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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
  • Eberhard Faust
  • 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
  • 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.
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      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–).
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      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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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.
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      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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3. Rifts, Cycles, and Recycles

The human body produces five hundred liters of urine and fifty liters of feces per year. This is equivalent to about half a kilogram of phosphorus. One day’s urine from an adult is sufficient to fertilize a square meter of cropped area for each cropping period.
Phosphorus is not actually scarce. It is constantly produced and excreted in the feces of living beings. The modern agrarian system has actually created an overflow of phosphorus in natural habitats that leads to the eutrophication of waterscapes, the destruction of natural environments and the emergence of new habitats and ecologies. We are all part of global and local phosphate cycles that we co-produce and that we are part of. Arno Rosemarin’s text shows how rifts in the global phosphorus flows and in local sanitation cycles have to be closed, in order to create a better chance that global food security can be achieved. While his research concentrates on closing the gaps in the phosphorus cycles and calls for a more efficient use of natural fertilizers like human excreta, Scott Knowles study shows, how excessive use of phosphate-based chemical fertilizer causes severe kidney disease in the bodies of farm workers. Zachary Caple’s text introduces supermarkets as a key technology for converting the lithosphere into human bodies and growing populations. How do mines, plantation fields, and human eaters come together in a scalable technospheric apparatus?
“The present way we use phosphorus is more like driving a car at top speed down the highway with no fuel gauge on the dashboard, and we will do nothing until we first run out of gas” —Duncan Brown
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Phosphorus: a limited resource

Linking sanitation and agriculture
A closer look is necessary to understand how sanitation and agriculture can be linked. The concept of ecological sanitation seeks to develop sanitation systems for human excreta that close the nutrient and water cycles. For example, nutrient recycling from human waste can be achieved by using soil composting and urine-diverting dry toilets. Such systems are particularly appropriate in rural and peri-urban areas of developing countries where farmers cannot afford chemical fertilizers. Ecological sanitation has the potential to be a useful alternative to generate fertilizer in subsistence farming.
The average human produces five hundred liters of urine and fifty liters of feces per year. This is equivalent to about 5.5 kg of NPK (4 kg of nitrogen, 1 kg of potassium and 0.5 kg of phosphorus) per capita per year varying from region to region depending on food intake. The rule of thumb is that one day’s urine from an adult is sufficient to fertilize a square meter of cropped area for each cropping period. is means one year of urine from a person can support agriculture over an area of about three hundred to four hundred square meters. If used mainly as a phosphorus fertilizer (i.e., requiring a supplement of nitrogen), one person’s urine over a year can support even larger areas of between five hundred and six hundred square meters.
Calculations show that sub-Saharan Africa could become self-sufficient in fertilizer supply if it were to adopt productive or ecological sanitation practices. This would provide the necessary supply of nutrients to smallholder farmers and provide food security and new opportunities for income. In trials in seven villages in Niger, Dagerskog and Bonzi (2010) found that ten persons (the average family size is nine) annually excrete in their urine the equivalent of about fifty kilogram of urea in purchased chemical fertilizer. In their feces and the non-nitrogen part of the urine they excrete about fifty kilogram of prepared NPK fertilizer worth about eighty USD.
Plots using urine as a fertilizer produced comparable or ten to twenty per cent higher yields of sorghum and millet compared with plots receiving chemical fertilizer at the same nitrogen application rate. In trials with tomato, onion, cabbage, lettuce and pepper, urine, which contains potassium, phosphorus and nitrogen, acted as a complete fertilizer producing consistently twenty to fourty-five percent higher yields in comparison to urea alone. The objective in this IFAD project was to encourage farmers to use urine instead of the expensive synthetic urea.
The rule of thumb from this project was that one person excretes in urine and feces per year on the average 2.8 kilogram of nitrogen, 0.4 kilogram of phosphorus and 1.3 kilogram of potassium. This is sufficient to fertilize a cereal or vegetable crop covering three hundred square meters. To avoid loss of ammonia from stored urine, sealed containers are used. Responding to the increasing interest in recycling of phosphorus and other nutrients from sanitation systems, WHO, UNEP, and FAO developed guidelines for the safe reuse of human excreta in agriculture.

Struvite is now being produced using urine as the sole source of phosphorus in villages of Nepal. The phosphorus loop for rural populations can therefore be closed without too much change in the make-up of the present systems. For urban systems the challenge is much larger since the waste systems have not been designed with agricultural reuse in mind. For those cities with sewage treatment systems, the sludge is a significant source of phosphorus. The organic fraction of municipal solid waste is also a significant source of phosphorus since this constitutes between fifty and seventy percent of the waste produced.
In order to make this jump to sustainable or productive sanitation requires a paradigm shift in the way we design and use sanitation and solid waste systems. Mixing reduces the quality of the various products. So this calls for source separation of urine, feces and grey-water, containment of the various fractions, treatment (e.g., through composting of the feces fraction), and then reuse of the nutrients in agriculture of various kinds. In urban settings where sludge can be collected from pit latrines, septic tanks and sewage treatment plants, considerable amounts of phosphorus can be collected and made available for agricultural reuse.
For EU-27, it is estimated that one-third of the phosphorus used as fertilizer can be obtained from the sludge in sewage treatment plants (based on data from an EU assessment by Milieu Ltd. et al., 2009). If the manure from domestic farm animals is included, then the entire fertilizer requirement can be covered through recycled sources. In Sweden, with improved fertilizer and manure practices, municipal sludge could, within a decade, replace fifty to sixty-five percent of the P originating from chemical fertilizer.
Global phosphorus flows
Bennett et al. (2001) reviewed the literature on the global phosphorus cycle and concluded that phosphorus applied as fertilizer accumulates in the soil and eventually becomes eroded creating nutrient loading to receiving water bodies. Cordell et al. (2009) also estimated the global flows of phosphorus, showing that of the fifteen megatons of phosphorus that is used each year in fertilizer, only three megatons end up being consumed in the form of prepared food.
Significant losses to the soil and erosion amount to approximately eight megatons. Domestic farm animals produce about fifteen megatons of phosphorus in the form of manure and about half of this is added back to arable lands to grow crops. The bulk of the phosphorus in the manure (12 Mt) is from grazing natural vegetation and only about 2.5 megatons enter from feed. The grazers therefore are an important source of phosphorus for agriculture and, as mineral sources become more depleted and more expensive, the role of grazers, especially on rain-fed, natural grasslands, may become even more important also as a source of food protein.
The largest losses are from agriculture, which uses and loses the most phosphorus. Reforms are necessary to reduce the erosion losses and optimize the amounts used as fertilizer. Losses from manure handling also need to be reduced. Waste and sanitation systems are presently not designed for reuse and recycling. Source separation of organic fractions is necessary both in food processing and preparation. Nutrient capture from sludge and wastewater systems plus onsite collection of solid waste and latrine fractions will become more and more economically attractive as the price of fertilizer increases.
Poor countries will be able to close the loop on phosphorus faster than the rich countries – since they are less locked into the large mixed waste and sanitation systems that developed countries have adopted. These, unfortunately were designed to get rid of waste and not to refine, recycle and reuse it as a valuable, readily available resource. The present tendency is to continue building and expanding these mixed waste systems as the world becomes more and more urbanized (now over fifty percent of the global population).
Urban agriculture in an ideal world would be receiving nutrients from the cities it supports. But there is a long way to go before such systems are put into place. At the present time, over seven hundred million people in fifty countries consume food from twenty million hectar of land irrigated with untreated sewage. This practice will increase as cities become larger and the need to produce food increases. If such systems had been designed from the start for agricultural reuse, the spreading of pathogens and parasites could have been reduced.
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The Phosphate Cycle sketched on a napkin by Gregory Cushman during a train ride

The urgent need for policies and governance
The above discourse identifies gaps in policies and governance that may already be jeopardizing the food security of several nations. There is an acute need for a directive and governance capacity to dictate policy on the sustainable management and use of phosphorus. A global convention and implementation commission is required in order to secure the limited supply of commercially viable phosphorus and to begin using it in a much more conservative manner than up to now. The commission would full the need for an independent monitoring capacity in order to increase transparency about the extent of viable phosphorus reserves. The commission would also promote more efficient agricultural practices, both in the use of chemical fertilizer (e.g., through better fertilizer placement and reduced applications) and in the use and storage of manure in order to minimize losses. Implementation in developing countries could be catalyzed through FAO and IFAD extension interventions.
There is also a need to develop new recycling systems from waste and sanitation sources that are designed around agricultural requirements (e.g., to produce floc in sewage treatment plants that is crop-available and to introduce source separation of waste components in order to optimize fertilizer quality). Implementation could be catalyzed through UN Habitat and UNEP, which has already shown an interest in the phosphorus question (UNEP, 2011). Tax incentives could be introduced to promote investments in closed-loop systems. It is of prime importance that the various waste and sanitation sectors better integrate themselves in the agriculture sector to provide new and more sustainable solutions that will secure a high level of efficiency in the use and reuse of phosphorus.
Enviropig
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The Enviropig, illustration by Malte Gruner
For centuries, animal and human excreta have been added to farmland to supply nutrients for growing crops. Farmers in most parts of the world still consider animal manure a valuable soil amendment. To recover nutrients, including the phosphorus in human excreta, a wide range of technologies are being developed, ranging from low-cost, small-scale systems to expensive high-technology ones. ‘Ecological sanitation’ recovery systems for human excreta are designed to close nutrient and water cycles.
For example, nutrient recycling from human waste can be achieved using urine-diverting dry toilets. Such on-site systems are particularly appropriate in rural and peri-urban areas, where households are not connected to sewerage or farmers do not have access to—or cannot afford—chemical fertilizers. Trials in villages in Niger by Dagerskog and Bonzi (2010) found that an average rural family of nine persons excreted the equivalent of chemical fertilizer worth about eighty dollars per year. The urine component produced comparable or ten to twenty percent higher yields of sorghum and millet, compared to the same amount of nutrients applied as chemical fertilizer.
During the past decade, researchers have started to focus on reducing phosphorus losses by developing ways to improve phosphorus uptake
by animals. In particular, intensive pig rearing produces massive volumes of phosphorus-rich manure. Monogastric animals such as the pig are unable to break down phytate, the major form of phosphorus in their feed. Phosphorus is therefore added to their diet as an inorganic supplement, but much of it is excreted due to low uptake in the gut. Scientists at the University of Guelph in Canada have developed a genetically engineered Enviropig able to digest phytate.
This decreases the need for an inorganic phosphorus supplement. Other research groups are developing low-phytate crops or focusing on the production of phytase, an enzyme that helps animals to digest phytate.
The original and full text was published in On the water front: selections from the 2010 World Water Week in Stockholm / [ed] Jan Lundqvist, Stockholm: SIWI , 2011, 74-83 p. Information on the Enviropig taken from the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP YEARBOOK, EMERGING ISSUES IN OUR GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT, 2011, Phosphorus and Food Production.


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Phosphorus Politics

The Case: CKDnT
Kidney disease is killing sugarcane workers in Central America at alarming rates. A 2013 article in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) estimates that 20,000 men have died in an epidemic referred to as Chronic Kidney Disease of non-traditional causes (CKDnT), or sometimes as Mesoamerican nephropathy (MeN). Sugarcane workers mostly, in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Mexico are dying of renal failure, but without the normal epidemiological profile. In 2009 kidney disease was the second leading cause of death for men in El Salvador according to the AJPH, and CKDnT mortality in affected areas is five times higher than national rates in Nicaragua and Costa Rica. The normal causes of kidney disease—hypertension and diabetes—are not present among these workers, and they often don’t know they are seriously ill until the disease has progressed beyond hope of recovery.
The lack of kidney disease registries has made it difficult for public health officials to say exactly when this epidemic emerged. The first paper documenting CKDnT in Latin America was published in 2002, and the Pan American Health Organization did not acknowledge it as a serious health issue until 2013. The suffering and premature death of victims, the trauma to agricultural communities, and the overwhelming cost to overburdened health systems define a disaster that is enormous and still growing.
But, the story does not end in Central America. Northern Sri Lankan rice farmers are also dying at a rapidly increasing rate from CKDnT. It is estimated that 400,000 suffer from kidney disease, with 20,000 dying annually. The scale of the disaster in Sri Lanka and the recent publication of research linking CKDnT in Sri Lanka to agricultural fertilizers and herbicides moved President (and former health minister) Maithripala Sirisena to take action. In May of this year he announced that the country would ban the import and use of glyphosate, the world’s most widely-used agricultural herbicide.
The Artefact: “Roundup”
Glyphosate (a compound of glycine and phosphonic acid) often goes by the trade name “Roundup,” and was first produced by the Monsanto Company (USA) in 1974. Monsanto retains its own phosphorus mine in Soda Springs, Idaho in order to provide the raw materials for Roundup. Though Monsanto remains a major producer, Chinese companies today manufacture the largest percentage of glyphosate worldwide, and other manufacturers include BASF, Dow, and DuPont. Though it has now lost the exclusivity of its patent, Monsanto has retained competitiveness through the marketing of its genetically-modified “Roundup Ready” seed stocks. In a feat of chemical wizardry, Monsanto has made it possible for farmers to now grow plants that are resistant to a remarkably powerful herbicide. The crops survive, the weeds around them die.
The theory of glyphosate poisoning runs basically as follows: glyphosate enters the soil and water and bonds to heavy metals like cadmium and arsenic. After use, glyphosate by-products make their way into water supplies, and eventually into bodies, with the heavy kidney-function-disrupting metals included. Another theory holds that glyphosate is only part of the problem, and that glyphosate toxicity is augmented by the rapid expansion of phosphorus fertilizer use.
The rapid and recent intensity of phosphorus fertilizer application in Sri Lanka means more workers are exposed to products that are themselves contaminated with heavy metals. So, be it from fertilizer or from herbicide—there is a strong case being made that phosphorus sits at the root of the problem. Research is it an early stage, and multi-causal explanations are appealing. For example, chemical exposure combined with dehydration from difficult agricultural work may be a tough one-two punch for sufferers.
Phosphorus Apparatus: Government, Industry, and Public Health Science
Field of Impact #1: Government
Sri Lanka’s policy response to the CKDnT epidemic came shortly after the announcement in March of this year by the World Health Organization (WHO) that glyphosate is “probably” also a carcinogen, a result of a study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The Sri Lanka policy action comes in the middle of debate in the EU over banning glyphosate (still controversial), a move initiated by Denmark in 2003. The Netherlands banned the herbicide in 2014 and France has done so this year. Brazil, Germany, and El Salvador may not be far behind. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has never listed Roundup as a carcinogen, but will now undertake a new study in light of the WHO report.
Field of Impact #2: Industry
Perhaps the manufacturers of glyphosate will get ahead of the crisis: the Chinese government, for example, has pledged about one hundred million dollars to build a specialized hospital for treating CKDnT in Sri Lanka (Chinese companies exports vast quantities of phosphorus fertilizer to Sri Lanka). Monsanto has taken a more combative path, seeking to undermine the scientific validity of the CKDnT- cancer linkage. Monsanto immediately demanded a retraction of the 2015 WHO study, complaining that it is “biased and contradicts regulatory findings that the ingredient, glyphosate, is safe when used as labeled.” The phosphorus industry has also strongly denounced what it sees as unfounded connections among sick farmers, phosphorus fertilizer, and glyphosate.
A skeletal critique of phosphorus fertilizers and herbicides may grow flesh if and when the EU takes action, or when (if?) the U.S. EPA changes its mind about the “wizardry” of Monsanto. The so-called climate change “debate” in the United States has shown us the dangers of “waiting for scientific consensus” as a tactic of industrial producers who wish to keep sales high amid mounting evidence of harm. Still, the uncertainties of public health etiology do not necessarily inhibit the formation of public opinion against a perceived pollutant—and from this flows the “Politics of Phosphorus,” or at least a possibility for politics.
Field of Impact #3: Public Health Science
“Global phosphorus” has effects at different scales—and one of these scales is that of the body of the individual farm worker. But can one sick worker, or even a few hundred thousand sick workers build a case against Monsanto? Discussion of the Technosphere invites us to think about the flow of material commodities like phosphorus—not only to study the “life story” of industrial materials, but also to locate the “apparatus” created when different actors (human and nonhuman) are drawn into a relationship.
The slow disaster of phosphorus depletion through mining is compounded by the expanding and unregulated flow of phosphorus waste. Eutrophication is one result—and now we see the possibility of another grim phosphorus transformation—as an agent of heavy metal accumulation in the bodies of farmers. Cautious policymakers are already showing that they are not willing to wait for one hundred percent certainty on glyphosate-CKDnT-cancer linkages before taking action. Whether or not farmers in developing countries dying of kidney disease will force a new Silent Spring moment remains to be seen. In the meantime, the global demand for rice and sugar is increasing all the time, and so is the demand for phosphorus and its many manufactured formats.


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Scalability and Supermarkets

Economies of scale organize our lives. The ability to “scale up” modes of production, to make more and more stuff, is a hallmark of the capitalist world-system. Scalability structures our factories and plantations, but it also shapes our political ideologies and every-day culture. What would it mean to investigate the networked cultural spaces of the technosphere through the lens of scalability?
In my fieldwork in Florida, I study how the phosphate fertilizer industry has reached scalable proportions and transformed Florida ecosystems in the process. Florida is a convenient place to study phosphorus scalability: it has one of the world’s most important phosphate mines and it has a politically powerful agricultural sector that consumes phosphate fertilizers on an industrial scale. It also has the essential third component: lots and lots of human eaters.
How do phosphate mines, plantation fields, and human eaters come together in a scalable technospheric apparatus? One key technology for converting the lithosphere into human bodies and growing populations is so ordinary it fails to spark our curiosity: the supermarket. The prefix super- is a clue that scalability is at work. Row upon row of identical can goods and uniform heaps of blemish-free produce are signatures of scalable design. In the United States, the supermarket is configured for the automobile—an icon of mass production. Almost always embedded in shopping centers with spacious parking lots, the supermarket is a mixture of suburban life and an apparatus of sprawl.
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Publix Supermarket in the Southgate Shopping Center, 2515 S. Florida Ave, Lakeland, FL

Phosphate artifact
Bone Valley is a phosphate-rich geological region in Central Florida. Located within its boundaries is the sprawling city of Lakeland and the headquarters of Publix, the seventh largest supermarket chain in the U.S. In 1957, with great public spectacle, Publix founder George Jenkins unveiled the Southgate Shopping Center in Lakeland. The Southgate Shopping Center represented the state-of-the-art in American merchandising. Sixteen stores, including a Woolworth’s, a “Beauteria,” and, of course, a Publix supermarket, were grouped together under a 67-ton red parabola—an architectural flourish that has become a local landmark.
In developing Southgate, Jenkins helped pioneer a new trend in the supermarket industry: building and owning whole shopping centers, instead of just occupying them. During my fieldwork in Florida, I did not study supermarkets or the Publix chain, but I did do my shop- ping at the Southgate Publix. As I shopped—a cartoon of the anthropogenic phosphorus cycle etched in my mind—I contemplated the strange layering of phosphate geology the store embodied: below ground—an unmined layer of the Bone Valley formation; above ground—Bone Valley phosphate rock masquerading as food and human flesh.
Field of impact: Hollywood
In the 1990 Tim Burton in Edward Scissorhands, the differently dexterous Frankenstein, Edward, has turned up in Anywhere USA. It’s the 1980s (or is it the 1950s?) and Edward is shaking things up in a pastel-colored subdivision with avant-garde topiary and hairdos. At the midpoint of the movie, the camera fixes on the Southgate Shopping Center’s parabolic arc. Edward , at the peak of his popularity, with Joyce, the vampish redhead, is giving Edward a tour of the vacant retail space where she hopes to launch a salon. Joyce’s business dreams are anything but innocent: she has turned Edward’s physical difference into a sexual fetish. Her seduction of Edward in the Lakeland mall ends in comedic failure, but it also marks a turning point in the story as Edward shifts from being a celebrated curio to a reviled other.
Edward Scissorhands offers a critical allegory of Anywhere USA and its culture of scalability. In Anywhere USA, the nuclear family nourishes; progress is synonymous with growth; and cultural difference is alternately appropriated or targeted for eradication.
Field of impact: Florida statutes 211.32 / 370.021
The Southgate plaza sits at the center of Burton’s critical myth as an icon of American modernity; but Southgate also exists as a real piece of infrastructure in the sprawling city of Lakeland. In Florida, Publix supermarkets are a strategic technology of suburban expansion: city and county planners, real estate developers, and Publix representatives work separately and together to ensure that roads, sewer, and supermarkets are available to the ever-expanding periphery.
By the 1970s Lakeland had expanded well beyond its 1957 boundaries and encountered a limit to growth: unreclaimed phosphate mines. Old phosphate lands with their irregular pits and spoil piles, industrial debris, and precarious settling ponds are ruins of scalability. These lands require significant capital to reclaim. Real estate developers and the City of Lakeland petitioned the state to action.
In 1975, the State of Florida passed statutes 211.32 and 370.021. These statutes mandated phosphate fertilizer companies to reclaim all new mines to “beneficial use.” They also established the Non-mandatory Reclamation Fund, financed by a severance tax on phosphate, that ordered reclamation monies to owners of pre-1975 mines. With mandatory reclamation and the Non-mandatory Reclamation Fund in place, a limit to scalable suburban construction was overcome. Phosphate pits became lakefront property. This is the American Dream in ruins, literally.
Field of impact: Coalition for Immokalee workers
In March 2014, I joined the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ protest outside the flagship Publix of the Southgate Shopping Center. Farm workers and their allies chanted and waved tomato-shaped protest signs condemning Publix for failing to participate in the coalition’s Fair Food Program. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is a worker-led human rights organization that advocates social justice and fair labor practices in U.S. agriculture. Immokalee is the largest tomato-producing region in Florida. In the last decade, the Immokalee tomato industry’s image has been sullied by numerous prosecuted cases of contemporary slavery.
Exploitable labor, like phosphate fertilizers, is a critical feature of scalable agriculture. The Immokalee farm workers—deprived of shade, safe working conditions, and a livable wage—formed the CIW and mounted sophisticated political campaigns against big retailers that leverage low prices from growers. The Fair Food Program requires participating retailers to charge an extra penny per pound for tomatoes, resulting in millions of dollars in premiums that raise an average farm worker’s income from 11,000 USD to 16,000 USD a year.
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Coalition of Immokalee Workers, “Consumers stand alongside farmworkers outside of one of Florida’s first Publix stores in Lakeland, Florida,” 2013

CIW technologies of protests—its candlelight vigils, its colorful signs and banners, its network of activists using social media—have, in some cases, shifted cultures of scalability and the technosphere’s distribution of wealth. Walmart, McDonalds, and Subway have all signed onto the Fair Food Program. Publix, however, remains committed to a de facto policy of scalability without responsibility.