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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
    • 1
      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
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      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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4. Islands. Colonialism and Geopolitics

Understanding Australia’s phosphate mining history on Banaba puts into context its current controversial relationship with Nauru and Christmas Island (in the Indian Ocean) as refugee detention centers, so critical to the bipartisan Australian policy of stopping asylum seekers who come by sea at all costs.
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A piece of the phosphate rock doorstep (first mistaken as petrified wood) that led to the discovery of phosphate on Nauru and Banaba. Image by Nicholas Mortimer/Katerina Teaiwa

To Ruin
The Australian government, Australian investors, Australian mining company employees and their families, Australian fertilizer manufacturers and Australian farmers were many of the key stakeholders and beneficiaries of phosphate mining in the Pacific.See the papers of the British Phosphate Commissioners in CA244, National Archives of Australia, Papers of Maslyn Williams, MS 3936, 1850–1995, National Library of Australia; Henry Evans Maude and Honor Courtney Maude Papers and the archival film A Visit to Ocean Island and Nauru 1951–1973; Alec B. Costin and Colin H. Williams, Phosphorus in Australia.
Understanding Australia’s phosphate mining history puts into context its current controversial relationship with Nauru and Christmas Island (in the Indian Ocean) as refugee detention centers, so critical to the bipartisan Australian policy of stopping asylum seekers who come by sea at all costs.I am referring to the Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean—an Australian territory formerly mined by the British Phosphate Commissioners—not the Christmas or Kiritimati, Island that is in Kiribati and a wildlife sanctuary.
Nauru, Banaba and Christmas Island are open-cut phosphate mines previously worked by the British Phosphate Commissioners (BPC)—owned conjointly by the Australian, New Zealand and British governments—and operated out of centers in Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland and London.Williams and Macdonald; Macdonald; Katerina Teaiwa, Consuming Ocean Island.
The Nauru and Christmas Island detention camps, for example, are situated near old mining fields—Phosphate Hill in the case of Christmas and the phosphate-rich island center, in the case of Nauru.Nauru and Manus detention facilities, while funded and run by Australia, are not listed on the Australian Immigration Department website as they are offshore and subject to Nauruan and Papua New Guinea (PNG), rather than Australian law.
The three islands are deeply sedimented with decades of imperial force. Aside from the evidence in the vast amount of official documentation on the strategic value of phosphate to Australia in the National Archives, the National Library and various state libraries and collections across Australia, both Banabans and Nauruans took Australia to court over the impact of mining on their islands.This extraordinary trip of the High Court was captured in a television documentary produced by Jenny Baraclough, Go Tell It to the Judge (1977), BBC TV, UK.
The Banabans suedSee the positive overview of the work of Pinnacle, the Nauruan Rehabilitation Corporation, funded by Australia, and contrast with an interview with Australian engineer Surawski, "Nauru Rehabilitation Under Threat," Radio Australia, 22 March 2012
the Australian co-owned mining company in a case ending in 1976 that included 206 days of court hearings and a trip of the entire British High Court to Ocean Island. In 1989 Nauru took Australia to the International Court of Justice for underpaying phosphate royalties in the period of mining before independence in 1968. This resulted in an out of court settlement by Australia in 1993 and the establishment of the relatively unsuccessful Nauru Rehabilitation Corporation.

Nauru is now one of the most maligned countries in mainstream and popular media; Alexander Downer describing it in 2008 as the worst place he’d ever had to visit as Foreign Minister. Australia continues to influence the economic and political affairs of its former Pacific territories such as Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
With comparatively larger aid and other assistance packages, it is no coincidence that both countries were persuaded to host Australian refugee detention centers. Australian federal policy has been criticized for lacking compassion for international refugees who come by sea and contravening the UN Refugee Convention that Australia ratified in 1954.See Azadeh Dastyari, "Explainer: Australia’s Obligations under the UN Refugee Convention," The Conversation, 18 July 2013.
Both Nauru and Kiribati still use the Australian dollar as their major currency and both have not been fully rehabilitated as promised over the years by various incarnations of the predominantly Australian-run phosphate mining company.See a useful dialogue on Nauru and Banaba linking these themes, Rearvision: Nauru, with ABC journalist Keri Phillips and guests John Connell, Michael Field, Kevin Boreham and Tess Newton Cain (2 March 2014).
There is a lack of knowledge within the Australian public today of the country’s historical relationship with the central Pacific Islands in spite of widespread media and industry knowledge of the centrality of phosphate mining for Austra- lia’s economic growth for most of the twentieth century.Costin and Williams; Sydney Morning Herald, "Ocean Islanders."
Stories of Banaba’s phosphate riches and the concerns of native exploitation abound in iconic Austra- lian newspapers such as the Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Barrier Miner, and the Argus. In 1929 Captain Neill Green writing in Life described it as a "Modern Treasure Island":Captain Neill Green, "A Modern Treasure Island," Life, 2 December 1929, 509.
... a small insignificant speck, set in the midst of a vast expanse of water, Banapa [sic], or Ocean Island, as it is generally called, is one of Britain’s most valued possessions of its size in the Pacific. From it approximately 70,000 tons of Phosphate is taken annually.
Like the Australian government’s current "operation sovereign borders" (designed to stop the boats of asylum seekers coming to Australia’s shores) and associated media blackouts, phosphate was a matter of national security with numerous government and defense departments maintaining intelligence and tactical information on the three islands.
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Phosphate mining infrastructure left on the island after mining stopped in 1980.

While Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean was uninhabited before mining, the economic, social and environmental impacts on the indigenous peoples and lands of Nauru and Banaba have been devastating, and both communities are today some of the most socially and economically challenged in the region; the Banabans, resettled en masse to Fiji, now a precariously managed minority. The transformations brought by open-cut mining of small islands are deep and long-term.
The Nauruans, after a period of administration by Australia, gained independence in 1968 and continued to operate the mines. They were temporarily and notoriously wealthy which led to a dramatic transformation of diets, widespread obesity and diabetes. It also led to widespread misuse of funds, particularly by a global cadre of questionable investment advisers.

The Nauruan government eventually went bankrupt and in exchange for a multi-pronged bailout Australia became involved in its administration, continued mining and then created "the Pacific Solution," which established Nauru as a refugee detention center in 2001.See Greg Fry, "The Pacific Solution?" in Maley et al., Refugees and the Myth of the Borderless World (Canberra: Dept. of International Relations, RSPAS), 23–31.
The failure of the Nauru-Australia rehabilitation efforts set up in 2010 was described by Leon Surawksi, former employee of the Nauru Rehabilitation Corporation: "It’s a serious situation because there’s insufficient land to produce food for the population of Nauru...there’s no income, no means of producing food from the land...Nauru is in a very serious situation." Stoler asks:
What remains in the aftershocks of empire? Such effects reside in the corroded hollows of landscapes ... The question is pointed: How do imperial formations persist in their material debris, in ruined landscapes and through the social ruination of people’s lives?
Structural ruptures to Pacific cultures, such as those initiated by the introduction of Christianity, colonialism and mining, become compounded in complex material, economic, political and spiritual ways.

The resulting societies and states are often characterized by political scientists, international relations experts and political journalists from former colonial metropoles as unstable and corrupt. Greg Fry, analyzing the rise of a Pacific doomsday discourse constructed by Australian scholars, journalists and policy makers, critiqued this stance and Australia’s presumption of authority over the South Pacific in the 1990s:See Greg Fry, "The Pacific Solution?" in Maley et al., Refugees and the Myth of the Borderless World (Canberra: Dept. of International Relations, RSPAS), 30.
Like earlier Australian depictions of the Pacific Islands, the new doomsday- ism provides an interesting sounding of how Australians see themselves. At the center of such conceptions has been an unquestioned, and often unacknowledged, belief that Australia has a right, or even a duty, to speak for the inhabitants of this region, to represent them to themselves and to others, to lead, and to manage them. This belief was asserted long before Australia had the power to enforce it, indeed even before Australia was formally established in 1901 ... Australian policymakers continued to assert this belief over the next century, particularly at the end of the two world wars, and even more strongly from the mid-1970s, when Australia saw itself as the natural leader of the postcolonial South Pacific ... Although a familiar tendency in white Australia’s approach to Aborigines (the parallels are striking), the islands region has been the only area outside the continent where Australians have imagined themselves as colonizers and civilizers.

Today, even those to the left of the political spectrum, including many refugee advocates and supporters, have been scathing in their critiques of Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. The charge is that these countries are undesirable and unsuitable for refugees.See for example Thea Cowie, "What Future for Refugees on Manus and Nauru?," SBS (16 January 2014).
This was sharply amplified in an incident in which the "Youth of the Republic of Nauru" wrote angry letters to refugees stating:Sarah Whyte, "Nauruan Letter Threatens Island’s Refugees and Asylum Seekers," Sydney Morning Herald, 18 November 2014.
"Refugees are taking over all our job opportunities and spreading over our small congested community, making our lives miserable ... "
Clearly little had been put in place to raise awareness and understanding between refugee and Nauruan populations and little is said of Australia’s historical relationship of structural imperialism and exploitation of its Pacific neighbors. So when Nauruans respond to refugees and Australian personnel in less than hospitable ways they are judged by the Australian public not in terms of this history of structural exploitation, but as reinforcing the widespread belief that the islands are third world backwaters.

The ruin signaled by Stoler is multidimensional, for how else does a place like Nauru, once named "Pleasant Island", become one of inhospitable anger and despair? Much of this has to do with the imperial unravelling of fundamental relationships between islanders and their landscapes, commoditizing such places so that the break in hundreds of years of kinship with the land turns into a series of ruptures between people, each other and others.
This is not to deny agency to Pacific peoples who, since the arrival of Europeans in Oceania, have participated in their own transformation. But such agency does not negate the overwhelming power differential between Islanders and Europeans, a difference that results in the replacement of fresh fish with canned meat, dance with prayer, elders with pastors, businessmen, resident commissioners and eventually civil servants and politicians, and sustainable livelihoods with dependence on money, whether in the form of phosphate royalties or "aid" in the form of a refugee detention center.
Like the Nauruans, how did the Banabans, a people that had survived, and even thrived, on a six-square-kilometer rock island in the remote central Pacific in the face of regular harsh droughts and limited natural resources for two thousand years, become "ruined"?
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A map of Banaba juxtaposed with the "Phosphate House," which once stood on Collins Street in Melbourne. Next to it is an image of my hands holding a necklace with a pendant made from Banaban phosphate. It belongs to Helen Pilkinton who is also from Melbourne. Her father brought the rock back from Banaba after working there in the 1930s. White residents of the island were fond of converting it into jewelry. Essentially I’m holding a piece of my ancestral land while referencing the industry and community that mined it.

Growing the rock
There are several geological studies explaining the origins of phosphate on Banaba but it is worth highlighting the version outlined by British novelist and broadcaster Lucille Iremonger, who gave a lyrical and cynical account based on her visit to the island. In 1948 Iremonger was awarded the Society of Women Journalists’ Lady Britain trophy for the best book of the year for It’s a Bigger Life, chronicling her time in the Pacific as the wife of a colonial officer. She wrote:Lucille Iremonger, It’s a Bigger Life (London: Hutchinson, 1948).
Every time anyone opened his mouth on Ocean Island the word "phos- phate" came out. In no time, and much against my will, I knew all about it ... Everyone knows how a coral atoll is formed ... To turn a coral atoll into a phosphate island a few more centuries must pass. Very likely it sinks into the sea, once or several times...Sea water percolates through the birds’ deposits, carrying phosphoric acid into the rocks beneath...the acid is automatically converted into phosphate of lime. You have only to treat this with sulphuric acid and, hey presto! Superphosphate!...The British Phosphate Commissioners had added their contribution of weird- ness to ugliness. In the trail of their craggy diggings in the limestone bedrock they had left behind them strange shapes, ragged bumps, columns and protuberances of every sort. Row upon row of gnarled pinna- cles of porous rock as tall as trees gave the place a look as of some mediaeval inferno ... For hundreds of thousands of years the slow process of making an island like this had gone on. Then one day a man struck his foot against a "coral" door-stop in a Sydney office, and phosphate was discovered. The life of a Pacific island was changed before the inhabitants knew anything about it. The natives became rich, and the island was destroyed.
Ocean Island origins
Banaban oral history, as told to the late Professor H. E. Maude by Nei Tearia and Te Itirake in the 1930s, describes the origins of Banaba or "rock land"; "aba" also meaning "the people." Their stories combined describe how in the beginning heaven:
... was a rock lying over earth and rooted in the deep places of the sea. All the lands of the ancestors were embedded in the rock and stood out like hills atop it. Banaba was the buto, the navel, and all the multitude of lands and ancestors in Te Bongiro, the darkness, lay around it. Tabakea, the turtle lived on Banaba with Nakaa, his brother, Auriaria the giant, Tabuariki the shark and thunder, their sister, Tituabine, the stingray and lightning, and many others...Auriaria became the lord of Te Bongiro and he pierced the heavens with his staff. The rock fell into the sea, upside down with its roots in the air, burying Tabakea underneath. Auriaria then traveled southward until his foot struck a reef-rock. There he stayed and made a great land which he called Samoa. He met a razor clam called Katati which he flung into the East and that was the Sun. And again he took a shellfish called Nimatanin, and that was the Moon. Then he took the body of Riki, the eel, and laid it across the sky ... it is now the Milky Way. Then Auriaria planted a tree on Samoa, from which sprang a host of ancestors.
Maude wrote that Auriaria then returned to Banaba and his children are there to this day. But Auriaria’s children are not there but rather are spread across the Pacific after a process of forced migration. The Banabans were moved to Fiji in 1945 and in 1977 were offered a small ex-gratia payout of 10 million AUD for eighty years of mining and an unrecognizable landscape; they now struggle to support livelihoods across two home islands. There are now about 400 people on Banaba, 3,000 on Rabiband more across the Pacific, receiving minimal infra- structure or resources from the respective Kiribati and Fiji governments. My research was a process of tracking both the fragmented landscape and displaced population across Oceania, starting first with a visit to the now truly isolated island in 1997:
I arrived on Banaba on a government boat filled with all manner of cargo: women and children ... freely wandering chickens, ducks and dogs, tinned food of various sizes, sacks of rice, kilograms of pounded, paper-bagged kava ... In the absence of light of any kind, we somehow managed to dis- embark clutching our bags, and ascend slippery invisible steps ... I was placed on the back of a...motorbike which...sped up a bumpy, dark road to a grand but dilapidated house ... the building was ... named after Sir Albert Ellis, the man who had discovered phosphate on Ocean Island and Nauru in 1900. After a night mostly devoid of sleep I awoke to an extraordinary view. Banaba was a desiccated field of rocks and jagged limestone pinnacles jutting out of a grey earth with patches of dark green foliage. Roofless concrete buildings, rusted machines and corrugated iron warehouses littered the vista punctuated here and there by startling red flame trees and coconut trunks devoid of fronds ... The combination of jagged rock, rusted iron, and vast blue sea signaled not an idyllic island scene, but an industrial, oceanic wasteland.

Reflection
The Banaban story is one of cultural devastation and transformation illustrating the enduring effects of imperialism, but there are many more dimensions to this history. I have presented just a few here but will end on a more personal note. In the early 1990s my elder sister, Teresia Teaiwa, now a long serving secretary of the Pacific History Association, was put off from pursuing Banaban history by Professor Maude after he responded harshly to a letter seeking his expert advice on her proposed Ph.D. topic on Banaban gender relations, a theme absent in the archives and most published works. Maude, writing from Canberra, was of the opinion that a Banaban woman planning research, as she was, on the oral histories of other Banaban women would be dealing with "emotive" content and she would not be able to produce anything of a serious scholarly nature. He also wrote:
My wife and I were happy to meet ... members of the Rabi Island Council on our last visit to Suva, when we were given an official dinner to thank me for having bought such a lovely island for them and to assure us that after many vicissitudes they were all happily settled in their new home, with only a handful of unimwane and unaine [male and female elders] still desirous to return to Banaba to have their bones buried beside those of their forebears.
Teresia Teaiwa changed her research topic, but six years later wrote:
The whole reason for Banaban displacement is colonial agriculture. I like to say "agriculture is not in our blood, but our blood is in agriculture". if Banabans think of blood and land as one and the same, it follows then that in losing their land, they lost their blood. in losing their phosphate to agriculture, they have spilled their blood in different lands. their essential roots on ocean island are now essentially routes to other places. places like Fiji, New Zealand, and Australia.
As asylum seekers from across the globe seeking refuge in Australia are diverted to phosphate islands, one can, with knowledge of phosphate histories, imagine the ways in which the trajectories of both rocks and peoples intersect and illuminate the less than honorable relationships Australia has with particular peoples and places across the sea of islands.
The original and full text was published 2015 in Volume 46 of the Australian Historical Studies Journal under the title "Ruining Pacific Islands: Australia's Phosphate Imperialism."
According to ornithological speculation, the first sea birds appeared approximately 200 million years ago.   According to geological speculation, the island of Nauru appeared 50 million years ago.   According to historic speculation, Micronesian and Polynesian people inhabited Nauru about 3000 years ago.   According to the logbook of the British whaling ship "Hunter," its crew were the first Europeans to encounter the island in 1798. The crew did not set foot on the island and the Nauruans did not board the ship. Captain John Fearn named it Pleasant Island.   According to a recently published history book, the first Europeans to live on Nauru in 1830, were escaped Irish convicts Patrick Burke and John Jones (later referred to as "Nauru's first and last dictator"). The Nauruans banished Jones from the island in 1841. According to "Grundbuch Marshall-Inseln und Nauru" Prussian officials abolished the name Pleasant Island in 1888. Nauru was annexed by Germany and incorporated into the‚ Marshall Island’s Protectorate. The German gunboat SMS Eber landed 36 men on Nauru and took the twelve clan chiefs of Nauru hostage. Kings were established as rulers of the island.   According to the company books, Albert Ellis, prospector of the British Pacific Islands Company discovered phosphate on Nauru in 1900. The resource derives from a thousand-year cycle of bird droppings as they follow million-year-old flight paths across the Pacific. Ellis determined that a large rock from Nauru being used as a doorstop in the company’s Sidney office was rich in phosphate.   According to a contract from 1906, Britain divides the profits from phosphate mining with the German Jaluit-Society. Nauru is seized by Australian troops from Germany’s colonial administration in 1914. According to article 119 of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany renounces all rights over Nauru and other territories in the Western Pacific in 1919. According to the Nauru Island Agreement Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom created a board known as the British Phosphate Commission. It took over the rights to phosphate mining in 1919. According to medical records by the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics, the island experienced an influenza epidemic in 1920, with a mortality rate of 18% among native Nauruans. According to war reports, the German auxiliary cruisers "Komet" and "Orion" sank five supply ships in the vicinity of Nauru on 6 and 7 December 1940. Komet then shelled Nauru's phosphate mining areas, oil storage depots, and the shiploading cantilever. According to a post-war study conducted by the Australian military, Nauru is occupied by Japanese troops. 1,200 Nauruans, two-thirds of the population, are deported to Micronesia to work as forced laborers. Five hundred die from starvation or bombing. 1947 – Nauru is made UN Trust Territory under Australian administration. 1965 – The one-hit wonder "Unit 4 + 2" knocks "The Rolling Stones" off the number one spot in the charts with "Concrete and Clay." 1966 – Nauru Legislative Council elected. 1967 – Nauruans gain control of phosphate mining through Nauru Phosphate Royalities Trust, a sovereign wealth fund that distributes mining profits from the state owned mining company, The Nauru Phosphate Corporation. 1968 – Nauru becomes independent. Hammer DeRobert becomes its first president. 1969 – Nauru becomes associate member of Commonwealth. 1972 – The Nauru Government builds "Nauru House" – a 52-story skyscraper designed by architectural firm Perrott Lyon Timlock & Kesa at 80 Collins St, Melbourne. The building was sold in 2004 for 140 million Australian dollars. 1980’s – Due to global market forces, the price of phosphate soars, giving 80,000 Nauruans the highest per capita income in the world for several years. 1989 – United Nations Report for Pacific Island Developing Countries on greenhouse effect warns Nauru might disappear beneath the sea in the 21st Century. 1989 – Nauru sues Australia in the International Court of Justice for additional phosphate royalties dating back to trusteeship period, and compensation for mining damage. 1992 – Duke Minks a 47-year-old Liverpudlian, an adviser to the Nauruan government, and former road manager to Sixties one-hit wonder pop group "Unit 4 + 2" brings a tape recorder into the Nauruan parliament and plays extracts from the planned London musical "Leonardo the Musical – a Portrait of Love," featuring lyrics by the group’s former singer Tommy Moeller. He receives two million pounds to finance the musical – an investment that will supposedly help to put Nauru on the map and will pay back in dividends over the years. 1993 – Australia agrees to pay Nauru out-of-court settlement of 73m Australian dollars over 20 years. New Zealand and the UK agree to pay a one-time settlement of 8.2 million each. June 1993 – More than 150 Nauruan dignitaries, including president Dowiyogo, are due to fly to London for the opening night of the musical "Leonardo." As the pilot prepares the Nauru Air 737 for take-off, people, mostly women, swarm the tarmac to prevent the plane from leaving, yelling in protest and hanging onto the aircraft to try and keep it aground. The incident is later recognized as the first time women on Nauru started to organize. June 1993 – Leonardo da Vinci slaps the Mona Lisa on the bum, and asks her to “help me with my research” at the premiere of the "Leonardo" musical. July 1993 – The musical closes, with huge financial losses, within weeks due to terrible reviews. 1995 – The Bank of Nauru collapses. 1997 – Nauru Agency Corporation is a government body that handles state investments. It has one standard mailbox and 450 banks registered to it. 1997 – Duke Minks leaves music behind for the banking world, eventually becoming an executive of Citibank Australia, where Nauru was a major client. 1998 – According to Victor Melnikov, Deputy Chairman of the Russian Central Bank, and both The Washington Post and The New York Times, between 70-100 billion dollars were transferred from Russian banks to accounts of banks chartered in Nauru, primarily to evade taxes, making it a hub for global off-shore banking. 1999 – Nauru joins the United Nations. 2000 – The OECD lists Nauru in its Plenary Report as a global epicenter of offshore tax havens and money laundering. Nauru is listed as a "Non-Cooperative Country or Territory." 2000 to 2003 – The USA classify Nauru as a rogue state for money laundering and indiscriminate sale of passports. 2001 – Australian Prime Minister John Howard initiates ‘The Pacific Solution’. Australia pays Nauru to hold asylum seekers picked up trying to enter the country. December 2003 – Asylum seekers at Australia's offshore detention center on Nauru stage a hunger strike. April 2004 onwards – Nauru defaults on loan payments, its assets are placed in receivership in Australia. July 2004 – Australia sends officials to take charge of Nauru's state finances. September 2004– President Scotty sacks parliament after it fails to pass reform budget by deadline. 2005 – The Australian government refuses to rule Nauru out as a potential site for an off-shore nuclear waste plant. 2005 – Mining has devastated about 80% of Nauru's land area, 40% of marine life is estimated to have been killed by silt and phosphate runoff. December 2005 – Air Nauru's only aircraft is repossessed by a US bank after the country fails to make debt repayments. September 2006 – Australia sends Burmese asylum seekers to Nauru. March 2007 – Australia sends Sri Lankan asylum seekers to Nauru. February 2008 – Under Prime Minister Rudd, Australia ends its policy of sending asylum seekers into detention on small Pacific islands, with the last refugees leaving Nauru. January 2012 – Australia begins process of re-opening detention centers on Nauru at a cost of over 2 billion dollars. May 2016 – Omid, a 23-year-old Iranian refugee sets himself alight on Nauru, during a visit by United Nations refugee officials to the island.
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