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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
  • Ana Dana Beroš
    • chitect and curator focused on creating uncertain, fragile environments that catalyze social chan
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      published contributions
  • Pietro Daniel Omodeo
  • 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
  • Rohini Devasher
  • 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
  • Elaine Gan
  • 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
  • Jacques Grinevald
  • 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
  • Gerda Heck
  • 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
  • Sabine Höhler
  • Erich Hörl
  • Timothy Johnson
  • Peter K. Haff
  • Bernd Kasparek
  • 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
  • Matija Kralj
  • 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
  • Bruno Latour
  • 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
  • Esther Leslie
    • t theories of aesthetics and culture, with a particular focus on the work of Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno. It deals with the poetics of science, European literary and visual modern
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      published contributions
  • S. Løchlann Jain
  • Donald MacKenzie
  • Chowra Makaremi
  • Annapurna Mamidipudi
  • 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
  • Daniel Niles
    • terial, millenary and momentary—that their knowledge takes, and, finally, the significance of this experience to our understanding of t
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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
  • Giulia Rispoli
  • Sophia Roosth
    • t when researchers are building new biological systems in order to investigate how biology works. She holds a PhD from the Massachuse
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      published contributions
  • Arno Rosemarin
  • Kim Rygiel
    • f International Affairs in Waterloo, Canada. Her research focuses on border security, migration, and citizenship in North America and Europe. She investigates how citizens and non-citizens engage in citizenship practices and challenge notions
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      published contributions
  • Dorion Sagan
  • Isabelle Saint-Saëns
  • Birgit Schneider
  • Jens Soentgen
  • 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–).
    • 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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  • 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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  • 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
  • Sander van der Leeuw
    • ionships, and complex systems theory. He investigates the preconditions for and the practices and role of invention, sustainability, and innovation in societies. He has done
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      published contributions
  • 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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Carol M. Highsmith, 2008. Source: Library of Congress
Biosphere 2, Tucson, Arizona

Ecospheres: Model and Laboratory for Earth's Environment

The idea of a sealed habitable sphere has and continues to inform how life itself is understood. Tracing the historical roots of the miniature modeling of regenerative life systems and ecologies, historian of science Sabine Höhler encapsulates the varied technoscientific motives and consequences of experimenting with self-contained ecospheres and how they relate to the concept of life on Earth.

Life in a Bottle

One day in the late 1960s a microbiologist by the name of Clair Folsome, professor at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, went to the beach and scooped up seawater and sediment from the Pacific Ocean into a large glass jar. He sealed the jar tightly, left it sitting on a windowsill and nearly forgot about it, only to notice after days and weeks that the mixture of salt water and air, mineral and organic matter had not deceased but thrived. Folsome reasoned that the algae and microbes contained in the jar had been busy exchanging oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nutrients in a perfectly balanced and seemingly endless cycle. The bottled environment seemed to function as a small life-sustaining machine, powered by sunlight alone. The succession of material exchanges needed nothing else, as naught went to waste. As they fed on each other, the living creatures consumed, metabolized, and reproduced everything this wholly self-contained environment needed in order to survive as a whole. In his major work, The Origin of Life: A Warm Little Pond, in 1979, Folsome referred to enclosed ponds just like the one bathed in sunlight on his windowsill.Clair Edwin Folsome, The Origin of Life: A Warm Little Pond. San Francisco, CA: W. H. Freeman and Company, 1979.
He termed this self-sustained and stable tabletop microcosm the “ecosphere” (Figure 1).

Microcosm, Macrocosm

Miniature environments, tiny and yet encompassing such as the ecosphere, were well known in Folsome’s time. They had been studied not least in the form of the pond, a common social and ecological metaphor for the minimum viable habitat. The pond centered the village community and, since the late nineteenth century, it also represented the symbiotic community, or biocenosis, in emerging ecological thought.Frank Benjamin Golley, A History of the Ecosystem Concept in Ecology: More than the Sum of the Parts. London and New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993; Astrid E. Schwarz, Wasserwüste, Mikrokosmos, Ökosystem: Eine Geschichte der “Eroberung” des Wasserraumes. Freiburg: Rombach, 2003.
Similar biotopes in the form of aquaria, vivaria, and terraria had arrived at zoological gardens and also in private homes around the turn of the twentieth century.Christina Wessely, “Wässrige Milieus. Ökologische Perspektiven in Meeresbiologie und Aquarienkunde um 1900,” Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte, vol. 36, no. 1 (2013), Special Issue: “Der Ozean im Glas: Aquaristische Räume um 1900”: pp. 128–47.
An intriguing feature of these miniature environments was their glass technologies. Glass became crucial in the shaping of the notion of “environment” by way of carving out and separating segments of nature from their surrounding spaces.Kijan Malte Espahangizi, “Wissenschaft im Glas: Eine historische Ökologie moderner Laborforschung,” diss. ms., ETH Zurich, 2010.
Transparent glass containers allowed human beings to both distance themselves from their objects of study and to observe environmental changes and continuities close-up and in real-time.
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Figure 1: Five-Liter-Ecosphere. The caption on the card reads: “Date sealed: 1968. Collected from: Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. Made by: Professor C. Folsome. This is Professor Folsome’s oldest closed ecological system.” Source: John Allen, Biosphere 2: The Human Experiment. New York: Penguin Books, 1991, p. 13.

Folsome’s ecosphere was not perhaps a more fascinating, but certainly a more perplexing object of study than the common aquarium. The ecosphere set much stricter constraints on the living conditions inside. The glass container was completely sealed off from the outside world except for the energy it received from the sun, and yet its contents thrived. The ecosphere also proved more powerful as an epistemological tool. Despite being small, and because of being small, the closed system of the ecosphere could become a model for exploring questions about the principles of life, both in micro- and macro-scale communities. The ecosphere represented a totality in miniature, and this notion and the moving between scales of size it involved gave rise to new inquiries and imaginations.
The ecosphere represented the basic principles of life, minimally diverse and stripped to its simplest elements. Closely related to its minimalism was its self-containment. In the mixture of air and water, bacteria and algae were left to themselves in the sun “doing their ‘microbial thing,’” as the American systems ecologist John Allen would later phrase it.John Allen, Biosphere 2: The Human Experiment. New York: Penguin Books, 1991, p. 13.
The glass sphere provided an ideal container to observe and to theorize the process. The spherical form expressed perfect symmetry, which in turn conveyed that matter and energy could circulate in an ideal, undisturbed, and frictionless fashion. This ecological conception of perfection also expressed a notion of the balance and harmony of earthly life through time.
These imaginaries of the ecosphere nourished a notion of life as an eternal force and process. Understood not as an individual but as a collective or ecological property, life generated and was engendered by endless loops of nearly self-identical reproduction. The ecosphere forwarded a notion of life as a self-driving and self-driven force that was anti-entropic—it counteracted the ever-increasing entropy which any energy transaction entailed. These imaginaries of the ecosphere were flanked by the new biogeochemical conceptualizations of life typical of that time in the 1960s. Now the life sciences understood life as autoactive and directed, yet wholly contingent, and in its self-organizing capacity able to overrule the second law of thermodynamics.The ongoing discussion in the natural sciences about what Life is can perhaps best be captured by Erwin Schrödinger’s renowned work What is Life?, from 1944, and the recurring references to that volume over the decades. Erwin Schrödinger, What is Life? The Physical Aspect of the Living Cell [1944], in What is Life?: With Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992; see, e.g., Addy Pross, What is Life? How Chemistry Becomes Biology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Scaled to planetary size, the ecosphere allowed for an image and a model of the Earth itself as a spherical and wholly self-contained and self-sustained, timeless, and virtually perfect living environment.

Planet Earth, a Set of Spheres

By the time of Folsome’s experiments, the sphere already had a long history in the bio- and geosciences. Spheres were introduced to the Earth sciences in the nineteenth century as conceptual tools to describe and organize the organic and inorganic realms of the Earth in an ideal spatial form. The British geographer and natural philosopher Sir John Murray developed an expanded concept of “geospheres” in 1910, which would eventually also include the troposphere and stratosphere and form the basis of present-day geochemical and geophysical paradigms. Into the atmosphere—the sphere containing the thin shell of air surrounding the Earth’s surface—were nested, according to their extent, the hydrosphere, containing the ocean and freshwater bodies on the planet, and the lithosphere, the basic realm of soils and minerals forming the Earth’s crust.
The “biosphere” intersected with all of these concentric “envelopes of the earth.” The Austrian geologist Eduard Sueß had first defined the biosphere in 1875 as the sphere which encompassed all life on Earth.Eduard Sueß, Die Entstehung der Alpen. Vienna: Braunmüller, 1875, p. 158. Translations by Sabine Höhler.
Sueß reflected on the “zone” on an Earth “formed by spheres” to which organic life was constricted; “on the surface of continents,” he asserted, “it is possible to single out a self-contained biosphere.Ibid., p. 159.
In 1926 the Russian mineralogist and biogeologist Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky published his main work The Biosphere. His project of a “physics of living matter” added a powerful basis on which to study cycles of energy and matter within the earthly environment. Formulating a unified biospheric theory, Vernadsky translated the “self-contained” biosphere of Sueß into a “self-maintained” biosphere.Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky, The Biosphere. Heidelberg and New York: Springer and Copernicus, 1998, pp. 15, 91 [revised and annotated English trans. of the original Russian version, Biosfera. Leningrad: Nauka, 1926].
In a paper of 1958 the American ecologist LaMont C. Cole termed the sum of all interdependent ecosystems of the Earth’s atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and the surface layers of the lithosphere, the “ecosphere.LaMont C. Cole, “The Ecosphere,” Scientific American, vol. 198, no. 4 (1958): pp. 83–92; LaMont C. Cole, “Man’s Ecosystem,” BioScience, vol. 16, no. 4 (1966): pp. 243–48.
Cole’s ecosphere conceptualized planet Earth in its entirety as a materially closed and living ecological system powered by the Sun. This encompassing planetary ecosphere mapped directly onto Folsome’s bottled ecospheres; in turn, these offered both a model system and a laboratory to reflect on and experiment with the complexity and functionality of the Earth’s ecosphere in its entirety.
Howard T. Odum, American ecologist and a founding figure of ecosystem ecology, was one of several scientists who experimented with ecospheres as Earth analogs in the early 1970s, applying a strict ecosystem perspective and toolkit (Figure 2). Based on the studies of small living communities, Odum computed the daily power requirements for their “long-range survival” and sketched the production and consumption processes up to the planetary level.Howard T. Odum, Environment, Power, and Society. London and New York: Interscience-Wiley, 1971/1970, quote on p. 285.
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Figure 2: Closed Systems supported entirely by sunlight and their overall reactions. (a) Aquatic microcosm; (b) Terrestrial microcosm; (c) Biosphere; (d) Cycle of materials between production (P) and respiratory consumption processes (R); (e) Energy diagram for the systems: (a)–(c). Howard T. Odum, Environment, Power, and Society. London and New York: Interscience-Wiley, 1971, p. 12.

New to Odum’s and others’ ecological accounts of the time was that the processes of life in the Earth’s ecosphere did not seem to add up any longer to the stable balance sheets of the bottled ecospheres. As Odum saw it, the regenerative processes on Earth would be endangered, due to the “changing metabolic role of man.” As he termed it: “The biosphere with industrial man suddenly added is like a balanced aquarium into which large animals are introduced.Ibid., pp. 16, 18.
A similar picture of the Earth as a large ecosphere put off balance was applied by the American ecologist G. Evelyn Hutchinson. He understood the earthly biosphere as a closed circulatory system, which was fragile and far from perfect, whose boundary conditions limited the “amount of life” on the planet. In a highly regarded book of 1970, titled The Biosphere, Hutchinson based the “operation” and “day-to-day running” of the earthly biosphere on a systemic idea of managing an “overall reversible cycle” (Figure 3).G. Evelyn Hutchinson, “The Biosphere,” in The Biosphere. A Scientific American Book. San Francisco, CA: W. H. Freeman and Company, 1970, pp. 3–11, quotes on pp. 8 and 5.
As with Odum, Hutchinson’s biospheric system also included humans as an increasingly powerful biogeological entity and a force that was able to not only understand the workings of the biosphere but also affect it in irreversible ways.Ibid., p. 7. Hutchinson considered the development of utilizable fossil fuels within this cycle as an accidental and unfortunate imperfection that allowed vast fossil fuel-based human economies to upset the biospheric balance.
This led Hutchinson to conclude with respect to the Earth’s expected lifespan: “It would seem not unlikely that we are approaching a crisis.Ibid., p. 11.
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Figure 3: Major Cycles of the Biosphere. G. Evelyn Hutchinson, “The Biosphere,” in The Biosphere: A Scientific American Book. San Francisco, CA: W. H. Freeman and Company, 1970, pp. 3–11, image on pp. 8–9.

The Endosphere

In scaling smoothly between micro- and macro levels, Folsome, Cole, Odum, and Hutchinson operationalized a principle of totality contained in miniaturized form, and vice versa, of microcosms fully enclosed in the entirety of the planet. This seamless play of scales was both a condition and an effect of an understanding of life’s structural order and functional complexity, information and energy exchange, and metabolic process and infinite reproduction. The early 1970s confirmed the conceptual shift from a phenomenological and spatial understanding of the terrestrial “envelopes” of the Earth, to which life was restricted, to a bio- and geochemical approach to both living matter and environments as self-regulating and evolving systems. At a time when the environmental effects of the postwar boom had become painfully noticeable in the Western world, systems ecologists sustained the hope that ecospheric models of life allowed for close environmental monitoring and, ultimately, planetary environmental management. Spheres, small and large, were constitutive for systems ecology to organize and model life’s energy cycles and material flows into idealized closed systems.
The German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk has reflected on such closed interior spaces, which he calls “endospheres.” His “ontology of enclosed space” proposes to understand the endosphere as an artificial container, created to offer dwelling for a selected population that faces a hostile or deteriorating outside world.Peter Sloterdijk, Sphären. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1998–2004, vol. 2: Globen (Makrosphärologie) (1999), chapter 3: “Archen. Zur Ontologie des ummauerten Raumes,” pp. 251 ff. Translations by Sabine Höhler.
Such endospheres are highly exclusive encasements, Sloterdijk reminds us. Endospheric topologies include arks and similar insulated containers and vessels. The ecospheres discussed so far, both on the scales of Folsome’s bottles and of Cole’s planets, can be seen as endospheres in Sloterdijk’s sense. Ecospheres provided both self-containment and self-sustainment. The ecosphere of the Earth did indeed offer the only possible habitat for human life within the universe known at the time.
Sloterdijk’s ontology of enclosed space holds another interesting feature: it includes the radical idea of completely removing the endosphere from nature.Sloterdijk, Globen, p. 254.
The project “Biosphere 2,” launched in the Arizona desert in the late 1980s, represented such an artificial construct of a nature materially isolated from the outside world. The aim of “Biosphere 2” was to facilitate the study of the ecological systems of “Biosphere 1,” the Earth, on the meso-scale. The goal was to develop a self-contained and ultimately self-sustained “living” system to secure “biospheric offspring” and evolve life beyond planet Earth.John Allen and Mark Nelson, Space Biospheres. Oracle, AZ: Synergetic Press, 1989, p. 33. Sabine Höhler, Spaceship Earth in the Environmental Age, 1960–1990. London: Pickering & Chatto 2015.
“Biosphere 2” illustrates how biospheres and ecospheres modeled life as self-similar across scales. The principles of life’s self-regulation could be downscaled and put on trial. On a site of three acres, seven defined Earth ecosystems or biomes were created and then sealed under a glass dome. The “living laboratory” was populated by nearly 4,000 animal and plant species as well as eight human biospherians (Figure 4).
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Figure 4: Plan of “Biosphere 2,” longitudinal section. SSI Space Studies Institute Newsletter, vol. 12, no. 3 (1986).

To support the processes of life on the meso-scale, nature within “Biosphere 2” was based on a concealed technological infrastructure. The experiment called for the development of a new discipline called “ecotechnics,” which would interrelate the biosphere and the human-made “technosphere” in harmonious synergy.John Allen, Tango Parrish, and Mark Nelson, “The Institute of Ecotechnics: An Institute Devoted to Developing the Discipline of Relating Technosphere to Biosphere,” The Environmentalist, vol. 4, no. 3 (1984): pp. 205–18.
Among a number of renowned systems ecologists the project managers engaged Clair Folsome, who was associated with NASA’s science program on closed ecological life-support systems and was the director of the laboratory of exobiology at the University of Hawaii. They closed the loop, so to speak. Folsome’s ecosphere stood at the beginning and at the end of experimentation with materially closed systems; it represented both environmental conservation on Earth and environmental expansion into space.Clair E. Folsome and Joe A. Hanson, “The Emergence of Materially Closed System Ecology,” in Nicholas Polunin (ed.), Ecosystem Theory and Application. New York: John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 1986, pp. 269–88. David P. D. Munns and Kärin Nickelsen, “To Live among the Stars: Artificial Environments in the Early Space Age,” History and Technology (April 2018): pp. 272–99, doi: 10.1080/07341512.2018.1453911.

EcoSphere®

In a 1988 article titled “Ecosystems in Glass,” the American ecologist and agriculturalist Nicholas P. Yensen connected all the elements we have encountered so far, the bottled ecosphere, life under glass, and the Earth-like ecosystem of “Biosphere 2,” to take to Mars to create a sustainable human settlement. “Our future is in the hands of these crude homemade worlds,” Yensen claimed, “which potentially can give us the knowledge to go to the stars.Nicholas P. Yensen, “Ecosystems in Glass,” Carolina Tips, vol. 51, no. 4 (1988): pp. 13–15, quote on p. 15.
A new element also came into play, namely mass production and marketing. Yensen worked with Ecosphere Associates, Ltd, a company located in Tucson, Arizona, which researched closed ecosystems and which also commercialized them. Since the early 1980s and until the present, EcoSphere® branded a special mixture of micro-organisms, small shrimp, algae, bacteria, and filtered sea water, and marketed the mixture as “The world’s first totally enclosed ecosystem. A complete, self-contained and self-sustaining miniature world encased in glass.EcoSphere® Closed Ecosystems [online](https://eco-sphere.com/); see also the cover story by Peter Warshall, “The Ecosphere: Introducing an Einsteinian Ecology,” Whole Earth Review, no. 46 (1985): pp. 28–31.
The smallest EcoSphere® of ten centimeters in diameter costs around 80 US Dollars. Ecospheres are delivered with an instruction manual for care and maintenance, including a request to dutifully respect “occupants of the system as living beings.”
The mass production of ecospheres for a wider public might contribute to the implementation of an ethics of care, of minding the fragility of closed systems, small and large. “Our big world is very like this little one, and we are very like the shrimp,” so wrote the renowned American astroscientist Carl Sagan in his review of the tabletop “world#4210” that was shipped to his home in 1986.Carl Sagan “Review of the EcoSphere,” EcoSphere® Closed Ecosystems [online](https://eco-sphere.com/carl-sagan-review-of-the-ecosphere/). Cf. Carl Sagan, “The World that Came in the Mail,” in Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium. New York: Ballantine Books, 1997 [originally published in Parade magazine, 1986]. Amazon realized another corporate version of ecosphere architecture with its recent project “The Spheres,” inaugurated in their main office in Seattle on April 15, 2018. The Spheres are an urban office fashioned as a greenhouse, “home to more than 40,000 plants from the cloud forest regions of over 30 countries.” https://www.seattlespheres.com/
The commercialization of ecospheres certainly also created new cycles and value chains of technological reproduction by “using nature’s rules to build sustainable profits,” to quote Gregory Unruh and his book Earth, Inc.Gregory Unruh, Earth, Inc.: Using Nature’s Rules to Build Sustainable Profits. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press, 2010.
While both ethical and commercial aspects are worthwhile contemplating, a third aspect, articulated by Whole Earth Review and Wired editor Kevin Kelly, merits attention. In 1994, with reference to the experiment of “Biosphere 2,” Kelly commented that “life is a technology. Life is the ultimate technology.Kevin Kelly, Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems and the Economic World. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1994, p. 165. On ecospheres and biospheres see chapter 8, “Closed Systems,” pp. 128–49.

The Technosphere

Kelly’s comment on life being a technology is perhaps best supported by looking at United States Patent no. 5,865,141, a patent for an ecospheric system, of 1999.U.S. Patent no. 5,865,141, “Stable and Reproducible Sealed Complex Ecosystems,” February 2, 1999. Inventors: Jane Poynter, Grant A. Anderson, and Taber MacCallum.
Two of the three patent-holders, Jane Poynter and Taber MacCallum, belonged to the eight biospherians inserted into “Biosphere 2” during its first closure mission of 1991 to 1993. Their patented “Stable and Reproducible Sealed Complex Ecosystems” were down-scaled and analytically reduced versions of “Biosphere 2.” They were sealed, stable, reproducible, and ultimately also marketable technospheres, designed and patented as living systems. In the eyes of the inventors, these ecosystems far outperformed Folsome’s bottled ecosphere, because they contained and sustained higher life-forms (read: shrimps) (Figure 5). “The present invention allows much greater species richness and diversity, and allow all kingdoms of life to exist within a single, relatively small system.Ibid., column 2.
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Figure 5: U.S. Patent no. 5,865,141, “Stable and Reproducible Sealed Complex Ecosystems,” February 2, 1999.

If there is anything to conclude at this point it might be that ecospheres have not deceased, they thrive, and that ecospheric cycles continue. Next to the cycle of life itself, it is the cycle of the technoscientization of life that thrives, the endless succession of scientific concepts and technologies to extract life’s regenerative mechanisms. The place and survival of human beings in the sealed complex ecosystems of ecospheres, however, remains a challenge. As Yensen remarked in 1988, “The actual placement of humans in truly closed systems for any significant duration has yet to happen anywhere on Earth, however, with the exception of the Earth itself.Yensen, “Ecosystems in Glass,” p. 14.