“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

OOO and Ecology

Realist Magic has returned to Aristotle, but not out of some atavistic desire to wipe away the achievements of modernity and return to an oppressive theocratic regime. It is simply that modernity has now reached a certain limit.This limit is characterized by, to cite only too brief examples, the decisive appearance of nonhumans in human social, psychic and philosophical space.The current ecological emergency consists in this appearance. Some deep paradoxes concerning the Law of Noncontradiction have also emerged, within the very thinking of mathematics that grounds modern science (Cantor, Hilbert, Russell, Gödel,Turing). The contradictory beings that this lineage of mathematics and logic discovered has necessitated an attentiveness to ways in which logic itself might need to violate LNC, the Law of Noncontradiction, especially when it comes to thinking objects.That this appears to be the case despite the founding of modern thinking upon LNC, provides more evidence that humans are now exiting the modern. Meanwhile, physics has discovered formal causation in the shape of nonlocal quantum interactions. I take these events to be symptoms of the pressure exerted by real beings on the glass window of epistemologically-inclined modern knowing.

These beings press on the glass like the uncanny faces in a painting by the Expressionist James Ensor. They are what OOO calls objects, and it’s time to let them in—or rather, to let ourselves out. 
--Realist Magic (final two paragraphs)

"Fish Are Approaching a Preschooler's Numeracy"

The ability to compute, whose possibility condition is reason, happens in fish, as predicted by OOO. Mind is "lower down" than you think. It is for sure not a bonus prize for being "highly evolved." Thanks Dirk (again!).

Object-Oriented Ontology and Impermanence

The Rift between essence and appearance is why an object has an outside. The Rift is why an object exists. The Rift is also how an object can die: its inner, irreducible fragility. Every object has some feature labeled “I am not part of this object.” A hamartia (Greek, “wound”). An inner silver bullet, like a physical version of a Gödel sentence. The inner fragility of an object allows it to be destroyed by another object. Much more importantly, however, inner fragility means that an object can “die” all by itself.

Every object is wounded. A hamartia constitutes the object as such in its determinacy. Impermanence is an intrinsic feature of why an object is an object. When an object comes into phase with its own fragility, it is destroyed. Consider the Hawking radiation emanating from a black hole. Not everything remains caught within a black hole: even a black hole, the densest object in the physical Universe, is internally inconsistent. At some point, the black hole will expend itself. Its hamartia, its inner fragility, causes it to cease to exist. Hamartia is what Aristotle calls a tragic flaw. 
--Realist Magic

Object-Oriented Ontology and Memory

The formal cause of something is its past, its memory, as in the memory inscribed in a silicon wafer. Memory precisely is a state in which “everything is there, but nothing is ever present.” We have already encountered the question of memory in thinking the continued existence of objects in the previous chapter. It seems appropriate then that the notion of bardo would come around once more, since bardos are the repetition of memories. This time, however, we are dealing with the bardo of dying, the way in which repetition is caught in something deadly. The (superficial, given) appearance of an object just is its warping by another object, which is another way of saying that the “past life” of an object is its form.

What Hegel says about the abstractness of the I cannot be said about how an asteroid piles into Earth, causing a gigantic molten chunk to blurt out the other side and become the Moon.The asteroid never encounters Earth as just a blank screen, onto which it projects its own fantasy, its form—its warping by other objects.The asteroid does not perform a negation of every positive content, a Hegelian “abstraction from all determinateness.” The ego of an object is simply the record of the traumas that happened to it—this goes for the objects called human, for whom the ego is a virtual, sensual object.Thus there are no blank screens in reality whatsoever.
--Realist Magic 

Object-Oriented Ontology and Ideology

David Wiesner rewrote The Three Little Pigs. In this version, the pigs escape from the book by somehow exiting the page. They find themselves in a curious interstitial space populated with other characters. They bring a dragon back to their world and defeat the wolf. What can we learn from this about our ideological and ecological situation? One is that when we exit from our ideological “world” with its familiar contours, we are still somewhere. Isn’t this the lesson of those interstitial moments in David Lynch movies, in which we see a transition between seemingly coherent worlds? These transitional spaces are not just a void. Maybe philosophy and ideology only thinks these spaces as voids from within a certain kind of philosophical or ideological framework. OOO and Buddhism share something very interesting. They both hold that the interstitial space between things is not a blank void. In fact, it’s charged with meaning, even with causality.
--Realist Magic 

Object-Oriented Ontology and Computational Languages

Gödel argues that because of the inherent inconsistency of all theories, you need another theory to explain the semantics of one theory. Each theory requires 1+n others. Doesn’t this sound awfully like the OOO theory of translation, that objects are apprehended in an interobjective space that consists of 1+n objects?You never hear the wind in itself, you hear the wind in the chimney. I part company with most computational linguists, who hold that computational languages are less expressive than English. I think this is not the problem. I think that computational languages are more explicit and therefore more rigid. English has the advantage of being weak, because it evolved to be spoken by flesh and blood objects who were trying to keep on keeping on.
--Realist Magic 

Object-Oriented Ontology and the Other

An object is already dreaming about itself, even when it is “sleeping” (to use Harman’s term), unaffected by another object. This is because of the profound Rift between essence and appearance. This Rift provides the impetus for movement and continuity. Just persisting, just remaining the same, is a strange phenomenon in this regard. The real problem with non-OOO theories of objects—default lumps sprinkled with accidents or cooler flows—is that, as we’ve seen, they are unable to think movement or time without recourse to some non-examined concept that is brought in as a kind of patch. One way this works is that the interobjective space is taken as the actual reality of objects, when it functions more like the Lacanian concept of the Big Other: just as I am a person called Tim by others  (in the Big Other in Lacanian terms), so objects are defined by their relations in interobejctivity. This gives rise to the illusion we call relationism. One reason OOO is hard to accept for some people is also the reason why psychoanalysis or ecological awareness is hard to accept: what is found is a profound lack in the Other, the realization that “the Other does not exist”: there is no Nature, no deep background of meaning—what we took as real is really a projection.What we assumed to be real is just a manifestation of the as-structure.
--Realist Magic (PDF proof reading now) 

Thank You Frank Luntz You Just Proved My Point

...just in time for the copy edit of Hyperobjects, which is happening literally this next fortnight.

As you may know I'm using the term global warming not climate change in my book, because I think it's like saying "change in living conditions" rather than "Holocaust." It's not the metonymy ("climate change" means "climate change as a result of global warming") but the idea of a substitution that bothers me, immensely. 

With thanks to Cliff Gerrish!


...it is conservatives who typically change the names of things, as in refusing to say “Democratic” but only “Democrat” and insisting on “death tax” rather than “estate tax,” even though only big estates are taxed, not death.
That latter switch was championed by the GOP’s spinmaster, Frank Luntz, who, as it turns out, also championed switching from ‘global warming’ to ‘climate change’ in 2003. Scientists, environmentalists, progressives, and frankly the whole darn planet have always used both terms — hence the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, established in 1988.
In a confidential 2003 memo, Luntz asserted that the Administration and conservatives should stop using the term “global warming” because it was too frightening:
It’s time for us to start talking about “climate change” instead of global warming and “conservation” instead of preservation.  1) “Climate change” is less frightening than “global warming”. As one focus group participant noted, climate change “sounds like you’re going from Pittsburgh to Fort Lauderdale.” While global warming has catastrophic connotations attached to it, climate change suggests a more controllable and less emotional challenge.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

What Are You Up To Professor Morton?

I'm writing a very long essay on Buddhaphobia. I have written twelve thousand words in a day.

Writing at this length might be optimal for expressing these rather difficult ideas. But there is a side effect, a sort of cognitive state one gets into.

Friday, April 26, 2013


I shall be talking about this on June 29 in Brussels for Tuned City. 

Timothy Morton

A sentence has its own logical DNA, and is mind independent. It is a kind of entity, an “object” in the terminology used by Object-Oriented Ontology. Likewise, a sentence has its own grammatical, syntactical and sonic genome. In this sense, a sentence is like a virus. Viruses are chronologically subsequent to bacteria, in evolutionary time. But they are logically prior, since they encapsulate the strange loop that exists between a physical system and a semiotic one. 

In the same way, what is called a riff (sruti, lick, chop) has its own logical, semiotic and physical DNA. A sound, considered in this sense, is like a virus—which is why the term earworm is highly appropriate. We could think of ideas as viral structures for which minds are vectors. In the same way, earworms are spread by humans and other related vectors, such as MP3 players. Riffs are logically prior to the tunes (and so on) in which they find themselves. 

This means that distinctions such as natural/unnatural, sound/noise and so on fail when subjected to enough analytical or musical pressure. This failure is not due to the fuzziness of (human) perception or subjectivity, or the context in which sounds appear. This failure has to do with the deep ontological structure of entities as such: they are riven from within between what they are and how they appear, even to themselves. 

It is better to think sounds as entities in their own right, coexisting in an ecology of sonic hosts and parasites, in which the host/parasite distinction is neither thin nor rigid.  My talk examines the implications of thinking this way. Ambient phenomena are an ideal way to probe this thought.  

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Psychotic Superego Violence

It is called Twitter (cf The Birds) and, this past couple of weeks, Reddit.

If you want to do violence to someone, the correct medium appears to be massively distributed online fora. What are these media bringing out in people?

And more significantly, how can they be prevented from so doing?

The superego is not a nice thing.

More Medieval Speculative Realism

...and there are so many fascinating medievalists out there right now:

Nicola Masciandaro.
Eugene Thacker.
Eileen Joy.
Karl Steel.
Jeffrey Cohen.

To name just a few. There is a reason why this is happening. Modernity is in trouble.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Medieval OOO

It's great to see Bruce Holsinger's essay in print. He was telling me about it at UVa.

There has been steady engagement by medievalists with OOO, for many reasons. But perhaps most of all because OOO reconfigures the consensus about what the "middle ages" might be, philosophically speaking.

When I first got into OOO I spent a lot of time reading medieval and in particular Arabic philosophy. There are intuitive parallels, because of the Aristotle. The dismissal of Pre-Kantian stuff as scholasticism, and indeed the term "medieval," are clearly pejorative symptoms of what has happened in the last two hundred years.

In Past Talks there is a graduate class at Rice from 2010 that I taught on this theme, funnily enough.

Near Princeton?

The Secret Life of Plants, an interdisciplinary conversation about the present state of relations with the vegetable kingdom: with Jane Bennett (Johns Hopkins), Laura Marks (Simon Fraser University), Maureen McLane (New York University), Natania Meeker (University of Southern California), Tim Morton (Rice University), Nils Norman (Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts), and Antonia Szabari (University of Southern California).

Exhibition and reception: Thursday, May 2, 5:00 PM, School of Architecture.

Symposium: Friday, May 3, 1:00 PM to 5:30 PM, Betts Auditorium, School of Architecture. The afternoon will be divided into the panels of two speakers each, under the following headings:

1:00 COHABITATION: with Jane Bennett (Johns Hopkins) and Nils Norman (Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts)

2:30 KNOWING: with Maureen McLane (New York University) and Tim Morton (Rice University)

4:15 ANIMATION: with Laura Marks (Simon Fraser University), Natania Meeker (University of Southern California), and Antonia Szabari (University of Southern California)

5:30 Reception

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Poetry CSI

Which is a more accurate description of an omelette?

“This omelette reminds me of my father. It is yellow, and yellow was a popular color this week. It has cheese in it, and cheese comes from cows.”

“This omelette was evidently made with three eggs. They were cooked for about five minutes on a medium heat. Some salt was added.”

Which one is about “content”? Which one is about “form”?

I can't believe we're still having this discussion. 

The interview with Hillis Miller I posted a while back says something very interesting. When he was at Harvard, there was a huge fashion for doing concordance research: producing them, using them, and so on. As he points out, Google has made all that stuff irrelevant. As he also points out, and this is true, Geoffrey Hartman's fresh readings are still fresh. They blew everyone away at the time as no one else was doing them.

In ten years or less some kind of search engine will be able to do all the “content” based, thematic readings you young whippersnappers think are cool. Your “research” will be irrelevant.

Most of that stuff is either already said, or just mind projection, or easily computable given the right kind of engine.

Does anyone actually want to do something original any more in Ph.D. research? To do so, you need either to burrow into a library, or do an incredible, fresh reading, or both.

In an age of advanced computation, there needs to be advanced imagining, and advanced reasoning, for freshness.

You want to do Ph.D work in English? Read a poem, as a poem. You want to study a movie? See that movie as a movie. You want to study a videogame? Talk about its physical and software architecture. Tell me about iambic pentameter, rhyme scheme, tropes.

So Alexander Regier and I were wondering whether to teach a class on that. My idea for a title was

How to Fucking Read a Fucking Poem

But rather more diplomatically Alexander suggested

Poetry CSI.

The poem is splattered all over the page. What happened? Answering that is called Ph.D research.

Dark Ecology (MP3)

Here is my Cultures of Energy talk. Cute Ouroboros by Ian Bogost.

During lunch two people said “You know, that was a really cute ouroboros.”

Enervation and Ecological Awareness: Cultures of Energy

Joseph Campana, Rice

“The Age of the Enervation? Energy, the Arts, and the Future of Affect,” paper given at the Cultures of Energy 2nd Annual Spring Research Symposium, April 19–21, 2013

enervation instead of energy
Renaissance as discovery and wonder
Showalter, “Our Age of Anxiety” book about depression review
information overload and cellurization of labor (Berardi)
increase in mental pathologies: attention deficit, panic, suicide
hybrid melodrama NBC Revolution: permanent blackout seizes Earth, turns off and never turns back on
falling airplane
>> medieval life: feudal powerbroking, sword fights
question the show raises is not what would you do? 
glut of post apocalyptic sci fi
but rather: if the lights go down what will you feel
terror, shock, uncertainty...but for Revolution panic gives way to anger and longing for revenge
“When the world lost power, I found mine”
>> alternative form of energy, affect heightened by righteousness
emergence of militias; families united; people rise up to conquer
blackout not << consumption but energy zapping military nanotech
righteousness, devotion to family, power to overcome evil
not sociopolitical nor technological
problem is about how representations of future energy landscape depend on violently oscillating affective patterns
>> continuous growth of affective intensity
one minute the world thrums, then it collapses
then cycles back as people power
might there be something wrong with this range of affect
fantasy of easy conversion of energy systems to people power
Heinberg, The End of Growth. Panic in these works
Stoekl: happiness is not << meager conservation. Stuck in a homeostatic loop of sustainability or stuck in cycles of feast and fast. Unable to avoid apocalypse of violent doom. 
regimes of energy (Berardi). Exhaustion always anathema to modernity. Limits denied and forgotten. Entropy despised. 
Consequences of overpopulation and overconsumption
flattened body of socius giving way to revolutionary zeal
exhaustion has no place in western culture; as a new paradigm for social life
>> new perception of wealth and happiness
states of affect <> late capitalism
states of affect that are in and out of sync with the current moment
it is an age of enervation
Mecocosm (Zurkow)
flattened styles
skeptical take on endless loop
could revive affect studies
as a consequence of performance of dance
Morgan Thorson’s Heaven. An exhausted heaven. At Diverseworks
accompanied by music by Low
a kind of flattened affect about the performers
walking in a square for fifteen minutes
signatures of damage and repair in clothes
tenuous relations between life and death
soundscape produced by miked up fan
seeming unison but not quite
odd rituals of greeting; dead or alive, life or afterlife
organ, electric guitar in corner
series of hymns provided by Low
“listen to the still small voice” (Kings): lord is not in earthquake or fire 
lower sustainable degrees of affect
inventing gestures, movements, gaits appropriate to an enervated landscape
artists help us imagine the consequences of energy practices <> enervation
vs slip into language of crisis 
fantasies of scarcity or endless growth or approaching doom
contemplative choreography
you start to feel quite a lot in response to it
heaven that is not heaven: not a bliss alternative to hellfire
alternative to being frozen in panic
Barthes: linguistic state of “the neutral” “that which outplays the paradigm”
“suspension of narcissism, no longer being afraid of images”
not fatigue

Claire Pentecost @ Rice: Cultures of Energy

Claire Pentecost, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

“Of Waste and Work,” paper given at the Cultures of Energy 2nd Annual Spring Research Symposium, April 19–21, 2013

Cage quotation
the public amateur
Edward Said on the amateur
Critical Art Ensemble: doing experiments on genetically modified seeds (which is illegal)
documenta 13 << repression of decadent art
Bateson: the unit of survival is organism plus environment
how to think this re: seeds
clumps of bacteria: create glues that create the structure one wants in a good soil
a teaspoon of soil contains more bacteria than all the humans who have ever lived on earth
William Bryant Logan: “Radical disorder is the key to the functions of humus. At the molecular level, it may indeed be the most disorderd thing on Earth.” Thus dirt is futural
Pentecost, Proposal for a New American Agriculture: composted flag
form: art is different from everyday life
form is either inherited (designated as art), or the artist complicates it (makes an issue of the form itself)
new unit of value made of soil and work
quotation from Bernardi (Bifo) on capitalism
to take a sign and pass it through the flesh of the world
the ingot made of soil
Warren Buffet: in 100 years farmland will be gold
vertical growing systems for dense urban spaces; Nairobi; you can grow a lot of food this way
Kassel Museum of Natural Science, Ottoneum, oldest geological vertical section, layers of Richelsdorfer mountain chain
Pentecost had one made at the top of which is a worm bin
land grabbing since 2008: nations and hedge funds and pension funds are buying huge tracts of land in places like Africa, Asia, Australia, South America for different reasons, to grow food for their own country or cash crops or biofuels
then of course there are people on that land...who are getting kicked off...
our agriculture is so fossil fuel intensive
how to use biomass

Proposal for a New American Agriculture

By Claire Pentecost who is now speaking here. Another broken tool, an American flag, composted!

Chinese Art and Energy: Broken Tools (Cultures of Energy)

Jenny Lin, U Oregon

“Floating Social Sculpture: Contemporary Chinese Art amidst Global Change,”  paper given at the Cultures of Energy 2nd Annual Spring Research Symposium, April 19–21, 2013

2010 tweet “crazy bad”
pm2.5 deep tissue penetration
three decades: socialist >> market based economy
great costs, environmental degradation
16000 dead pigs in river near Shanghai
Americans seen as meddlesome and arrogant
movies: Jia Zhangke, Still Life
Liu Jianhua: ceramics. Sculpture. Transformation of Memories 2003. Fallen trees as corpses. [me but it also has to do with torsos and legs] Outsourcing work to factories. Daily Fragile. Large scale installations. Lots of tools removed from use... [OOO!] churning out ever more useless objects
[Lin does not talk about the relation to Hans Belmer]

Xu Bing, Tobacco Project (Duke). “Even Communists are free to smoke”
Shanghai Gallery of Art. Tiger skin rug made of cigarettes! 
Forest Project. Using art of children. Children’s drawings >> trees

Ai Weiwei: 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds >> Tate’s Turbine Hall. Viewers invited to frolic. Hand painted, hand crafted. Grasp connection between imported objects and their production. But seeds emitted dust. Proved hazardous >> roped off side room and gaze from distance! 
art projects like these uncover cross cultural relationships
Joseph Beuys: social sculpture; meaning in handling and so on (correlationism)
China as waste ground 

Energic Autarchy: Cultures of Energy

Stefan Beck, Humboldt U Berlin

 “No Brownouts in Germany: Towards an analysis of energopractices after Fukushima,” paper given at the Cultures of Energy 2nd Annual Spring Research Symposium, April 19–21, 2013

political project to move << fossils >> renewables
accidentally sped up after Fukushima
March 14 2011: German government answered to massive concerns with a moratorium on nuclear power
“thorough risk assessment”
>> Parliament decides permanently to take nuclear power plants off the grid >> 2022
Change in energy policy didn’t cause any disruption: no brownouts
sometimes the new fluctuating sources cause temporary overloads
tremendous almost exponential growth of renewables since 2000. 
paradox of rising energy prices
now what emerges is heightened visibility of taken for granted power infrastructure
existential revolution in the ways of live of one of the more advanced industrial societies
but peaceful
Timothy Mitchell, Carbon Democracy; politics << material relations
Marxian undercurrent. Social being determines consciousness. 
“renewable democracies”
different types of energy use shape different types of polity
offshore wind farms (big corporations) vs citizen funded local wind farms--energy autonomous communities
uncompleted and often improvised nature of these practices
biopower concept critique: energopower (Dominic), energopractices
Robineau and Rose: biopower not << single power or set of interests but emanating from a whole set of sub-state institutions
>> 3 dimensions of governmentality: truth discourses about nature-culture; strategies that intervene upon collective systems; modes of subjectivation, individuals rework cosmologies
difference between Foucault on C19 and recent energopower: post hoc explanations are not possible for an anthropology of the contemporary
Kierkegaard: “life must be understood backwards but it must be lived fowards”
incremental concepts that emphasize small conflictual moments vs all encompassing logic...
[ha, no one likes all encompassing logic]
“heterogeneous embeddedness of all energopower practices”
1980 report: study of change from fossil >> renewable
Energiebender << 1968 student movement; opposition to nuclear <> plutonium <> military
fear of radiation did not play an important role at this time
>> intellectuals and experts <> Club of Rome report
Das Schwein bestimmt das BewuRstsein
experiments in modes of conduct
started first big powerplant in his backyard! 
1988: started his own energy production
>> free range pig farm and direct marketing
This was weird for his GDR colleagues
Marxist thinking plus ecological ideas
individual and local autarchy
biogas strategies: farmers tinkering with crude reactors
>> electricity and heat; improved fertilizer
guarantee of fixed price for next 15 to 20 years
game changer for bioenergy production
closed loop production in the agrarian sector
reducing bank dependency
multiscalar spatiotemporal relations; connections as part of a metabolic infrastructure
energo-autarchy; Neue Energien Forum Fledheim
many towns and cities have now reached a state of autarchy with regard to energy in Germany
constructed their own electricity and heating grid in the village; wind generators, biogas, whole infrastructure for sustainable autarchy

Withdrawn Tools: They Can Do Things

In Texas, when you don't inspect them.

The whole conversation here about the transition from fossil to renewable fuels is also a conversation about how tools become visible, when before they just functioned (Entzug). In Germany, Mexico, America, according to the sociologists and historians here this weekend, this is happening. It's an OOO moment...

Cultures of Energy: Turbines in Oaxaca

Cymene Howe, Rice U

“Ecoauthority and Anthropocenic Reason in Transitions,” paper given at the Cultures of Energy 2nd Annual Spring Research Symposium, April 19–21, 2013

Cymene’s work in Oaxaca. Barricade to block entrance to a long stretch of sand bar.
hope to build largest single phase wind park on this site. 
Barricade breached taking advantage of the Day of the Dead
lesson on how not to do things
either way it’s not so good: good climatological intentional gone bad; or cynical attempt to exploit corruption
each set of actors lay claim to different kinds of moral authority
transitions: multiple scales of engagement
incomplete thinking of interconnectedness
zones of awkward engagement
ecoauthority is developing in this case study in a certain way: in the age of the Anthropocene
decisions designed through idioms that assert ecological pre-eminence
grounding in series of ecological claims
Mexico suffering from carbon atrophy; reduced a vital source of income
>> climate change remediation
isthmus has some of best wind on planet
Isthmenios have rejected national and international attempts to control resources
Campesino movement
Tim Ingold: walking makes a place cultural; culture made through protest in the isthmus
how are these environments to be used and experienced and whose experience takes priority? 
population or those who ameliorate broad threat to biota
people feel they are being dispossessed; over the ocean other more famous displacements (sea level rise, inundation of islands)
subject of climate change very rarely mentioned
nor does clean energy etc
but what does come up is that they feel tricked and forced to bear the brunt of climate change
mud churned up; worry about electricty
focus on different scales
not just global and local but about the conduct of the future
many very widespread rumors about turbines
turbines can suck life force, drain out blood from veins
Latour: industry plus we have failed to love our monsters; perhaps they only need to love these turbine monsters better
Marena Renovables uses ecoauthority too
righteousness of Chinese state around Three Gorges Dam
species: no one can be sacrificed; Gardener, “temporal dispersion”
humanitarian reason: govern precarious life through government entities
Anthropocenic reason operationalized to manage precarious conditions of all life

Cultures of Energy: Wind Turbines

Richard Hirsh, Virginia Tech

“The Stormy Reception of Wind Turbines: Values, History, and the Poorly Articulated Reasons for Opposition to Wind-Energy Technology,” paper given at the Cultures of Energy 2nd Annual Spring Research Symposium, April 19–21, 2013

wind turbines sociological approach of value for nonacademics as well
Carter era; big improvement in tech
popular support for turbines
often viewed as symbols of modernity
Walmart; industrial sized wind turbines
what’s the problem? the problem of locating somewhere in nature
environmental reasons: avian, bat mortality; need for beefed-up transmission infrastructure, service roads in wilderness
health and safety: low frequency sound, setback needs, shadow flicker
economic: require subsidies, not cost-effective

refutation: cats cause more bird deaths 

counter refutation: pigeons different from rare species

prgoress; exploitation of rural folk by city dwellers (what’s new); big city lawyers and business people taking advantage by swaying policy; building them responds to big city demand; rural folk resent suffering risks etc

many people dislike their appearance; Lewis in Scotland. Robert Righter: winding roads, wooded hills, hedge-rows “render our ideal of an aesthetic landscape” giving the “illusion hat nature does the planning”

belief that’s it’s okay to industrialize already industrial cities

1930s electricity: tech in rural areas viewed as sign of progress

PIMBY: “Please in my back yard” <> midwestern farmers
turbines as sophistication symbols, hi tech

>> decisions based on symbolic meaning, perceptions of “nature” and “harmony,” culture and values

visibility of turbines vs other elements of the electric system
forces people to confront difficult choices

big concentrated power plants outside population centers
put in middle of nowhere
very few people know there is a power plant there

even physically visible things have become naturalized and invisible: cars, roads, municipal water supplies etc. 

we notice them only when they break

Pasqualetti: such invisibility suggests that there are no consequences (out of sight, out of mind)
we hardly know what electricity is (vs coal and wood you have to bring into house)
we don’t know how much each appliance consumes; we have no economic or sensory connection

to duplicate a power plant you need an awful lot of wind turbines
there must be some distance between them

>> social science needs to understand opposition to turbines

infrastructure tends to be hidden and invisible

Cultures of Energy: David Haberman

David Haberman, Indiana U

“The Energy of Cultures,” paper given at the Cultures of Energy 2nd Annual Spring Research Symposium, April 19–21, 2013

Jeff Kripal is mc for this one. 

What on earth does culture let alone religious culture have to do with these issues?
How we got into this mess can be understood via religion. 
1967: medieval historian UCLA Lynn White. 
>> consideration of deep ecology
>> fossil fuel (Alberta and Tar Sands Pipeline)
we have already caused enormous damage by extracting huge amounts of fossil fuels
mountain top removal, deep water drilling, fracking, mining of tar sands
could >> collapse of life support systems
White, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis” in Science, just 5 pages. But has been extraordinarily cited. 
launches environmental philosophy; greening of religions
cover story of Time 1970
we need to think about fundamentals: religion and crypto religion as a source for understanding
what we think about ourselves
Christianity as the most anthropocentric religion ever
He doubts ecological backlash can be avoided << tech
the remedy must also be essentially religious whether we call it that or not
he acknowledges possible contribution of Asian religions but thinks Christianity should be reshaped
how does White’s thesis
modern western science <> Christian theology
transcendent conceptions of god >> possible to exploit nature as indifferent to humans
>> Arne Naess
views of the self are not innate
the ecological self and related process of self realization
Naess: “we underestimate ourselves” we tend to confuse self with ego
we can’t help identifying with nonhumans
identification with all life
rigid boundaries between lifeforms falls short of ecological consciousness
“the whole self is the whole thing”
Gandhian ethics followed closely
intimacy of connection >> identification >> nonviolence
violence << seeing as radically other
cultivate insight into true nature of reality and self
absolute oneness of god and therefore of humanity (Gandhi)
ethics don’t stop at boundaries of the human 
Gandhi said an excellent thing re Scopes monkey trial; affinity with snakes; didn’t want trees cut in his Gujerati ashram
compassion >> include the whole
“my religion embraces all life”
“I want to realize identity with all life”
radically all-inclusive love >> attention of Naess
recognizing other beings’ interests as one’s own
replacement of altruism with enlightened self-interest [but see Parfit on self-interest theories at massive temporal scale]
“I am protecting the rainforest” >> “I am part of the rainforest protecting myself”
>> explore some religious responses to modern fossil fuel extraction
John Seed quoting Lovelock. If the brain were to decide it was the most important organ and were to decide to start mining the liver. 
the consumer-brain machine
Alberta Tar Sands mined for bitumen. The devastating effects including on first nations people. Unique biome of coniferous pines, spruces, larches, network of rivers, wetlands, lakes. >> complete destruction or serious compromise of health over area size of Florida. Canada 1/3 intact forests on Earth. 
removal of topsoil >> death knell for forest. Diversion of streams. Athabasca one of North America’s longest undam-ed rivers. Waterfowl nesting and staging area, one of the most important in North America. 
continuous withdrawal of water required, more than for a city of 2 million!
wastewater reservoirs covering 50 square km
acute air pollution
greenhouse gas emission
James Hansen: Canada’s tar sands contain double the amount of CO2 than previously emitted
pipeline leaks
grave threat to all life clear and imminent
alliance of North American indigenous peoples
Gary Snyder: identification with indigenous beliefs
religious rationale in tune with deep ecological principles
chief calls for move towards more sustainable futures
Idle No More coalition: “to join in revolution which honors indigenous sovereignty which protects the land and water”
Protect the Sacred movement (Lakota)
Earth as self regulating community of beings
water as the lifeblood of Mother Earth
Christian and other groups in North America also release statements on this
What kind of energy and what cultures of energy
subfield of religion and ecology
not just a matter of ethics (reasoned restraint or sacrifice for others)
it’s about ontology
there is a particular religious ideology informing tar sands operations
two options; continue within a culture of energy bent on ramping up the crises by failing to acknowledge the interrelatedness; delusion of self as autonomous and separate. 
Or strive to inhabit more harmonious cultures of energy

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Cultures of Energy Liveblog 4


Q: Any lessons? 

A: Fuel transition not merely a market operation. 
A: Skeptical of tech solutions re: energy transition. It is often presented as THE solution. 
There is the rebound effect. More energy efficiency >> more energy used >> more ships. Loop. Jevons on the corporation. 
Cheap energy (eg nuclear fusion): fossils have given unlimited powers and look at what we’ve done. So look at what that might do! Biodiversity loss. We need something more than tech. We need to rethink the way we live. 
A: Jevons was about Scotland. Over time costs came down and there was 10 times coal consumption! Sometimes the loop can be smaller. One can disempower by saying “there’s nothing we can do, because of this feedback loop”
A: half per capita energy consumption of USA. Political economy is different! 
A: idea that tech solutions can solve world problems seems overconfident. 
A: Energy transitions and the Jevons paradox. >> increased consumption. Local food movements as a reaction against fossil fuel economy. 

Q: debates on economic growth 30 years ago like this--encouraging. 

Q: Connections between first two papers. Need for machines that solve problem of labor. Labor is a problem in industry. You have to organize it but you have to satisfy it. Enormous waste in both categories. 30% of food is wasted in developed nations. Government involved in subsidizing fossil fuel industries. Underwriting transport. Consumption of things you don’t need. Food and energy must be cheap to buy things that drive our economy. There are a lot of cultural problems; what is a good life? Consumption that doesn’t depend on unlimited growth? 

A: I do think that if you think the environmental movement, there is a focus on big companies. Blaming big corporations. But there is also our human nature, ourselves. It’s still useful to talk about our profound desires. On paper it looks great: the Marxists of early 20th century. The strategy didn’t work. We need to complexify the stories, as historians. 
A: I’m very interested in disconnect between economic theory and thermodynamic theory. Economics: greater integration << consumption. Thermodynamics >> greater disorder. Economic theory introduces a level of fiction into this, money. Profit << entropy. 

Q: OECD countries expected to have no growth in energy consumption for forseeable future. Emerging countries will account for almost all the demand. What does that tell us? Arguments that these countries have the right to grow. China: coal fired power plants on a weekly basis. Cutting edge of solar. 

A: there is a social equity argument. But it’s hard to escape the energetic constraints that India and China will run up against. 
A: this conundrum is fundamental to face today. Case of Haiti. If you don’t have fossil fuels...Border of Haiti and Dominican Republic in Inconvenient Truth. Haiti completed deforested. Dominican lush forest. Example of bad governance by Al Gore. Problem with the story is that it doesn’t tell the full story. Haiti relies almost entirely on renewable fuel, wood. Charcoal. 70% of energy needs are fueled by charcoal. I was focusing on the disadvantages of fossil fuels to protect our forests. West is blamed for burning fossil fuels. Asking for reparations. We cannot judge back in time to when we had no idea... (Slippery slope) [hmm--this is like, as he says, reparations for slavery]
A: recall that China is not a monolith. One guy can’t decide what to do. 

Q: all the papers demonstrate the changing value of human labor. But can I push all of you to reflect a little more on a classical theme: theories of labor value. Ricardo vs Marx. Human and machine distinction? Question to Francois. Labor doesn’t exist in the USA [what?] and yet there is real slavery in the world...
[isn’t that what he said???]
food riots are not something in the past [but he didn’t say that]

A: I was talking about this briefly before dinner. Worldwide drought 2010. Three of grain exporters are Arab Spring countries where primary importer is government. One of precipitating events of Arab Spring esp in Egypt: prices shoot up. Most people can’t afford the food they have become accustomed to. Mubarak loses legitimacy. 
A: I also agree on that point. I’ve written a bit about this too. Construction of dam in Egypt hailed as tech solution. Most energy produced by this >> artificial fertilizer that was once free, delivered by the Nile! I did mention in my talk that there is human slavery today, possibly more alive than at any point in history. Some figures say around 40 million. This doesn’t contradict my argument at all. Cheap fuel enables you to export slavery far from you. And of course there are pockets in the US. In that respect we act like slaveowners of the past. It’s not a one way street between humans and machines. I did oversimplify but you didn’t contradict my argument. 

Q: Interesting work of David Graeber on value, in anthropology. Reconciling Marxian value with semiological value. >> what constitutes value is the capacity to make a difference in the external world. Idea of making less impact in the world is somehow anathema. 

A: impact of fossil fuels on slavery. General improvement of people’s lives. Few sources for this. Changed human perception of value of labor. Inhuman Bondage (about slavery). C16-C17 low life expectancy. Rising consumption and standards of living. 

Q: analogy of slavery of humans and machines. Seems to require a theory of difference between humans and machines. You have to say that machines to labor. If the distinction breaks down then does it start to go the other way--humans enslaved by machines? It’s a sci fi scenario with a long history. 

A: as I said, it’s not a one way street. Seeing human as machine; expectations about efficiency. My analogy is not comparing slaves with machines. It’s comparing slaves with machines powered by fossil fuel. You don’t immediately see the consequences of suffering when you use these machines. Remote or far away consequences. There were absentee plantation owners. Jefferson was never directly involved in the disciplining of slaves. 

Cultures of Energy Liveblog 3

Peter Shulman, Case Western Reserve

“Engineering Economy: Steam Power and the Politics of Coal in the United States Before Thermodynamics,” paper given at the Cultures of Energy 2nd Annual Spring Research Symposium, April 19–21, 2013

Benjamin Stevens was thinking about coal. Round the world cruise 1844-1846
wanted to go to Borneo and find coal island and purchase
American debate about empire
vote to annex Hawaii
argument that this would allow US to build a network of coaling stations
expand navy, and thus commerce and security
if steamers take place of sail there must be coaling stations
focus 1840 and 1860: a new look at coal fired steam power
belief that this would annihilate time and space and >> security
but this fantasy of steam’s sublime power shattered << limited fuel resources
hard to obtain
practical limitations to network builders
Daniel Webster: there appears to be no limit; but even then they were visible
C19 Americans: economy (managing time, money, resources)
the guiding principle behind integrating steam power
very real challenge of fueling coal steamers
empire itself created the need for coaling stations, is his argument
control of foreign land was not how they framed problem at all
long held moral ideas adapted to challenges of fossil energy
look to science and markets to make fuel go farther and faster
economy did not mean efficiency
two very different concepts: Timothy Mitchell, economy as a process not a thing, regulation of household and so on
economy >> “permanent power of being useful and generous” “husbanding resources in the present to ensure sufficiency in the future”
efficiency <> efficacy
Webster 1841 defined almost the same
roots in antiquity (Aristotle)
>> beginnings of modern connotations
>> property of machines, a number measuring actual performance of machine against ideal (1858)
a perfect machine wastes no work. Efficiency fraction of 1
1911: Taylor fully modern sense, worker’s highest state of efficiency as largest daily output
economy much more expansive; it connected machines to wider economies of fuel (desired ends)
Buchanan on the economy of fuel
economy: ideas, judgment, attention to relationships of people and world
cultivation of “the man called to direct” “the wise engineer”
Anthracite coal. Johnson: this will lead to diminution of expense and “the economizing of space and time”
study of coal itself
superior varieties of coal that met demands of steamship engines
chemical composition of coal <> price
wood from different sorts of trees
coal for copper smelting can’t contain large amounts of sulfur
buckmountain coal better for steaming
Walter R. Johnson, a scientist; believed coal was a federal government problem
stake in value >> they should aid in ascertaining true value
Navy call 1842 to miners and mine owners to provide Johnson with samples for comparative analysis
>> rivalry of bituminous and anthracite coal operators
British coal exports came to dominate international markets
massive increases of these exports worldwide
1840s 640 000 tons of coal merely to France alone
turn to engineering to make more efficient
modern science of thermodynamics only in its infancy, not well known in America
instead all about finding all kinds of ship designs given different types of fuel
Eubank’s interest in fish markets: “natural propellers” >> legs of frogs and bat wings etc
>> redesign paddle wheels
senate rejected his request for funding
but it was declared in the senate that “hey, look at the potential efficiency of future machines”
[futurality and machinery]
by early 1850s: thrust discovered to generate enormous friction in screw ships
>> try to reduce friction with rings etc
Parry’s anti-friction rollers 1853
reduced fuel consumption by 25% and shaved 20 minutes from a certain voyage
a Pacific cruiser would thus save $20 000 in three years
Prisson’s steam boiler condenser 1846
then plans for electromagnetic engines and so on
the framework was about limits: even when they did voyage abroad eg to Borneo, Japan, emphasis was on opening foreign markets for a newly desirable economy
help remove sense of inevitability about American imperialism, and economic determinism
express of creative and expansive set of responses; more creative than early C20 imperialists would have believed impossible
economy over empire

Cultures of Energy Liveblog 2

Thomas Finger, U of Virginia

“Harvesting Power: Food Energy, Human Labor, and the Industrial Revolution,”paper given at the Cultures of Energy 2nd Annual Spring Research Symposium, April 19–21, 2013

human revolutions <> fuels
industrial society first needed unprecedented control over flows of wheat, food energy
achieved by Britain in C19
underscored power dynamics of global economy within that era
wheat as energy source necessary for industrialization
literally powering the economies of C19
power in energy system: bodily and brain power fed by grain >> factories and warehouses
Smith, Marx, Jevons: >> vast accumulation of wealth 
And then there’s the political economic power << control over flows of energy
I can’t do this second one full justice in a short paper
But I shall present three case studies
Image of C19 global wheat trade
Food riots a staple of England prior to 1800 but had disappeared by 1870
merchants, politicians, farmers, forged agreement to reduce food trouble by massive importation
simultaneous feeding and making of money
Georgian Food Riots
Development of Anglo-American grain trade
American farmer vs British laborer
James J. Hill as connective tissues between farmer and laborer

small mining community
eg surrounding Birmingham; town of Dudley in England
canals; prime mover of mining work (food) was often lacking
>> unsuitable for agriculure << pollution
look to regional and national markets
but focus of food distribution on large cities >> higher prices for such miners
1795 experience of successive years of below average wheat harvest, potential famine
spring 1795 said to be coldest on record; seeds froze in the ground; June frosts
>> widespread famine
intense riot. E.P. Thompson, it wasn’t wages but cost of bread that was the indicator of popular discontent
Black Country coal mine
colliers rose en masse during 1795, armed and began roaming countryside in search of food
>> drive up cost of coal; dampen industrial production
June 2: March to Dudley (market town since Middle Ages)
enacted the prescription for riot: sold cheap grain << roughing up merchants
next week: 2000 rioters at this one location, armed with bulldogs and rifles
searching corn mills
returned to mine pulling cartloads of seized wheat
systemic threat to emerging political economy
and war with France
these riots were essentially debates over power structures of energy
machines could not feed population growth >> death
many began to see cheap bread as the way to a peaceful workforce 
riot as symptom of tectonic shift << agricultural to mineral economy
crop failures in this period >> first huge imports of grain from USA
last famines in England
1810, 1811: Luddite revolts, machine breaking and food riots (led by general Ludd’s wife)
highest wheat prices ever! 
Peterloo Massacre 1819 began in part as a demo against the Corn Laws
Gillray: “Cut down those poor people, they are after your bread and pudding”
The hungry 40s <> Chartism
“knife and fork” questions such as suffrage
“the right to secure one’s access to a good coat, a good roof, and a good dinner”
Thomas Carlyle: blames rise of -isms << lack of guidance, shelter and food
shortages of food >> disparate communities find common language of hunger
Cobbett: “I defy you to agitate a fellow with a full stomach”
Food was stability 
Transatlantic trade in food >> superstructure for containing this instability
American farmer and British laborer worlds apart before this
but by 1880 they were in direct relationship
vast investment by British financiers in producing transportation structure and so on in the Midwest. He has lots of evidence
[again this is rocking for me; remember I started out studying this period]
By 1880 USA sends up to 25% of wheat crop to Britain 
>> less volatile working class than its counterpart in 1800
Corresponding Societies >> trade unions and friendly societies
the big origin was rising standard of living
cheap bread was now a given
There were crop failures in 1870s and 80s but not one single famine or food riot
American farmer fared less well, however. Compared to his partners in Africa he was wealthy. But there were some bad trade offs for wheat trade. Caught in cycle of spending and debt to keep up with international price structure
forced to take out loans to buy machines in the spring; massive plowing to try to produce a larger crop to increase likelihood of profits
every other farmer also increasing his acreage
compete with new type of farm on northern plains: IL vs Dakota (Bonanza Wheat Farm)
massive increase in scope of agriculture
these farms are plugged into industrial economy of Great Britain
Not a coincidence that greatest industrial increase <> Anglo-American grain trade (1850 to 1880)
workers could stay in city longer, negotiate longer contracts
by 1880s the British laborer had power over American farmer, systemic rather than embodied
a worldwide power; Mike Davis: rise of worldwide famines << subsistence farmers in Asia brought in to feed industrial labor
Richard Bensel, Yankee Leviathan: circulation of energy <> money
James J. Hill illustrates the synergy
he became an empire builder << wheat, owner of vast swathes of land
the Great Northern System
Western Minnesota and North Dakota: Bonanza Wheat Farms
hold on transportation. 1877 purchased St. Paul Pacific >> St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway
transported bulk of bonanza wheat
constructed transportation needed to control the grain
1880: marketed favorable prices to bonanza farmers
1884: 1/3 of entire wheat crop carried
1884 direct business relationship with two Liverpool grain firms
individuals could form personal power in larger network
lots of other examples
because grain trade was a trade to power individuals through energy consumption
reduction of inefficiencies and bottlenecks
embodied <> systemic power
eating ripples out through social structures
rioters can only control their body
Hill could extend his control over a vast system
Hill had better access to energy flows
But rioters were powerful: not about amplitude but change of relationships
British laborer had a systemic power over American farmer even though bodies separated

Cultures of Energy Liveblog 1

Jean-François Mouhot, Georgetown U, “Thomas Jefferson and I,” “Fossil fuels, slavery and climate change: past & present similarities and interconnections between slavery and fossil fuel use,” paper given at the Cultures of Energy 2nd Annual Spring Research Symposium, April 19–21, 2013

Kairn Klieman moderates. She’s doing excellent work on Africa. 

Slavery <> energy

The new title is “Thomas Jefferson and I.”
Purported to hate slavery. 
Tried to incriminate Britain for forcing slavery on the colonies. 
But he was one of the largest slaveholders in Virginia. 
And was obviously a racist! 
Extremely puzzling contradictions? 
Feeling that without slaves the entire world would collapse
Holding a wolf by the ears: can’t hold and can’t let it go either
[The first person mode of this speaker is rather disconcerting at this point!]
Feeling of anxiety about chores (?)
My slaves are not human beings: energy slaves! 
Ah, I see...that’s clever
Slaves and servants...energy devices
Problem: fossil fuels, coal, nuclear >> energy greater and greater moral and economic cost
procurement of oil or gas, messy environmentally and politically
Expose environment to dangers of large scale pollution
Fracking. Not well understood. 
lives claimed by atmospheric pollution this century far > WW1 and WW2
advantages vs disadvantages; the former outweighed the latter until recently
without taking death << climate change: deaths far exceed nuclear energy mishaps
renewables: not perfect either. turbines difficult to scale up quickly; occasionally hurt birds etc and “aesthetic pollution”--have to be supplemented with gas and coal stations
Germany has begun to phase out nuclear and there is evidence here of the problems
modern real slavery << cheap fuel demand
China, India, Africa: harvesting
appalling conditions for not much
State Dept website: estimate the number of slave like conditions of women and children << footprint
The speaker calculated his quota as 44! 
Many people doubt climate change or human responsibility
I have to choose in whom to place my faith: I trust the scientists rather than a minority of dissenting voices
I can trust things I don’t understand
Confusion: we have a strong vested interest in ignoring climate science. Not dissimilar to slaveowning ignorance in the past...
Future generations. Victims of slavery as distant unknowns <> victims of climate change. They have no vote. 
Historians; we should only judge people in the past according to their own moral standards
Zimmerman: evil is socially situational
when we consider the present it’s quite similar. We have recreated slavery in this sense. 
[This is an incredible piece, by the way, for me thinking about Dark Ecology.]
So does that mean we must excuse Jefferson?! (rhetorical question)
Something New Under the Sun: new powers << machines banished some historical constraints on health, population, food, energy use and so on. Few who knew of these constraints would mourn their passing. 
Haiti: countries without fossil fuels can >> deserts when populations increase
Wilde, 1891: all unintellectual labor...must be done by machinery
unless there are slaves to do the ugly horrible uninteresting work
human slavery wrong; slavery of machine >> future of world depends (still Wilde)
but we now know the consequences of burning fossil fuels
Life and Death of Doctor Faustus: bargain with the devil. Unlimited power for limited time. Performs wonders. Flying chariot. Worldly pleasures, eating grapes in middle of winter. 24 years, Faust dragged to hell. 
George Monbiot: You could mistake the story as a metaphor for climate change. 
Mephistopheles as fossil fuel
24 years is the period in which they have enabled us to live in voluptuousness
A Faustian pact
we live a contradiction; I enjoy weekend excursions, but I want to lower my carbon footprint
Jefferson: same conundrums. Spent most of his life on credit, slaves mortgaged for large debts. Knew that if he himself released his slaves it would only be symbolic. Virtuous but no effect on larger picture. 
One person’s affect on atmosphere is negligible. Public goods problem. I am entangled in my contradictions. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Constance Penley 3


Q: Sony and the military. How do you map out those partnerships? Where there is conflict? Or a different vision? 

A: The head of philanthropy at Sony. When we came to Blue Horizons she says “my son at Cal Poly...what he would have done with a project like that” and she cried! That became the benchmark for our fundraising. “What are the students shooting their films on?” And I had handwritten list of what was needed--10 Sony cameras. ... and from there we now have collaboration. It was through Blue Horizons. They also supported Green Screen. Finding mutual interests rather than compromise. I hope that’s not naive or corny. 

Q: Bill Arnold (Business). What can you tell us is most applicable to Rice? 

A: You can tell me. Do you have an ecology dept? I don’t know. It’s about brainstorming. What needs to be done and what resources do we have? I can imagine you have had some contentious issues that have arisen. It’s about developing relationships over a very long time. In 1991 UCSB raised what UCLA put IN to its development office! 

Q: What about popular culture? 

A: Our scientists are so chagrined about The Day after Tomorrow. But how about using it as your way in? There is a forthcoming TV series: Cameron and Schwarzenegger are producing 6 or 8 part series on global warming for Showtime. It is a huge endeavor. Will they use time travel tropes? It would be irresistible to see what they do. 

One might think media scholars might only study representations of environment in film. But you might end up doing it on media in the environment. Work on for instance underwater media. Literally underwater media cables and so on. We are always playing with that kind of paradox. 

Q: Aynne. I am working with some computer scientists doing analysis of social media. Navigating the boundaries of disciplines. This is exciting work, working together can be challenging too. “Is this media studies or computer science?” How do you frame it? So it can have multiple types of influence. 

A: I’m a terrible person for advice like that. I have been the luckiest scholar on the planet, getting away with following my fascinations and not carving out a research trajectory. It helps if you have sympathetic admin and deans. The UCSB culture is good that way. You have to have a place where that is rewarded and not penalized. 

Q: is the center in a college? 

A: yes, letters and science. Humanities, Fine Arts, Social Science. 

Q: is there a way in which your practice of media studies has changed or flexed as you have interfaced with scientists and also technologies? At Rice we opened a visualization center, funded by Chevron. I can imagine that being highly innovative. 

A: We say that we do everything from silent film to satellites. We think we are in the forefront of media studies. Remember that broad definition of what counts as media? I have a colleague who just received NSF funding with a computer scientist on how our planet is transformed by being encircled by broadcast and visioning tech. The footprint of those is changing our world. Wireless networks in Zambia. Forensic science: black boxes, crash test dummies. Videogames of course. Cuba as a digital nation. Imaging Tech, Gender and Science on camera obscura (non cinematic imaging tech). 

Q: One concern I have is how to find the bridge between theory and application. A bunch of people turn off when it gets too applied. Or too theoretical. Top notch work and practical. People need to be respected as top notch, specialized vocab etc (esp at beginning). But then to come back up and inspire the public. It attracts me as a challenge but I’m also a little frightened by it. 

A: There are so many answers to that. One thing is looking for opportunities. The NSF increasingly understands the value of interdisciplinarity. Whole sections of NSF fund these projects. They don’t just want to just have media consultants. They like specialists. They didn’t want it to be like a Negroponti project of airdropping computers without trying to understand. Going in there and doing crucial observation. 

The sciences are not just instrumentalizing us now. They see the value of our specialization. The fight is also worth it. Sometimes in the humanities we worry a little bit about resource allocation. The money from our workload is siphoned off for startup packages for those in the sciences. But think of those cross subsidies. What can we get from them too? 

I’d be interested in hearing from you. I’m certain I’ll be hearing it in the papers. What you think is possible for your location? What opportunities, what challenges? 

Q: I just finished my dissertation on cement industry. I ended up working with the builders. They are worried about what is going on and what does it mean. We need to look at the life and aging of highways and overpasses. That is something interesting particularly in this location. It is built for and by concrete. It is also a concrete capital. 

A: This is like my student. I see and think about underwater cables now. 

Q: My discipline is Anthro, Civil Engineering, Cultural Studies.  

A: That was such a good example. 

Q: If you are in Civil Engineering you are adhered to a lab or a grant already defined. But as an Anthropologist...

A: The big project we have is to maintain UC as a public institution. And strengthen the humanities. Going on the defensive never works. “It is good for you” etc. We are trying to link up with the sciences and engineering too. And make the case for the humanities from doing the humanities wherever we get the chance. 

Q: I am a historian by trade. We are the birthplace of the modern oil industry. Our students need breadth for the jobs they are about to do. They are not getting it on energy. Most who come to UH will >> energy related jobs. They need a context on energy and the connectedness with eco. 

Q: I deal with Africa and oil. I see Houston as an amazing treasure trove of data and people. I have just tried to embrace this extreme. My earliest memory as a kid was dead animals on the beach at 7. My Californian parents had a fit when I moved here. The competition between TX and CA is immense and influential for America. This is just as extreme as Hollywood. Juggernauts when it comes to politics. I am afraid for what I say in class. When you castigate oil companies you are taking the easy way out. We have used oil companies as an excuse to keep on doing what we are doing. 

A: You are using your experience to forge new forms of scholarship. How are you going to do it without being knee jerk one way or another? 

Q: Sometimes it requires a therapist. 

A: My head explodes all the time. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s $20 million professorship at USC...In terms of compromises I can tell you that I would never have to deal with that at UCSB. Though we loved him taking our chancellor to China! 

I am being a bit of a Polyanna. Gramsci: pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.