(A16)
Infrastructures of the Anthropocene
Location Bowland North Seminar Room 2
Date and Start Time 25 Jul, 2018 at 13:00
Sessions 1

Convenors

  • Martin Skrydstrup (Copenhagen Business School) email
  • Martin Mahony (University of East Anglia) email

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Short abstract

How can we speak of the politics of the Anthropocene? Revisiting this question raised by postcolonial theorist Chakrabarty (2012), this panel aims to address it by engaging with the history and politics of the infrastructures which have made knowledge of the Anthropocene possible.

Long abstract

How can we speak of the politics of the Anthropocene? Revisiting this question raised by postcolonial theorist Chakrabarty (2012), this panel aims address it by engaging with the history and politics of the infrastructures which have made knowledge of the Anthropocene possible, and of the ideas which have made it tractable to various forms of power. STS work on the infrastructures of global environmental knowledge-making tend to focus on the global North, and occasionally lapse into whiggish narratives which hide the politics through which such infrastructures expanded and were embedded into various lifeworlds. New work is required which examines these infrastructures within histories of local and trans-local forms of life, economy and power. We propose that by engaging with 20th and 21st century scientific efforts to understand the relationships between weather, agriculture and economy, we can add new texture to our understanding of the knowledge politics of the Anthropocene . For example, in the early 20th century "agro-meteorology" coalesced as a scientific field of interdisciplinary engagement, foreshadowing, the recent emergence, in response to catastrophic environmental events, of ideas and practices of "climate smart agriculture", with their predominant focus on risk, resilience and vulnerable communities.

This panel will explore how meteorological knowledge is and has been produced and circulated in colonial and postcolonial contexts, aiming at identifying possible continuities and ruptures between colonial institutions and contemporary weather regimes developed in the Global South as response to both the specter of anthropogenic climate change and their shaping of drought, floods or other hazards.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Meteorology for 'marginal climates': colonial science in British East Africa

Author: Martin Mahony (University of East Anglia) email
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Short abstract

In British colonial practice, colonial atmospheres figured as both resources for cultivation and as spaces for mobility. This paper traces this conflict in the development of meteorological knowledge-making in British East Africa, arguing for a renewed historicisation of Anthropocene infrastructures

Long abstract

Between the two world wars British foreign policy was re-fashioned in the pursuit of economic development and imperial unity, with metropolitan coordination giving way to imperial cooperation in matters of economic and military security. Agricultural development in particular was seen as key to continuing the civilizing mission of Empire, mitigating against discontent among colonial subjects, and promoting the economic prosperity of the whole imperial machine. Yet the development of industrial scale farming in far-flung colonies raised challenges for agricultural scientists, not least regarding the effects of tropical climates on the cultivation of popular export crops. This paper traces the efforts of one colonial meteorologist, Albert Walter OBE, to bring what he defined as 'marginal climates' into the infrastructural reach of an emerging global meteorology, and thus into the circuits of global capital. Attention is drawn to the role of colonial development discourses in the institutionalisation of meteorology as a government science able to understand, predict and perhaps even control the climate. However, the development of a new meteorological infrastructure was not a smooth process, and frequently conflicted with growing demands for aviation meteorology. This paper hones in on these conflicting uses of colonial atmospheres - mobility and cultivation - and suggests that understanding the emergence of the knowledge infrastructures which would later furnish new descriptions of the 'Anthropocene' requires understanding the historical textures of the imaginaries and practices through which they were articulated.

The rain, the return, and the credit. Turning climate change into an insurable risk in Senegal

Author: Sara Angeli Aguiton (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales) email
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Short abstract

Climate insurance market based on parametric technologies to measure "rainfall deficit" is emerging in Senegal. This paper empirically studies this "insurance-craft" and look at the simultaneous production of a market infrastructure, an insurable risk and a population of insurable farmers.

Long abstract

Climate insurance market based on parametric technologies to measure "rainfall deficit" is emerging in Senegal. Articulating insights from STS, sociology of risks and critical sociology of development, I study in an empirical fashion this "insurance-craft" for climate risk, by which I mean the simultaneous production of a market infrastructure, an insurable risk and a population of insurable farmers.

Parametric insurance for agriculture is a tool designed by international development experts to implement climate change adaptation policies in the Global South. Following the activities of development agencies, insurance company and brokers, climate and agronomy experts, local resellers and farmers' organizations, I show how the construction of this insurance market is rooted the economy of international development. The Senegalese public-private insurance apparatus is structured by development banks, in particular the World Bank and the USAID which sustain it through their funding and expectations. Development agencies also supported the rooting of a meteorological infrastructure in strategic sites over the country, and a network of rain gauges was established to produce the meteorological data needed by the parametric insurance scheme. Farmers' organizations were co-opted to resell the insurance product, and an intensive social engineering is locally conducted to turn farmers into policy holders. But even with such efforts, the insurance apparatus would not work if it wasn't through the political infrastructure of development projects. Climate insurance for agriculture in Senegal is both "in the making" and "in the failing", and perpetuate the historical modes of governing of development aid around new objects and problems.

The New Oil Frontiers: Traceability, transparency and the governance of sustainability

Authors: Martin Skrydstrup (Copenhagen Business School) email
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Short abstract

How does our ability to track and trace palm oil throughout the supply chain relate to transparency and ultimately sustainability? This paper attempts to map this question by way of focusing on a series of new initiatives to enhance the transparency of global supply chains across Southeast Asia.

Long abstract

How does our ability to track and trace palm oil throughout the supply chain relate to transparency and ultimately sustainability? This paper attempts to map this question by way of focusing on a series of new initiatives to enhance the transparency of global supply chains through new ways of tracing oil palm production across Southeast Asia.

We argue that these current traceability initiatives target frontier spaces at the edges of global supply chains, where the reach of the state and the limits of corporate legitimacy intersect with agrarian contexts within discursive fields of sustainability certification and corporate commitments articulated as "transformative transparency".

We argue that this calls for a renewed understanding of "resource frontiers", as being at the edge of global supply chains, but inside the State and embedded in th global discursive field of sustainability standards and CSR initiatives. Deploying a governmentality perspective with a specific focus on traceability as a technology of governance, we argue that rather than at the edge of the State, the new oil frontiers are to be located at the intersections of discursive registers on sustainability, agrarian contexts of smallholder organization and the infrastructures of the anthropocene.

Staying with speculation: natures, futures, politics

Author: Luke Moffat (Lancaster University) email
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Short abstract

I examine the increasing use of speculation and speculative methods in research practices across the sciences, arts and humanities. I use these approaches to classify the Anthropocene as an inherently speculative entity, or collection of entities. Using the nature-philosophy of F.W.J. Schelling, I argue that this speculative status requires consideration of key political questions over the material ramifications of speculation itself.

Long abstract

In the past decade, speculation has become an increasingly widespread concept in disciplines across the sciences, arts and humanities. Emerging from this, are disparate but often overlapping conceptual, theoretical and practical uses of speculative research methods. This cross-disciplinary pool of research has come together in STS, as a site where questions emerge about potential, as well as concrete ramifications of speculation. One arena where this is particularly pertinent is the Anthropocene. Despite being a young concept, there is already a wealth of existing discussions of the Anthropocene. As an inherently speculative entity, I claim that the Anthropocene exists in an unstable balance between anthropocentric and materialist, anti-humanist conceptions of human-world relations. In this paper, I draw upon a neglected approach to speculation and to humanity’s place in nature, F.W.J Schelling’s nature-philosophy, in particular, his project of speculative physics. Schelling wrote at the turn of the nineteenth century, a time when revolutions in the sciences were challenging traditional notions of matter, nature and consciousness. I claim that these can prove valuable in negotiating our position in this anthropecenic age. Schelling conceives of nature as an already organic whole, out of which consciousness emerges according to the same fundamental process, which Schelling calls ‘unconditioned productivity’. As human productivity appears to impact the planet more and more, I present Schelling’s speculative physics as a tool for speaking to many of the approaches called upon to discuss the Anthropocene, including STS, New Materialisms and Feminist Technoscience.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.