibility of what she calls “collaborative survival” in the Anthropocene-to-come. As Evans Calder Williams notes, the Anthropocene imagination “crawls with narratives of survival”, in which varying conditions of resource scarcity exist, and varying kinds of salvage are practised. Our contemporary appetite for environmental breakdown is colossal, tending to grotesque: from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006) – now almost an Anthropocene ur-text – through films such as The Survivalist and the Mad Max franchise, to The Walking Dead and the Fallout video game series.

The worst of this collapse culture is artistically crude and politically crass. The best is vigilant and provocative: Simon Ings’ Wolves (2014), for instance, James Bradley’s strange and gripping Clade (2015), or Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake (2014), a post-apocalyptic novel set in the “blaec”, “brok” landscape of 11th-century England, that warns us not to defer our present crisis. I think also of Clare Vaye Watkins’s glittering Gold Fame Citrus (2015), which occurs in a drought-scorched American southwest and includes a field-guide to the neo-fauna of this dunescape: the “ouroboros rattlesnake”, the “Mojave ghost crab”.

Such scarcity narratives unsettle what we might call the Holocene delusion on which growth economics is founded: of the Earth as an infinite body of matter, there for the incredible ultra-machine of capitalism to process, exploit and discard without heed of limit. Meanwhile, however, speculative novelists – Andy Weir in The Martian, Kim Stanley Robinson in Red Mars – foresee how we will overcome terrestrial shortages by turning to asteroid mining or the terra-forming of Mars. To misquote Fredric Jameson, it is easier to imagine the extraction of off-planet resources than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.

The novel is the cultural form to which the Anthropocene arguably presents most difficulties, and most opportunities. Historically, the novel has been celebrated for its ability to represent human interiority: the skull-to-skull skip of free indirect style, or the vivid flow of stream-of-consciousness. But what use are such skills when addressing the enormity of this new epoch? Any Anthropocene-aware novel finds itself haunted by impersonal structures, and intimidated by the limits of individual agency. China Miéville’s 2011 short story “Covehithe” cleverly probes and parodies these anxieties. In a near-future Suffolk, animate oil rigs haul themselves out of the sea, before drilling down into the coastal strata to lay dozens of rig eggs. These techno-zombies prove impervious to military interventions: at last, all that humans can do is become spectators, snapping photos of the rigs and watching live feeds from remote cameras as they give birth – an Anthropocene Springwatch.

Most memorable to me is Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 novel, Annihilation. It describes an expedition into an apparently poisoned region known as Area X, in which relic human structures have been not just reclaimed but wilfully redesigned by a mutated nature. A specialist team is sent to survey the zone. They discover archive caches and topographically anomalous buildings including a “Tower” that descends into the earth rather than jutting from it. The Tower’s steps are covered in golden slime, and on its walls crawls a “rich greenlike moss” that inscribes letters and words on the masonry – before entering and authoring the bodies of the explorers themselves. It gradually becomes apparent that Area X, in all its weird wildness, is actively transforming the members of the expedition who have been sent to subdue it with science. As such, VanderMeer’s novel brilliantly reverses the hubris of the Anthropocene: instead of us leaving the world post-natural, it suggests, the world will leave us post-human.

As the idea of the Anthropocene has surged in power, so its critics have grown in number and strength. Cultural and literary studies currently abound with Anthropocene titles: most from the left, and often bitingly critical of their subject. The last 12 months have seen the publication of Jedediah Purdy’s After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene, McKenzie Wark’s provocative Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene and the environmental historian Jason W Moore’s important Capitalism in the Web of Life. Last July the “revolutionary arts and letters quarterly” Salvage launched with an issue that included Daniel Hartley’s essay “Against the Anthropocene” and Miéville, superbly, on despair and environmental justice in the new epoch.

Across these texts and others, three main objections recur: that the idea of the Anthropocene is arrogant, universalist and capitalist-technocratic. Arrogant, because the designation of the Anthropocene – the “New Age of Humans” – is our crowning act of self-mythologisation (we are the super-species, we the Prometheans, we have ended nature), and as such only embeds the narcissist delusions that have produced the current crisis.

Universalist, because the Anthropocene assumes a generalised anthropos, whereby all humans are equally implicated and all equally affected. As Purdy, Miéville and Moore point out, “we” are not all in the Anthropocene together – the poor and the dispossessed are far more in it than others. “Wealthy countries,” writes Purdy, “create a global landscape of inequality in which the wealthy find their advantages multiplied … In this neoliberal Anthropocene, free contract within a global market launders inequality through voluntariness.”

And capitalist-technocratic, because the dominant narrative of the Anthropocene has technology as its driver: recent Earth history reduced to a succession of inventions (fire, the combustion engine, the synthesis of plastic, nuclear weaponry). The monolithic concept bulk of this scientific Anthropocene can crush the subtleties out of both past and future, disregarding the roles of ideology, empire and political economy. Such a technocratic narrative will also tend to encourage technocratic solutions: geoengineering as a quick-fix for climate … [more]
environment  geology  literature  anthropocene  speculativefiction  fiction  novels  juliannelutzwarren  extinction  2016  robertmacfarlane  posthumanism  capitalism  economics  systems  systemthinking  technology  sustainability  technocracy  capitalocene  deforestation  chinamiéville  jedediahpurdy  mckenziewark  jasonmoore  danielhartley  jeffcandermeer  tomothymorton  hyperobjects  naomiklein  elizabethkolbert  gaiavince  annatsing  seanborodale  richardskelton  autumnrichardson  rorygibb  memory  holocene  earth  salvation  philiplarkin  plastic  plasticene  stratigraphy  eugenestoemer  paulcrutzen  history  apex-guilt  shadowtime  stieg  raymondwilliams  fredricjameson  glennalbrecht  johnclare  solastalgia  inequality  annalowenhaupttsing 
april 2016 by robertogreco
AC2015 - Chair's plenary: Feral geographies: life in capitalist ruins
"Two questions guide this talk. First, how have industrial processes changed earth ecologies—even far from industrial centers? Second, given that Anthropocene ecologies have moved outside human design, how shall we understand their geographies as simultaneously global and local? Using invasive fungal pathogens, parasites, and decomposers as my entry point, I will examine histories of invasion that clarify overlapping human and nonhuman world-making, as this leads to feral geographies. On the one hand, such histories illustrate unintentional design, that is, landscapes made by many living things. On the other hand, they suggest that something new—and beyond human control—has emerged in our times, challenging the livable ecologies of earlier landscape dynamics. Indeed, newly deadly more-than-human capacities, with their feral geographies, give substance to the concept of the Anthropocene. Mapping them allows Anthropocene to do crucial work: drawing together a transdisciplinary discussion of industrial effects. The talk thus addresses the possibility of opening disciplinary and conceptual borders, not just for the critique of dichotomies between nature and culture, but also, more urgently, for the making of forms of knowledge, which, while not universal, know what travel is and how to chance it. This is a challenge, then, for both theory and description. Might joining the discussion called “Anthropocene” require humanistic social scientists to rethink our knowledge practices? Meanwhile, the talk is a renewed endorsement of the importance of arts of noticing—and critical description—for our unsettled times."
geography  feralgeographies  feral  anthropocene  capitalism  via:anne  2015  jamielorimer  sarahwhatmore  annatsing  stephenhinchliffe  gaildavies  charylmcewan  noticing  landscape  nonhuman  multispecies  human  design  geoengineering  parasites  pathogens  decomposers  decomposition  annalowenhaupttsing 
may 2015 by robertogreco

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