Great, quick read — possibly useful, in form and function, for generating teachable moments and useful learning projects.
*This is similar, in some ways, to previous posts on NYC and natural gas infrastructure.
Great, quick read — possibly useful, in form and function, for generating teachable moments and useful learning projects.
*This is similar, in some ways, to previous posts on NYC and natural gas infrastructure.
The concept of infrastructure draws attention to as-yet-unseen synergies between technology, culture, and materiality. What does this concept have to offer environmental anthropology? While we can …
Source: The Nature of Infrastructure
*image: Qun li National Urban Wetland landscape — read more at: http://www.turenscape.com/english/news/view.php?id=264
A very recent review of my debut novel – ‘The Last Wave‘
Pankaj Sekhsaria’s new novel about the Andaman islands turns real life into compelling prose:
“The Last Wave is a love story, or rather, two. One is a fairly conventional tale of growing attraction between a man and a woman, thrown together not only by circumstance – confined as they are on a dungi, a small boat, with their five-person team, exploring a pristine coastline – but also by their shared wonder and concern at all that they see and hear. The other is between a journalist and an archipelago. Pankaj Sekhsaria is in love with the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and it shows – in the occasional but compelling lyricism of his writing, and in the reverence with which his characters circumnavigate the Jarawas’ territory, probing its mysteries without quite violating its boundaries: ….”
While the study I share in this blog is fascinating for many reasons–the most compelling for me being that language isn’t “in” just one hemisphere of the brain–it is the focus on the metaphor of the map or atlas that intrigues me in this article.
The article, and presumably the scientists involved in the study, speak of the brain as a “region” that can be “mapped”. The article also switches between “reading” and decoding” writing that the study has created a “semantic atlas” or “directory” for understanding how language is grouped in the brain. Through the help of an MRI, the scientists have gathered evidence that seems to support that language is understood through many areas of the brain rather than being limited to a few areas in the left hemisphere. This could, after further research, aid in treating brain disorders and injuries that have affected language.
Additionally, the brain is often spoken of as “lighting” up when in an MRI. Metaphors to explain knowledge and learning, in a broader sense, often rely on metaphors of light to explain the thinking process. A lightbulb over a thinker’s head or being called “bright” if you are seen as smart.
“By putting together information from all seven participants, with the help of a statistical model, the researchers created a brain atlas, a 3D model of the brain that shows what brain areas lit up at the same time among all the participants.” (emphasis added).
But in fact, this “lighting” up is due to the imaging devices creating a way for the human to see what is happening in the brain, but leaves a reader with the feeling that the brain is a colorful, lively organ. It is in fact quite plain and gray.
And to return to the above metaphors, can a human brain be mapped? This brings to a mind a 2D surface and the brain is definitely not two dimensional. It is its peculiar form that gives us the brain power we have: lots of surface area crammed into a small place: the brain is between 233 to 465 square inches. To fit into the small space of the skull, the cortex is folded forming folds (gyri) and grooves (sulci). You could flatten it mathematically and transform that space to 2D, but what does this do for advancing our understanding? I also know that metaphors are used to communicate scientific findings to a lay audience, so perhaps those trained in scientific and medical fields would have greater access to what these findings mean without having to resort to metaphor.
Regardless, do these metaphors help more broadly in thinking through what the brain does and why? I have become sensitive to the role of metaphor in past research, and I wonder, especially in this featured article rife with mixed metaphors, what work they are doing in shaping the way we research those very things we are speaking of metaphorically. Are there better metaphors for the brain and its function that would further our knowledge? In other words, are the very ways we talk about the brain keeping us from formulating research programs that better fit what we need from these studies? To use the map metaphor, can we get from place A to place B?
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.
I will return to this piece each year teaching STS. Living in Central Pennsylvania, we are sitting right on top of PRR country (Pennsylvania Railroad). It is useful for students to understand the sunk costs, the path dependency (literally, in this case), and the reverberations through history that simple technological infrastructure decisions can make. “How railroads shaped Internet history.”
I am proud to be able to share an excerpt from a collective contribution to Millennium’s journal born from the annual conference “Failure and Denial in Global Politics” in London last October. In this article, Anthony Burke, Audra Mitchell, Simon Dalby, Daniel Levine and I argue that IR has reached the limits of its intelligibility with coming climate changes. We call for an expanded dialogue both within and beyond our disciplinary boundaries using the polemic and rhetoric of the manifesto to stimulate debate and response.
Photo credit: Stefanie Fishel, 2016
A Manifesto from the End of IR
Anthony Burke, Stefanie Fishel, Audra Mitchell, Simon Dalby, Daniel J. Levine
This manifesto is not about politics as usual. We seek political imagination that can rise from the ashes of our canonical texts. It is about meditating on our failures and finding the will needed for our continued survival. Global ecological collapse brings new urgency to the claim that ‘we are all in this together’—humans, animals, ecologies, biosphere. To survive, we must ask questions that are intimately connected to capitalism, modernity, and oppression. We must ensure that our diplomacy, our politics, and our institutions are open to those who will bear the brunt of ecological change.
Planet politics must emerge as an alternative thought and process: a politics to nurture worlds for all humans and species co-living in the biosphere. The local, national, and global no longer define our only spaces of action. The planet has long been that space which bears the scars of human will: in transforming the world into our world, we damaged and transformed it to suit our purposes. It now demands a new kind of responsibility, binding environmental justice and social justice inextricably together.
We need not focus on who is responsible, but we do need to learn to adapt to the world we have created. We can dwell in this time of failure and still long for the surety of a future, a future that allows us all to survive and honours our deep entanglement with the planet. This is why we have chosen the polemic and political format of the manifesto. It aids us in searching through the old, getting rid of what no longer serves, and mixes up the political and personal to combine and confuse our political commitments. We don’t need more reports or policy debates. We need new practices, new ideas, stories, and myths.
We must face the true terror of this moment. Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere now exceed those experienced for over a million years, and global greenhouse emissions trends show the planet hurtling towards a world, in this century, that is three to five degrees warmer than the preindustrial era. This is a world of melted ice caps and permafrost, flooded cities, oceans so acidic they cannot support life, and the loss of the Amazon’s rainforests. Ocean acidification, pollution, and overfishing may also see the extinction of all marine life by mid-century. At least 617 species of vertebrates have become extinct in the wild since 1500, exceeding the ‘background rate’ of extinction by over a hundred, and half the Earth’s wild animals have disappeared in the last four decades. All this is looming as much of the world suffers under a burden of extreme poverty and inequality, and communities from the Niger Delta to Bangladesh are condemned to live in ‘sacrifice zones’ devastated by oil drilling, mining, fracking, pollution, nuclear testing, and inundation.
The 2015 Paris Agreement gave us hope that international society may yet reverse these trends and prevent dangerous climate change, but provided no firm and enforceable plans to do so. It was a window that magically appeared high on the wall of our prison cell, but the door remains locked.
We agree with Timothy Morton, that the global ecological crisis ‘has torn a giant hole in the fabric of our understanding; that it is a vast ‘tear in the real’. Now our paradigms fail the real. International Relations, as both a system of knowledge and institutional practice, is undone by the reality of the planet. We must be in tension with status-quo struggles within our disciplines, and transgress academic boundaries to create conversations with activist networks and movements engaged in struggle against oppressive regimes and systems.
If the biosphere is collapsing, and if International Relations has always presented itself as that discourse which takes the global as its point of departure, how it is it that we—IR’s scholars, diplomats and leaders—have not engaged with the planetary real? We contend that International Relations has failed because the planet does not match and cannot be clearly seen by its institutional and disciplinary frameworks. Institutionally and legally, it is organised around a managed anarchy of nation-states, not the collective human interaction with the biosphere. Intellectually, the IR discipline is organized sociologically around established paradigms and research programs likewise focused on states and the forms of international organisation they will tolerate; it is not organized to value or create the conceptual and analytical changes that are needed. The problems lie in the way we think and are trained; in the subjects and approaches our discipline values and rewards. Yet at the edges of IR—in NGOs, in critical geography, posthuman IR, global governance and ecological politics—a new consciousness is visible. That work cannot languish in dissidence, as so many earlier interventions have done.
In our debates about the efficacy of the state, or the effects of globalization, we have missed what we were making: an era now termed the Anthropocene. This term represents an unprecedented change in the continued livability of planet Earth caused by the rapacious use of natural resources with no thought for current and future generations of humans, and of the millions of other species affected by changing climatic conditions and ecosystem damage. It is the power of human labour that freed carbon, and this element, once taken out of its molecular flows has created a metabolic rift, as McKenzie Wark writes, where the waste products of carbon’s extraction cannot be returned to a cycle that can renew itself. It is global in scope and new agendas must be designed to mitigate this rift.
The Anthropocene represents a new kind of power—‘social nature’—that is now turning on us. This power challenges our categories and methodologies. It demands we find accomplices in our discipline and beyond it. It demands a new global political project: to end human-caused extinctions, prevent dangerous climate change, save the oceans, support vulnerable multi-species populations, and restore social justice.
Action from this perspective is both more modest and yet more vital. Communicative, anthropocentric, and rights-based ethics can only guide and inform the discussion so far in understanding the challenges and opportunities in the Anthropocene.
Security comes from being more connected, not less. Gone are the days of billiard ball states and national security based on keeping the Other out or deterred. The Other is always already inside, so bound up with us in a common process that it no longer makes sense to speak of inside and outside. We cannot survive without accepting the cosmopolitan and enmeshed nature of this world. We are an array of bodies connected and interconnected in complex ways that have little to do with nationality. States will wither in the coming heat, freeze in the prolonged winters, and be lost under the rising oceans. We will not survive without the biggest and most complex system we know: the biosphere. This may finally be the death of Man,but what will come next if this face is lost in the rising tides?
Trying to write from within IR, we find ourselves prisoners in our own vocation. We are speechless, or even worse, cannot find words to represent the world and those within it.
We do not hope that politics will suddenly change—but it must change. There is no magic bullet, no sudden realization, and no single policy that will ‘fix’ the damage done. The naysayers will stand in the ruins and tell us we are dreaming; that a new world is not of our making. Grudging admissions that climate change has been both long understood and actively denied do little; they cannot turn back the clock. Rather, we must embrace a multi-species, multi-disciplinary action plan. And we must do it now. We cannot unravel time and restore lost species to life, but we can fight for this planet we call a home.
What other choice do we have?
And so, knowing that even a ruined planet is worth fighting for, we declare our intentions for facing our discipline with delicate hope and a desire to face the planetary real with an unflinching gaze.
*The full Manifesto can be found here* Please use this version for all citing and scholarly purposes.
[1 ]Roy Scranton, Learning to Die in the Anthropocene (San Francisco: City Light Books, 2015).
 Global carbon budget project. Available at:http://www.globalcarbonproject.org/carbonbudget/14/hl-full.htm. Last accessed 16 November 2015.
 Boris Worm, Edward B. Barbier, Nicola Beaumont, J. Emmett Duffy, Carl Folke, Benjamin S. Halpern, Jeremy B.C. Jackson, Heike K. Lotze, Fiorenza Micheli, Stephen R. Palumbi, Enric Sala, Kimberley A. Selkoe, John J. Stachowicz, Reg Watson, ‘Impacts of Biodiversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystem Services.’ Science 314, no. 5800 (2006): 787-790. doi: 10.1126/science.1132294
 Gerardo Ceballos, Paul R. Ehrlich, Anthony D. Barnosky, Andrés García, Robert M. Pringle and Todd M. Palmer, ‘Accelerated modern human−induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction’, Science Advances, 5, no.1 (2015). doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1400253; Damian Carrington, ‘Earth has lost half of its wildlife in the past 40 years, says WWF’, The Guardian, 1 October 2014. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/29/earth-lost-50-wildlife-in-40-years-wwf?CMP=share_btn_fb. Last accessed 29 January 2016.
 Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (London and New York: Penguin), 169.
 Bill McKibben, ‘Climate deal: the pistol has fired, so why aren’t we running?’, The Guardian, 14 December 2015. Available at:http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/13/paris-climate-talks-15c-marathon-negotiating-physics. Last accessed 15 December 2015.
 Timothy Morton, The Ecological Thought (Cambridge Mass. Harvard University Press, 2010), Kindle edition, loc. 203, 412.
 A brief sample of disciplinary work in international studies showing such awareness includes Simon Dalby, ‘Environmental Geopolitics in the Twenty First Century’, Alternatives: Global, Local, Political 39, no.1 (2014): 1-14; Erika Cudworth and Stephen Hobden, Posthuman International Relations: Complexity, Ecologism and Global Politics (London and New York: Zed Books, 2013); Rafi Youatt, ‘Interspecies Relations, International Relations: Rethinking Anthropocentric Politics’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 43, no.1 (2014): 207-223; Lorraine Elliott, ‘Cosmopolitan Environmental Harm Conventions’, Global Society 20 no.3 (2006): 346-363; Andrew Hurrell, ‘The State’, in Andrew Dobson and Robyn Eckersley eds.Political Theory and the Ecological Challenge (Cambridge and London: Cambridge University Press, 2006): 165-182; Robyn Eckersley, The Green State (Cambridge Mass. The MIT Press, 2004); Robyn Eckersley, ‘Deliberative Democracy, Representation and Risk’, in M. Saward ed.Democratic Innovation (London: Routledge, 2000); Hayley Stevenson, Institutionalizing Unsustainability: The Paradox of Global Climate Governance (Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 2012).
 Viz., Inanna Hamati-Ataya, ‘Contemporary ‘Dissidence’ in American IR: The New Structure of Anti-Mainstream Scholarship?’ International Studies Perspectives 12 (2011), 362-98; Richard A. Falk, A Study of Future Worlds (Free Press, 1975).
 McKenzie Wark, Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene (London: Verso, 2015), xiii-xvi.
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.
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has a relatively new project called “Game Changers,” which (purportedly) captures and shares with viewers “successful solutions across the major infrastructure sectors to identify the most innovative #GameChangers. Imagine what more we could do if we seize the opportunity to replicate these engineering innovations.”
“Hail the maintainers” — a must read.
Innovation is overrated. “Capitalism excels at innovation but is failing at maintenance, and for most lives it is maintenance that matters more.”
* Image from original post: Workers at the Blue Plains Waste Water Treatment Plant, Washington DC.Robert Madden/National Geographic Creative
“It seems hard to believe there’s a graveyard for abandoned ships in New York City, but it’s true.” Check it out.
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.
John Urry, “an influential scholar who has shaped several fields of sociology, died suddenly, 18th March.”
There are some touching and interesting testimonials and memorials with his passing. I was always in awe of the scope of Urry as a thinker (so much so that, when asked, I felt almost professionally obligated to review one of his recent books).
In the Indian Express, Sunday, 27 March, 2016
It was a favourite of Rabindranath Tagore, finds extensive mention in Punjabi literature, is the state flower of Jharkhand and is compared by Jayadeva in his Gita Govindam to the red nails of Kamadeva with which he wounds the hearts of young lovers. It is an integral part of celebrating Basant Panchami in Bengal and Shivaratri in parts of peninsular India, and its names are as varied as the geographies and the languages of this land — Palash, Dhak and Tesu in Hindi, Palas in Marathi, Pangong in Manipuri, Kesudo and Khakda in Gujarati, Moduga in Telugu.
With petals the shape of a parrot’s beak and colour the vermilion of a forest fire, if there is one flower that epitomises the spirit of spring in South and Southeast Asia, it is Butea monosperma, known in English as the ‘Flame of the Forest’. Spread across the rural and forested (and often urban landscapes too), the nondescript tree that some even refer to as ugly in its non-flowering stage, comes alive with life and colour in spring.
No one — be it man or woman, the purple sunbird or the little squirrel — can escape the lure of this flower that has, at this very moment, set the landscape ablaze with its fiery colours and striking beauty.
Pankaj Sekhsaria is the author of The Last Wave — An Island Novel.
And here is a report on my thesis and of the other two that were part of the project on the website of the Maastricht University….
The promise of nanotechnology
by Jolien Linssen
Emerging technologies are often held up as miracle interventions: by bridging the divide between the Global North and South, they could change the world for the better. Yet in the past, nuclear power, biotechnology and ICT all failed to live up to their promise. Could nanotechnology, the next big thing, make the difference? For PhD candidates Pankaj Sekhsaria, Trust Saidi and Koen Beumer, this question formed the starting point of their research….
For the article click here
So there are three PhDs as part of the project
Very happy to announce that I successfully defended my PhD thesis last week (10 March 2016) and have now been awarded a doctorate.
The thesis is titled ‘Enculturing Innovation – Indian engagements with nanotechnology’ and is in the field of Science and Technology Studies. The research was conducted as part of a project at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Maastricht University under the supervision of Prof Wiebe Bijker, Dr Aalok Khandekar and Dr Ragna Zeiss
Please msg me or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to read the thesis and I will be happy to send you the pdf. A short (3 page) summary of the thesis is also available….
The thesis can be accessed online from the Maastricht University library website at the following link: http://pub.maastrichtuniversity.nl/00b75ea0-379b-4a9d-8689-e92a3b878a9b
You can also write to me at email@example.com and I’ll be happy to email the pdf across to you!
I hope this is of interest to many. We are aiming to bring together people from STS, Valuation Studies, Social Studies of Finance and Accounting, Economic Sociology, and so on (see below).
Feel free to get in touch early to discuss your ideas!
Organizers: Hendrik Vollmer (University of Leicester), Yuval Millo (University of Warwick), Mike Power (London School of Economics), Keith Robson (HEC Paris)
A Workshop Sponsored by Accounting, Organizations and Society
A growing number of researchers across the social sciences are investigating valuation as a social process. Alongside the long-standing interdisciplinary research into accounting as social and institutional practice, a number of new fields of research and thematic banners have been arising in areas relevant to the study of valuation, fields such as the social studies of finance and sociological studies of “economies of worth” (see, among others, Callon, 1998; Boltanski & Thévenot, 2006; Callon, Millo, & Muniesa, 2007; Knorr Cetina & Preda, 2012; Aspers & Dodd, 2015). Valuation practices have been studied with respect to the construction of markets, firms or states, and they have been associated with the making of economic agency in various shapes and forms. Technological aspects of valuation from organizational routines to calculative practices, computer algorithms and information systems continue to figure prominently throughout such research. In particular, valuation devices – artefacts, processes or assemblages that enable, frame and bring about valuations – have been a focal point in interrogating and revising central concepts of social and economic theory, most notably with respect to concepts of economic action, markets, performativity, human and non-human agency.
Despite such common focus, convergence of empirical findings is still limited with respect to how the spread and use of valuation devices affects the diverse social settings in which valuation takes place – and, critically, how the use of such devices transforms values and valuations. Recent publications indicate that such convergence is increasingly coming within reach (Kjellberg et al., 2013; Antal, Hutter, & Stark, 2015; Dussauge, Helgesson, & Lee, 2015; Kornberger, Justesen, Madsen, & Mouritsen, 2015). We observe considerable momentum across fields in addressing questions such as: how do tools and technologies of pricing, costing, indexing or projecting value change the ways people in firms, markets, in the profession, and in everyday life value goods, activities, or one another? To what extent do valuation devices create novel accounts of value? Are there regularities in the types of accounts and accounting which valuation devices bring about? In what respect do collective valuations change once they are increasingly supported by ready-made technologies of accounting, measurement and calculation? What is the effect of black-boxing valuation in artefacts and does the diffusion of such artefacts change, consolidate or dissipate economic agency? To what extent does it decentralise how value is being accounted for, e.g., through the use of social media or online rating systems? How does the diffusion of valuation devices across society affect the work and occupational niche of valuation professionals such as accountants or market analysts?
The “Valuation, Technology and Society” workshop aims to build on the wealth of research currently addressing these questions by bringing together a broad range of scholarship from across (and not necessarily limited to) accounting, finance, anthropology, sociology, economics, history, science and technology studies, media studies or social psychology. We are specifically seeking papers that use in-depth empirical analyses of valuation devices in social contexts in order to address the analytical and theoretical challenges in understanding valuation as a social process and indicate points of convergence across cases.
Indicative themes are:
– the impact of valuation devices on banking and finance, for example, in the delivery of financial services in retail banking or the making of investment decisions; the extent to which the use of valuation devices has brought about and supported new forms of recruiting clients or interacting with stakeholders; the impact of valuation devices in creating new lines of business, for example in the emerging fintech sector and in blockchain banking; how valuation devices have transformed markets and organizational cultures through dynamics of disruptive innovation, pressures to innovate or the recruitment of IT talent.
– the mobilization by valuation devices of different types of qualitative and quantitative data, algorithms, ratings and rankings; the ways in which they make use of ‘big data’ and internet traffic; how valuation devices make use of mobile computing.
– the effect of valuation devices on technologies of the self through the introduction of new forms of measurement and value, for example, in health and personal fitness; how mobile or ‘wearable’ technologies are part of broader information systems in tracking fitness or risky behaviour; how valuation devices contribute to the management of populations.
– how valuation devices affect the construction of social problems like economic growth, climate change, air pollution, immigration, public spending or sustainable development; how the scope of valuation has been extended to take into account social and environmental impacts of organizational action; the effects this has had on finance, investing and the management of risk.
– the involvement of valuation devices in processes of reorganization and reform; their roles in dis-assembling and re-assembling organizations and institutions.
– the effect of valuation devices on the competition among professions over the recognition of expertise and the struggle over professional jurisdictions; whether valuation devices instantiate particular forms of ‘adversary accounting’.
– how valuation devices affect the very logic of account production, for example by involving customers and clients in the construction of ratings and rankings.
– whether there is a specific role for valuation devices in valuing objects that are unique and ‘singular’, for example, rare items or works of art.
– how different forms of social science contribute to the development of valuation devices; whether novel forms of social science are made possible through the use of valuation devices in society; the roles of accounting in exploring these possibilities.
We believe that social science has much to gain from a more continuous understanding of how accounts of value are produced and circulated among human and non-human actors, facilitate action and organization, and underpin markets, networks and institutions.
UDC’s first Urban Colloquium of 2016 was held in Pondicherry with a presentation by writer and activist Pankaj Sekhsaria, on his work in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and about his new book The Last Wave, a novel set in the islands. The event was held in collaboration with PondyPHOTO. We thank Kasha ki Aasha for generous use of their space.
Guest contributor Ketaki Chowkhani shares with us her thoughts on Pankaj’s presentation.
The Andaman and Nicobars: An Island Journey
‘When I first surveyed this creek seven years ago,’ David finally spoke, ‘it was full of crocs. It was amazing how many you could see in a single night. It used to be great fun but not anymore. This creek has now been trashed. Completely trashed. Too many people, too much encroachment. Only the first wall of the mangroves now stands. Everything beyond has been converted to paddy fields and…
View original post 1,080 more words
In a fascinating post about walking, Will Self offers an uncommon walking tour of Bristol. According to Self, “walking was the way to break free from the shackles of 21st-century capitalism.” Walking tours, sometimes also called pedway tours, are growing in popularity; pedways are pedestrian walkways and they can be both above ground and below; they are sometimes discussed as a form of ungoverned or unplanned civil engineering.
Self, who guides the walking tours, gets meta pretty quick; he “began with a brief introduction to the situationists – the Paris-based artists and thinkers of the 1960s who championed the concept of “psychogeography”, the unplanned drifting through an urban landscape to become more in tune with one’s surroundings.”
By: Kunal Ray
Author and photographer Pankaj Sekhsaria’s photography exhibition offers a multi-dimensional view of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands
What about the ethics of memory?
Looking at the debate that has ensued thus far it seems important to make a distinction between personal memory and collective memory. As I wrote in an article for Critical Military Studies, one should be careful with conflating what an individual remembers with what a community, or nation, remembers. For Avishai Margalit, in The Ethics of Memory, collective memory is “shared memory” with the “we” as collective or communal, not a simple aggregate of individual memories, but built instead on a division of mnemonic labor. This shared memory travels from person to person through institutions (archives) and communal mnemonic devices (monuments) (Margalit, 56).
Remembrance is an act symbolic exchange. With this distinction, we needn’t worry as much about memory as such, or about who is speaking for whom, but rather what ethical engagements follow from remembering together. This remembering can be less about “exercising sovereign power” as Jordan writes and more about the experiences we share as a community and what this means for our actions in the future.
In fact, these shared memories can produce an obligation on a community beyond sovereign control; each of us has a responsibility to keep memories alive, but all shoulder this burden in some way. This, in turn, makes shared memory’s relationship to morality and action different from that which stems from individual memory. This is memory that is based on keeping promises to generations that preceded and those that will follow. Memorialization and monuments can fulfill this ethical call, and have in many cases. It is when nation building and state politics try to control this process and dictate what a people should remember that ethical engagement tends to fall away.
Collective memory must be a relationship to the future; it must be a promise to the future. In this, monuments are less about what happened and more about where we are going. As Margalit writes “the memory that we need to keep our promises and follow through on our plans is this kind of prospective memory…to remember is to know and to know is to believe” (Margalit, 14).
This can be about deploying policy decisions, but it can also mean one policy might be followed rather than another based on what we are allowed to remember together. This makes Jordan’s MAI productive, but what ethics that follow from that productivity are unclear and must be understood contextually.
Title: Social Studies of Politics: Making Collectives By All Possible Means
Short Description: The challenge: to explore new ways of studying “politics as usual” by taking inspiration from the conceptual repertoire developed in STS for scrutinizing “science as usual”. We invite proposals for papers which mobilize STS concepts, methodologies, and practices in studying with “politics as usual”.
Long Description: The adage “technology is politics by other means” emphasizes that technoscientific practices contribute to the making of collective orders which are not given by nature, but made, involving decision, power, and authority. While the 4S/EASST motto “science & technology by other means” is meant to be a conspicuous alternative to laboratory and epistemic authority-based reality-making, it also provides an occasion to come back to “politics by the same means”. The challenge: to explore ways of studying “politics as usual” by taking inspiration from the conceptual repertoire developed in STS for scrutinizing “science as usual”. We invite proposals for papers that mobilize STS concepts, methodologies, and practices for studying and engaging with “politics as usual”. This includes actors, knowledges, institutions, discourses, practices, infrastructures, etc., that make-up what we “traditionally” call politics and the political process, but also those that are not on that traditional list. Examples include studies of publics, policy, parties, interest groups, social movements, terrorist groups, state and non-state agencies, political representation and communication, democracy and participation, parliaments and lobbyism, nation-states, populations and stateless persons, international relations, diplomacy and conflict, multi-level and global governance, protest and resistance. A general interest is with the tools and machineries of knowing and assembling governance, the epistemic and ontological practices that make these specifically political realities, actors, processes, powers, and modes of authority. Recalling the conference motto: what are we to do about the seemingly intransigent politics of re-assembling “technoscientific practices along routes that do not follow once established divides”?
Conveners: Nicholas Rowland (The Pennsylvania State University), Jan-Peter Voss (Berlin University of Technology), and Jan-Hendrik Passoth (Technische Universität München)
Ernst Thälmann Memorial, Prenzlauer Berg, East Berlin (a commonly defaced memorial of a communist leader tortured by Nazis).
First, I’d like to thank our guest blogger this week Jordan Andrew for his intriguing post “The Architecture and Infrastructure of Memory (MAI),” which was a new topic to me.
Second, the picture in his post was original, he revealed in comments later on, which makes Jordan one of our best guest bloggers we’ve ever had.
So, my post follows-up on the original. Close readers will notice that my title is identical, with one exception, the “?”. The question mark has to do with a discussion that ensued after the post appeared. Deliberation ensued regarding whether or not “MAI facilitates (and limits) possibilities and creates complex connections between these possibilities” or if “what connects them is actually” Jordan’s post? That discussion is here; however, the sticking-points include that “there are no actual/infrastructural networks” (per Jordan’s opening line of paragraph 1) and that “memory is a thing we do and not a thing in the world right” (per Jordan’s closing line of paragraph 1).
Coming up in less than a week, in Pune, India – ‘Island Worlds’ my new photo exhibition on the Andaman & Nicobar Islands
The photographs have all been specially reproduced on silk fabric to offer a new visual and aesthetic experience even as they explore the many moods and dimensions of the islands that I have myself seen and experienced over the last two decades.
At the inauguration on February 13, the poetry-music band, Mystic, will present a new concert ‘Singing the sea’ that will evoke the spirit of our world of water.
What is the connection between the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and the National Holocaust Monument currently being built in Ottawa, Canada? (Chalmers:105) Though this question seems rather peculiar at first, the answer is far less obscure when considered within the context of memory architecture and infrastructure (MAI). This is because MAI is intricately bound up in both remembrance and sovereignty.
The connection between memory and the authority or power to govern is nothing new: the correspondence between the two was established in early Greek mythology. According to Hesiod’s Theogony, the ability to rule over others was granted to certain favoured individuals by the Muses through their unique bond with their mother Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory and guardian over what should be remembered. As history would have it, memory would be stolen from Mnemosyne along with Hephaistos’ fire (thanks to our friend Prometheus) and humanity (led by the privileged few) became able to record their own past via material culture and technology. Mnemonic technologies (texts, film, photographs, commemorations, digital memory, the internet, etc.) have become increasingly complex, varied, and augmented as those responsible for filling the void left by Mnemosyne go about constructing our past(s).
However, though the figuration of memory has changed over time, the relationship has remained very similar: those who possess the ability to shape what is remembered and how it is re-collected are in an auspicious position to exercise sovereign rule, and inversely, those who wish to maintain such authority take a special interest in doing so. This is in part why memory studies scholars have written so extensively on both the more recent proliferation of commemorations (memorials, monuments, etc.) and their role as part of modern state attempts to reconstruct the past. The salience of state-sponsored memorials and monuments is particularly distinguishable in national capitals, where commemorative landscapes are often extremely composite and interconnected.
As a specific example of mnemonic technology, memorials and monuments are durable structures that have become delegates or heads of populations that are the punctualized result of previously formed assemblages composed of a multiplicity of actors (politicians, special interest groups, community organizations, artists, architects, city planners, academics, government organizations/departments, etc.). To say that these sites and their structures are delegates is to say that they ‘speak’ on behalf of the array of different actors who had gathered to establish them (and have since become ‘silent’ – an effect of punctualization), but it is also to say that they represent histories, specific events, ideologies and ideals, among other knowledges. Additionally, they participate in a discussion with a host of other such memorial delegates that exist within local, national, and international commemorative networks: with other delegates representing punctualized networks that then come together to form even larger commemorative networks.
It is these networks that form what is referred to here as memory infrastructure, or the organization of various punctualized assemblages that have been made durable (and to an extent more stable) through practices of art, design, and architecture.
Why is it important that we recognize MAI? Just like roads, sidewalks, trails, electricity, the internet, power plants, etc… MAI facilitates (and limits) possibilities and creates complex connections between these possibilities for both individuals and governments. This is how Canadian economic or foreign policy can be connected to a mass genocide in Europe during the 1940s (as well as a myriad of other seemingly unrelated issues). Memory infrastructure and architecture establish thoroughfares that align a variety of translated interests in order to guarantee (as much as possible) a certain range of agencies: in this case, the governments ability to successfully deploy policy decisions.
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.
Free and available here: proofs from STHV with a 13 author writing group. Reading this, I thought: this is a much-needed article.
Most Honest Acknowledgements Section I’ve Seen
This morning I finally made it to the book exhibit at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Atlanta. (More on that in a later post). While browsing at the Oxford University Press booth I came across Brendan Pietsch‘s Dispensational Modernism.
I met the author of this new intellectual history of American Protestant fundamentalism a few years ago at an event sponsored by the Louisville Institute. At the time I think he was still working on his dissertation at Duke University.
When I picked up his book and turned to the Acknowledgments this is what I found:
“Rising along the eastern slopes of the Agasthyamalai range of the Western Ghats, the Tamirabarani river travels a short 125 kilometres before reaching the Gulf of Mannar near Punnaikayal. Passing through Tirunelveli and Thoothukkudi districts in Tamil Nadu, it spells life for those in the dry and arid plains along this part of the south-eastern coast of India. …”
Continuing from my last post on the forests of KMTR, in India’s southern western ghats, here is a feature on the River Tamabarani that originates in these mountains – the journey of a river from source to the sea, from the canopy to the coast and the many things that happen along the way…This feature appeared in The Hindu Sunday Magazine on October 18, 2015, and really really underlines the nature’s infrastructure theme for me in more ways than one. For the full text and more pics click here
Also, I owe a big thank you to MIT Press for publishing Assembling Policy!
For readers of the blog: Given past interest in Foucault, the origins of governmentality, and hybrid infrastructures, I thought the book would be of interest, seeing as how I mix classic STS with governmentality studies (among other things). I’ve published in The Information Society, Social Studies of Science, Organization, Public Understanding of Science, Urban Studies, and a few other places, if you’re curious about other work.
The case: I analyze the Transantiago, a mayor infrastructural policy carried out in Santiago, Chile in 2007 with utterly disastrous results. You can see the publisher’s overview bellow.
*I am happy to expand/comment on any of the book’s contents — please ask in the comments!
Policymakers are regularly confronted by complaints that ordinary people are left out of the planning and managing of complex infrastructure projects. In this book, Sebastián Ureta argues that humans, both individually and collectively, are always at the heart of infrastructure policy; the issue is how they are brought into it. Ureta develops his argument through the case of Transantiago, a massive public transportation project in the city of Santiago, proposed in 2000, launched in 2007, and in 2012 called “the worst public policy ever implemented in our country” by a Chilean government spokesman.
Ureta examines Transantiago as a policy assemblage formed by an array of heterogeneous elements—including, crucially, “human devices,” or artifacts and practices through which humans were brought into infrastructure planning and implementation. Ureta traces the design and operation of Transantiago through four configurations: crisis, infrastructuration, disruption, and normalization. In the crisis phase, humans were enacted both as consumers and as participants in the transformation of Santiago into a “world-class” city, but during infrastructuration the “active citizen” went missing. The launch of Transantiago caused huge disruptions, in part because users challenged their role as mere consumers and instead enacted unexpected human devices. Resisting calls for radical reform, policymakers insisted on normalizing Transantiago, transforming it into a permanent failing system. Drawing on Chile’s experience, Ureta argues that if we understand policy as a series of heterogeneous assemblages, infrastructure policymaking would be more inclusive, reflexive, and responsible.
The story of how a small patch of forest in India’s southern-western ghats (a global biodiversity hotspot) was saved in the 1970s…at it’s heart is the work in the decade of the 70s of two American primatologists, who were studying the rare and endemic Lion-tailed macaque, the enimatic, canopy dwelling primate of these forests…These forests are also the source of much of the water security of the region (a key point in the natural infrastructure’s that I’ve been discussing a bit on this blog!!)
For the full story including some incredible 1970s pics of the region by the primatologists see http://www.sanctuaryasia.com/conservation/field-reports/10169-kmtrs-one-mile-corridor
Continuing here from my last post – on the magic of indigo and the master Yellappa – here is another older story of another such tradition and master-craftsman from the same part of the country…This is a feature on the technique of ikkat (tie-and-dye) weaving in the southern Indian state of Telangana; the story of K Narasimha…
From our friends at HAU:
“Our social media feeds will be a bit hushed this week as our team takes some time off for writing and family. We will resume activity normally next week. In the meantime, why not revisit Lévi-Strauss’ classic essay “Father Christmas executed.””
Pankaj is a doctoral candidate from Maastricht University Science and Technology Studies. He just gave us a great piece on indigo, cotton, and dying infrastructure. You might recall mention of research on jugaad, but Pankaj’s work is so much more than that. If you review the academia.edu page, then you’ll see a substantial amount more about jugaad, including an engaging and well-read newspaper piece about the topic, along with a piece in Current Science, India’s leading science journal, and there is also a chapter is an edited volume that is worth the read. Pankaj is also author of The Last Wave, a novel that is engrossing — I’m learning — and that was well-received on the topic of deforestation and, I think, finding meaning in a world ravened by capitalism’s insufferable appetite.
Welcome aboard, Pankaj!
Kenny Cuppers has a cool set of papers on the rise of shared “cultural centers” in major Postwar European cities. His is the first substantive chapter in a not-yet published book, which seems tailor-made for his research line, and which acts as a kind of companion piece for his published article “The Cultural Center: Architecture as Cultural Policy in Postwar Europe.”
Remembering the exceptional Yellappa, a man who carried the knowledge, skill and practice of colouring cotton yarn with natural indigo as part of a rich tradition in the Indian sub-continent.
In The Hindu Sunday Magazine, December 13, 2015
Add this one to your reading list: Steve Graham and Colin McFarlane have edited a book, which has just come out, Infrastructural Lives.
Contributors include AbdouMaliq Simone, Maria Kaika, Vyjayanthi Rao, Mariana Cavalcanti, Stephanie Terrani-Brown, Omar Jabary Salamanca, Rob Shaw, Harriet Bulkeley, Vanesa Caston-Broto, Simon Marvin, Mike Hodson, Renu Desai, Steve Graham, and myself. Arjun Appaduria kindly provided a thoughtful foreword for the book.
I sat down to finish this third post in our three part series on “post-neutrality” and realized that while I am an informed citizen on the issues around net neutrality, I wasn’t sure what I could add to the excellent conversation happening this week (the first two here and here). I signed the petitions and sent my testimony to the relevant government agencies. I told them of the importance of protecting our access to the Internet from corporate control. I keep up on the issue as it disappears and reappears in the news.
I decided the direction to go for my addition was to look more closely at the idea of neutrality itself and how it works. How does neutrality function when discussing politics? As Nicholas pointed out, “neutrality” often works as a grand narrative like those of human emancipation: neutrality as a modern dream hid our biases and prejudices. And, as I would like to highlight in this blog, neutrality as a “hypothetical political position” often works to sustain the status quo.
It seems in many cases neutrality is a privilege and often not neutral at all, but rather blind to its privileged position. Neutrality means being able to have an absence of views or expression; a neutral party would have to have enough power to stand apart from a situation. One could argue that this is ideology working at its most efficient and powerful. Most of us are subject to forces that make us take a position in political and social contexts. Poland couldn’t be neutral in WWII, a black man faced with a cop’s aggression and drawn weapon, or a woman defending herself against her abusive husband can’t be neutral. Neutrality is not afforded to the oppressed. A stand is forced upon you. Sometimes it is personal violence and other times it is the pressure of racist or sexist institutions, unequal economic systems, and more often than not, it is that power that declares its neutrality. “I am the law: the law works equally for all. ” Continue reading
Neutrality is under fire, or, at minimum, “not finalized” (whatever that means), possibly, even dead. I am surprised, in light of discussions of postmodernism over the intervening decades, that we humor the metanarrative of human emancipation embedded in “net neutrality” in the first place. Continue reading
Thirty years ago, in 1985, the historian Mel Kranzberg proposed a “series of truisms” starting with Kranzberg’s first law: “Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.”
Eighteen years later, in 2003, the law professor Timothy Wu coined the term “network neutrality” to refer to a “a system of beliefs about innovation.” Wu characterized defenders of this system of beliefs as “Internet Darwinians.” He approved of their theory of innovation—namely, that the Internet should be “indifferent both to the physical communications medium ‘below’ it, and the applications running ‘above’ it.” As a result, Wu argued, network neutrality was an “attractive” and “suitable goal of Internet communications policy.”
The simple version of my argument here is: listen to Kranzberg, and be wary of Internet Darwinians. Technologies aren’t neutral, so we shouldn’t defend norms or make laws that pretend they are.
Is neutrality over? If you’re talking about “net neutrality,” at least in the US, that case is going to appeals court (so maybe Tim Wu’s concept will not last long). If you’re talking about “political neutrality” amidst news outlets, again in the US, that bird also appears to have flown the coop (that, or the bias is so deep we cannot even tell anymore). Maybe neutrality was always something of a modern dream. Maybe it was always just a hypothetical philosophical position. Maybe only “neutral countries” Switzerland have it figured out.
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.
4S 2015 Denver is our (Jan-H and I’s) presentation from, unsurprisingly, 4S 2015 (Denver), wherein we reflect on the trends and recurrent themes in our five years of organizing panels around STS, governance, and the state, which we are now calling simply “Social Studies of Politics.” We have a chapter summarizing a bit of this in “Knowing Governance,” but the paywall is steep, steep!
Location: Thursday 22 – Friday 23 September 2016, University of Oxford.
Convenors: Helen Margetts (OII), Vili Lehdonvirta (OII), Jonathan Bright (OII), David Sutcliffe (OII), Andrea Calderaro (EUI / ECPR).
Abstract deadline: 14 March 2016.
This conference is convened by the Oxford Internet Institute for the OII-edited academic journal Policy and Internet, in collaboration with the European Consortium of Political Research (ECPR) standing group on Internet and Politics.
See full call here: http://ipp.oii.ox.ac.uk/2016/call-for-papers
Report from 4S in Denver:
In a session “The Reflexive Turn in Art and Science Studies: Art and Science 1: Power Relations in Art and Science Studies: Methods of Analysis” (long title, right?), Paula Gardner (OCAD University) gave a fascinating talk about smart fitness infrastructure titled “Pull, Process, Print: Aesthetic Interventions in Biodata.”
Gardner talked about the, for lack of a better phrase for me as a sociologist, the McDonaldization (or rationalization) of personal activity and the tracking of voluntary self-care activities such as step-counting with pedometers, distances-estimates for biking, calorie-burning for running, and so on. Think: any infrastructure for health as manifested in stuff like Fitbit.
Topics discussed included data fetichism, that data are not raw but always appear already processed for the user, that they assume a base-line, for example, size or step, that we are quantifying the self ourselves, that it is important for us to compare one another in this fitness architecture, that our activity levels may be used against us at work where we need to appear like active and productive employees (or else), and that there may be forms of “interference” (among other things) that these trackers impose upon our lives, our work-outs, and our health that are yet unknown. In all, a fascinating piece.
promises to be very interesting…
@ Disruptive Innovation Festival 2-20 November 2015