Category: General

Architecture as a Justice-Accessing Technology in Postwar Guatemala

On an early January morning in 2015 a group of lawyers from the Guatemalan NGO Mujeres Transformando el Mundo (Women Transforming the World), social workers, and human rights activists drove me and Megan Eardley (both of us PhD Candidates in Architecture History and Theory at Princeton University) through the department of Alta Vera Paz to reach the small village of Sepur Zarco. We were invited as architecture specialists after training under Eyal Weizman, who was a Global Scholar at Princeton University at that time. Weizman is the founder of Forensic Architecture, a research agency that uses the tools of architecture to conduct advanced spatial and media investigations in human rights violation cases. Traveling through what we thought would be a jungle, we encountered a landscape that was incredibly uniform, with vast cash crop fields of African Palm dominating our path. Although this image has become preponderant in the Global South, flex crops are just the last iteration of a long history of indigenous land dispossession and, in the case of Sepur, crimes against humanity by military forces. It is precisely in noting these changes in the landscape that altered forest patterns and absent villages can become tangible evidence of coordinated war interventions.[1] (read more...)

#Hashtag: “I AM one of the 1.4 Billion”

When I agreed to write this post in January, I could not have imagined that I would be doing so in quarantine. The state of the coronavirus continues to escalate. I do not yet feel ready to engage with this current event in this blog post, but its weight is present and felt in the writing. On January 17, 2020, the National Bureau of Statistics of China published 2019’s annual economy data (English here). Among the lists of numbers from the world’s second largest economic body — lists that included agricultural and industrial production, the growth of the service sector, and consumption and employment, among others — the section of data about population is what dominated the media’s attention. During the press conference, a Financial Times reporter asked about the lowest-recorded birth rate (10.48‰), its relation to the “two-child policy” and its impact on the (future) economy. This question led to an elaborate response from the bureau commissioner, in an attempt to veil the journalist’s critique (that the termination of the one-child policy failed to reverse structural aging) and place things under a more positive tone: although the rate is low, the actual number of newborns is still pretty high. (read more...)

Eco-Horror: Facing Climate Change in Minas Gerais, Brazil

The January 2020 floods in Minas Gerais, Brazil were catastrophic for the communities of the more than fifty people who lost their lives to the disaster and for the hundreds more displaced in its wake (Lima 2020). Such disasters often seem chaotic and unpredictable eruptions, but in the time of the climate crisis and amidst decaying support for democratic institutions, disasters like these floods are likely to become more common and more dangerous. (read more...)

Technologies of Representation: Possibilities of Social Media in Tarlabaşı, Istanbul

“Every week somebody comes here to take photos of our laundry and put it up on the internet. Today, I took one and put it up right here. It’s not our laundry, but it’s a bear. This might be a dump, but this is my dump, and I care about what goes on the internet about it.” (read more...)

The Memory of Fire: Burning Backwards into the Future

Fire breathes oxygen. Fire consumes organic material. Fire ages and dies. Fire runs, jumps, and simmers. Fire responds differentially to external irritants. Fire has moods. Among many of its seeming affinities with metabolizing life, fire also has an excellent, perhaps perfect, memory. As such, wildfires have one inviolable rule: never backtrack. Fire never goes backwards, never rewinds. Because of this stubborn refusal one of the most successful and widely practiced approaches to halting the progress of wildfires is to pre-burn swaths of land toward which a fire is raging. Once fire comes upon a burnt landscape it cannot proceed, it starves to death. When employed indirectly to create a control line, this strategy is called burnout. However, this strategy can also be employed to directly attack a fire by igniting a blaze and propelling it into the path of a wildfire. This is called backburning. Conclusively, you can fight fire with fire. (read more...)

Neolithic Plumbing: The Landscape is a Machine

Water is, among its many attributes, fluid. Left to its own devices it runs, spills, flows, leaks, crashes, and splashes. Holding H2O still is nearly impossible above 0°C. An ambitious enough goal in water management is containment and, if lucky, control. Mastery over the whims of water is of paramount concern today across a number of socio-environmental spheres—coasts flood, deserts desiccate, Flint contaminates, and California incinerates. The various infrastructural and political hydrology problems posed by Anthropocene conditions have inspired a number of technocratic and neoliberal solutions (e.g., the $118 billion storm surge gates in New York or monetization of dehydration in Africa). A brief look at archaic relationships between water and society, however, suggests conceptual alternatives to such high-energy and high-cost survival designs. Two such examples are examined below: the gravitational plumbing at the Neolithic* site of Smerquoy in the Orkney Islands and the Persian yakhchāl, a pre-Alexandrian ‘icebox’. These (read more...)

Before They Erase It: Memory and the social media archive

Disponible en español aquí. This afternoon, I began to notice increasingly alarming images, posts, and tweets from my interlocutors in Santiago. It appeared that Santiago was on fire, and that the military was in the streets. Images of familiar streets and landmarks now felt doubly familiar, as their similarity to images taken during the coup of 1973 were undeniable. A quick Google search confirmed my fears; Piñera had declared a state of emergency in response to the student metro protests, that there were already deaths, disappearances, and torture reported, and that a curfew had been implemented. Switching over to Whatsapp, I sent frantic messages to my interlocutors and former host family to check that they were safe (they were.) However, it was clear that—even for seasoned activists—this felt different. Many recalled memories or iconic images of the 1973 coup, wondering if history might be about to repeat itself. As the (read more...)

Period Tracking Apps: Something Old, Something New

They’re sleek and colorful, “fun and easy”, full of icons and dials. Period tracking apps, or “menstruapps,” are an increasingly common way a large segment of the population attends to their health and embodied experience of menstruation. In some ways, these apps are part of very recent trends towards the Quantified Self, the datafication of health, and reliance on biometric tracking devices to “optimize” one’s habits. In other ways, they evoke older legacies of feminist health care, notably the Our Bodies, Ourselves movement begun in 1969. Fifty years later, what does it mean to use technology to “understand how your body works”, as Clue advertises, or “take control of your body,” the tagline for Natural Cycles, which are two of the most popular menstruapps? (read more...)