There is an odd combination of care and mockery with regard to infrastructure devoted entirely to sinkholes. Please, please go to thesinkhole.org and check them out. It is not a complex blog, but it is dead serious (for example, note that a number of the stories covered by the blog record casualties). A curious resource and one to keep your eye on.
I recently had the opportunity to see the film Sully (2016), which recounts the 2009 emergency landing of a jetliner on New York’s Hudson River. Despite some critical flaws, the film is not only a thrill to watch but also provides much food for thought to those studying infrastructure. Even the flaws are instructive. One of them – certainly the most discussed – regards the portrayal of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that, as per protocol, investigated the accident. Whether due to Hollywood convention or directorial choice, the NTSB team are neatly cast as the villains, out to get the story’s hero by discrediting his decision-making process.
An often overlooked aspect of how infrastructures impose (social) order is through transforming time into a trusty ally. One of their essential functions is to afford shared frames for enacting a window of opportunity. Like many out there, I have been watching with bated breath as Hurricane Matthew churns a destructive path through the Caribbean and, now, along the coast of Florida. Yet, by the time Matthew goes “live” on our news screens it is already too late to act. The window of opportunity is gone, and even emergency personnel must wait until it is safe to respond. The U.S. National Weather Service (NWS), however, has been closely monitoring this storm long before it became “Hurricane Matthew” to us. Charged with protecting life and property, NWS forecasters all over the East Coast were anxiously (and excitedly!) poring over the model forecasts and other weather guidance from the National Hurricane Center, deliberating over the uncertainty of the storm’s path and pondering how and when it was going to affect their area of forecasting responsibility. Remarkably, despite the great excitement and responsibility involved, the demeanor of the entire agency through it all has been calm, measured, and deliberate.
We may take it for granted, but “speaking with one voice” represents a great sociotechnical achievement – at the NWS as well as anywhere else. As I discuss in my book, the NWS has cultivated sets of temporally judicious decision-making habits in its forecasters both by promoting expeditious meteorological skills and rules of thumb and by scaffolding the temporal architecture of a given task onto more or less fixed deliberation structures and technologically hardwired timing sequences. Specifically as it pertains to hurricane operations, NWS forecasters must abide by the storm tracks charted by the Hurricane Center and, in fact, cannot publicly divulge any information prior its official release to ensure “the issuance of information to all users at the same time on an equal basis.” As I had occasion to witness first hand, however, NWS forecasters don’t always agree with the pronouncements of the Hurricane Center, or of each other for that matter. And so, Hurricane Center forecasts/warnings are issued one hour before NWS field offices are to issue local hurricane advisories and warnings. This hour is the window of opportunity during which NWS forecasters will deliberate (via prescheduled conference calls and (ad hoc) chat room discussions) with the Hurricane Center as well as neighboring field offices about possible local amendments to the intensity/timing/track of the storm. Local expertise (in microclimatic conditions as well as community needs) is considered an asset at the NWS, militating for the existence of field offices in the first place. But eagerness to save the day and “nail the storm” can lead to flip-flopping, over/underwarning, or even bouts of indecision. It is especially for those fateful moments, when successfully utilizing windows of opportunity becomes paramount, that the NWS has sought to mold time into an organizational resource and forecasters into poised decision makers.
When it comes to windows of opportunity, however, one size doesn’t fit all. Different time horizons call for different infrastructural regimes of decision-making action. Here I have only touched upon hurricanes, which are “long-fused” events. Forecasting tornadoes, or some such “short-fused” event, presents entirely different windows of opportunity. Predictably, therefore, NWS infrastructures during fast-paced scenarios call forth a set of skills and resources best suited for keeping up with the action, whereas slow-paced scenarios come bundled with an equivalent set of skills and resources, meant to elicit good long-endurance performance. In the end, time makes a fool of us all, of course; but, in the meantime, we might as well devise ways to turn it into our best ally.
It is an admittedly odd juxtaposition, but these two ideas landed on my desk this week.
First, in an example of public participation in inquiry, “Chornobyl’s urban explorers find evidence of logging inside exclusion zone” — logging glow sticks in the “zone of alienation” (thanks dmf). A group of “stockers” roams the zone of alienation and monitor it, and they have found some interesting things in their somewhat odd form of tourism. “The first time we saw forests and the second time it wasn’t there,” says Kalmykov. Chernobyl is having a birthday.
If you find yourself teaching unintended consequences, consider this case “Radioactive wild boars rampaging around Fukushima nuclear site.” The animal population, which was previously hunted as a delicacy, has expanded dramatically (likely on account of nobody wanting to eat the radioactive meat); the hogs have pillaged the environment local to the Fukushima nuclear site, eating all manner of contaminated fruits and vegetables.
Collapsing bridges (again and again), this time a flyover under construction in Kolkata (Calcutta). “India bridge collapse: Kolkata rescue efforts under way,” “India bridge collapse: At least 23 killed in Kolkata,” “Kolkata overpass collapse kills 24; rescuers dig for survivors,” “India Kolkata flyover collapse: At least 20 dead,” and it goes on.
While teaching STS, I was recently talking to my students about what constitutes an “internet attack.” The students arrived with clear examples in mind (and in hand, which was part of the assignment). The answers were primarily in the form of human-based hacking projects, and, as most of you know, they are abound. Giving the timing of the assignment, most of the cases had something to do with hacks against the US, hacks against power production facilities, and financial institutions.
However, one student brought this: Sharks, replete with jokes about Sharknado as evidence of the prowess of the shark. Seeing as how a previous lesson was about ANT, with an emphasis on non-human agents as not-to-be-ignored agents in understanding social order, broadly speaking, this was a sign that at least one student “really got it.”
Another student brought in this: an eagle hitting a drone, hard.
Not a few days pass, and the blog’s oldest friend, dmf, sends me to a great website, half-serious, half-satire, CyberSquirrel1. The site is a terrific description of how our critical infrastructure is seemingly the most danger from other nation-states; however, the empirical materials do not seem to suss-out such an explanation; in fact, squirrels and other non-humans are responsible for more “attacks” than anyone else.
Makes for a great lesson if you want to find a fresh new way to bring infrastructure and the agentic role of nonhumans into the classroom in a way that is, to my mind, far better to the early discussions that Latour made about stop signs or door hinges.
Latour on Paris Attacks:
What is so discouraging about the terrorist acts is that our discussion of what motivated the operations is as insane as the acts themselves. With each attack of this nature, we restage the grand war drama, the nation in peril and the protector-state purporting to rise up against barbarity. This is what states do, we say: we should have a basic expectation of security, and the state should have the means to provide it. End of story.
But what makes the current situation so much more dismaying is that the crimes committed on 13 November have occurred within a few days of another event about to take place that involves tragedies of a different kind, ones that will require that we come up with very different answers to wholly different threats that have nothing to do with ISIS/Daech. I am referring, of course, to the World Climate Change Conference in Paris, the COP21, which we are now liable to deem less serious, less urgent than the police response to the bloody escapades of those machinegun-toting lunatics.
Cajun culture on the bayou in southern Louisiana is being eroded as the bayou beneath them erodes, by some estimates, a football field of land lost per day (BBC reports).
Costal restoration projects are planned long-term, over the next 50 or so years, with some palpable success. The BBC link above links Gulf oil exploration to the quickening of erosion, especially based on land mistreatment without recovery efforts. This Huffington post piece, “Oil and Cultural Genocide,” is a little less equivocal.
According to the BBC piece, another culprit is to be identified in the erosion of Cajun culture and that is the Mississippi River, in particular, the way that the mouth of the mighty Mississippi has been channelled and controlled as it flows into the Gulf. Previously, the logic goes, the Mississippi used to act like a giant land-making mud-hose spraying silt across the Bayou thereby rejuvenating the land; however, as the river became more controlled, this rejuvenating process slowed considerably, and in its place these massive land moving operations — featured in the costal restoration projects — took their place.
*The image above is from a great website about Isle de Jean Charles: http://www.isledejeancharles.com/environment
John Oliver comments on infrastructure in the news. He comments on how poorly regulated infrastructure is in the US (the low grades America receives on its infrastructure report card) and hints that one of the reasons that we are so inattentive to infrastructure is its explicit “not sexiness.” Catastrophe is apparently one of the only reasons to be attentive to infrastructure …
Infrastructure is often seen as a pivot-point for addressing social ailments, directly or indirectly. That is what you’ll read — that assumption fully addressed — in Mariana Cavalcanti‘s “Waiting in the Ruins” a book chapter in Infrastructural Lives. What social ailments? Anything in the way of establishing Rio de Janeiro as a world Olympic city.
Questioned is the rhetoric championed by proponents of the favelas pacification programs as a form of “state intervention” — finally! Continue reading
At fellow blog “Society and Space” a recent book is under review, namely, Janet Roitman’s Anti-Crisis (Duke University Press, 2014). This discussion dovetails nicely with some topics on Installing Order some weeks ago with guest blogger Peter Bratsis, wherein I was attempting to suggest that “crisis” is a concept that is sort of like a balloon with the air let out of it (or an “empty container” to mix some metaphors 😉 ), stating:
Living in a state of semi-permanent crisis can be construed as a license to do nothing. Fatigue sets-in. Apathy ensues. Inaction seems plausible.
In Luca Follis’s review of Janet Roitman’s Anti-Crisis we see something similar. This line sticks out:
But is this global state of affairs merely a reflection of a historical, empirical moment or is it an expression of the ease and haste with which we label events as critical (and by extension the way we approach the broader category of crisis)?
This week, we discussed the possibility of a post-apocalypse world. Post-apocalyptic fiction, and its relationship to ideology, is where I want to take my post, and, in particular, the notion that post-apocalypse seems more plausible — and far more entertaining — than any other route to post-capitalism. While I had obviously seen reams and reams of this sort of thinking everywhere from great old comics to graphic novels (and older books like “After London” and even older books like “The Last Man”) to loads of cinematic fiction these days like the Walking Dead, Z Nation, and so on, I was probably first struck squarely with the link to capitalism by good old Slavoj Žižek in “The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology” (at least, I think so, and I am thinking about the scene with Rowdy Roddy Piper and the film “They Live” wherein Piper is a nameless grifter and drifter named “Nada” who comes into possession of a pair of glasses that allow him to see through capitalistic advertisement straight down to the level of discourse … and what a painful act it is to engage this reality).
One of the themes that seems to be perpetually associated with post-apocalypse is collapsed, dilapidated, or overgrown, but always kind of recognizable, infrastructure, laying around like an inert and massive scrapheap, as though the surface of the earth were just one big dumping grounds for modernity. The human-infrastructure relationship hums in the background of so many post-apocalyptic thrillers, as if, as we watch such television or cinema on our big screen TVs while the air conditioning also hums away gently in the background, we see and are entertained by this strange relationship between humans and infrastructure that seems destined not to last using the technologies destined not to last (similar to one of Žižek’s concluding remarks in “The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology” see about 1:50:15 …).
If this is the case, and I think — like picking at a scab — that it is, then what is the function of post-apocalyptic thought? I am not particularly picky about what is expressed or in what format it is expressed, but the post-apocalypitc vision of derelict infastructure being displayed on larger and larger TVs with sharper and sharper images seems sort of like an invitation NOT to rock the boat or reflect and instead as encouragement to entertain ourselves — not to death, as Neil would have it, but — into the inevitable post-capitalist world where the human-infrastructure relationship is bound to change BUT not look away a moment sooner than we must.
I just imagine a small group preparing for a world like the Walking Dead, but watching the Walking Dead on Netflix right up until the final moment when they must join the same world.
As a closing sidebar, I was originally going to write about an odd conversation I got into about the possibility of a time after rapture — just one of many possible interpretations of a post-apocalyptic world — where all the faithful would ascend and, hypothetically, at this time the remainder of Earth would be inherited by whomever or whatever was left. This was obviously NOT at all a careful theological discussion. As the discussants were pretty hardcore environmentalists and not one of them religious, they actually pondered whether or not the current abuses of the planet would be more or less bad than whatever rapture brought. Those of you with your ear close to the grindstone in religious studies no doubt already know about some of these discussions as manifest in recent overlap in environmental religious studies. It was a rousing discussion, much of which reminded me — in tone — of Stef’s tale, which initiated the discussion this week.
By C. lectularius
It would have been unthinkable before, but I have a circle of companions. We even have a jokey motto: “life is change.” A feeding doesn’t pass without one of the group uttering it, eliciting knowing smiles, the occasional laugh. Our children and theirs share in our humor, but the joke lies in our generation’s history.
Our earliest memories of life are pregnant with change. From egg to adulthood, we pass through five stages of growth. Our first eight weeks consist only of feeding and molting. Back then, life was change. But for me and many of my kind, change consisted only of that, only of the molt and eventually that glorious passage into adulthood. After that, the days passed in a constant dance of mating and egg laying.
In those days, I experienced my day-to-day transformations alone. They were, after all, personal. There were plenty of opportunities for mating, of course. But these were always the product of random encounters—a sudden awareness of another, anticipation and that sharp pain I’d come to enjoy as males would probe and then pierce my abdomen. But these mating partners and all who shared my harborage were strangers. I took pleasure in the routine transformations that my body would undergo: the wound management, the egg laying. But no sense of togetherness was required to ensure that life’s “changes” could proceed unchanging. Life was change and we all experienced it alone.
I was particularly privileged. I had never left the nest I hatched into. I never had to. Back then, the conditions of my life were blissfully constant. My feedings so routine I took them for granted. My life played out in the sheltered confines of a third floor wing in what I would later come to know as 664 West 46th Street. Continue reading
It’s hard to have much of a future in the Extinction Studies Department. At least, this is the line passed around in department meetings along with nervous giggles from the young faculty. A motto of sorts: PUBLISH AND PERISH!
This week the 3:1 takes a darker turn, but one that is not without some whimsy. We continue on our posts on the “post” with a darker theme: Post-Apocalypse. We take this on with a sense of fun—at least this is the hope. This is born from a pressing need to engage on all levels with the losses that the Anthropocene will hand us. How do social scientists reflect upon these cascades of losses? What can we do to both grieve and fight back against capitalist extraction and evangelical forms of being that lack care for the world and its natural systems?
I begin with a DeLillo-esque story of academic life in the Department of Extinction Studies.
Elizabeth Johnson joins us this week for our romp into the end times. Elizabeth is a Research Fellow of Science, Technology and Culture with the Department of Geography at the University of Exeter. She is interested in how life and its study are increasingly becoming re-valued as part of the innovation economy and growing efforts in ecological securitization.
Nicholas Rowland has generously offered to post on Friday with another playful rendition of a serious topic.
The notion of “post-crisis” that I opened-up this week with was meant to be a hard press against the post-crisis that I have often heard in discussions about “post-crisis economic planning” — that is, “after a crisis and now things are better” (which likely makes the likes of Naomi Klein retch, as Stef notes in her post). The notion that we are in a semi-permanent state of crisis raised to me the obvious question: does “crisis” really capture anything out of the ordinary? (and so have we exhausted the utility of such a concept?) Continue reading
Dichotomies can be helpful, and Peter Bratsis in his 3:1 on Monday put forth a productive one: Should we think of crisis as a repetition or an exception? I want to take this and riff in a slightly different, but complementary way. For me, thinking about crisis—the ecological one facing the planet—is especially important. The Guardian has recently launched a front-page campaign to bring climate change to the fore in mainstream news coverage.
They are following Naomi Klein’s lead and trying to turn a crisis into an opportunity. This includes calling the Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust to divest in fossil fuels and using the recent dip in oil prices to invest in alternative energy. At this point, we are blowing past a 2° C temperature rise (4° C seems likely) and even a 2° C rise will lead to CATASTROPHIC changes in our environment. Prepare for the worst, homo sapiens and all the species we are taking with us. Keeping the coal in the ground and investing in alternative energy is a step to mitigating the damage this economic system has wrought, but the hurt is going to come down. So the question becomes more about how we respond to crisis rather than argue about how we define a crisis, or how we might trace the word back to its true roots, or whether this crisis is quotidian or exceptional. Continue reading
Are we, as a global community, living in a post-crisis world? We seem to be in a semi-permanent state of crisis, either in crisis or on the brink of it perpetually, and, in that context, does a concept like crisis really mean anything anymore? By invoking “post-crisis” we are not talking about post-crisis as in “after a crisis” (for example, in stories like this one about “post-crisis economic planning“); for comic-buffs, we are also not talking about the crazy-cool “post-crisis” events in DC Comics’ publishing history following the 1985-86 Crisis on Infinite Earths (discussed here); this is also not the revamped homo ecnonomicus discussion of the “post-crisis consumer.” The bottom-line: as the global community gets more and more intertwined, non-local crises have local implications and impacts, and if there is always a crisis or a looming crisis somewhere, does “crisis” really capture anything out of the ordinary? (given that crisis means an intensification of difficulty or trouble, and, hence, a perpetual state crisis ceases to be a moment of crisis)
It should be recognized that much of this “crisis talk” is sourced by media outlets that thrive on hyperbole, so, possibly, we are making too much of this; however, the roots of a post-crisis society are possibly deeper than just journalistic portrayals in the media (though they are surprisingly powerful in framing global events). These issues, among others, are what we will discuss this week on our 3:1 on Post-Crisis.
Our guest this week is Peter Bratsis. I know Peter’s work from his outstanding book Everyday Life and the State (for theory buffs, there is a section in this book where Peter claims that Kantorowicz is possibly the greatest state theorist [who wasn’t a state theorist] of all time — a thought which also figures into his new work on corruption). You might also know his other book, with Stanley Aronowitz, Paradigm Lost: State Theory Reconsidered. You can read much of his work here, and perhaps you’ve recently seen him speaking about the rise of the Syriza Party in Greece, for example, on Uprising or on European Ideas.
We welcome him to the blog!
This is the third post from the trenches of the Eastern Sociological Society’s conference in NYC this past weekend. The linked workshop entitled, “Decoloniality and the Social Sciences,” explored such diverse topics as floating medical clinics, non-GMO seed sharing, the high seas, cargo, zombies, pedagogy, dolphins, and derivatives.
For my part, I reflected upon decoloniality and the nonhuman. Elsewhere I have discussed the dolphin and posthuman security, and this topic has stayed on my mind. I recently visited Barataria Bay (home of the bottlenose dolphin, at least until the Deepwater Horizon disaster) and Venice, LA. I found it hauntingly desolate with a devastated post-disaster aesthetic; a place only a true ecologist can love—or an oil exec just off the heliport from the tour of his oil rig.
Pictures taken by the author, Feb 2015
The decolonial literature is new to me, and as I did my due diligence with a literature review, I was intrigued by Mignolo’s insistence on “decolonial thinking and doing.” Decolonial thinking de-links epistemically and politically from what he calls “the imperial web of knowledge.”
In short, we must decolonialize our very ways of thinking and being in the world. This epistemic disobedience is necessary for acts of civil disobedience that transform the world. This means body-politics comes before disciplinary management, or more pointedly, decolonial thinking places “human lives and life in general first.” Mignolo writes:
De-colonial thinking presupposes de-linking (epistemically and politically) from the web of imperial knowledge (theo- and ego-politically grounded) from disciplinary management. A common topic of conversation today, after the financial crisis on Wall Street, is ‘how to save capitalism’. A de-colonial question would be: ‘Why would you want to save capitalism and not save human beings? Why save an abstract entity and not the human lives that capitalism is constantly destroying?
Returning to the nonhuman, can this epistemic disobedience be a tactic that aids in co-creating a more just and kind world for all species on this planet? To rephrase as Mignolo’s question: Why would want to save neoliberal forms of production that destroy the only livable planet accessible to us? Capitalism is destroying more than human lives. It is destroying the very biosphere that allows life to persist and thrive. How is this topic not all that we talk, write, and think about in all epistemic communities?
In my terms, can decolonialty be used against a human centered politics that takes the biosphere as a place to colonize and deplete?
In many ways, decolonial thinking and doing could encompass the nonhuman. Bodies of color and gendered bodies have been animalized in colonial and paternal regimes. Woman are chicks, bitches, sows, cows, birds. Rod Coronado reminds us that the treatment of wolves in the United States twins the way indigenous people were (and are) treated during North American colonization. In human centered politics, non- human animals are useful only in their kill-ability/eat-ability and nature for its rape-ability/use-ability. They are use value only.
This is another kind of “colonial wound,” (regions and peoples classified as underdeveloped economically and mentally), as Mignolo terms it. If decolonial thinking can link diverse experiences and histories heretofore ignored in colonial/imperial systems of knowledge, can it also create an ecological thinking? If colonial ways of being still can’t allow humans to be full humans, how is it even possible to widen this to the nonhuman world? I hope so, but I also know that hope will wear thin with the changes wrought by the Anthropocene.
Be it trees, lemurs, bacteria, mosquitos, koalas or homo sapien sapiens, we should, as members of a shared biosphere, be able to thrive on this planet—even if the way we thrive is different for all of us. A new complex web of co-worlding—snatched from the imperial one—is the only answer. Accomplice networks must be created.
Walter D. Mignolo. Epistemic Disobedience, Independent Thought and De-Colonial Freedom Theory, Culture & Society 2009 (SAGE, Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, and Singapore), Vol. 26(7–8): 1–23
Worth seeing: The Ship Breakers. Ships, at the ends of their lives, are rammed into the beach, thusly beaching these “end of life” ships onto the shores of ship-breaking yards of Bangladesh, India, and a few other states. The work is dangerous and the environmental consequences are visually obvious. There are other examples here, here, and especially this piece in the Atlantic here.
President Obama links infrastructural improvements to business retention, specifically, that unless American start to improve the country’s infrastructure, which will require Congress to discontinue divisive austerity-politics, or else we will continue to lose businesses abroad as they pursue higher-quality infrastructure for their business needs.
Perhaps this is a pathway that will result in some of the changes that are much needed. Whether this linkage is true or not (i.e., whether infrastructural improvement is linked meaningfully to business retention) is essentially unimportant; whether it results in actual political or economic change seems to be the only operant quality of concern given that truth in politics seems at most a tertiary concern for a generation of politicians.
Appropriately, Obama gives the speech near The Governor Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge, the crumbling cantilever bridge spanning the Hudson River at one of its widest points.
It seems that every time you turn around, especially with me living in Pennsylvania, I heard about our grand future with natural gas. USA TODAY heralds “U.S. forecasts natural gas boom through 2040” or the Economist asking about natural gas “Difference Engine: Fuel for the future?” to which the obvious answer is: “Two things are clear, though: there is a lot of natural gas out there; and it is extremely cheap. In both electricity generation and road transport, it will be a hard act to beat.” I could document more and more examples, but it is hardly necessary because my main point is not about natural gas. It is about natural gas pipes.
The New York Times has put out, in the last month or so, a number of pieces about failing gas pipe infrastructure in our nation’s major cities. The piece readers are probably the most familiar with is the March 23rd piece “Beneath Cities, a Decaying Tangle of Gas Pipes,” a terrific piece by .
Underneath the bustling streets of New York, “6,302 miles of pipes transporting natural gas” and they are crumbling; chief concern, of course, have to do with leaks, and “Leaks, like the one that is believed to have led to the explosion that killed eight people in East Harlem this month, are startlingly common, numbering in the thousands every year, federal records show.”
Thus, as we grow more dependent on our plentiful natural gas reserves, danger will follow: “The chief culprit, according to experts, is the perilous state of New York City’s underground network, one of the oldest in the country and a glaring example of America’s crumbling infrastructure.” There is a super-cool graphic available here:
New York, though, is replacing their pipes as quickly as any city in America, but other cities are not; “Baltimore is on track to replace its pipes in 140 years, while Philadelphia will not be done for 80 years.”
What’s interesting and alarming about these sorts of issues has to do with the wide distribution and sheer scope of the problem; leaks are bound to happen, so they are predictable; however, the location of a leak is simply unanticipatable. The solution: these companies rely on users! “Utility companies now largely rely on the noses of their customers to alert them to danger. The gas that flows through the network of pipes under the streets is naturally odorless, so a compound known as mercaptan that smells somewhat like rotten eggs is added.”
Another piece comes from the editorial page and falls under “opinion”; “Warning: Gas Leaks and Aging Pipes.”
The first comments come from ARMOND COHEN, Exec. Director, Clean Air Task Force, and mainly frames the issue as one of national security: “This is a matter of national public safety, a priority for protecting the climate and an opportunity to create jobs, and must be immediately addressed at all levels — by state utility regulators, by the Environmental Protection Agency and by other federal agencies.” The second comments are even more interesting, COURTNEY CARROLL, a resident of New York, tells the average resident what to expect if there is a leak. “One way to increase vigilance in spotting gas leaks is to look for damaged vegetation like dead trees, dead grass and dead shrubs.” I like this idea of enrolling the missing masses to monitor infrastructure; maybe we need an app for that! Seems like an obvious university project for students or something that communities, if they want access to upgraded piping, could commit to … of course, the ironies hurt: as soon as residents get new infrastructure, that is precisely when we start to “forget about it”.
The final piece “Under the Streets, a Lurking Danger” adds some balance and redirects the discussion toward government. Aging pipes have NOT yet been identified as the cause of the East Harlem gas explosions, they remind us. Also, the real battle is on the hill: “Congress can give momentum to two Senate bills sponsored by Senator Edward Markey, a Democrat of Massachusetts, which seek to hasten the replacement of old, leaking natural-gas pipelines nationwide.” Let’s see if the combination of government action and local citizen action get us through to the future with natural gas…
Sometimes things juxtapose themselves. Dmfant wrote a reply about a terrific piece now available on-line, free, as an mp3. Backdoor Broadcasting Company’s academic broadcasts currently host access to the file, which is from:
The Political Life of Things: A One Day Workshop at The Imperial War Museum, London, UK; Nick Vaughan-Williams (Warwick) & Tom Lundborg (Swedish Institute of International Affairs): There’s More to Life than Biopolitics: Critical Infrastructure, Resilience Planning, and Molecular Security
The piece is about critical, self-healing infrastructure, and, of course, require this discussion requires significant use of the “human/non-human” distinction, if only to dash them to bits. Well, while this piece is years old, Dmfant just posted it in response to a previous post about an upcoming event.
There is a piece in the New York Times today about the third time that world scientists united in order to provide a broad response to the public about the realities of climate change. How these two pieces appear to be linked together so nicely is a claim made Tom LUndborg about how the linguistic turn in political philosophy has distracted us, on the whole, from the “social” concern over materiality and a full-fledged research base of studies on infrastructure. Tom goes further, though, claiming that the linguistic turn has made it much more difficult to be fully critical as theorists or, conceivably, as government agencies or even public citizens to take the next step … although, that is where the radio show ends.
New York Times has a nice retrospective video on the “collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis in 2007 killed 13 people and focused attention on the state of bridges across the nation.” As a native Minnesotan, this event is one of the moments I look back and can easily pinpoint my growing interest in infrastructure, especially, infrastructural decay as a major present and future concern in the US and beyond.
I was in Anapolis, MD, last weekend and saw something that I thought was a bit odd (above): disaster art. At first, I was stunned; how could a place celebrate (but potentially profit) from local disasters? How would that appeal to tourists? In this case, of course, its an image of flooding after a hurricane where the infrastructure of the harbor is damaged and, in may cases, submerged.
“Why would folks want pictures of broken infrastructure?” I thought. And that’s when my art history training came in and I had a “duh” moment. Disaster art — fictional and non-fictional — has been common for centuries. See, for example, this blog post about sunken ships or this one featuring a number of examples of fictional disaster art.This pintrest board sums it up nicely, saying disaster begets creativity, and includes a number of other obvious pieces of this puzzle like disaster memorials and post-disaster reassembly work like art from tsunami rubble in Japan. I’d also be remiss not to include the massive amount of disaster art in video games, for example, post-apocalyptic games like the Fallout (below), Gears of War, or Halo series.
Still, people’s love for depicting ruins is far older than all that. I’m thinking, in particular, of the many depictions — often with a romantic feel — of derelict Greek temples or statues like this image (contemporary, lame, background wallpaper) or this painting of the Colosseum (from the second half of 17th century).
Seems we love our ruins, after all.
The Lyubov Orlova, a Soviet cruise ship, is packed-full of starving rats, who appear to be sailing for shore.
A ghost ship filled with cannibal rats is floating somewhere off the coast of Scotland, ready to crash ashore and unleash its disease-ridden cargo of starving rodents. And it’s all because Canadian authorities let the Soviet-era nightmare liner loose in the North Atlantic, satisfied that it was no longer a threat to Canada.
The “hundreds” of rats aboard the abandoned cruise ship have surely begun eating each other by now, officials say. It has been nearly a year since the vessel was intentionally lost at sea by Canadian authorities who were happy to let the “biohazard” become another country’s problem.
This gruesome gift from Canada is now expected to crash ashore in Ireland or the United Kingdom, dumping the plague ship’s living cargo of cannibal rats onto the land.
Abandoned places. Stunning visuals.
I am of the mind that abandoned places have something, analytically, to contribute to infrastructure studies. Once you click the link, you’ll see that the producers of this compilation (not sure how many pictures are truly “there’s”) suggest with the opening lines that this is something about what the entire world would like without people, which is sort of a pseudo-apocalyptic comment on global warming, the end of days, and curiosity about “a world without people” (anymore — or this documentary about life after people). The first lines read:
These real life ruins offer an eerie glimpse into a world without humans. Their dark walls inspire a sense of wonder like I’ve never felt before.
This should surprise no one. Perhaps the thought experiment is a good one for students, but generally thoughtful people don’t have to let their minds wander/wonder too far to know what a world without people would look like as our infrastructures remain slowly giving way to the elements.
What else might infrastructural relics like these tell us? Surely, it is fair to say that they would teach us something new every time we returned to them. However, one of the points that these might tell us, which archeologists and anthropologists have claimed for more than a century (and quite longer, I would guess), is that infrastructural remains indicate more than just “people” were here. Many of these remains (pictured above) are not ancient, either, so we don’t need to impose meanings on where these structures came from or how they were used in antiquity. These are contemporary ruins that sit precariously alongside “life as we know it” now. The point? Some, but not all, are state projects, meaning, of course, real people on the ground ultimately produced the structures that “remain,” but the attributional source of the work is a non-human entity called “the state” … these are pieces of evidence that the state exists somewhere, somehow. How to harness that insight for state theory would be a great bridge to infrastructure studies (and infrastructural relics might also be a nice play on literature for infrastructure studies that would sort of be like the relationship between STS and disaster studies, although, there is something really nice about a slow decay as compared to a momentary boom found in most disaster studies — exceptions, of course, exist).
This has been an interesting year for all of us at installingorder.org. We had a number of good topics this year and we are very happy that the blog is now way more interactive than it was before. We have been a little quite over the summer, sorry for that, but we are back since 4S 2013 in San Diego which was a great conference and a fantastic meeting for all who study societies sociotechnical nerves.
Stefanie Fishel joined us, first as a guest blogger, then as full time author. Thanks for the great input, Stef! Next year will see guest bloggers again, starting with Andrzej W. Nowak from the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland. (See his TedXPoznan talk on youtube, sad that I don´t speak polish). We are looking forward to that! And there will be more! Expect 2014 to be as interesting as the last.
For the rest of the year we will, as most of you will too, take a little break and rest over the holidays. Have yourself a merry Christmas, if you want to have it, or happy Hanukkah, if that is yours, or a great flying spaghetti monster gathering. However you spend your days, think about Santa´s little elves at Amazon, FedEx or DHL and about the massive infrastructural work necessary to let you have some Eggnog, Chestnuts or that box of Breaking Bad episodes that you need for the upcoming festivities. See you all next year!
Proverbial “Door to Hell”, Derweze, Turkmenistan: Check out a video here.
The Door to Hell is a natural gas field in Derweze (also spelled Darvaza, meaning “gate”), Ahal Province, Turkmenistan. The Door to Hell is noted for its natural gas fire which has been burning continuously since it was lit by Soviet petrochemical scientists in 1971, fed by the rich natural gas deposits in the area. The pungent smell of burning sulfur pervades the area for some distance (Wiki).
Not the first time we talked about disasters on the blog. For example, about how Google worked in Japan post-Fukushima disaster to use Google-cars to help find missing persons. About how the intersection of infrastructure studies and disaster studies will likely grow in future years. More recently, we featured “Philip Mirowski’s Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste … an important and distinctive contribution to debates around the politics and economics of the economic crisis”.
Some interesting ideas for the intersection of infrastructure and disaster
Guest editor: Brett Christophers, Uppsala University
Philip Mirowski’s Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste is an important and distinctive contribution to debates around the politics and economics of the economic crisis which began in 2007-8 and, as such, is well-deserving of the symposium convened here at Antipode.
For one thing, the book is different. As Mirowski remarks in his response to our four reviews, the last five years have seen a veritable “torrent of crisis books”; so why single out this one for particular scrutiny? Because it does not profess, like so many other crisis books tend to do, to identify broad causes and consequences of the crisis. Instead, its specific agenda is to offer an “intellectual history of the crisis and its aftermath” (p.11). That is to say, while it tentatively “explores the economic crisis as a social disaster”, it explores the crisis much more…
View original post 973 more words
An interesting paper on crowdsourcing just came out in the “Computational & Mathematical Organization Theory” journal. “Maximizing benefits from crowdsourced data” by Geoffrey Barbier et al. explores how crowdsourcing can be used for purposes of collective action and problem-solving, for example, in disaster response and by relief organizations.
Here’s the abstract:
Crowds of people can solve some problems faster than individuals or small groups. A crowd can also rapidly generate data about circumstances affecting the crowd itself. This crowdsourced data can be leveraged to benefit the crowd by providing information or solutions faster than traditional means. However, the crowdsourced data can hardly be used directly to yield usable information. Intelligently analyzing and processing crowdsourced information can help prepare data to maximize the usable information, thus returning the benefit to the crowd. This article highlights challenges and investigates opportunities associated with mining crowdsourced data to yield useful information, as well as details how crowdsource information and technologies can be used for response-coordination when needed, and finally suggests related areas for future research.
Besides being a very useful reference piece by providing a state of coverage with respect to crowdsourced data – like where to find it and what to make of it -, the paper is also a nice illustration of how social scientists become more and more involved in leveraging “big data” from informational infrastructures and from web activity in general. Crowdsourced data but also initially a lot less directed, if not accidental, information flows appear to increasingly be data-mined for a variety of purposes, not at least by – oops – us.
Check out the paper here.
A story in the New York Times today describes how Google is making headway among the Japanese. In Japan, Google does not have the vast market share that it does in the U.S. or other countries around the world. However, as the story’s title indicates “Quick Action Helps Google Win Friends in Japan.” The story goes:
Google is using its Street View technology in Kesennuma and elsewhere to make a record of the disaster while tracking reconstruction efforts.
An oddly equipped car made its way last week through the rubble in this tsunami-stricken port city. On the roof: an assembly of nine cameras creating 360-degree panoramic digital images of the disaster zone to archive damage.
It is one of the newest ways that Google, a Web giant worldwide but long a mere runner-up in Japan’s online market, has harnessed its technology to raise its brand and social networking identity in this country.
Google was also quick in the early hours of the disaster to assemble a Person Finder site that helped people learn of the status of friends and relatives affected by the earthquake and tsunami.
It is important to note that Google cannot yet determine whether or not these efforts have helped them to crest the Japanese browser use market; however, that is far from what interests me.
After studying the Tylenol Poisoning Tragedy (see chapter one of Minding the Machines:Preventing Technological Disaster) and many others, we ask: are there circumstances under which a firm might gain, over the long run, from a carefully handled crisis? Students, especially of the conspiracy theory bent, go nuts with this one, and reformulate my question: are there circumstances under which a firm might gain, over the long run, from a carefully planned and handled crisis?
So, while I have no illusions that Google planned the Tsunamis in Japan, I wonder if non-local crisis response research and development might be a way answer the question above or shift the dialogue to such topics as “planned disaster response by for-profit agencies.” It seems as though organizaitons like Google with oodles of slack resources and a penchant for expansion might serve themselves well by expressing “social responsibility” during times of non-local crisis … especially, in nations where their product, service, etc. is not the leading brand, type, etc.
Hence, almost sounding like a conspiracy theorist now, is it just a coincidence that Google reached out to Japan?
Just like Nicholas I am very much interested in disasters, and his earlier post made me wonder some more about the connection to the issue of infrastructures. Some connections are obvious once you talk about technological disasters propers, especially if you approach the topic from a “normal accidents” angle (as Perrow in his treatise on normal accidents utilizes a general notion of networks including humans, technological artefacts, institutions, etc.). But there is also the whole literature about high-reliability organizations (HROs) which Nicholas alluded to in his second post on this topic, in which the focus is more on human behavior in high-risk situations and on “mindful organizing”.
One common denominator between the various types of research and literatures on disasters and near misses is the emphasis given to relational structures and processes: Perrow’s notion of vulnerable systems is basically a conceptualization of networks the elements of which can be loosely or tightly coupled, and HRO authors like Weick characterize mindful behavior as “heedful interrelating”.
Having been concerned with micropatterns of responding to disruptions in my own post-doc research, I am struck by the extent to which such responses are characterized by spontaneous forms of interrelating among participants, for example in emergent groups in communities struck by disasters. Furthermore, organizations coping with disruptions look more like networks than like hierarchies – a condition which HROs almost appear to emulate.
Bottom line is, I think, that an extended infrastructural understanding of understanding disasters, near misses, high-risk situations, and so on, may be elaborated by more systematically discussing the various social and technological aspects of interrelating in extreme situation. Actually, there is a lot of research going on in this area right now since disaster researchers and disaster response practitioners generally tend to be quite aware about the relational aspects of responding to disruptions. Just this week, our local communicating disaster research group met for a workshop on the use of social media in crisis situations, and you may check out the outline here. Apparently, disaster response organizations increasingly ponder possibilities of utilizing people’s technologically augmented abilities of interrelating in real time: if you have people with smartphones present at a disaster site, and they will spontaneously interrelate in immediate disaster responses (like looking for survivors, moving debris etc.) anyway, while you as an outsider start with knowing nothing or very little about where and how to deploy your own helpers and machines, why not use survivors’ smartphones, their GPS and photo capabilities for coordinating disaster responses? The “disaster app” may at some point, perhaps sooner rather than later, become an obligatory smartphone functionality.
Claus Rerup is an
associate professor of Organizational Behavior
at the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario and
explores how coordination, politics, and
heterogeneous information influence the ways in
which employees and managers collectively learn
from (rare) events. In most cases firms
learn from an accident or crisis after the fact,
but many organizations can also learn valuable
lessons from a near disaster.
A couple of notable things:
1. The notion of “near failures” requires a basic update to many of our STS syllabi which contain numerous references to technological disasters. Certainly, my courses on STS primarily designed for engineering students cover engineering disasters at length, but fail to feature or conceptualize “near failures” and “near successes” and what might be learned about them and from them.
2. And I’m thinking explicitly about his paper “The gray zone between mindful and mindless organizing” — the notion of a gray zone between careful, mindful organizing and reckless, mindless organizing is an interesting idea where a lot of “noise” could be captured if properly conceptualized.
As I am generally interested in “technological” disasters and write for an infrastructure blog, I always wonder about infrastructural disasters.
I recently read an interesting and somewhat non-tradition piece for an economics journal (although it does harken to the “Freakonomics” style of inquiry, if only it had a comparison case where the same set of underlying mechanisms operated):
Frey, Bruno S., David A. Savage, and Benno Torgler. 2011. “Behavior under Extreme Conditions: The Titanic Disaster.” Journal of Economic Perspectives, 25(1): 209–22.
The full-text article, which is currently complimentary, reviews how individuals behaved (based mainly on personal characteristics) during one of the “deadliest peacetime maritime disasters.” The abstract reads:
During the night of April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic collided with an iceberg on her maiden voyage. Two hours and 40 minutes later she sank, resulting in the loss of 1,501 lives—more than two-thirds of her 2,207 passengers and crew. This remains one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history and by far the most famous. The disaster came as a great shock because the vessel was equipped with the most advanced technology at that time, had an experienced crew, and was thought to be practically “unsinkable” (although the belief that the ship had been widely believed to be truly unsinkable actually arose after the sinking, as explained in Howell, 1999). The Titanic’s fame was enhanced by the considerable number of fifi lms made about it: not including various made-for-television movies and series, the list would include Saved from the Titanic (1912), In Nacht und Eis (1912), Atlantic (1929), Titanic (1943 and 1953), A Night to Remember (1958), Raise the Titanic! (1980), and of course the 1997 Titanic, directed by James Cameron and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. In 1985, a joint American–French expedition, led by Jean-Louis Michel and Dr. Robert Ballard, located the wreckage and collected approximately 6,000 artifacts, which were later shown in an exhibition that toured the world.
The results suggest when you compare the quick sink of the Lusitania (under 20 mins) to the show, gradual sink of the Titanic (over a 3 hour period), you learn something about the dynamics of self-interest under certain circumstances.
The comparison between the Titanic and the Lusitania suggests that when time is scarce, individual self-interested flight behavior predominates, while altruism and social norms and power through social status become more important if there is suffificient time for them to evolve.
I am now reposting this after an unknown error occurred earlier today with the posterous template. So here we go again…
I am taking a day off at International Studies Association Annual Convention in Montr??al today, looking forward to visit the Museum of Fine Arts and see the Terracotta Army (the by now global presence of which might inspire a separate post in the future). To start the day, here are a couple of quick notes and early impressions from the conference.
To begin with, this conference is huge. The total sum of events and panels is 1,094, cramped into four days. This means that panels start as early as 8.15 in the morning, and up to 99 panels are on at the same time – at least that’s the high-score I was getting when browsing throught the conference program which, needless to say, looks somewhat like a phone book. I also got the impression that the organizers assigned panels which they thought would be crowd-pullers preferably to the early slots. Here’s a sample of panel themes which also gives you an idea about the variety of topics discussed here:
– Confronting the Transnational State
– Why Did the U.S. Invade Iraq?
– Intelligence Analysis and Decision
– Religion, Values, and Common Faith as Facilitators of Governance Mechanisms
– Making Offers You Can’t Refuse: The Art of Coercion in International Politics
– Natural Disasters and Political Unrest
– The Chinese Puzzle: Democracy vs. Autocracy
– Using Movies as Teaching Tools
– The Body in International Relation
– Choosing Terrorist Strategies: Outbidders, Specialists, and Two-Level Games
– Human Rights: The Hard Feminist Questions
– Piracy Studies: The Legalization of Contemporary Responses to Piracy
By the way, the general theme of the conference is “Global Governance: Political Authority in Transition”. The variety of panels also reflects the variety of sections within the ISA which range, as I found out just now, from Diplomatic Studies, International Ethics, Peace Studies and Political Demography to Feminist Theory and Gender Studies, Intelligence Studies, and to the “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Queer, & Allies Caucus”.
According to my little theory about the placement of panels within the schedule, the organizers must have considered the panel I was on mildly interesting, since it took place at 10.30 in the morning. As posted here earlier, the panel was on “Numbers in Global Governance”, and I think it went quite well. The papers from which I personally benefitted the most were written by the two organizers, Hans Krause Hansen and Tony Porter who reflected generally on the role of numbers in global governance, and by Lars Th??ger Christensen and George Cheney on the notion of transparency, and on the problems and paradoxes it entails. Overall, the panel was, I think, one of the few not dominated by political scientists who as a profession appear to be very much in control of the ISA. The discussion was generally sympathetic to the understanding shared by the speakers that tracking the circulation and use of numbers, ranking, ratings, performance measurements, and so on, is a critical element in understanding contemporary forms of global governance.
Our panel chair was Mikkel Flyverbom from Copenhangen Business School. I saw him present his paper on internet politics yesterday on another panel, and he might be an interesting colleague to watch with respect to the general interest of this blog. Actually, I asked him whether he would like to contribute to this blog occasionally. Mikkel is applying ANT to analyzing emergent forms of authority in governing the internet, and though he had a hard time to present his case effectively as one paper among six during the 105 minutes of the panel, and to an audience largely innocent of both ANT ire and ANT interest, he surely did leave a mark. He has a book coming out about his understanding of entangled authority that will definitely be worth a look.
Which brings me to pick up on our earlier discussion about good and bad conferences. It is hard but manageable to get four papers discussed in 105 minutes if the discussant is really well prepared and effective in addressing the papers, as Brad Epperly surely was in the case of our panel. Increasing the number of papers further however, as was the case in the “Getting to Grips with Internet Governance” panel that hosted six papers, must leave the audience somewhat disoriented even if the discussant somehow manages to address all of the papers in, say, 15 minutes. If any author on the panel additionally chooses to present an approach that is somewhat incongruous to the other papers (as Mikkel did with arguing along ANT lines rather than presenting another customized IR approach), this is very likely to be somewhat drowned out. So, I was asking myself, if you already have 1,094 panels to deal with in organizing a big convention, would it really hurt to have a couple of double panels to accommodate an effective discussion of all the papers which panel organizers have deemed interesting enough to have included???
There is also something to be said about hosting an event like this in a big corporate style hotel (or, as in this case, in three of them), with panels taking place in “hospitality suites” and conference rooms named after local heroes, politicians, business men, artists, or, most conspicuously, militarists, in an environment littered with all sort of “luxury” fabrics from deep carpets to table cloths which look more like curtains (not to mention that in the corridors of one of the hotels, you suffer from continuous exposure to “easy listening” elevator style music), and with, most annoyingly, having to wear your name badge all the time (since otherwise you are very likely to be asked by one of the very friendly hotel clerks to present them). The premises of McGill and a couple of other local universities are within a short walk of the conference sites, so why lock us away like this? Like he who shall not be named at this point, I would prefer to have outsiders in, and insiders out, at least to some extent. The latter I now happily implement immediately.