(A04)
Involving compounds
Location Bowland North Seminar Room 6
Date and Start Time 26 Jul, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 3

Convenors

  • Dimitris Papadopoulos (University of Leicester) email
  • Manuel Tironi (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile) email
  • Maria Puig de la Bellacasa (University of Leicester) email

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Chair Dimitris Papadopoulos session 1; Maria Puig session 2; Manuel Tironi Session 3

Short abstract

Inseparable from our late industrial present, involvements in, with and against compounds--biomedical substances, crafted materials, manufactured chemicals--are central to several modes of ecological damage, but also to the flourishing of alternative political solidarities and social projects.

Long abstract

Thinking through involvement invites attention to how certain humans and nonhumans make each other in close engagements. Involvement indicates participation in close dealings, embodied intimacies, affective interferences and commitments, contingent experimentation, the ongoing material formation of common worlds. Inseparable from our late industrial present, involvements in, with and against compounds are central to several modes of ecological damage, but also to the flourishing of new political solidarities and alternative social projects. This session explores the differences--conceptual, ethnographic, ethopolitical--that could be made by thinking with the notion of involvement specifically in worlds pervaded by compounds: compositions of previously distinct elements that have achieved stubborn material presence--biomedical substances, industrial products, crafted materials, urban and architectural constructions, manufactured chemicals, military, medical and commercial enclosures. It is through intensive involvements that separate entities become unsubdivided compounds of challenging endurance. Whether we think of compounds as biosocial, sociotechnical, spatial or biochemical; as artificial and/or naturally occurring; beneficial and/or toxic, compounds are consequential. Their solidity affects living beings, people, things, societies and ecologies. Wanted or not, they involve inescapably those humans entangled in their making or touched by their emergence or irruption. Compounds engage, animate and poison, they empower and constrain, they implicate, they involve us as much as we involve them in our worlds.

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Papers

Prototyping a new sanitation system: socio material relations and shifting norms

Author: Rebeca Ibañez Martin (University of Amsterdam) email
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Short abstract

This paper ethnographically investigates what adaptations require a transition from a controlled use-site to a 'real life setting' of a decentralised sanitation system that recovers nutrients. What are the tensions? What are the bodily techniques that emerge to adapt to the new infrastructure?

Long abstract

Waste cannot be simplified into one seemingly homogenous category. Rather, different waste streams entail different management capacities and normative repertoires. They are symbolically and ethically differentiated, and shape contrasting socio-material relations. One thought-provoking waste stream in which all of these matters converge is faecal waste. Faeces and urine (black water) produced by humans constitute one of the most ubiquitous yet invisible waste streams. This happens in the Netherlands as well, where the author carries out ethnographic fieldwork. Emerging from this concrete waste context is the field site and experimental apparatus that is the object of this paper: an experimental prototype of a decentralized sanitation system that aims to recover nutrient compounds from black water in household waste water with the help of microalgae. The system is currently being tested in a "real life" setting, a village in the south of Holland where its inhabitants are willing to experiment new forms of sanitation and, at the same time, become an anthropological cause of concern, allowing the author to explore their involvement, dealings, and expectations while the new technology is implemented. What adaptations and re-calibrations will require a transition from one controlled use-site (the lab where the system is under research) to another, still experimental but already closer to 'real life settings'? What are the bodily techniques that emerge to adapt to the new infrastructure? Also, bodily substances will be in close contact with the infrastructure: the algae will feed from the compounds that humans excrete; how will this affect body-infrastructure relations?

Encountering anthroposols: vitality, risk and anger on Tierra Amarilla

Author: Sebastian Ureta (Universidad Alberto Hurtado) email
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Short abstract

Aiming at messing up conventional scientific narratives, this presentation will present three encounters with anthroposols on Tierra Amarilla, a mining district in northern Chile.

Long abstract

On soil science, anthroposols designate "soils formed from anthropogenic materials or that have major properties … that have been significantly … altered by human activity" (ICOMANTH 2003). This kind of soil has expanded more than any other in recent decades, becoming so ubiquitous that for some authors they should be taken as the "golden spike" signaling the start of the Anthropocene. Critical literature emphasizes that such generalistic notions tend to be oblivious of the social, cultural and ethical elements embedded on such soils' emergence. Engaging with this debate, this presentation will present three encounters with anthroposols on Tierra Amarilla, a mining district in northern Chile. Each one of these encounters assembles a particular version of anthroposols: during an agronomic test they are the source of a strange vitality, during a toxicology sampling process they are a potential health risk, during a tour with an old time neighbor they are a source of anger. These three stories of involvement show us how the Anthropocene is never solely an overarching global phenomenon, as notions such as climate change could lead us to believe. Instead, on Tierra Amarilla we found the emergence of multiple tiny anthropocenes, ethico-material entanglements deeply embedded on the experience and affects of local entities, human and nonhuman. Given the lack of success of our current efforts to tackle the worst effects of "The Anthropocene" - global, singular, atmospheric - maybe an strategy focused on devising practices to better live with these grounded tiny anthropocenes could be much more effective.

Cement and the material form as bearer of responsibility and accountability

Authors: Daniel Neyland (Goldsmiths, University of London) email
Véra Ehrenstein (Goldsmiths, University of London) email
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Short abstract

Cement is an endlessly exciting compound at the heart of the ambivalent modernist project. We will suggest a focus on compounds provides an opportunity to reconsider how material forms can become bearers of responsibilities and accountabilities.

Long abstract

Cement is an endlessly exciting compound at the heart of the ambivalent modernist project. Limestone, clay, fuels, and heat combine to envelope an ever changing array of material responsibilities for which cement will be held accountable - for its structural endurance, integrity, financial viability, purity, connectivity, CO2 emissions, destruction of nature, and brutalism, among many others. While current Science and Technology Studies (STS) approaches to accountability and responsibility tend to focus on nonhumans as participants in only the distribution and assessment of relations of responsibility and accountability, cement suggests we need new means to make sense of material forms as bearers of responsibilities, active in the discharge of accountabilities. The plural form is vital here. Cement must accountably prove its ability to take on multiple responsibilities at the same time and in the same moment. And new compounds potentially transform the responsibilities and accountabilities at stake. Eco-cement, for example, must prove simultaneously to be materially enduring, environmentally friendly and financially viable. And yet to flourish, the new compound must also disprove its challengers who argue that it is a threat to the cement industry, is itself resource intensive, cannot be produced at a large-scale or fails to attain construction standards for durability. Drawn from on-going research on the cement industry, this presentation will suggest that a focus on compounds usefully provides an opportunity to reconsider how material forms can become bearers of responsibilities and accountabilities.

Involving the future: compounding the composition of the fatberg

Author: Mike Michael (University of Exeter) email
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Short abstract

Enactments of fatbergs are discussed in terms of various compound actors who contribute to the fatbergs' solution-oriented futures. Drawing on the idea of 'bond', the paper explores the more open futures involved in two artworks each enacting different fatberg ontologies.

Long abstract

As a compounded mixture of domestic and commercial fats that are said to congeal by bonding with discarded prophylactic and sanitary products, fatbergs have posed major problems for various urban sewerage systems. This ontology has been mediated by a series of metaphors and narratives that enact the fatberg in terms of, for example, monumentality, responsibility, identity, and courage, as well as disgust. In the process museums, sewerage workers, citizens, local authorities, and the media (amongst others), have become 'involved'. Contrasted against this solution-oriented rendering of the fatberg as a problem, are enactments that open up the opportunities for invention. Two such enactments are compared. Victoria Jones's exhibition 'Smell of the City' displayed fatberg lumps apparently derived from different parts of city sewerage systems. Visitors were invited to smell the lumps and were subsequently interviewed as a way of exploring the relation of smell to memory and locality. The Dutch design research project 'Fatberg' aims to construct and float an island of fat, though the designers themselves claim they are not sure why they are building it (e.g. archiving their times; amassing a strategic reserve for the hard times ahead; constructing 'an autonomous space where fat can express itself'). These fatberg ontologies are discussed in terms of the sorts of affect they invite and the more or less 'open' futures that they 'involve'. Central here will be the notion of the 'bond'.

Creating atmospheric compounds through human and nonhuman involvements

Author: Nerea Calvillo (University of Warwick) email
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Short abstract

How to design compounds to involve, and how compounds involve us? The involvements that emerged in the design and construction of an infrastructure to make air pollution sensible reveal the interdependence of compounds and their entanglements with embodied and affective experiences.

Long abstract

Toxic compounds like air pollution, tend to be analysed in isolation, and their relations with other entities studied one to one. However, to measure, make visible, or remediate some compounds, other ones are always put in place, even if rarely accounted for. Drawing on the design and construction of an urban infrastructure to measure, make visible and remediate particulate matter (PM2.5) through a water vapour cloud we installed at the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism 2017, I will inquire the design decisions made to intensify people's engagement with air pollution through a new air/water atmospheric compound, and the construction process of its infrastructure.

Thinking through involvement permits to recognize the various states, scales and locations in which air and water got intertwined with each other, as well as with other materials, spaces, humans and technologies, where to understand their own affordances and demands, their inter dependencies need to be foregrounded. Thinking through involvement also contributes to account for the embodied and affective experiences that got entangled with/through compounds, and how these sparked unexpected controversies, resources control or conflict management. How can we design compounds to involve, and how compounds involve us? What does it take to make the air visible? Which new narratives about air pollution might this approach contribute to?

Intensive scales: what is an ecologically obliged chemistry?

Author: Dimitris Papadopoulos (University of Leicester) email
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Short abstract

Based on research within leading green chemistry labs and fieldwork in sites of autonomous community chemical practice the talk explores the ecological becoming of chemistry: contingent experimentations with the singular ecological conditions in which chemical substances emerge.

Long abstract

It is almost impossible to imagine an ecological future beyond anthropogenic chemicals and the end of the toxic regime. The concept of future is human made, and therefore bound to human temporality, especially a western universalist one. Manufactured chemicals however exist in temporal registers ranging from millionths of a second to billions of years. This talk explores scale within a context where the incommensurability of these temporalities makes a global vision of cleaning-up our chemospheres inconceivable.

In the absence of such a universalist vision the meaning of scale as a device of measurement also changes. Rather than a linear quantitative index of the mass of a molecule or its value, I approach scale as an ecology that incorporates different material, technological, social and cultural practices that sustain a molecule of a certain quantity. Molecules change as they change scale; they cannot maintain their existence outside of their ecologies.

Based on research within leading green chemistry labs in the UK and fieldwork in sites of autonomous community chemical practice the paper discusses the becoming ecological of chemical practice. Instead of focussing on extensive scales, an ecologically obliged chemistry engages with intensive transformative processes that depend on their locations and their concrete ontologies. Intensive scales negotiate life within the toxic regime by involving substances in ways that trigger minor qualitative changes in the concrete ecologies in which they exist. Such minor paths of healing entail contingent experimentations with the singular conditions in which chemicals emerge and with the creation of alternative compounds.

Cosmic compounds, or electromagnetic politics against the Anthropocene

Author: Manuel Tironi (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile) email
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Short abstract

Following geophysicists as they measure geomagnetic and geoelectric field variations in a seismic fault in central Chile, I ask: What can we learn from their ecologies of practice and modes of attention to and with electromagnetics to endure in, and hopefully exit from, the Anthropocene?

Long abstract

Sounding the depth of the Earth is a difficult task. Geophysicists need to display complex apparatuses to render amenable to scientific enquiry otherwise radically withdrawn realities: physico-chemical processes that occur several thousand meters below surface, at several hundred degrees of temperature. In this paper I ethnographically track the efforts of a team of geophysicists as they strive to gain access to the depth of a seismic fault in central Chile by measuring natural geomagnetic and geoelectric field variations. I'm particularly interested on the riskiness and speculative ethos of their methods, specifically magnetotellurics: the situated compounding of the Earth's electromagnetism by precariously working with and through solar winds, thunderstorm activity, convection heath and other cosmic forces in continuous interaction with multiple forms of dispossession on the planet's surface. As I follow geophysicists in their efforts to compose electromagnetism, I ask: What can we learn from geophysics pragmatics to endure in, and hopefully exit from, the Anthropocene? How can their ecologies of practice and modes of attention to and with electromagnetics may inform a political programme to both resist and flourish in a damaged world? Heeding recent calls to geologise politics, I finally suggest that a more careful engagement with geophysics' cosmic sensibility entails the revision of the 'social' critique against earth sciences and the possibility of crafting an alternative imaginary for interdisciplinarity and knowledge production.

Making urban worlds: involving citizens, particles, sensors and cities

Author: Jennifer Gabrys (Goldsmiths, University of London) email
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Short abstract

This presentation documents how citizen practices of using sensor technologies to monitor air quality in Southeast London generate distinct forms of involvement through the operationalization of monitoring technologies, particulate matter, urban problems, citizen data and community organization.

Long abstract

This presentation documents how citizen practices of using low-cost and digital sensor technologies to monitor air quality and changing urban environments in Southeast London generate distinct forms of involvement through the operationalization of monitoring technologies, particulate matter, urban problems, citizen data and community organization. Citizen sensing data, in particular, generates distinct types of involvement (in the Whiteheadian sense), where entities are participating together to form new occasions. This analysis attempts to reroute engagement with citizen sensing to consider how citizen data about air quality is on the one hand involved with urban environments through sensor technologies; and on the other hand to consider how citizen data expresses lived experiences of urban environments. Urban sensing can become a way to make claims about urban environments by articulating individual and collective grievances about pollution, development, displacement and dispossession through data. Data practices in this way become demonstrations of urban citizenship, where urban involvement and a right to the city are performed through sensor data and on-the-ground observations. In these re-articulations and makings of urban worlds, there are also surfacings of new involvements of citizens and citizenship, as processes, openings and propositions, rather than as fixed prescriptions and definitions. Involvement through citizen sensing and citizen data then indicates the ways in which urban worlds are made, and how they are sustained.

An appreciation for the extraneous in medical eradication of Ebola

Author: Marsha Rosengarten (Goldsmiths University of London) email
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Short abstract

Eradication of Ebola is imperative for medical science. Yet its manner of involvement in human life warrants care for an appreciation for what A.N. Whitehead proposes as the principle of novelty in the creative advance of life.

Long abstract

According to Alfred North Whitehead: 'The destruction of a man, or of an insect, or of a tree … may be moral or immoral…Whether we destroy, or whether we preserve, our action is moral if we have thereby safeguarded the importance of experience so far as it depends on that concrete instance in the world's history.' To be sure, Whitehead is not proposing there is a principle of safeguarding to be upheld at all costs. But, rather, a discernment in the importance of experience. Taking as my cue, his additional claim that 'Panic of error is the death of progress; and love of truth is its safeguard,' I reflect on the logic by which biomedical science and its partner global health governance acted with purpose to eradicate what they presumed to be the concrete instance of lethal Ebola virus, such that other elements of experience became extraneous. Drawing from the philosophic and pragmatic thought of those in concurrence with Puig de la Bellacasa's proposition of care, I consider what an appreciation for the involvement of such elements might have added to the safeguarding of life during the West African Ebola epidemic.

Toxic capacities: chemopolitics and the horror of late industrialism

Author: Nicholas Beuret (University of Essex) email
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Short abstract

Working through autoethnographic scenes, this paper explores the horror of lead poisoning, untangling what it means to practice politics within the never-quite-confirmed allegations and conspiracies of late industrialism where the very capacity to act and be social has been rendered toxic.

Long abstract

In February 2017 while living in the USA, my partner and I took our kids for a routine blood test where the nurse told us that they had an 'acceptable' amount of lead in their blood. In the months that followed we were introduced to the affects and practices of chemopolitics: a form of politics where the quiet horror of toxicity works to undermine conventional notions of political action.

What we find in the contamination zones of late industrialism is not the accumulation of awareness and the accretion of facts, but that the slow violence of everyday toxicity never moves past allegations, fragments, and conspiracies. It compels an amateur science that functions without validation within policy and governmental terrains. Campaigns for justice never seem to find restitution, only the recognition of damaged capacities. This moment is one of horror, where there are no clear events around which political activity or collective subjectivity can form, and we do not know what it is that has been done to us, only that our very capacity to act has been rendered toxic.

Exploring what it means when our capacities to act, be and know are transformed by the toxicities of late industrialism through autoethnographic fragments, this paper sets out an account of the horrific affects and practices of chemopolitics, asking what it means to live within the never-quite-confirmed allegations and conspiracies of the Anthropocene.

Caring for cortisol: stress, violence and endogenous compounds

Author: Celia Roberts (Lancaster University) email
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Short abstract

Cortisol, the so-called 'stress hormone,' has become a compound to care for. We are asked to recognise when our cortisol levels are high and to try to bring them down. How can an endogenous compound become so dangerous? And what might the work of monitoring and managing cortisol look like?

Long abstract

Cortisol, the so-called 'stress hormone,' has become a compound to care for. According to the online magazine, Psychology Today, for example, is it now 'Public Enemy No.1': interfering with your memory and learning, lowering your immune function and bone density, increasing your weight and increasing your risk for depression, amongst many other things. To stop the 'violence and bloodshed' in the US, the author writes, we must reduce cortisol levels in American youth. Increasingly, we all are asked to recognise when our cortisol levels are too high, and to engage in activities - massage, kickboxing, meditation, laughing with friends - that will bring them down. But how can an endogenous compound become so dangerous? How do raised cortisol levels relate to the effects of exogenous compounds? And what might the work of monitoring and managing cortisol look like? This paper will track the arrival of cortisol onto the public stage, via scientific studies of early childhood neglect. It will explore the development of cortisol biosensing through hair strand analysis as it has moved from laboratories into social work offices and the everyday lives of the 'worried well,' asking how this quintessentially biosocial compound has come to index highly complex bio-psycho-social phenomena such as youth violence. What is lost in this move, and what, if anything, is gained?

Self-disclosure and community-building in open source medicinal chemistry

Author: Javier Lezaun (Oxford University ) email
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Short abstract

This paper explores the uses of compound development in medicinal chemistry as a community-building exercise through the example of Open Source Malaria, a pharmaceutical initiative that crowdsources the identification and modulation of promising antimalarial compounds.

Long abstract

This paper explores the uses of compound development in medicinal chemistry as a community-building exercise. The empirical focus is on Open Source Malaria (OSM), an initiative that applies the principles of open source software to the development of new antimalarial compounds. OSM draws on publicly available chemical libraries to search for promising drug discovery leads. The process of assessing and modulating select compound structures is then conducted in full public view, primarily via a series of online platforms and open-source digital tools. The paper analyzes the particular processes of disclosure that create and sustain a sense of community among participants, and the form of scientific identity that is enacted in the process of conducting medicinal chemistry work "in the open."

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.