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What are disciplinary expertise's possibilities/limitations for political ecological activism? How might it navigate expertise's historical role in creating methodologies and infrastructures that have facilitated the sociopolitically and geographically uneven effects constituting the Anthropocene?
Recent analyses of the intersection between violence and climate change have decisively re-politicized the figure of the disciplinary expert. But the tendency in so doing has been to reduce the mutual impact between violence and the expert's subjectivity to clear-cut notions of guilt and innocence, associating expertise either with the design and operation of violent methodologies and infrastructures or with heroic acts of their subversion. We reconsider this tendency by focusing on activism by disciplinary experts who self-reflexively attempt to grapple with the Anthropocene through infrastructures and methodologies old and new. We explore expertise's complicated relationship with such violent histories as colonialism and nation-state-making through which the effects of what has been termed the Anthropocene are differentiated. We therefore attend both to the physical violence involved in this differentiation and to the epistemological violence characterizing the term's tendency towards socio-political and geographical totalization. Materially and spatially focused ethnographies on such diverse fields as engineering, art, and archival/oral history consider how individuals, who identify as experts in each field, grapple with the violence of the Anthropocene and, in so doing, are informed by expertly methodologies and infrastructures. Following from the questions raised in the short abstract, we ask, How might the racialized, gendered and class-based violence underpinning the Anthropocene both as historical, embodied experience and as a burgeoning body of knowledge inform the expert's subjectivity as activist-experts navigate the contemporary intersection of violent histories and catastrophic futures by breaking, sabotaging, repairing, repurposing existing infrastructures or methodologies and/or by devising new ones?
Author:Eray Cayli (London School of Economics and Political Science)
Paper short abstract:
This paper discusses how histories of political violence in Amed inform and are informed by notions of technoscientific expertise and the expert's subjectivity bearing upon ecological activism around the Tigris river skirting the city's historic centre.
Paper long abstract:
This paper discusses how histories of political violence in Amed (officially: Diyarbakır; Turkey's largest predominantly Kurdish-inhabited city) inform and are informed by notions of technoscientific expertise and the expert's subjectivity bearing upon ecological activism around the Tigris river skirting the city's historic center. Materially and spatially oriented analyses of violence tend to associate the work of experts either with the design and operation of violent infrastructures or with acts of pro-victim activism and advocacy, thereby reproducing longer-standing notions of localism or indigeneity versus universally aspiring science and expertise. The paper argues that these strict associations are complicated in Amed where expertise is an object of loss and desire as well as one of resentment and guilt or gratitude and pride.
Author:Hanna Baumann (University College London)
Paper short abstract:
This paper is concerned with the 'expertise' that artists working on issues of toxicity in Lebanon bring to the table. What can creative work reveal about the complexity and uncertainty of contamination through waste that scientific research and political debates cannot?
Paper long abstract:
Numerous artists have recently engaged with Lebanon's ongoing 'waste crisis'. While taking different approaches, a number of them address the 'toxic uncertainty' (Auyero and Swistun 2009) of causes and consequences of toxic harm being difficult to sense, trace, and represent. The work of Marwa Arsenios, Jessika Khazrik, Fadi Mansour, and Bassem Saad in particular brings to the fore how this uncertainty is fed:
First, in toxic political systems, where citizens cannot trust authorities, rumours abound, and there is direct repression of information and scientific findings. Here, artists play our inability to know the truth and with the relatability of their own narratives. Second, uncertainty is fostered by the complexity of human-non-human entanglements. Here, artists show how toxicity reverberates across socio-spatial scales, from the microscopic to the geopolitical, as local circulations of matter and labour are tied into wider, global circuits. Third, toxicity operates across timescales. Not only is environmental harm a 'slow' form of violence (Nixon 2011), where invisible relationships become difficult to follow, but it is also underpinned by longer histories of political violence. Further, the speculative artistic work considers toxic futures not only as dystopia, but also points to the potentialities of altered life forms and new social arrangements.
Citizens are often overwhelmed by the magnitude and complexity of processes of toxic violence, where truth cannot be told from fiction. I ask whether, and how, creative work can offer a alternative entry point into such unknowable systems.