Cymene and Dominic announce their latest educational venture, the Chicago Climate Change & Culture Institute (4CI) and ask y’all’s help in getting the word out —
https://summer.uchicago.edu/programs/chicago-climate-change-culture-institute-4ci — Then (10:48) joining us from the fashionable eastern time zone is the fabulous Lisa Sideris. We talk to her about her new book Consecrating Science: Wonder, Knowledge, and the Natural World (U California Press, 2017). Lisa explains how her earlier research on the neglect of Darwinism in religious environmental ethics set the stage for this project investigating those who put forward science as a kind of religion. We talk about the historical roots of “Epic Science,” its anthrocentric narratives, our soft spot for the charisma of Carl Sagan, and how scientism leverages wonder to devalue the natural world. Lisa explains how the narratives from these “new cosmologists” also devalue the humanities relative to the sciences and we discuss whether patriarchal monotheism also informs ideas like Gaian spirituality and Teilhard de Chardin’s “noosphere.” She connects new cosmological thinking also to the conception of the Anthropocene, especially the “good Anthropocene,” the Ecozoic and the idea of human-directed evolution. And, case in point, we talk about the Koch-sponsored Smithsonian Hall of Human Origins exhibition and its agenda to rewrite the story of climate change as a positive one for Homo Sapiens. That leads us to Lisa’s thoughts on Pope Francis, Rachel Carson and Biosphere 2. We end with Lisa’s spirited defense of the humanities. Listen on and please help us to get the word out about 4CI!
Dominic and Cymene report on icy Rice and the raw and the cooked. And then (14:47) we speak to our dear friend Hannah Knox from University College London. We start with why Hannah thinks infrastructure has become such a lively area of research in the human sciences. We then turn to Hannah’s recent book, co-authored with Penny Harvey, Roads: An Anthropology of Infrastructure and Expertise (Cornell U Press, 2015). We talk about how roads materialize political power at the same time that they incorporate expertise within themselves, whether thinking about infrastructure differs in the North and the South, cultures of engineering, and the co-dependency of rhetoric and materials in road-making. Hannah shares her thoughts on the promise of infrastructure, impossible publics and roads as future-making projects. We turn from there to a sampling of Hannah’s other ongoing research projects including studying a digital simulation that models the ecological future of Manchester and how climate science intersects with other kinds of administrative knowledge in the UK. Hannah explains how climate action and expertise is increasing moving outside expected spaces and politics because of austerity measures. And we close by talking about moral landscapes of sustainability and energy consumption.
Cymene and Dominic talk games and wombs of yore. And then (15:15) we turn to a conversation with the original blue humanist, Steve Mentz from St. John’s University. We start with his recent work, Shipwreck Modernity (U Minnesota Press, 2015) and its effort to pluralize thinking about the Anthropocene. We are introduced to concepts like the Homogenocene, the Thalassocene and of course the Naufragocene, the age of maritime disasters. We talk about shipwreck as ecological parable and master narrative, and how narrating catastrophes made it easier to endure them. The inhospitable environment of life on the water leads us to discuss scurvy, immersion, and why we need to learn to live inside of wrecks inside of trying to avoid them. Steve explains to us why the ecological future belongs to swimmers instead of sailors. We then turn to a recent collaborative project, Oceanic New York (Punctum, 2015) and his recent interest in Newtown Creek in Brooklyn, the site of an oil spill several times greater than the Exxon Valdez that few really know about. We close by talking about whether oceans are finally receiving their due in the humanities today and how we might reclaim our waterscapes through “wild swimming.”
Cymene and Dominic report on the insane fireworks situation in Reykjavík. Then (16:02) Dominic chats with our esteemed energy humanist colleague Michael Watts from UC-Berkeley. Michael explains how he accidently backed in to studying Nigerian petroculture in the 1970s and how he has traced the formation of the Nigerian petrostate from the Biafran war through the insurgencies of the 1990s and 2000s. We discuss the legacies of those insurgencies for the politics of oil in Nigeria today, the epistemological challenges of trying to comprehend the global character of the petroleum in its local/national manifestations especially when “the numbers make no bloody sense” and the industry shrouds itself in secrecy. We analyze the characteristics of oil frontiers and discuss whether an end to the boom/bust cycle of oil development is nigh. Then we turn to Michael’s recent volume, Subterranean Estates: Life Worlds of Oil and Gas (Cornell U Press, 2015) edited together with Hannah Appel and Arthur Mason, and especially his chapter on “accumulated insecurities” and the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Michael shows us the parallels between the neoliberal deregulation of, and actuarial logics within, the energy and financial industries and this brings Deepwater into a generative comparison with the 2008 financial crash. We move from there to Michael’s partnership with Ed Kashi and why photography has always been a passion of his. We close by talking about Michael’s ongoing interest in agriculture—in particular the future of Californian agriculture in a time of drought and fire—and about his work to demystify the research proposal as an element of graduate training.