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  • 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
  • Subhankar Banerjee
  • 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
  • Benjamin Bratton
    • for Media, Architecture and Design, Moscow. Bratton is also Professor of Digital Design at the Eur
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      published contributions
  • 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
  • Anna Echterhölter
  • 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
  • Lois Epstein
    • stein is Arctic Program Director at the Wilderness Society an American land conservation non-profit. A licensed engineer, she has served on a number of federal advisory committees, including a National Academy of Sciences committee studying oil and gas regulations, and, for twelve years, a committee focusing on oil pipeline safety. Epstein holds a Master of Civil Engineering with a specialization in environme
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      published contributions
  • 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
  • Mark Graham
  • 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
  • Kei Kreutler
  • 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
  • Karen Pinkus
    • w York. She is also a faculty fellow of the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, Ithaca. Author of numerous publications in literary studies, Italian studies, critical theory, and environmental humanities, Pinkus is also Editor of the journal Diacritics. In her latest book, Fuel (2016), Pinkus thinks about issues crucial to climate ch
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      published contributions
  • 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
  • Rafico Ruiz
    • afico Ruiz is Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Banting Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Sociology at the University of Alberta, Edmonton. He studies the relationships between mediation and social space, particularly in the Arctic and subarctic; the cultural geographies of natural resource engagements; and
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      published contributions
  • 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
  • Sever
    • SEVER was developed as a speculative design project by Francesco Sebregondi, Alexey Platonov, Inna Pokazanyeva, and Ildar Iakubov during the New Normal postgraduate program at Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design, Moscow. SEVER seeks to intervene into current Arctic debates by disturbing the landscape of the region’s possible futures
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      published contributions
  • Jens Soentgen
  • Nick Srnicek
  • 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
  • Kaushik Sunder Rajan
    • echnology studies, and postcolonial studies, holding a special interest in the global political economy of biomedicine, with a comparative focus on the Un
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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
  • Ksenia Tatarchenko
    • dies Institute, Geneva University, specializing in the history of Russian science and technology. She has held positions as a visiting Assistant Professor of History at NYU Shanghai and a post-doctoral fellow at the Harriman Institute, Columbia. Most broadly, she studies questions of knowledge circulation to situate Soviet developments in the global context. She is currently writing a book on science and innovation cultures in Siberia provisionally
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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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      published contributions
  • Asonseh Ukah
    • Asonzeh Ukah is a sociologist and historian of religion. He joined the University of Cape Town in 2013 and previously taught at the University of Bayreuth (2005–13), where he also earned a doctorate and habilitation in history of religions. His research interests include religious urbanism, the sociology of Pentecostalism, and religion and media. He is Director of the Research Institute on Christianity and Society in Africa (RICSA), University of Cape Town, and Affiliated Senior Fellow of Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies (BIGSAS), University of Bayreuth. He is the author of A New Paradigm of Pentecostal Power (2008) and Bourdieu in Africa (edited with Magnus Echtler, 2016).
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      published contributions
  • Underworlds
  • Sebastian Vehlken
    • Sebastian Vehlken is a media theorist and cultural historian at Leuphana University Lüneburg and Permanent Senior Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study on Media Cultures of Computer Simulation (MECS). From 2013 to 2017, he worked as MECS Junior Director, and in 2015–16, he was a visiting professor at Humboldt-Universität Berlin, the University of Vienna, and Leuphana. His areas of interest include the theory and history of computer simulation and digital media, the media history of swarm intelligence, and the epistemology of think tanks. His current research project, Plutonium Worlds, explores the application of computer simulations in West German fast breeder reactor programs.
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      published contributions
  • Vladimir Vernadsky
  • Davor Vidas
    • Davor Vidas is a research professor in international law and Director of the Law of the Sea Programme at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, Lysaker, Norway. He is Chair of the Committee on International Law and Sea Level Rise and a member of the Anthropocene Working Group. Vidas has been involved in international law research for over thirty years, focusing since 2009 on implications of the Anthropocene for the development of international law. Among his books are The World Ocean in Globalisation (2011) and Law, Technology and Science for Oceans in Globalisation (2010). He is the editor-in-chief of the book series Anthropocene (Skolska knjiga, Zagreb), launched in 2017.
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      published contributions
  • Kalindi Vora
  • Hannes Wiedemann
    • Hannes Wiedemann is a Berlin-based photographer. He studied at the Ostkreuz School of Photography, Berlin. For his project Grinders (2015–16), he followed the American bodyhacking community, a small group of people across the United States working out of garages and basements to become real cyborgs. Recent exhibitions include NEW PHOTOGRAPHY II (2017) at Gallery ALAN, Istanbul, and HUMAN UPGRADE, with Susanna Hertrich (2016), at Schader-Stiftung Gallery, Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt. www.hanneswiedemann.com
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      published contributions
  • Cary Wolfe
    • Cary Wolfe is Bruce and Elizabeth Dunlevie Professor of English and Founding Director of 3CT: Center for Critical and Cultural Theory at Rice University, Houston. He is the author of What Is Posthumanism? (2010), a book that weaves together principal concerns of his work: animal studies, system theory, pragmatism, and post-structuralism. It is part of the series Posthumanities, for which he serves as Founding Editor at the University of Minnesota Press. His most recent publication is Before the Law: Humans and Other Animals in Biopolitical Frame (2013) and earlier books and edited collections include Animal Rites: American Culture, The Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory (2003) and Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal (2003).
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      published contributions
  • Andrew Yang
  • Jan Zalasiewicz
    • Dr. Jan Zalasiewicz is Professor of Palaeobiology at the University of Leicester and Chair of the Anthropocene Working Group of the International Commission on Stratigraphy. A field geologist, paleontologist, and stratigrapher, he teaches and publishes on geology and earth history, in particular on fossil ecosystems and environments that span over half a billion years of geological time.
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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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      published contributions
Mine explosives © UNMAS/Giovanni Diffidenti

Explosives: Prime Movers of the Anthropocene

Combustion engines, dynamite fishing, and the violent reshaping of terrestrial and marine landscapes: philosopher and chemist Jens Soentgen considers explosions as a key principle of modernity and the creation of modern explosives as a turning point not only for human history but also for the history of ecological disruption.
In a recent book, environmental scientist and historian Vaclav Smil named the diesel engine and the gas turbine as two prime movers of our time.Vaclav Smil, Prime Movers of Globalization: The History and Impact of Diesel Engines and Gas Turbines (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013).
This is an important and understandable designation; but it should be amplified that even behind the diesel motor, even behind the gas turbine, resides a key principle—namely that of explosion. This principle is a fundamental signature of modernity, characteristic of the technosphere at large. It shapes modern society as well as our relations to nature.
There used to be more awareness of this fact. In Germany, gasoline motors and diesel motors were initially called “explosion motors.” Today they are named internal combustion engines. However, the initial denomination is more convincing, as they are based on a sudden unleashing of energy. Here as everywhere, explosions facilitate the instantaneous, radical expansion of power, which prevails against all obstacles.
In addition to the controlled explosions in the diesel engine, however, there are also explosives created to destroy structures. These can also be seen as prime movers of our time, because they produce the tabula rasa that is the sign of human deployment of power in the Anthropocene. Modern explosives are indispensable in mining, in tunnel and canal building, and in modern firearms. They are ecologically and politically of upmost importance. For this reason, it is unfortunate that to this day we still have no history of explosives oriented toward ecology and politics; even technological and chemical histories of these substances are only rudimentary.
Only by thinking ecology, politics, and chemistry together through the example of explosives can we gain a new understanding of decisive turning points, especially those in the late nineteenth century, when the state of organic chemistry allowed for a shift from alloy to molecule with explosives; that is, for not only bringing the elements involved in the reaction into contact externally, but merging them in a labile connection. This provided enormous gains in efficiency and explosiveness, which made possible much later innovations, from machine guns to modern artillery.
A Violent, Incomparable Invention
The modern word “explosion” derives from the Latin explosio, which means “hissing, laughing at, and booing,” especially of bad actors, a drastic show of disregard in the theater, the opposite of applause. An explosio was an aggressive noise used for rejecting and demolishing. The modern usage has departed significantly from this origin, but not so far that we cannot link the modern word back.
Today we usually use “explosion” to mean an abrupt, expansive chemical reaction, during which there is a sudden unleashing of power. With this sudden emergence of great pressure, the temperature rises abruptly, and there is a loud bang to hear and a flash to see. The explosion can be viewed as one of the principles of modernity, as it stands at the root of many of the destructive transformations of nature that began in the modern era. European expansionism since the early modern period is also hard to imagine without the mastery of the compressed and intensified fire of explosions. This is not a particularly new insight, at most somewhat novel in its formulation. For centuries, gunpowder was seen as one of the most important human inventions, even if it is unclear if its origins were not perhaps evil indeed.
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Modern explosives posed an entirely new threat, even in peace times. Source: Lavazza trading card, ca. 1953

The praise of the metallurgist Vannocio Biringuccio from Siena, sounds particularly euphoric, but at the same time ambivalent, declaring gunpowder to be a “violent, incomparable invention, whether it was invented through demonic influence or by chance.” The idea that a benevolent God could have given humans gunpowder is not entertained by Biringuccio. When using this nondescript powder, he continues, there are “such horrendous and dreadful appearances, as if violent flashes or horrendous earthquakes were inserted into it.” One could “knock down” giant buildings “with little effort.” Whole mountains could be opened up “to rummage about in their innards.Vannoccio Biringuccio, Pirotechnia (Venice: Gironimo Gilio, 1559), 314–15.
There was nothing, concludes the Italian scholar, that could not be eliminated or at least heavily damaged by the power of gunpowder.
Gunpowder, the raw materials of which—coal, sulfur, and saltpeter—are all natural materials, more or less extracted as they are from nature, was the only known explosive material in Europe for more than seven hundred years. But by the nineteenth century its days were numbered. New powders needed to be invented. The idea was in the air at the time. Gun cotton, a saltpeter acid ester suited for explosion, was already discovered in 1846. Nitroglycerin was discovered in 1847 by Ascanio Sobrero, a doctor from Turin. Sobrero immediately had the idea to use the substance as an explosive, but an accidental explosion disfigured his face and he refrained from doing any other experiments on the sensitive material. The taming of nitroglycerin was achieved in the 1860s by the Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel. Nobel initially mixed it with gunpowder, but soon after used diatomite. He also developed other completely synthetic explosive materials for technological use through his invention of booster detonation, during which the main explosion is triggered by an earlier small explosion in the material itself. This principle invented by Nobel in the 1860s is essential for modern weapons technology as well as for civilian usages of modern, highly efficient explosives.Richard Escales and Alfred Stettbacher, Initialexplosivstoffe [Initial Explosives] (Leipzig: Verlag von Veit and Companie, 1917) (= 7th issue of Richard Escales: Die Explosivstoffe [The Explosives]), 26–39.
The idea of developing a new, more powerful powder relied not on simply mixing the materials that together cause the explosion, but on combining them in a way so that the atoms that react with one another lay side by side as a labile combination that only needs to come undone. At the appropriate occasion the molecules would react, and transform into hot gasses. Many combinations of nitrated carbons can become effective explosive agents. Guncotton, nitroglycerin, and TNT, but also nitroxanthic acid, are of this type. They were used in the 1870s to produce so-called smokeless powder, which had a much larger explosive force than ordinary gunpowder.
The nineteenth-century German chemist Bernhard Lepsius provides a good description of where the difference between gunpowder and the new, fully synthetic explosive materials lies:
In gunpowder we have a mixture of combustible materials, sulfur and coal, with the burning substance, saltpeter, with its high oxygen content. No matter how finely we pulverize them and how evenly we mix them, it always remains a mechanical mixture. Viewed under a microscope the elements lie separately next to one another. With the volatile explosive agents it is a different story. Here all the material necessary for incineration is already united in the molecule. All the oxygen that is necessary to burn the carbon and the hydrogen is already within the molecule, available at any moment. All that is needed is a trigger, a disturbance of the existing balance, to produce a new order of the atoms within each of the molecules. With one stroke each complex element of the trinitocellulose falls apart into numerous new, simpler, gas-like molecules.Bernhard Lepsius, Das alte und das neue Pulver [Old and New Powder] (Leipzig: Verlag von F.C. W. Vogel, 1891), 21. Lecture given at the 1st General Meeting of the 64th Congress of the Gesellschaft Deutscher Naturforscher und Aerzte in Halle a/S, Germany.
This also means that no undesirable byproducts arise in the explosion of this powder, such as smoke in the case of gunpowder. Forty-three percent of the energetic mass of gunpowder is transformed into useless smoke, but it is different with fully synthetic explosive materials. They release much more energy, because they completely turn into gas without any hard byproducts.Manfred R. Rosenberger and Katrin Hanné, Vom Pulverhorn zum Raketengeschoß. Die Geschichte der Handfeuerwaffen-Munition [From Flask to Missile. History of Handgun Munition] (Stuttgart: Motorbuch-Verlag, 1993), 28f.
Paul Vieille, a student of Marcellin Berthelot (that is, the chemist who coined the term “chemical synthesis”), found that the speed of incineration under high pressure is quite different than that in the open air.Louis Médard, “L’oeuvre scientifique de Pul Vielle (1854–1934),” [The Scientific Œuvre of Pul Vielle] Revue d’histoire des sciences 47, nos. 3–4 (1994): 381–404.
But for propellants the highest possible speed of incineration is preferable. This can be achieved by giving the powders a form with the largest possible surface area, such as threads or laminae. Gunpowder, which at best can be granulated, is certainly completely inappropriate for this. With the newer substances, however, which can easily be gelatinized and then pressed into any form, this is all possible. Vieille in fact invented a functional fully synthetic gunpowder that was introduced in the French army in 1886 as Poudre B. Other armies later employed similar powders.Wilhelm Will, “Der Fortschritt der Sprengtechnik seit der Entwicklung der organischen Chemie,” [Progress in Blasting Techniques since the Development of Organic Chemistry]in Zeitschrift für Elektrochemie und angewandte physikalische Chemie, no. 10 (1904): 10.
Nobel had also already developed a smokeless powder, ballistite, in 1884.Kenne Fant, Alfred Nobel. Idealist zwischen Wissenschaft und Wirtschaft [Alfred Nobel. Idealist between Science and Economy] (Basel: Birkhäuser Verlag, 1995), 308–10.
After protracted negotiations with the French state, he sold it exclusively to the Italian army.
The improvement of gunpowder through organic chemistry is similar to the move from willow bark to aspirin, which also took place in the (late) nineteenth century. Instead of a mixture of natural products, a molecule was designed. Technology reached the level of atoms and began designing much more efficient substances, be it in the area of pharmacy or of high-energy materials.
Thanato-technologies
On various occasions it has been pointed out that the mines created by humans—our pits, tunnels, and caves—are among humanity’s most longstanding works, for they will still be visible in many thousands of years.Jan Zalasiewicz, Colin N. Waters, and Mark Williams, “Human Bioturbation, and the Subterranean Landscape of the Anthropocene,” Anthropocene, no. 6 (2014): 3–9.
But not only mountaintop removal mining and other forms of surface or underground mining depend on explosives. The secure extraction of petroleum also depends on explosives, as they are the only means to stop oil well fires. The intensified fire and destructive energy of explosives is used here to control the fuel of our modern society. Explosives are also indispensable for the creation of traffic infrastructure and hydraulic engineering.
The great significance of explosives is not just political or geological but also ecological. Indeed, even wild animal populations are directly or indirectly reduced through the use of explosives.
In the context of colonialism, efficient European firearms, nets, and traps were exported to every continent, penetrating every part of the world. They introduced a new epoch in the history of extermination. In many cases, military innovations were quickly transferred into the realm of hunting. In 1864, the Norwegian shipping tycoon Svend Foyn mounted the cannon harpoons that he had developed onto a boat and went whale fishing. This harpoon made use of an explosive substance: it had barbed hooks that simultaneously discharged concentrated sulfuric acid and was fired at the animal with a cannon. For the first time in the war against the animal world, not only were poison, poisonous gases, spears and axes, traps and guns used, but also artillery. And so it became possible for the first time to successfully hunt the largest animal that has ever existed on Earth, the blue whale. These, like the other rorqual whales, could not be effectively hunted before because they were, firstly, too fast, and, if somehow successfully slain, they then sank too quickly. With the cannon harpoon, however, which exploded in the body of the whale, a new, efficient killing instrument had been devised that heralded the beginning of the modern whaling age. Further technological improvements on ships and the development of technology to inflate slain whales with compressed air to prevent them from sinking soon unleashed an unparalleled orgy of decimation. By the middle of the last century, the blue whale, as well as many other whale species, were nearly extinct.
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The efficiency of the harpoon cannon turned whaling into an existential threat for an entire species. Source: Liebig Company trading card, ca. 1900

Nitroglycerin—that completely synthetic explosive in which the reactive components are not mechanically adjoined in a mixture but chemically bound in a molecule—was and is deployed in many places to hunt sea creatures. This kind of fishing seems to have been invented during the First World War and quickly spread over the entire planet. In the Mediterranean, illegal dynamite fishing, which was practiced there mainly in the middle of the twentieth century, has resulted in serious damage to the marine fauna. Today, this technique has spread extensively across Southeast Asia and Africa, because it is cheap, impressive, and, at first, efficient. It is also certainly devastating, since many more fish are harmed or killed than can later be consumed. This leads to the destruction of habitats, which come to resemble a submarine desert of wreckage. “We’re exterminating. After us the void,” writes Werner Helwig in his fictional, but apposite, “credo” of the dynamite fishermen.Werner Helwig, Raubfischer in Hellas [Predatory Fishermen in Hellas] (Frankfurt am Main: Büchergilde Gutenberg, 1952), 6. Author’s translation.
With firearms, explosives, and other thanato-technologies, animals were and are being hunted practically everywhere in the world. War is being waged on them, whether they fly, swim, crawl, or jump.
In short, while the politico-historical or military strategic consequences of explosives innovation have been well researched, their effects on ecology and culture have been less studied. Under the sign of the Anthropocene, however, a history of the principle of explosion and a history of explosives is an important goal. It shows that when it comes to energy—the theme so central to Vaclav Smil’s broad analysis of the modern world—what matters is not just quantitative sums, but also quality.