Tag: nature

Birding in Ruins: Multispecies Encounters and the Ecologies of Evidence

As we walked by some of the former shrimp ponds in an abandoned aquaculture farm, we approached a scene I easily overlooked until Julian asked me to document what was happening. We saw an egret struggling to swallow something, and I simply assumed this was what a hungry egret looked like. However, Julian’s surprise and the wingbeat that seemed to come out of the egret’s beak revealed a more uncommon scene. Through our binoculars, we soon realized that the egret was struggling to swallow another waterbird—to Julian’s fascination, a seemingly undocumented behavior for this species. Skeptical of what he suspected he was witnessing, Julian got as close as he could to the scene and took photos while I made short videos from afar, worried that I would disrupt the egret and its prey if I moved any closer. (read more...)

Nature-Based Integration: Building Taskscapes Together in Swedish Nature

We’re a diverse group: between us we hail from four continents and our languages include Somali, English, Spanish and Swahili. We’re one of several subgroups that have been enjoying the extremely changeable Swedish summer weather on the second day of a course in ‘nature interpretation’, which aims to teach us to lead others into nature. We’re currently learning by participating in a vocabulary-building game in a forest not far from the small Swedish town of Nora. Scattered around this area of coniferous trees, roots and rocks are various cards, each of which has a number and a Swedish word upon it. These cards have been hidden high and low and we must search for particular ones based on a throw of a die. Upon finding the card we must speak together to ensure we all understand the word. We must then go to one of the organisers and explain what the word meant before rolling again. It’s fun – different groups are scrabbling about the place yelling to one another when they find the card they seek. I’m a little concerned that we’re not really all getting as much out of it as we could, and a couple of my teammates are fairly competitive and rushing around with little concern that everyone understands. One Somali woman, in particular, is much older and less fit than the rest of us with a much smaller Swedish vocabulary. I’m unconvinced she’s fully following along. Our next word is ‘bark’ (same word in both English and Swedish) and we gather to explain it to the organiser. As she struggles to make herself clear in Swedish, another teammate pulls a piece of bark from a nearby tree and presents it to the nonplussed guide. We roll the die and continue with a laugh. (read more...)

The Nature of the Copy

From the dead center of an all-white eye, a lone sapling rose two feet tall. Cyclical ridges and valleys, etched in bioplastic by an unseen watchmaker, encircled the solitary lifeform and separated it from the mottled, decaying plant matter that had been strewn about nearby with intention, detritus by design. Lying adjacent on the table-in-sylvan-drag, a digital tablet and paper pamphlets displayed the word Nucleário. Nucleário and the five other prototypes exhibited at the 2018 Biomimicry Launchpad Showcase in Berkeley, California, were, according to the event’s online marketing, projects from a “new species of entrepreneur” who practices “biomimicry,” the “conscious emulation of life’s genius,” a refrain I would hear repeatedly during my fieldwork on contemporary chimeras of biology and design. “Genius,” a cultural category once reserved for the presence of spiritual inspiration, here refers to the technical creativity of a re-animated nature that designers attempt to imitate in new devices like Nucleário. Under the solar-paneled roof of the David Brower Center, whose eponym served as the first executive director of the Sierra Club, teams from Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Taiwan, and the United States had gathered to compete under the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge, which, this year, prompted designers to devise solutions for the mitigation and reversal of climate change. The prize: a cash award of $100,000 given by the Biomimicry Institute, a Montana-based nonprofit organization dedicated to “building a new generation of sustainability innovators” through educational initiatives. (read more...)

2015 Year in Review: Deflating Footballs, Twins in Space, Women (not) in Tech, and More

Last year on the CASTAC Blog began with anthropological ruminations on what the “Deflategate” football scandal has to do with questions of expertise, and closed with discussions of citizen science, earthquake warning systems, the (anti-)politics of women in tech, and deeply personal engagement with experiencing crisis or catastrophe—in this case, terror attacks in Paris—over social media. One of the great perks of editing this blog lies in reading the array of topics, perspectives, and modes of analyses from our contributors. This year, I’m taken by the variety in tone, from the (somewhat) tongue-in-cheek (the aforementioned Deflategate post; the anthropology of rigged games), to the deeply affecting (again, Charlotte Cabasse-Mazel “Looking at the Pain of Others ”), from the boundary-pushing (Abou Farman’s call to envision radical alternative futures) to the experimental (a Twitter fieldwork experiment from Rice’s Ethnography Studio). Beyond timely, weekly engagement with climate change, artificial intelligence, changing media ecologies, infrastructure, design, energy, and more, the blog is becoming a repository cataloging—and pushing forward—the driving concerns of social scientific and humanistic inquiry in these areas. In this review post, I consider four central conceptual questions animating this year’s coverage on how science, technology, computing and more are shaping (and shaped by) diverse lives, worlds, and experiences. These include: the mutual production or constitution of conceptual categories; questions of knowledge production and expertise; concerns with the future and futurity; and key political dimensions of science, technology, and computing. Although these themes unfold differently across intellectual projects and modes of inquiry, they elucidate the value of critical, reflexive, and empirical approaches to scientific and technological worlds. (read more...)

John Hartigan on Multispecies Ethnography

Many scholars in anthropology and science studies have sought new ways to engage social life beyond commonsense nature-culture divides, which obscure how humans and non-human life forms like animals, plants, and microbes live with and impact one another.  One approach to these cross-species relations is multispecies ethnography, which, to quote a recent article by S. Eben Kirksey and Stefan Helmreich, explores “the host of organisms whose lives and death are linked to human social worlds.” The “multispecies turn” has given rise to fruitful collaborations between anthropologists and scholars in biology and the natural sciences, producing new knowledge about the world and its possibilities. Research on naturecultures and biocultures has demonstrated that what we take to be human nature is actually an interspecies relationship (Tsing 2010), born of countless interactions across different forms of life. At the same time, it offers crucial perspective on the ways in which human action impacts the world with (often devastating) consequences for the biosphere, compelling us to consider what forms of harm and care we live with and propagate on a daily basis. I recently asked anthropologist John Hartigan how he makes use of such approaches (and, more broadly, of the concepts that inform multispecies thinking) in his own work at the intersection of anthropology and science studies. As Director of the Americo Paredes Center for Cultural Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, John has long used cultural analysis to engage questions of race in contemporary American culture. He is now working increasingly in Latin America and Europe, where he employs cultural analysis and science studies perspectives to explore cultures of plant cultivation, including corn in Mexico and botanical gardens in Spain. One of his current projects is a weblog entitled Aesop’s Anthropology, where he thinks through a variety of multispecies topics, interweaving ethnographic description with classical and emergent social theory.  John was recently featured alongside other ethnographers and artists in a webcast by the Multispecies Salon entitled “How to Interview a Plant,” which can be viewed here. (read more...)