Anthropocene Curriculum| Campus: Technosphere Issue

I’m very excited to be attending this year’s Anthropocene Campus held in Berlin, Germany, April 14-22nd, 2016.

Plastics washed ashore on Hawai’i Island’s Kamilo Beach. Photo: A. Zahara

The Anthropocene Campus is an ongoing trans-disciplinary collaboration initiated by Haus der Kulturen der Welt and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, and is made up of a series of public lectures, seminars, art exhibitions and more. The purpose of campus is to develop an interdisciplinary curriculum for studies of the/an Anthropocene– one that is ethical, inclusive, and (hopefully) recognizes the existence of multiple Anthropocenes and not just those posited through Western philosophy and academia. Other selected participants include artists, members of community and activist groups, and PhD students from natural and social sciences, humanities, architecture, business, and fine arts.

The full schedule of the 2016 Campus is available here.

As a participant, I will be attending the following seminars:

-By: Anna Tsing (UC Santa Cruz), Elaine Gan (UC Santa Cruz),  Bettina Stoetzer (University of Chicago)
What are we to make of proliferating crises: environmental degradation, forced migration, species exterminations, unforgiveable debt? These are unfolding simultaneously within a golden age of technoscientifically enhanced discoveries: maze-busting slime molds, coevolving immune systems, more-than-human webs of symbiotic, invasive, artificial intelligence. Every day, we bounce between creativity and catastrophe, grappling with love and rage. The paradoxes are not hard to enumerate. The real challenge lies in describing their entanglement. And yet, the Anthropocene trips up hard-earned categories and practices, pressing for radical approaches to understanding novel social dynamics. Rather than elaborating a straightforward analytical tool for defining a human-centered geological epoch, the Anthropocene presents a multidimensional puzzle structured around complexities and ruptures. When nature and culture—ways of being and ways of belonging— can no longer be studied as exclusively human, nonhuman or machine, how might we approach this puzzle? Who inhabits and orders the Technosphere? This seminar conceptualizes the Technosphere as an unintended muddle of multispecies relationships that emerge from contaminated landscapes, postwar rubble, and garbage heaps—in short, dumps. Such a muddle may be considered through feral technologies—novel and weedy capacities for materially significant change.Critical studies of change call for serious attention to companion species and the making and unmaking of multiple technologies of coordination. This seminar proposes an interdisciplinary exercise in critical description: a mix of fieldwork on ruderal ecologies, digital art, and multispecies ethnography. It is grounded in Teufelsberg (Devil’s Mountain), one of Berlin’s highest peaks and made from rubble cleared from the city after the war.


-By: Gabrielle Hecht (University of Michigan), Paul Edwards (University of Michigan), Peter Haff (Duke University), and Jonas Loh (Studio NAND)
In the course of its productive and consumptive functions, the technosphere transforms energy, materials, and information. It metabolizes not only fossil and nuclear fuels, but also solar energy, through processes including photosynthesis(agriculture), wind, and hydro. The technosphere also metabolizes information, ingesting some kinds of data as inputs and producing other data as outputs, often in complex cycles of feedback and control. The technosphere uses energy in part to transform information, while information guides the metabolism of energy. The technosphere’s waste products—the metabolites created by its transformation of energy, materials, and information— are in turn transforming both the biosphere and the geosphere. Microplastics, artificial chemicals, and human- made radioactive materials can be detected in the cells of organisms all over the world, including in the deep oceans. Greenhouse gases and particulate aerosols are transforming the atmosphere and the climate. “Data exhaust”—the data generated by individual activity, from web searches to Facebook to online shopping—is being recycled far more effectively than material waste, used to detect patterns, trends, and individual preferences and transforming the relationship between business and consumers, as well as civil society, worldwide. This seminar will develop creative approaches to understanding and visualizing these interplays of energy, materials and information in the technosphere, conceived as metabolic processes.
-By: Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga (MIT), Gabrielle Hecht(University of Michigan), Shadreck Chirikure (University of Cape Town), D.A. Masolo (University of Louisville), and Chaz Maviyane-Davies (Massachusetts College of Art)
Does the concept of “the”/“an” anthropocene promote or inhibit the possibilities of a polycentric globalepistemology? Does it de-center or re-center the Western ratio? With what implications? When should the beginning of the anthropocene be demarcated? Why there and according to whom? Anthropocene… in whose language? Is it possible to have more than one anthropocene, along the lines of “modernity in two languages”(“yours” and “ours”) that Partha Chatterjee suggested in 1997? The anxiety is that “the anthropocene” and even “the technosphere” may become, wittingly or unwittingly, a convenient vocabulary to restore Euro-and Western-centricity, taking us back to an imperial or colonial mode of representation of seeing from Berlin,London, and Washington and extending hegemonic worldview without regard to situatedness. Pluralizing (technospheres, anthropocenes–even anthroposcenes) is one step towards a democracy of operative language allowing different markers of time, thought, tools, realities, scales, causalities, effects, and categories to coexist and participate in shaping global vocabularies. This seminar will therefore consider what a (not “the”) technosphere, anatmosphere, and a biosphere might mean from Africa, not just as outcomes of incoming ideas or artifacts in the present, but endogenous modes of thought and practice over a much longer durée. This seminar brings together some of the world’s most renowned scholars of Africa, each addressing the concept of anthropocene (and technosphere) from her/his own special: archaeology, history, history, STS, and graphic design.

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