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Earthly Poison

Earthly Poison

The Cockpit and Centre for Research Architecture, London
24-25 May 2013

1972. Bangladesh is a new state emerging out of a national liberation war and a cyclone. Inspired by the Green Revolution, UNICEF undertook a major public health engineering project, drilling millions of hand pumps aimed at providing safe drinking water, and over subsequent years sinking private tube wells became normative practice. Although considered a major humanitarian success, it exposed a significant part of the population to ground water aquifers rich in arsenic.

Several decades on, the slow environmental violence continues to unfold at a population level in both Bangladesh and West Bengal. The same state and humanitarian players implicated in its complex causality are now charged with the responsibility of dealing with its consequences. An earthly poison unleashed with a violent forensic history. The two-day seminar is organized by Nabil Ahmed and the Centre for Research Architecture/Forensic Architecture, in collaboration with The Showroom, bringing together leading STS scholars, lawyers, geologists, historians and philosophers. It aims to address contemporary debates around large-scale arsenic poisoning in the Bengal delta, and its implications for new forms of spatial activism and law in the global South.

Nabil Ahmed, Introduction
Howard Caygill, "Pharmakon" / Respondent: James Burton
Nabil Ahmed, Introduction, day 2 /  John McArthur
Shubhaa Srinivasan
Andrew Meharg, "Elemental Poison" / Respondent: Godofredo Perreira
Sheila Jasanoff / Respondent: Eyal Weizman
Peter Atkins
Adrian Lahoud

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Activism on the Map

Activism on the Map

ICA and Centre for Research Architecture, London

19-20 April 2013

To be involved in politics without aspiring to govern, governed by the best leaders, or abolish the institutions of government: such are the constraints that delineate the field of nongovernmental politics.

What nongovernmental activists seek to accomplish ranges considerably: providing humanitarian aid, protecting the environment, monitoring human-rights and civil-liberties violations, adding new entitlements to the list of fundamental rights and liberties, defending the interests of corporations’ stakeholders – workers, consumers, suppliers – and expanding public access to knowledge are only the most frequent among their pursuits. Yet, regardless of the nature of their activism, what all involvements in nongovernmental politics have in common is a determination to challenge the effects of a particular set of governmental practices. Whether the governing agency they confront is a state, an international organisation, a public institution or a private corporation, the specific issue that concerns nongovernmental activists is less who governs – who is in charge and for whose benefit – than how government is exercised.

This roundtable invites Zone authors to discuss activism and nongovernmental politics. Invited speakers are Michel Feher (philosopher and the founding editor of Zone books), Laura Kurgan (architect and Professor at Columbia University), Meg McLagan (documentary filmmaker) and Gaëlle Krikorian (scholar and activist).

Speakers

  • Michel Feher
  • Ayesha Hameed
  • Gaëlle Krikorian
  • Laura Kurgan
  • Meg McLagan

 

Day 1 – Michel Feher: "On Credit, Self Esteem, and Sharing"
Day 1 – Michel Feher on Zone Books' "Non-Governmental Politics" series
Day 1 – Meg McLagan
Day 1 – Q&A
Day 2 – Ayesha Hameed
Day 1 – Michel Feher / Q&A
Day 1 – Gaëlle Krikorian
Day 1 – Laura Kurgan
Day 2 – Discussion with Laura Kurgan
Day 2 – Ayesha Hameed / Q&A

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Devil’s Advocates

Devils Advocates

Centre for Research Architecture, London

1-2 March 2013

Current conflicts over territory and resources bring to the fore the importance of spatial and material evidence to the resolution of legal and political disputes. The roundtable seminar titled ‘Devil’s Advocates’ at the Centre for Research Architecture sets out to interrogate such presentation of evidence in diverse and often contradictory political and legal forums. Its goal is to think the articulation of expert evidence and documentation with legal advocacy, towards a pragmatics of intervention through law, while at the same time questioning the limits of law itself as a political tool. Focusing on recent constitutional debates in South America and on the territorial conflict between Israel and Palestine, this two-day seminar will enquire into the multiple interceptions of law and territory, from both pragmatic and transformative political perspectives. Seminar conceived and organised by Godofredo Pereira, with the Centre for Research Architecture/Forensic Architecture.

Day 1 – Godofredo Pereira: Introduction / Oscar Guardiola-Rivera
Day 1 – Godofredo Pereira
Day 1 – Emilios Christodoulidis / Joanne Mariner
Day 2 – Michael Sfard
Day 2 – Nicola Perugini
Day 2 – Eitan Diamond / Brenna Bhandar
Day 2 – Ayesha Hameed / Q&A
Day 1 – Oscar Guardiola-Rivera / Q&A
Day 1 – Godofredo Pereira / Q&A
Day 1 – Emilios Christodoulidis / Joanne Mariner / Q&A
Day 2 – Michael Sfard / Q&A
Day 2 – Nicola Perugini / Q&A
Day 2 – Ayesha Hameed
Day 2 – Final Round Table Discussion
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Fifth Geneva Convention

Fifth Geneva Convention:

Nature, Conflict and International Law in the Anthropocene

Centre for Research Architecture, London
25-26 January 2013

A project by Paulo Tavares and Adrian Lahoud /
A PhD roundtable organised by the Centre for Research Architecture / London School of Economics

“Every battle or war ends up fighting against things or, rather, doing them violence. … we must, therefore, once again, under the threat of collective death, invent a law for objective violence. We must make a new pact, a new preliminary agreement with the objective enemy of the human world: the world as such.”

Michel Serres, The Natural Contract, 1992

Nature occupies a central place in the history of human conflict. Wars — colonial and modern — have been and will continue to be fought over control and appropriation of natural resources, while the purposeful transformation of environmental conditions, either by destruction or construction, has always been deployed as means through which conflicts are conducted in space. What has substantially changed, and with increasing intensity since the invention of atmospheric warfare in early twenty century, is the technological capacity in mobilizing the environment as medium of violence, the scale and duration of environmental destruction generated by modern war, and the exponential exhaustion of natural resources that feed the industrial basis that sustain the military complex. In turn, the violence of anthropogenic-induced modifications over environmental conditions led to radical transformations of the natural terrain itself, which in feedback-loops, is now transforming the politics of human conflicts.

The Fifth Geneva Convention sets out to debate the relations between the environment and conflict, nature and politics, as they intersect in military, humanitarian, legal and scientific practices, and transforming spatial conditions. Through a series of roundtables, the 5GC projects a long-term forum to enquire into the geological history of environmental violence in relation to the means by which such violence is deployed and legally moderated, and asks how post-climate change/post-anthropocene scenarios will transform the relations between human conflict and the environment, the law that regulates their interactions and, ultimately, our very understanding of nature itself.

Participants

  • Nabil Ahmed
  • Graham Burnett
  • Charles Heller
  • Veerle Heyvaert
  • Stephen Humphreys
  • Louise Kulbicki
  • Adrian Lahoud
  • Jennifer Marlow
  • Godofredo Pereira
  • Lorenzo Pezzani
  • Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos
  • Alain Pottage
  • Annelise Riles
  • Ashkan Sepahvand
  • Paulo Tavares
  • Territorial Agency
  • Eyal Weizman

 

Day 1 – Paulo Tavares & Adrian Lahoud: Introduction / Responses
Day 1 – D. Graham Burnett / Responses
Day 2 – Charles Heller / Lorenzo Pezzani / Nabil Ahmed / Responses
Day 2 – Michael Gerace
Day 2 – Godofredo Pereira
Day 1 – Open Debate
Day 2 – Adrian Lahoud / Responses
Day 1 – Jen Marlow
Day 2 – Louise Kulbicki
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Forensic Epidemiology

Forensic Epidemiology:

Mortality Research in the Field and Forums of Contemporary Conflict

Centre for Research Architecture, London
7–8 December 2012

A two-day workshop organized by CRASH / MSF and the Centre for Research Architecture, with the participation of the Human Rights Project at Bard College.

While pathology deals with the individual body, epidemiology is concerned with the statistical measurement and spatial mapping of patterns of public health, disease, and mortality at the level of populations. With the advent of a general culture of crisis response and global health concerns, epidemiological and demographic studies of conflict-related mortality have begun to acquire a forensic dimension. Statistical data is increasingly called upon to play a role at the centre of controversies involving international law and politics.The collection of epidemiological and demographical data by advocacy groups and aid organisations has thus become common practice. But recent debates around conflicts in Sudan, Darfur, the DRC, and Iraq suggest that the more pronounced this quantitative turn has become, the more it is contested — and even lends itself to political and juridical manipulation.

This seminar seeks to examine the relations between, on the one hand, emergent techniques of collecting, analysing and presenting conflict-related mortality data, and on the other, its acquisition of political and juridical meaning in the different forums in which it is presented. The workshop thus considers forensics in its expanded meaning – the etymological root of the term is in the Latin forensis – the art of the forum – as both the making of evidence and its presentation in different forms of gathering — professional, political and juridical – where it is contested and debated.

The workshop brings together a multidisplinary group that includes leading humanitarians, demographers, architects, theorists, historians, and statisticians, to reflect on the relation between the two intertwined sites of forensic operation – the fields and forums of forensic epidemiology.

In fields we include questions concerned with the epistemology of data gathering and interpretation, with the problems and debates around estimation, sampling, observation and tabulations. Some presentations will discuss the role of cartographic, spatial and territorial imaging and analysis in the context of mortality estimation. The presentations and exchanges in this workshop should allow for better understanding of the way war-related mortality and morbidity is designed in various contexts: how the perimeter of victims is designed, i.e. who is potentially entitled to international assistance, what is the rationale behind decisions regarding what is to be measured and calculated, what is to be left outside of calculations, and what is perceived as incalculable. In other words, we will explore what is at stake when different agents, using different methods and following different (political, ethical, legal, scientific) protocols, count and classify dead bodies. The discussion should not be only about the political manipulation of given figures but about the (political) decisions that go into the very making of the figures.

In fields we also include questions concerned with the operational use of epidemiology. In the past decades, large humanitarian organizations have established in-house epidemiological units in order independently to produce the data necessary to steer their missions. At present epidemiology and demographical statistics – such as general and under-5 mortality figures or fatality rates – have become the main dial in the humanitarian dashboard – determining optimal approaches to treatment and evaluating medical needs and priorities. But although these mortality figures are often conceived as a matter of operational knowledge, they almost always form the basis for testimonial claims, clashes with government statistics, and can be used and abused as powerful tools of political advocacy.

In forums we would like to debate the institutional contexts and media reality in which epidemiological information is asked to perform. Similar data takes on different meanings, depending on the political contexts and on the nature of the forums in which they are presented. It is from within the different forums that we need to reflect on how figures operate, what perceptions and world-views they create.

From Somalia (1992) to Bosnia (1992), Kosovo (1999), to Burma (2008), and most recently to Libya (2011) and Syria (2012), military operations have been debated on the stated grounds of preventing or stopping unnecessary and massive human loss of life. These debates establish the ever-shifting moral/political threshold of the legitimate or bearable. The jurisprudence on genocide in Srebrenica and Darfur, for example, with its associated debates and denials, as well as calls for intervention or abstention, were based heavily on mortality figures (body counts in Srebrenica, statistical extrapolations in Darfur) and on the patterns of their occurrence.

Narrowing the focus on issues that can be handled is a necessary step, if action is to be taken, but this form of telescopy may conceal a more comprehensive analysis of the larger picture. The focus of this workshop is thus not simply on methodologies and the best ways to improve them. What we want to discuss, drawing on concrete situations, is both the making and the use of numbers in the shaping of the perception of major crises, the way in which quantitative and statistical assessments links with – or lead to – juridical qualifications and political/military decisions.

Analyzing and highlighting both the intertwined relation between the fields and forums of contemporary forensics, the moral and political economy of human lives that underpins humanitarian calculation of suffering, is crucial if we seek to avert being the passive instruments of the military-humanitarian-complex.

Rony Brauman & Eyal Weizman

Participants

  • Nabil Ahmed
  • Patrick Ball
  • Brenna Bhandar
  • Jean Herve Bradol
  • Rony Brauman
  • Francesco Cecchi
  • Hamit Dardagan
  • Michael Dillon
  • Helen Epstein
  • Branwen Gruffydd Jones
  • Ayesha Hameed
  • Charles Heller
  • Thomas Keenan
  • Claire Magone
  • Lorenzo Pezzani
  • Filip Reyntjens
  • Susan Schuppli
  • Mike Spagat
  • Alberto Toscano
  • Robert Jan Van Pelt
  • Fabrice Weissman
  • Eyal Weizman

 

Eyal Weizman: Introduction
Mike Spagat
Response by Francesco Cecchi and roundtable discussion
Hamit Dardagan
Response by Jean Herve Bradol and open debate
Robert Jan van Pelt
Helen Epstein
Rony Brauman
Claire Magone
Patrick Ball
Filip Reyntjens
Nabil Ahmed
Charles Heller & Lorenzo Pezzani
Response by Michael Dillon and open debate
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Machinic Vision

Machinic Vision

Centre for Research Architecture, London

25-27 October 2012

This roundtable brings the work of artist and experimental geographer Trevor Paglen together with legal scholar and philosopher Oscar Guardiola-Rivera to engage with emergent as well as historical assemblages organised by machinic modes of vision and control. These adapted regimes of industrialised seeing bring science and technology into new functional ensembles that re-order space, inaugurating the algorithmic production of a new political and legal subject.

Participants

  • Trevor Paglen
  • Oscar Guardiola-Rivera (cancelled)
  • Lawrence Abu Hamdan
  • Emanuel Licha

Resources

The Last Pictures | Trevor Paglen

“In 1963 NASA launched the first communications satellite “Syncom 2” into a geosynchronous orbit over the Atlantic Ocean. Since then, humans have slowly and methodically added to this space-based communications infrastructure. Currently, more than 800 spacecraft in geosynchronous orbit form a man-made ring of satellites around Earth at an altitude of 36,000 kilometres. Most of these spacecraft powered down long ago, yet continue to float aimlessly around the planet. Geostationary satellites are so far from earth that their orbits never decay. The dead spacecraft in orbit have become a permanent fixture around Earth, not unlike the rings of Saturn. They will be the longest-lasting artefacts of human civilization, quietly floating through space long after every trace of humanity has disappeared from the planet’s surface.”

Trevor Paglen’s research project “The Last Pictures” was launched aboard the Echostar XVI satellite in September. Long after life on earth has perished, the floating debris of communications satellites will continue to orbit – humanity’s final legacy and endowment to the future. Conceived as a response both to the Voyager 1 & 2 golden records sent into the slipstream of the universe as an interstellar greeting in 1977 (by NASA under the direction of Carl Sagan) and the attempts to develop fixed semiotic systems around the storage of nuclear waste 25,000 years into the future (WIPP), Paglen’s project also engages with the problematic of how to communicate into the far-distant future. But unlike these projects in which solving the problem of futuric speech organised the structure and response of their work, the technological ruins of floating space debris is the material instantiation of the problem and the very means by which our final speech acts will be encoded.

Trevor Paglen’s work deliberately blurs lines between science, contemporary art, journalism, and other disciplines to construct unfamiliar, yet meticulously researched ways to see and interpret the world around us. Paglen’s visual work has been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Tate Modern, London; The Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis; The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Institute for Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, North Adams; the 2008 Taipei Biennial; the Istanbul Biennial 2009, and numerous other solo and group exhibitions.

His art and writing have appeared in major publications including The New York Times, Wired, Vanity Fair, Newsweek, Modern Painters, Aperture, and Artforum. He has appeared on The Colbert Report, The History Channel, Coast to Coast AM, Authors at Google, and C-Span Book TV.

Paglen has received grants and awards from the Smithsonian, Art Matters, Artadia, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the LUMA foundation, the Eyebeam Center for Art and Technology, and the Aperture Foundation. Paglen holds a B.A. from UC Berkeley, an M.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a Ph.D. in Geography from UC Berkeley, where he remains an affiliated researcher.

Trevor Paglen lives and works in New York. 

In 2011-2012, Paglen is an artist-in-residence at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

History as Social Fiction | Oscar Guardiola-Rivera

Oscar Guardiola-Rivera will present research drawn from his forthcoming book on the fall of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973, focusing on three points: history-making (as related to ontological constructivism and future-making skills), the curious way in which history is becoming social fiction or a public secret, and the human-machine interaction as illustrated by the case of Project Cybersyn, a radical computer-social construction experiment on machinic vision and history-making that took place in 1970s Chile.

Oscar Guardiola-Rivera joined Birkbeck in 2005. He is now Assistant Dean of the School of Law, and collaborates with the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities. He is the writer of the award-winning What If Latin America Ruled the World? (Bloomsbury, 2010), chosen as one the best non-fiction books that year by The Financial Times and reviewed in The Washington Post, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, BBC Radio 4 Start the Week, with Andrew Marr, Al-Jazeera’s The Riz Khan Show, Folha de Sao Paulo, and other major newspapers and media around the world. He has published in Granta, is a weekly columnist of El Espectador (COL), and a frequent contributor to the BBC World Service Nightwaves, The Stream, Monocle Radio 24, NTN 24, and Al-Jazeera, among others. He has been invited to take part in the Hay Festivals (Wales, Colombia, Lebanon and Mexico), and contributed as a curator and a speaker with the Serpentine Gallery, Southbank Centre, Intelligence Squared, Tate Modern, Pen International, and Colombiage. Born in Colombia, he was educated in that country and in Great Britain. He graduated as a lawyer in Bogotá (Universidad Javeriana, 1993) after leading the Student Movement that initiated the 1990’s wave of constitutional reform throughout Latin America, and obtained his LLM with Distinction at University College London, and his PhD in Philosophy at the King’s College of the University of Aberdeen. He is on the editorial boards of Naked Punch: An Engaged Review of Arts & Theory; International Law. Colombian Journal of International Law; Universitas. Xavier University Law Review, (COL); and Open Law Journal and is on the advisory board of the Law, Social Justice & Global Development Journal, and is recognised as one of the most representative voices of contemporary Latin American philosophy and literature.

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The Production of Public Proof

The Production of Public Proof

Centre for Research Architecture, London

5 March 2012

“If nature is no longer a mere background for human acitvities, what change does this entail for art and the social sciences?”

Forensics is generally translated in French, in a very narrow sense, as police science, meaning scientific investigation. But if we were to translate, or transmigrate, the Latin word into French, it would be something approaching the production of public proof. These three elements, “production”, “public” and “proof”, are very much what we are interested in, in our programme of Political Art at Sciences Po. This old term les arts politiques existed in French and has been abandoned, but we are trying to bring it back, so it’s not “arts and politics” but “political art”.

Participants

  • Bruno Latour
  • John Palmesino
  • Paulo Tavares
  • Nabil Ahmed

Now reflecting on our theme, introduced by these beautiful presentations: if I morphed some of the questions we’ve heard today into our own vocabulary, I would say, how do we represent matters of concern, when we take seriously the agency of non-humans? But taking it seriously not because they are part of Nature, taking it seriously because they have agency, responsibility, beauty, and so forth… This multiplicity of objectivities, which we are witnessing in many fields, is something rare. Rare in sociology, which is still mainly anthropocentric; but also rare in architectural programmes, which in many cases simply adds to the central human dimension a certain materiality as a backdrop. So I was very struck, and I think its a very nice effort on the part of your programme to start here: to insist that when we talk about agency, we are not talking only about humans, but also about things. Things that can be represented publicly. Controversy then, is not an added, unspeakable effect of their being represented in the public, but as a general feature of their public existence. I think this is what the term matters of concern tries to capture. The linked term matters of fact encountered some disputes but they were only provisional.

What makes the three cases so interesting – in particular in the Arctic one, for me at least – is that in each of them, non-humans enter the stage with their own agency. They are not the decor, the backdrop against which humans act. Neither do they enter – and I think that’s also very rare in academic circles – as, lets say, the material part of something which has another part, which would be the symbolic. The great thing this morning is that we didn’t hear the word “symbolic”. That’s a great thing because architects tend to add a high dose of symbolic dimension to the material. Today we talked about the arctic, the earth, cyclones, and their different mediations. What we are trying to unfold through this strange term political art (but political art is as strange a word as forensic architecture, so I don’t think we can be criticised for that) – so two strange words for something [we are trying to unfold] that I would phrase in the following way: How can agency exist publicly without stabilising the discussion, but on the contrary, by enlarging the discussion? The word “multi-naturalism”, which was not pronounced but was in the background of Paulo’s talk, is perhaps best able to capture the break with, let’s say, the materialistic visions of the past – including much architectural theory, that is, a materialism which immediately generates the symbolic, as a sort of addition. Today we are talking about the production of public tools, and through one of them — political art — we recognise that there are a lot of agencies, and that they need to be redefined.

So of course, the three cases which deal with ecology – the Arctic, the cyclone in Bangladesh and then the whole earth – to me operate as critiques of ecology. The problem with ecologists is that they use nature as a unifying element. And not a single slide that we saw today — which was so nice — tried to unify what is assembled when we talk about natural or material elements. I think that’s what is new. The old story of being materialist missed the possibility of a much vaster objectivity. Objectivity was a sort of, or was supposed to be a background, a unifying element and then came the disputes about the symbolic, the cultural, the social, and the political… It was an unfair way of treating non-humans. Not only unfair to humans — the cyclone deserves better than to be treated as a unified set. Because if they are political, and I think that’s what Paulo wanted to say… I’m actually trying to develop this at Sciences Po, I have a program very modestly called politics of the earth, because “geopolitics” would already be that. But we have the worst possible geo-politicians in our school, which work with nations and territorial fights, etc… Of course that’s not geopolitic, in fact for the earth to be political it should not be unified. And I think that’s what was beautiful in the talks we heard. It is extraordinarily difficult to redefine the component with which we share our existence, and that’s the weakness of ecological thought — they think that once there are people interested and unified, this will produce a political agreement.

That’s why your entry through forensics is so interesting because, in court, we are always dealing with a dispute, with witnesses, with instruments… In the three presentations, we saw scientists working — which is very rare, another great advantage of not being symbolic — and we saw practices of science, which of course, goes straight to my heart, as this is what I’m trying to do. Because when you highlight and foreground the practice of science, you know that something is going to be debated.

Something that is probably captured by the word Forensic Architecture is that the assembly where these diverging, controversial data, or sublata, are gathered, is precisely the missing part of politics. I don’t know about your relation to the Political Science Department here, but in my case, it is exactly what is missing in our political scientists, or so-called political scientists. Because, first they think that the assembly is for humans, so the standing of trees in court are for them a sort of oddity. And also because they think that when they will allude to the fact or the matter, there will be agreement. And this blocks completely any political project, either because you deal with humans only, or because, when you deal with facts, people are supposed to agree. And what is extraordinary in today’s series of talks is that, they deal with objectivities, without adding to it, facts that are going to stop the discussion. This of course bears consequences, for us all and I think, here, we are all exploring the difficult question — what sort of assembly will be able to replace the closure, the premature closure, which was obtained by the political epistemology of the matters of fact? Matters of fact had a political epistemology, which was to say: “you guys can discuss but when the matters of fact enter, the discussion stops.” Now it would not be biology or geology but it would be political economy, or economy, or sometimes genetics or whatever… and it’s very difficult in the case of the court of course. And it is very interesting that your programme focuses on the court, which has itself a very specific way of approaching disputes. One sees it in the climate change case, for example, it is very difficult to have the court’s closure, the closing sphere, and scientific matter. So all of theses questions seem essential for anyone around this table today: about the proof proving nothing.

Paulo Tavares, “The Earth-Political”
The history of modernity could be narrated as a longue-durée process of environing the earth. What we call globalization – that moment in history when financial markets, communication networks, energetic technologies, and ecological accidents turned into ‘world-objects’- is the last snapshot of that movement by which the planet was surrounded, up to a point in which that process has practically reached the totality of life, at least in relation to what concerns the life of the human species and to that on which it depends: ‘global nature’. After the terrestrial globe initiated with early modernity/colonialism, the bio-spherical globe that emerges with late nineteenth century with bio-geography, and the eco-systemic turn of the 60s and 70s, we maybe experiencing the formation of new sensibility towards the planet, more geo-logical than territorial or biological, and therefore, a new reality in which the political terrain is no longer only the geo- or the bio-, but something I would tentatively call the earth-political. In the 70’s, when the ecological discourse was surfacing, geo-political power was disputed as a matter of reaching the outer space — escaping the Earth. Today’s crucial problem is that power will engage much more intimately and forcefully with the materiality of the planet, drilling deeper into the earth, scanning its hidden surfaces, trying to uncover sources of material wealth under melting glaciers and new discovered terrains — extracting, sectioning, dividing the materials that form our planet, re-articulating local and global ecologies. If ecology can be thought as political, its most urgent problem is not so much safeguarding nature, but challenging the hegemonic notions of nature itself and questioning the forms and means by which the earth is translated into the space of the political.

Nabil Ahmed, “Radical Meteorology”
The contemporary history of Bangladesh is one of the starkest examples of the politicization of natural disasters. The devastating 1970 Bhola cyclone, for example, had a direct impact on its war for independence from Pakistan. Coastal zones on the Bay of Bengal that form part of the Indian Ocean rupture nature and the political in a way where geologic, atmospheric and oceanologic forces resist and collide with human populations in dramatic fashion. At the same time recent discovery of oil and gas deposits is transforming the disaster zone into an area of renewed interest for global capital. Entangled within this calculus of risk, giant brown clouds, cyclones, the supreme terror from the sea and the dead buried there speak for a new political ecology in the age of man.

John Palmesino, “North – The architecture of a territory open on all sides”
Today a number of surveying practices are reshaping the relation between contemporary polities and their spaces of operation. At the higher latitudes remote sensing, satellite imagery, multispectrum scans, biological prospecting, seismic analysis are being combined to present a set of images of possible industrial, geopolitical, logistic, and military reorganization. The North presents architecture with an escalating demand to re-conceptualise change and transformation: to what degree of magnitude can architecture operate? Can architecture supplement the grid of rules, criteria, laws that characterise the showcasing of human intervention at the higher latitudes by integrating spatial analysis with image making, geographic knowledge, remote sensing? How to think new processes and processions where knowledge production is intertwined with the forming of inhabited territories? Can architecture rethink its agency?

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Earth Objects & the Politics of Ecology

Earth Objects & the Politics of Ecology

Barbican Art Gallery, London

21 January 2012

An open roundtable discussion with members of the Centre for Research Architecture

Special guests: Graham Harman and Noortje Marres

With the intensified speed of capitalist production acting as a force multiplier in reformatting the biosphere, nature responds as a terrifying, dark agent – blackening earth and sky. Its effects on human and non-human populations are at the same time legal-scientific, military-humanitarian and ethico-political. Geo-philosophic speculation and forensics investigation into the deep history of the earth is perhaps the only way to bring to the foreground the complexity of this new natural-political assemblage where the separations between humans and environment, culture and nature, the anthropological and the geological are no longer stable.

As part of its salon event for the OMA/Progress exhibition at the Barbican, the Centre for Research Architecture (CRA) invites the philosopher Graham Harman to respond to the open archive of CRA members and engage in an open roundtable discussion with the public. Presentations by Nabil Ahmed, Paulo Tavares, Eyal Weizman, Susan Schuppli and CRA members.

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Networks and Assemblages

Networks and Assemblages:

Graham Harman

Centre for Research Architecture, London
20 January 2012

Philosopher Graham Harman is Professor at the American University in Cairo and the author of numerous books and texts (several of which will be references in this day-long session). During the seminar, Harman will trace out the contours of an object-oriented philosophy and imagine how our world might look like “once the human subject in all its blatant and camouflaged forms exhausts the few remaining permutations and finally loses its status as Emperor of Philosophy.”

Discovering Objects is More Important Than Eliminating Them

Philosopher Graham Harman is Professor at the American University in Cairo and the author of numerous books and texts (several of which will be references in this day-long session). During the seminar, Harman will trace out the contours of an object-oriented philosophy and imagine how our world might look like “once the human subject in all its blatant and camouflaged forms exhausts the few remaining permutations and finally loses its status as Emperor of Philosophy.”

Is the Speculative Political Future of Egypt also a Philosophical Project?

This session continues the discussion of the morning and will deal with some of the political implications of the philosophy of Speculative Realism as it might pertain to the changing realities of Egypt today. How does its more globalised project intervene to engage directly with experiences in contemporary Egypt happening in the streets, online, and captured by mobile technologies? Can philosophy play a role to play beyond engaging with the hermeneutics of the written word whether expressed as criticism or commentary, in such rapidly changing and activist contexts? Moreover does the philosophy of Speculative Realism have a future in a project in which politics alongside its religious alliances seems to be the determinant factor in producing the new reality of Egypt — a kind of totalizing or universalist discourse that Speculative Realism would itself naturally be resistant to.

 

Graham Harman Roundtable, part 1
Graham Harman Roundtable, part 2
Graham Harman Roundtable, part 3
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The Everywhere War

The Everywhere War:

PhD Roundtable with Derek Gregory

Centre for Research Architecture, London

10 November 2011

Much of the discussion of 9/11 has debated its historical significance, but it is equally important to explore the geographical dimensions of the wars that have been conducted in its shadows. Subsequent transformations in the American way of war have played a major role in the increased militarisation of the planet. Most attention has been focused on Afghanistan and Iraq as the principal theatres of the ‘war on terror’, but one of the characteristics of late modern war is the emergent, ‘event-ful’ quality of military, paramilitary and terrorist violence that can, in principle, occur anywhere. Vulnerabilities are differentially distributed but widely dispersed, and in consequence late modern war is being changed by the slippery spaces through which it is conducted. This paper explores three global borderlands to bring those changes into focus: Afghanistan–Pakistan (particularly the deployment of CIA-controlled drones in Pakistan), US–Mexico (particularly the expansion of Mexico’s ‘drug war’ and the US militarisation of the border), and cyberspace (particularly the role of stealth attacks on critical infrastructure and the formation of US Cyber Command).

Derek Gregory is the Peter Wall Distinguished Professor and a Professor of Geography at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

Derek Gregory, "The Everywhere War"