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Dossiers
Authors
  • Lawrence Abu Hamdan
  • Babak Afrassiabi
    • Babak Afrassiabi is an artist who works both in Iran and the Netherlands. Since 2004, he has collaborated with Nasrin Tabatabai on various joint projects and the publication of the bilingual magazine Pages (Farsi and English). Their work seeks to articulate the undecidable space between art and its historical conditions, including the recurring question of the place of the archive in defining the juncture between politics, history, and the practice of art. The artists’ work has been presented internationally in various solo and group exhibitions and they have been tutors at the Jan Van Eyck Academie, Maastricht (2008–13), and Erg, école supérieure des arts, Brussels (2015–).
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      published contributions
  • S. Ayesha Hameed
    • Dr. S. Ayesha Hameed is a Lecturer in Visual Cultures and the Joint Programme Leader in Fine Art and History of Art Research Fellow in Forensic Architecture at Goldsmiths, London. She received her PhD in Social and Political Thought at York University, Canada in 2008
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      published contributions
  • Sammy Baloji
  • On Barak
    • On Barak is a social and cultural historian of science and technology in non-Western settings. He has been a senior lecturer in the Department of Middle Eastern and African History at Tel Aviv University since 2012. Prior to this, he was a member of the Princeton Society of Fellows. In 2009, Barak received a joint PhD in History and Middle Eastern Studies from New York University. His most recent book is On Time: Technology and Temporality in Modern Egypt (University of California Press, 2013), and his current publication project, Coalonialism: Energy and Empire before the Age of Oil, is funded by a European Union Marie Curie Award and an Israel Science Foundation Grant.
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      published contributions
  • Anil Bawa-Cavia
    • Anil Bawa-Cavia is a computer scientist with a background in machine learning. He runs STDIO, a speculative software studio. His practice engages with algorithms, protocols, encodings, and other software artifacts and his doctoral research at the Center for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) at University College London was on complex networks in urbanism. He is a founding member of Call & Response, a sonic arts collective and gallery space in London, and a member of the New Centre for Research & Practice.
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      published contributions
  • Etienne Benson
  • Josh Berson
  • Jeremy Bolen
  • Axel Braun
    • Axel Braun studied photography at the Folkwang University of the Arts, Essen, and fine arts at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris. His artistic research deals with controversial infrastructure projects, tautology as an attempt to understand reality, and failed utopias in art and architecture. Currently, he is pursuing the long-term project Towards an Understanding of Anthropocene Landscapes. Recently exhibited works include Some Kind of Opposition (2016) at Galeria Centralis, Budapest, and Dragonflies drift downstream on a river (2015) at Kunstmuseum Bochum.
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      published contributions
  • Keith Breckenridge
  • François Bucher
    • s, focusing on ethical and aesthetic problems of cinema and television, and more recently on the image as an interdimensional field. His work has been exhibited at
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      published contributions
  • Lino Camprubí
  • Zachary Caple
  • Ele Carpenter
    • Dr. Ele Carpenter is a senior lecturer in curating at Goldsmiths, London. Her curatorial practice responds to interdisciplinary socio-political contexts such as the nuclear economy and the relationship between craft and code.
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      published contributions
  • Andrew Chubb
    • Andrew Chubb is a PhD candidate at the University of Western Australia conducting research on the relationship between Chinese public opinion and government policy in the South China Sea. His articles have appeared in the Journal of Contemporary China, Pacific Affairs, East Asia Forum, and Information, Communication & Society. His blog, South Sea Conversations (southseaconversations.wordpress.com), provides translations and analysis of Chinese discourse on the South and East China Sea issues.
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      published contributions
  • Louis Chude-Sokei
    • Louis Chude-Sokei is a writer and scholar currently teaching in the English Department at the University of Washington, Seattle. His academic interests range from West African, Caribbean, and American literary and cultural studies to a particular focus on sound, technology, and performance. His literary and public work focuses on immigration and black-on-black cultural contacts, conflicts, and exchanges. Chude-Sokei is the author of the award-winning book The Last “Darky”: Bert Williams, Black-on-Black Minstrelsy, and the African Diaspora (2006) and The Sound of Culture: Diaspora and Black Technopoetics (2016).
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      published contributions
  • Claire Colebrook
    • Claire Colebrook is a professor of English at Penn State University. Her areas of specialization are contemporary literature, visual culture, and theory and cultural studies. She has written articles on poetry, literary theory, queer theory, and contemporary culture. Colebrook is the co-editor of the series Critical Climate Change, published by Open Humanities Press, and a member of the advisory board of the Institute for Critical Climate Change. She recently completed two books on extinction for Open Humanities Press, Death of the PostHuman and Sex after Life (both 2014), and with Tom Cohen and J. Hillis Miller co-authored Twilight of the Anthropocene Idols (2016).
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      published contributions
  • Rana Dasgupta
  • Filip De Boeck
    • Filip De Boeck is actively involved in teaching, promoting, coordinating and supervising research in and on Africa at the Institute for Anthropological research in Africa at the U
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      published contributions
  • Seth Denizen
    • Seth Denizen is a researcher and design practitioner trained in landscape architecture and evolutionary biology. Since completing research on the sexual behavior and evolutionary ecology of small Trinidadian fish, his work has focused on the aesthetics of scientific representation, madness, and public parks, the design of t
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      published contributions
  • Jonathan Donges
    • Jonathan Donges is a postdoctoral researcher who holds a joint position at the Stockholm Resilience Centre (as Stordalen Scholar) and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. He studies planetary boundaries and social dynamics in the Earth system from a complex dynamical system perspective. At Potsdam, he is Co-head of the flagship COPAN (Coevolutionary Pathways) project (www.pik-potsdam.de/copan). His published research includes work on complex network theory, dynamical systems theory, and time series analysis, with a focus on their application to our understanding of past and present climate variability and its interactions with humankind on planet Earth.
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      published contributions
  • Keller Easterling
  • David Edgerton
    • David Edgerton is Hans Rausing Professor of the History of Science and Technology and a professor of modern British history at King’s College London. After teaching at the University of Manchester, he became the founding director of the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at Imperial College London (1993–2003), and moved along with the centre to King’s College London in August 2013. He is the author of many works, including The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900 (2007), which argues for and exemplifies new ways of thinking about the material constitution of modernity.
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      published contributions
  • Technosphere Editorial
  • Sasha Engelmann
  • Jennifer Gabrys
    • Jennifer Gabrys is Reader in the Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Principal Investigator on the ERC-funded project, "Citizen Sense." Her publications include Digital Rubbish: A Natural History of Electronics (University of Michigan Press, 2011); and Program Earth: Environmental Sensing Technology and the Making of a Computational Planet (University of Minnesota Press, forthcoming).
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      published contributions
  • Oliver Gantner
  • Florian Goldmann
    • Florian Goldmann is a Berlin-based artist and a PhD candidate at the DFG Research Training Center Visibility and Visualisation – Hybrid Forms of Pictorial Knowledge as well as at the Brandenburg Center for Media Studies, both Potsdam University. His research focus is the utilization of models as a means of both commemorating and predicting catastrophe. In 2015, he took part in the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in Sendai, Japan. Goldmann is one of the founders of the research collective STRATAGRIDS and the author of Flexible Signposts to Coded Territories (2012), an analysis of football hooligan graffiti in Athens as a system of fluid signage.
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      published contributions
  • Johan Gärdebo
    • Johan Gärdebo is a PhD candidate at the Royal Institute of Technology affiliated to the Environmental Humanities Laboratory (EHL). H
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      published contributions
  • Orit Halpern
    • Orit Halpern is a Strategic Hire in Interactive Design and an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Concordia University, Montreal. Her work bridges the histories of science, computing, and cybernetics with design and art practice. She is also a co-director of the Speculative Life Research Cluster, Montreal, a laboratory situated at the intersection of art and life sciences, architecture and design, and computational media (www.speculativelife.com). Her recent monograph, Beautiful Data (2015), is a history of interactivity, data visualization, and ubiquitous computing. www.orithalpern.net
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      published contributions
  • Carola Hein
    • Carola Hein is a professor of the history of architecture and urban planning in the Architecture Department at Delft University of Technology. She has published widely on topics in contemporary and historical architectural and urban planning, notably that of Europe and Japan. Her current research interests include transmission of architectural and urban ideas along international networks, focusing specifically on port cities, and the global architecture of oil. Her books include Port Cities: Dynamic Landscapes and Global Networks (2011), Cities, Autonomy, and Decentralization in Japan (2006), and The Capital of Europe: Architecture and Urban Planning for the European Union (2004).
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      published contributions
  • Julian Henriques
    • Julian Henriques is the convener of the MA in Script Writing and Director of the Topology Research Unit in the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. Prior to this, he ran the film and television department at the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC) at the University of the West Indies, Kingston, Jamaica. His credits as a writer and director include the reggae musical feature film Babymother (1998) and as a sound artist, Knots & Donuts, exhibited at Tate Modern in 2011. Henriques researches street cultures and technologies and his publications include Changing the Subject: Psychology, Social Regulation, and Subjectivity (1998), Sonic Bodies: Reggae Sound Systems, Performance Techniques, and Ways of Knowing (2011), and Sonic Media (forthcoming).
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      published contributions
  • Hanna Husberg
    • Hanna Husberg is a Stockholm-based artist. She graduated from ENSB-A in Paris in 2007 and is currently a PhD in Practice candidate at the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna.
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      published contributions
  • Erich Hörl
  • Timothy Johnson
  • Peter K. Haff
  • Laleh Khalili
  • Alexander Klose
    • Dr. Alexander Klose studied History, Law, Philosophy, Art, and Cultural Studies. From 2005-07 he held a scholarship at Bauhaus Universität Weimar for his PhD project on standardized containers used in transport as one of the leading material media in the 20th century. Between 2009 and 2014 he worked as a research associate and programme developer at Kulturstiftung des Bundes. In 2015 in the forefront of COP 21, he co-curated Blackmarket for Useful Knowledge and Non-Knowledge No. 18 – On Becoming Earthlings: 150 dialogues and exercises in shrinking and expanding the Human at Musée de l'Homme, Paris. His latest publication is: The Container Principle. How a box changes the way we think (2015).
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      published contributions
  • Karin Knorr Cetina
    • Rico, in the 1960s. She finished her education in Paris and London. Knorr has taught, exhibited, and lectured internationally, including at Tate Britain, Tate Modern, the University of Westminster, and Goldsmiths in London, as well as Harvard Univ
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      published contributions
  • Scott Knowles
  • Nile Koetting
  • Nicole Koltick
    • Nicole Koltick is an assistant professor in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design at Drexel University, Philadelphia. She is Founding Director of the Design Futures Lab at Westphal College, which is currently pursuing design research to stimulate debate on the potential implications of emerging technological and scientific developments within society. Koltick’s practice spans art, science, technology, design, and philosophy, and current work focuses on the philosophical, material, and relational implications of aesthetics as they intersect with emerging developments in computational creativity, artificially intelligent autonomous systems, robotics, and synthetic biological hybrids.
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      published contributions
  • Nik Kosmas
  • Matthijs Kouw
    • Matthijs Kouw joined the Rathenau Instituut, The Hague, in March 2016. He holds an MA in Philosophy and an MSc in Science and Technology Studies from the University of Amsterdam as well as a PhD from Maastricht University. In his PhD thesis, Kouw describes how and to what extent reliance on models can introduce vulnerabilities through the assumptions, uncertainties, and blind spots concomitant with modeling practice. He was employed as a postdoctoral researcher at the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), during which time he acted as a member of the Dutch delegation for plenary sessions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
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      published contributions
  • Lars Kulik
    • Lars Kulik studied biology at the Humboldt University of Berlin. He received his doctorate on the development of social behavior of rhesus monkeys at the University of Leipzig and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. He lives with his family in Berlin.
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      published contributions
  • Richard L. Hindle
    • Richard L. Hindle is an assistant professor of landscape architecture and environmental planning at the University of California, Berkeley. His current research focuses on patent innovation in landscape related technologies, from large-scale mappings of riverine and coastal systems to detailed historical studies on the antecedents of vegetated architecture. His work explores the potential of new technological narratives and material processes to reframe theory, practice, and the production of landscape. Recent works include the articles “Levees That Might Have Been” (2015), and “Infrastructures of Innovation” in Scaling Infrastructure (MIT Center for Advanced Urbanism, 2016), and the exhibition Geographies of Innovation at UC Berkeley (2015).
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      published contributions
  • Brian Larkin
  • John Law
    • hn Law was a professor of sociology at Keele University, Lancaster, and the Open University, Milton Keynes, and a co-director of the Economic and Social Researc
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      published contributions
  • S. Løchlann Jain
  • Donald MacKenzie
  • Laura McLean
    • Laura McLean is a curator, artist, and writer based in London. She is a graduate of Goldsmiths College and Sydney College of the Arts, where she later lectured. She has also studied at Alberta College of Art and Design, and the Universität der Künste Berlin.
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      published contributions
  • Eden Medina
    • Eden Medina is an associate professor of informatics and computing, affiliated associate professor of law, and adjunct associate professor of history at Indiana University, Bloomington. Her research and teaching address the social, historical, and legal dimensions of our increasingly data-driven world, including the relationship of technology to human rights and free expression, the relationship between political innovation and technological innovation, and the ways that human and political values shape technological design. Medina’s writings also use science and technology as a way to broaden understandings of Latin American history and the geography of innovation. She is the author of Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende's Chile (2011) and the co-editor of Beyond Imported Magic: Essays on Science, Technology, and Society in Latin America (2014).
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      published contributions
  • Anne-Sophie Milon
    • Anne-Sophie Milon is an artist and a freelance illustrator and animator working and living in Bristol, UK. After completing two Masters in Art, she has recently concluded the program of experimentation in Art and Politics at SciencesPo (SPEAP) in Paris.
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      published contributions
  • Gerald Nestler
    • Gerald Nestler is an artist and writer who combines theory and post-disciplinary conversation with video, installation, performance, text, code, graphics, sound, and speech. He explores what he calls the derivative condition of contemporary social relations and its paradigmatic financial models, operations, processes, narratives, and fictions. He is currently working on an “aesthetics of resolution” that maps counterfictions and counterimaginations for “renegade activism,” which revolves around the demonstration as a combined artistic, technological, social, and political practice. Nestler holds a practice-based PhD from the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London.
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      published contributions
  • James P. M. Syvitski
    • James P. M. Syvitski is Executive Director of the Community Surface Dynamics Modeling System (CSDMS) at the University of Colorado Boulder. From 2011 to 2016, he chaired the International Council for Science’s International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), which provides essential scientific leadership and knowledge of the Earth system to help guide society toward a sustainable pathway during rapid global change. His specialty is the global flux of water and sediment (river and ocean borne) and its trends in the Anthropocene. He works at the forefront of computational geosciences, including sediment transport, land-ocean interactions, and Earth-surface dynamics.
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      published contributions
  • Luciana Parisi
    • Luciana Parisi is Reader in Cultural Theory, Chair of the PhD program in Cultural Studies, and Co-director of the Digital Culture Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her research focuses on cybernetics, information theory and computation, complexity and evolutionary theories, and the technocapitalist investment in artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and nanotechnology. Her books include Abstract Sex: Philosophy, Biotechnology and the Mutations of Desire (2004) and Contagious Architecture: Computation, Aesthetics, and Space (2013). She is currently researching the history of automation and the philosophical consequences of logical thinking in machines.
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      published contributions
  • Lisa Parks
  • Matteo Pasquinelli
  • Arno Rosemarin
  • Dorion Sagan
  • Birgit Schneider
  • Lizzie Stark
    • Lizzie Stark is an author, journalist, and experience designer. She is the author of two books, Pandora’s DNA (2014), exploring so-called ‘breast cancer genes’ and her first book, Leaving Mundania (2012), which investigates the subculture of live action role play, or larp. Her journalism and essays have appeared in The Washington Post, the Daily Beast, The Today Show Website, io9, Fusion, the Philadelphia Inquirer and elsewhere. She holds an MS from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has organized numerous conventions and experiences across the US. Her most recent work is as a programming coordinator for Living Games Austin, and as co-editor and contributor for the #Feminism anthology, which collects 34 nano-games written by feminists from eleven countries.
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      published contributions
  • Lucy Suchman
    • ology of Science and Technology in the Department of Sociology at the University of Lancaster, UK. Her research interests within the field of feminist science and technology studies are focused on technological imaginaries and material practices
    • 1
      published contributions
  • Jenna Sutela
    • Jenna Sutela’s installations, texts, and sound performances seek to identify and react to precarious social and material moments, often in relation to technology. Most recently, she has been exploring exceedingly complex biological and computational systems, ultimately unknowable and always becoming something new. Her work has been presented, among other places, at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; and the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo and her writing has been published by Fiktion, Harvard Design Magazine, and Sternberg Press.
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      published contributions
  • Bronislaw Szerszynski
    • Bronislaw Szerszynski is a Reader in Sociology at Lancaster University in the UK. Szerszynski’s work has developed across several themes, including the role of Western religious history in shaping contemporary understandings of technology and the environment—typified by his book Nature, Technology and the Sacred (Wiley-Blackwell, 2005).
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      published contributions
  • Elisa T. Bertuzzo
    • Elisa T. Bertuzzo studied comparative literature, sociology, communication, and media studies and holds a PhD in urban studies. She was a curator and project leader with Habitat Forum Berlin, including for the project Paradigmising Karail Basti (2010–16). Bridging discourses from the fields of cultural and urban studies, her research focuses on the everyday life facets of urbanization and settlement in South Asia. On that topic, she published Fragmented Dhaka: Analysing Everyday Life with Henri Lefebvre’s Theory of Production of Space (2009) and runs her multimedia project Archives of Movement (since 2012), which deals with the everyday life of temporary labor migrants in Bangladesh and India.
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      published contributions
  • Gregory T. Cushman
    • Gregory T. Cushman is Associate Professor of International Environmental History at the University of Kansas.
    • 1
      published contributions
  • Nasrin Tabatabai
    • Nasrin Tabatabai is an artist who works both in Iran and the Netherlands. Since 2004, she has collaborated with Babak Afrassiabi on various joint projects and the publication of the bilingual magazine Pages (Farsi and English). Their work seeks to articulate the undecidable space between art and its historical conditions, including the recurring question of the place of the archive in defining the juncture between politics, history, and the practice of art. The artists’ work has been presented internationally in various solo and group exhibitions and they have been tutors at the Jan Van Eyck Academie, Maastricht (2008–13), and Erg, école supérieure des arts, Brussels (2015–).
    • 1
      published contributions
  • Katerina Teaiwa
    • Dr. Katerina Teaiwa is Associate Professor at the Department of Gender, Media and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History & Language and the president of the Australian Association for Pacific Studies. Her main area of research looks at the histories of phosphate mining in the central Pacific. Her work does not only span academic research, publications, and lectures, but also manifests itself in other formats within the arts and popular culture. Her work has inspired a permanent exhibition at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, which tells the story of Pacific phosphate mining through Banaban dance. In 2015, she published „Consuming Ocean Island: Stories of People and Phosphate from Banaba“, Indiana University Press. She is currently working with visual artist Yuki Kihara on a multimedia exhibition for Carriageworks in Sydney.
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      published contributions
  • Jol Thomson
  • Claire Tolan
  • John Tresch
  • Etienne Turpin
    • Etienne Turpin is a philosopher, Founding Director of anexact office, and a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, where he coordinates the Humanitarian Infrastructures Group and co-directs the PetaBencana.id disaster mapping project for the Urban Risk Lab. He is the editor of Architecture in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Design, Deep Tim
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      published contributions
  • Asonseh Ukah
    • Asonzeh Ukah is a sociologist and historian of religion. He joined the University of Cape Town in 2013 and previously taught at the University of Bayreuth (2005–13), where he also earned a doctorate and habilitation in history of religions. His research interests include religious urbanism, the sociology of Pentecostalism, and religion and media. He is Director of the Research Institute on Christianity and Society in Africa (RICSA), University of Cape Town, and Affiliated Senior Fellow of Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies (BIGSAS), University of Bayreuth. He is the author of A New Paradigm of Pentecostal Power (2008) and Bourdieu in Africa (edited with Magnus Echtler, 2016).
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      published contributions
  • Underworlds
  • Sebastian Vehlken
    • Sebastian Vehlken is a media theorist and cultural historian at Leuphana University Lüneburg and Permanent Senior Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study on Media Cultures of Computer Simulation (MECS). From 2013 to 2017, he worked as MECS Junior Director, and in 2015–16, he was a visiting professor at Humboldt-Universität Berlin, the University of Vienna, and Leuphana. His areas of interest include the theory and history of computer simulation and digital media, the media history of swarm intelligence, and the epistemology of think tanks. His current research project, Plutonium Worlds, explores the application of computer simulations in West German fast breeder reactor programs.
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      published contributions
  • Vladimir Vernadsky
  • Davor Vidas
    • Davor Vidas is a research professor in international law and Director of the Law of the Sea Programme at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, Lysaker, Norway. He is Chair of the Committee on International Law and Sea Level Rise and a member of the Anthropocene Working Group. Vidas has been involved in international law research for over thirty years, focusing since 2009 on implications of the Anthropocene for the development of international law. Among his books are The World Ocean in Globalisation (2011) and Law, Technology and Science for Oceans in Globalisation (2010). He is the editor-in-chief of the book series Anthropocene (Skolska knjiga, Zagreb), launched in 2017.
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      published contributions
  • Hannes Wiedemann
    • Hannes Wiedemann is a Berlin-based photographer. He studied at the Ostkreuz School of Photography, Berlin. For his project Grinders (2015–16), he followed the American bodyhacking community, a small group of people across the United States working out of garages and basements to become real cyborgs. Recent exhibitions include NEW PHOTOGRAPHY II (2017) at Gallery ALAN, Istanbul, and HUMAN UPGRADE, with Susanna Hertrich (2016), at Schader-Stiftung Gallery, Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt. www.hanneswiedemann.com
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      published contributions
  • Cary Wolfe
    • Cary Wolfe is Bruce and Elizabeth Dunlevie Professor of English and Founding Director of 3CT: Center for Critical and Cultural Theory at Rice University, Houston. He is the author of What Is Posthumanism? (2010), a book that weaves together principal concerns of his work: animal studies, system theory, pragmatism, and post-structuralism. It is part of the series Posthumanities, for which he serves as Founding Editor at the University of Minnesota Press. His most recent publication is Before the Law: Humans and Other Animals in Biopolitical Frame (2013) and earlier books and edited collections include Animal Rites: American Culture, The Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory (2003) and Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal (2003).
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      published contributions
  • Andrew Yang
  • Jan Zalasiewicz
    • Dr. Jan Zalasiewicz is Professor of Palaeobiology at the University of Leicester and Chair of the Anthropocene Working Group of the International Commission on Stratigraphy. A field geologist, paleontologist, and stratigrapher, he teaches and publishes on geology and earth history, in particular on fossil ecosystems and environments that span over half a billion years of geological time.
    • 1
      published contributions
  • Anna Zett
  • Liv Østmo
    • Liv Østmo is one of the founders and current Dean of the Sámi University of Applied Sciences, Kautokeino, Norway, where she researches and lectures on the subject of multicultural understanding. For the last eight years, Østmo has worked with traditional Sámi knowledge and she is currently working on putting the finishing touches on a methodology book about the documentation of this knowledge.
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Source: Breuil, H. and M.C Burkitt (1929). Rock Paintings of Southern Andalusia. (Oxford)

Sound and Pain

One cardinal source of the trauma induced by the technosphere is sonic: the ubiquity of anthropophonic vibrations passing through our environments. Social scientist and artist Josh Berson tells his story of being caught by the pervasiveness of human-generated sounds, forever beholden to a tinnitus of life emanating from our remaking of the Earth’s resonator.
I want you to imagine you are standing on a beach watching the sun go down. It is 15,000 years ago. The only sounds are the crash of the surf, the calls of gulls and kingfishers, the wind in the salt grass, and the snap of dry tinder from a campfire up the slope leading down to the water. This could be what now is the Atlantic coast of Portugal, it could be the Dampier Peninsula in the northwest of Australia—both saw human occupations at this time. If this were 10,000 years ago, it could be the coast of British Columbia. It does not much matter. The sun slips below the horizon. The color drains from the sky and it begins to get dark. There are, of course, other kinds of sensations here. From the campfire comes the scent of fish cooking, the astringent notes of fat and muscle combusting, mixed with the saline alkalinity that hits your nasal membranes when you inhale. But our main concern is with how things sound. The light is gone. Above, the stars begin to appear, a country unto themselves, its landmarks as familiar as those of the earth by day. The sea, by contrast, is a vision of oblivion, an implacable, all-ablating presence, its rote hypnotic and terrifying. You take a step forward. The tide is coming in, and the water flows up to meet you. Then, from the fire comes the hoarse quaver of a flute. You turn from the sea and toward the reverberant huuing that is not like any other sound.Elizabeth C. Blake and Ian Cross, “The acoustic and auditory contexts of human behavior,” Current Anthropology 56, no. 1 (2015): pp. 81–103; Margarita Díaz-Andreu, Carlos García Benito, and Maria Lazarich, “The sound of rock art: The acoustics of the rock art of southern Andalusia (Spain),” Oxford Journal of Archaeology 33, no. 1 (2014): pp. 1–18; Juan José Ibáñez, Jesús Salius, Ignacio Clemente-Conte, and Narcis Soler, “Use and sonority of a 23,000-year-old bone aerophone from Davant Pau Cave (NE of the Iberian Peninsula),” Current Anthropology 56, no. 2 (2015): pp. 282–9; Rita Dias, Cleia Detry, and Nuno Bicho, “Changes in the exploitation dynamics of small terrestrial vertebrates and fish during the Pleistocene–Holocene transition in the SW Iberian Peninsula: A review,” Holocene 26, nos 1‒2 (2016): pp. 964–84.
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Jiahu flute, Henan Museum. asgitner 2007 Source: Wiki Commons

Keep this scene in mind as you read the following, which appeared in The Lancet on October 10, 1908: A woman, aged 49 years, was sent to me by Mr W. G. Sutcliffe of Margate on 14 November 1906. Her illness commenced suddenly in February, 1906, with buzzing tinnitus, vertigo and nausea, and on several subsequent occasions a similar attack occurred. After a time the tinnitus became continuous and was more and more often accompanied by giddiness. No benefit was derived from medical treatment nor, was benefit derived from staying at Margate [a sea resort on the southeastern coast of England] and the Isle of Wight. In September, 1906, the character of the tinnitus suddenly changed from a buzzing to a most distressing steaming or whistling noise which, at its height, became actually painful; the patient’s own expression was ‘the noise is the pain’. When I saw her on November 14,1906, about ten months after the commencement of the illness, she complained of intolerable tinnitus in the right ear, occasionally accompanied by giddiness and nausea. She was in great distress and feared that if no relief could be given she would go mad and kill herself. The right ear was almost totally deaf; the watch and the voice were not heard at all and the tuning fork was scarcely perceived. The tympanic membrane looked normal. There were no signs of a gross intracranial lesion; the disease was clearly labyrinthine. I suggested division of the auditory nerve but advised the patient first to consult Dr D. Ferrier. I did not see her again until January, 1908, when she came to me with Dr Soden. In the interval she had been under Dr Ferrier, Dr Purves Stewart, Mr Lake, Mr Woods, and others. Many methods of treatment, including hypnotism and high-frequency currents, had been tried. In November, 1907, Mr Lake removed the semicircular canals of the affected side; this operation almost completely relieved the patient from the vertigo but in no way affected the painful tinnitus. Facial palsy followed Mr Lake’s operation but from this there were signs of commencing recovery. The general condition was not good; the patient was feeble, fat, and flabby, and the pulse, for some reason or another, varied from 100 to 120. I renewed my original suggestion that the auditory nerve should be divided and this was now agreed to by Dr Ferrier.Charles A. Ballance, “A case of division of the auditory nerve for painful Tinnitus,” The Lancet 172 (October 10, 1908): pp. 1070‒3.
The operation was performed in two stages, the first to remove a section of the temporal bone, the second, nine days later, to section the auditory nerve. Upon awakening from anesthesia, the patient demonstrated modest signs of cranial nerve injury: lateral nystagmus of the eyes to the left (that is, contralateral to the operated side), deviation of the tongue to the left, paresis of the right side of the face and pharynx—and, of course, complete deafness of the right ear. Over the next four months, the facial and pharyngeal symptoms partly abated. The tinnitus was gone. The surgeon, Charles Ballance, thought the prognosis good. He compared sectioning of the cochlear branch of the eighth cranial nerve for tinnitus to sectioning of the fifth nerve for trigeminal neuralgia (tic douleureux).
Ballance was a highly regarded vascular and neurosurgeon, and while auditory nerve sectioning had been attempted before, his technique and outcome were new. But it is difficult to know what to make of his report. Today, sectioning of the cochlear nerve is contraindicated for tinnitus, since it amounts to deafferentation—the removal of input from a sensory system. In fact, tinnitus arising from sensorineural hearing loss responds well to cochlear implants—the reintroduction sensory input previously lost. In most cases, tinnitus seems to originate with a plastic response in the dorsal aspect of the cochlear nucleus (DCN), the part of the brainstem most focally implicated in hearing, to deafferentation in the cochlea. The ablation of hair cells in the cochlea, whether via exposure to noxiously loud sound or the cumulative sensory and oxidative stresses of aging, removes inhibitory stimulation from the regions of the DCN that code for the same characteristic frequencies as the ablated cells. This promotes increased spontaneous firing rates, increased firing synchrony, and increased bursting of action potentials among excitatory neurons in those regions. An enhanced tendency toward spontaneous excitatory bursting is propagated, via spike-timing-dependent plasticity, to the limbic and cortical structures that subserve auditory object perception, so that the auditory system effectively learns a phantom percept. By and large this is anti-Hebbian learning: downregulation of inhibitory inputs to postsynaptic excitatory neurons strengthens frequency-specific excitatory pathways, in part via reuptake modulation of excitatory neurotransmitters. Tinnitus is also associated with enhanced functional connectivity (that is, coactivation) between the auditory cortex and the parahippocampal region, suggesting that it represents a kind of Bayesian estimation. This means that in the absence of reliable peripheral input for a particular frequency range, the auditory system relies on memory; that is, the nervous system’s history of past sensory experience, to fill in the gaps.Susan E. Shore, Larry E. Roberts, and Berthold Langguth, “Maladaptive plasticity in tinnitus: Triggers, mechanisms and treatment,” Nature Reviews Neurology 12 (February 2016): pp. 150–60.
In the case described above, the tinnitus seems to have been at least partly a product of Menière’s syndrome, the instigating peripheral damage likely caused by a viral infection of the semicircular canal, perhaps exacerbated by preexisting deafness, and not by exposure to loud sound. As a rule, Ballance’s solution should not work, and the case has little to say about the painful dimensions of sound—not audition, the phenomenal dimension of a sensory system, but sound as an acoustic phenomenon, the oscillatory compression and rarefaction of air and other media in the world. It is sound in the acoustic sense that I want to focus on. What drew me to Ballance’s report was the patient’s distress—“the noise is the pain.” This distress, the distress of constant, ineluctable exposure to noxious sound, so that the sound becomes laminated to the pain it causes, is uniquely anthropogenic—not uniquely human in its experience, but in its causes. The fact that music is intrinsically satisfying is often held up as one of the great mysteries of human experience, but the more we learn about the evolutionary and functional sources of music’s pleasurable nature, the clearer it is that these are not unique to humans. The tendency to groove, to spontaneously entrain to a rhythmic pulse, has emerged a number of times in animal evolution—and, if we slow time down, so that the duration of a beat becomes that of a day, we can see that it is not so different from other forms of rhythmic entrainment common to plant and animal modes of sensing.Josh Berson, “Cartographies of Rest: The spectral envelope of vigilance,” in Felicity Callard, Kimberley Staines, and James Wilkes (eds), The Restless Compendium: Interdisciplinary Investigations of Rest and Its Opposites. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016, pp. 91–8.
Neither is improvisation in pitch series limited to humans.Hollis Taylor, “Blowin’ in Birdland: Improvisation and the Australian Pied Butcherbird,” Leonardo Music Journal 20 (2010): pp. 79–83.
What is uniquely human is the tendency to construct acoustic environments that are abidingly painful, or at least unpleasant. In part, this is an outcome of sound’s unique relationship to pain. When a smell causes an aversive reaction, we don’t think of it as painful—disgusting, but not painful. Optical stimuli can be painful, but in the absence of photophobia—generally a product of inflammation in the eyes—it takes significantly more gain in the optical signal before we call it painful. By contrast, painfully loud sounds are common, and you don’t need any particular inflammatory condition of the cochlea to experience them as such. Sound represents a highly refined form of touch, the basilar membrane of the cochlea serving as a tonotopic amplifier for the vibratory pressure of air compression and rarefaction on the tympanum, and this may have something to do with the fact that sounds can be noxious—painful—in a way optical and olfactory stimuli generally cannot. (Among the recent findings in the functional anatomy of tinnitus is that deafferentation in the cochlea leads to upregulation of somatosensory inputs to the cochlear nucleus, so that tactile and enteroceptive sensations come to exert greater influence—of what kind is not known—on activity in the cochlear nucleus.)
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Scanning Electron Microcrope (SEM) images showing the degenerative process of the hair cells from a rat organ of Corti. Marc LeNoir 2016

But, of course, it is not just that sound is intrinsically easier to construe as painful; it is also that we manipulate our acoustic environment, and that of the other living things with which we share space. Among humans, the earliest instruments of organized sound-making were the voice and the hands, and then perhaps came lithic implements—handaxes, choppers, scrapers, the core-and-flake artifacts of the Acheulean industries, whose horizon spanned more than a million years from the earliest dispersals of Homo erectus out of East Africa through the appearance of archaic humans in the sapiens and neandertal clades. In A Million Years of Music, Tomlinson sketches an Acheulean “taskscape” in which the percussive sounds of flake production reinforced the cooperative character of lithic manufacture and food preparation, providing a tactus, a metrical pulse, tink tink tink—something for individuals to entrain to. At a later date, enclosures bordered by exposed rock surfaces came to serve as resonators, channeling the anthropogenic sound created within them. These spaces acquired special significance, perhaps as places for carrying out increase rituals, something attested in the rock art that is prominently associated with highly resonant sites.Díaz-Andreu et al., “The sound of rock art.”
But it was the control of proteinaceous materials—bone, antler, wood, reed, hide, hair, nerves, and, at length, silk—that most radically transformed the human capacity to produce time-bounded—episodic—acoustic environments. With protein-based materials, humans could create a wider range of resonators: wider in pitch range, in timbral characteristics (overtone series, spectral envelope), and wider and suppler in the range of affordances these resonators offered for controlling pitch, dynamics, timbre, and the attack-decay-sustain-release envelope. With the emergence of organic resonators—bone aerophones such as those found in eastern and western Eurasia from 30,000 years ago—we can begin to imagine, however tenuously, made sound in the way we think of it today.Ibáñez et al., “Use and sonority.”
The capacity to create episodic acoustic environments is focally implicated in the capacity to reliably induce the marked states of being that have been ubiquitous in the history of medicine down to the present (think of eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing, or ASMR, to give two contemporary examples Debra Stein, Cécile Rousseau, and Louise Lacroix, “Between innovation and tradition: The paradoxical relationship between eye movement desensitization and reprocessing and altered states of consciousness,” Transcultural Psychiatry 41, no. 1 (2004): pp. 5–30; Emma Barratt and Nick Davis, “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR): A flow-like mental state,” PeerJ 3: e851 (2015), doi 10.7717/peerj.851.
). By now we understand—a bit—how driving rhythms, whether on the Acheulean taskscape or in a gym or dance club, work to create states of heightened absorption and suggestibility—trance—in the individual and kinesthetic entrainment—Durkheim’s “collective effervescence”—in the group.Josh Berson, Computable Bodies: Instrumented Life and the Human Somatic Niche (London: Bloomsbury, 2015). M. Elamil, J. Berson, J. Wong, L. Buckley, and D. Margulies, “One in the dance: Musical correlates of group synchrony in a real-world club environment,” PLoS ONE (forthcoming).
But driving rhythms are just one dimension of how we shape our acoustic environment. The role of others, particularly manipulations of timbre, in shaping motor vigilance and mood remain poorly understood.Berson, “Cartographies of Rest.”
The shift to a biosphere dominated by anthropophony—human-generated sound—represents a change potentially farther-reaching than the introduction of ubiquitous artificial light. It is easy to point to urbanization as the main vector of change in the modal acoustic environment for humans and our cohabitant species.Hans Slabbekoorn and Ardie den Boer-Visser, “Cities change the songs of birds,” Current Biology 16, no. 23 (2006): pp. 2326–31.
But urbanization is just part of the story. We are also witnessing—more than witnessing, causing—a dramatic, global turnover in biome structure, from forest mosaic to open scrub and agricultural land.Erle Ellis, “Ecology in an anthropogenic biosphere,” Ecological Monographs 85, no. 3 (2015): pp. 287–331; Craig Allen, David Breshears, and Nate McDowell, “On underestimation of global vulnerability to tree mortality and forest die-off from hotter drought in the Anthropocene,” Ecosphere 6, art. 129 (2015): p. 129.
If you think of the Earth’s surface as a resonator, it is not just that we are introducing new sounds into the resonator. We are also remaking the resonator itself, and remaking it, by and large, in the direction of greater reflectance and greater spectral spread. We are creating environments more conducive to the high-frequency broadband sound sometimes called urban drone. Does this mean we are all at risk for long-term threshold elevation—a kind of numbing effect, an attenuation of our capacity to pick out low-intensity sounds in these frequency bands, which might contribute to tinnitus? Who knows. It’s plausible as a hypothesis, but the long-term effects of ongoing exposure to broadband sound below the threshold of pain are poorly understood and difficult to model in the laboratory.Xiaoming Zhou and Michael M. Merzenich, “Environmental noise exposure degrades normal listening processes,” Nature Communications 3, art. 843 (2012): 843, doi: 10.1038/ncomms1849.
In order to study them in the world we would need a much more precise vocabulary for describing the painful qualities of sound, something more than “The noise is the pain.Cf. Shigeshi Kuriyama, The Expressiveness of the Body and the Divergence of Greek and Chinese Medicine. New York: Zone Books, 1999, pp. 46–9.
At this point, the standard move would be for me to say that, in fact, there is no difference of kind between anthropophony and other kinds of biophony, nor, indeed, between biophony and geophony (sounds of wind, water, etc.)—that is, to point out the brittleness of efforts to split off culture from nature. But I’m not interested in differences of kind. I’m interested in differences of degree. And once we start asking about differences of degree, we can formulate testable claims about grade shifts between the qualities of different kinds of sounds. By grade shift, I mean this: imagine a scatter plot with a regression line summarizing the trend between the two dimensions of the plot. Let’s say the points on the plot represent sounds, and the X dimension organizes those sounds according to some acoustic feature. It could be intensity. It could be fundamental frequency. It does not much matter. The Y dimension organizes the sounds according to how painful they are. Imagine whatever procedures you wish for assessing painfulness. So now, we have a slope relating painfulness to some characteristic of the sound. Some of the points on the plot represent sounds arising from human activity. Others represent sounds not arising from human activity. Again, if this seems too brittle, imagine not two categories but ten, a gradient of human causation. Now watch as points fade out, leaving only those with greater human causation. As the plot thins out, the regression line rises—across the board, sounds are more painful. If this strikes you as crude and tendentious, of course it is. Lying awake at four in the morning, I am struck by how my own tinnitus—unilateral left, my one hearing ear, usually a reedy whistling at about 10,000 Hz—resembles the chirping of insects on Hiroki Sasajima’s Colony (2012).Hiroki Sasajima, Colony, audio recording: Impulsive Habitat, 2012, ihab040 [online](http://www.impulsivehabitat.com/releases/ihab040.htm).
Hiroki’s work exemplifies a subgenre of ambient music where the sound consists in minimally processed field recordings and part of the pleasure of listening comes from picking out where the artist has diverged from the source material. Hiroki’s insect recordings were made with recording devices left out overnight in weatherproof enclosures in places with little to no human-generated sound.Cathy Lane and Angus Carlyle, In the Field: The art of field recording. London: Uniformbooks, 2011.
If you lie on the floor with your eyes closed, listening, you could imagine yourself to be lying in a clearing in a wilderness reserve, late at night. If these recordings resemble tinnitus, then clearly what is painful about tinnitus is not just its spectral envelope but also the context in which we experience it. And indeed, it is possible, with practice, to dissociate the sound of tinnitus from the pain of it, and this has been found to be more effective than other treatments (pharmacological, transcranial magnetic stimulation) that target the neurological dimensions of phantom sound directly.Shore et al., “Maladaptive plasticity in tinnitus,” p. 156.
All the same, we had better start thinking more clearly about the relationship between sound and pain. We spend our lives bathed in sound, all of us—Deaf and hearing alike—when we are sleeping no less than when we are awake, we are alive to the ongoing vibratory fluctuations of pressure in the air, water, and viscous gels that make up our environment. Asphalt and glass, wood and rubber, polycarbonate and steel, earth and stone, the tissues of our bodies and those of other living things, all of them vibrate, and we take these vibrations in, through the finely innervated skin surfaces of our toes and fingers, the plantar and palmar surfaces of our feet and hands, our legs, trunk, and back, through the proprioceptive stretch receptors of our ligaments, tendons, and fasciae, the baroreceptors of our arteries and veins, the gravity receptors of our inner ears, and, among the hearing, the specialized acoustic receptors of the cochlea. Sound is pervasive and inescapable, it is integral to how we experience the world and to how we ascribe value to different environments, it mediates our experience of stress and relaxation, fatigue and alertness, pain and pleasure. And yet, to date we have practically no language for talking about the justice or injustice of different kinds of acoustic environments, nor for talking about how different ways of experiencing sound shape and are shaped by power, inequality, and violence.