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

Impacts and Insurance: Climate Change Risk Transfer

Is a creeping catastrophe insurable? Eberhard Faust, climate risk researcher at Munich Re, one of the world's largest reinsurance companies, and disaster historian Scott Knowles talk about the instruments and scale-problems involved in calculating and transferring the costs of climate-change-related events on the ground.
Scott Knowles: In February you were at the German meeting of climate experts in the context of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In view of that state-of-the-art discussion, what are some of the projects taking your time right now, some of the most exciting developments recently in climate research and around development of instruments to deal with climate change?
  • Eberhard Faust: A major development in recent years is the emerging research literature on attributing the damaging magnitude of single events to climate change as a partial cause. This attribution can be achieved for a specific event by applying climate models which simulate the variable of interest, e.g. a three-day rainfall sum, for the relevant season and region, both without today’s influence from climate change and with this influence, in each case for a representative period of model years. Comparing the two distributions of rainfall sums achieved by this approach, it can be inferred how much the probability for the given extreme rainfall event has already changed relative to a virtual world without climate change. For example, the extreme precipitation with subsequent flooding in Louisiana in August 2016 which led to 10 billion US dollars in overall losses was found to be a thirty-year event in the central Gulf Coast region and has increased in probability relative to a world without climate change by at least a factor 1.4. This methodology is, I think, quite evolved now. The only drawback, as of now, is the selection of events being done subjectively. As a representative of my company, I’m involved in a project as a stakeholder which is focusing on Europe and this project would like to come up with an objective selection of such events, at least in the long run. If in the aftermath of a disastrous event the reliable knowledge of climate change as a cause, however partial, of altered frequencies or intensities of such events can be established, this information would entail two consequences: firstly, it implies that according to the dynamics of continued climate change in many cases the frequency of such extreme events will likely even further increase in the future. Secondly, this service of rapid attribution in the aftermath of an event will lend maximum momentum to local authorities and others to implement adequate adaptation measures. So these approaches on “rapid attribution” are exciting, I think.
Scott Knowles: So right now, is it just limited to rainfall events?
  • Eberhard Faust: It’s basically temperature and rainfall ‒ it is here that these methods work best. In some cases other variables have been dealt with, but foremost are temperature – mainly heat – and rainfall ‒ including lack of rainfall which is called drought. Since 2011 far more than a hundred such studies have been published and some 65 percent of them were able to show that climate change was in some way involved in those events.
Scott Knowles: When I looked at Hurricane Katrina from the perspective of emergency managers and what they were trying to understand about what had gone wrong in infrastructure systems and the like, one of the key findings was that there was a failure in communication to motivate people to leave. Every individual and every family had to make decisions in a short period of time about what to do because leaving also incurs a cost. I think there is a metaphor here more broadly for climate change discussions ‒ staying a certain path has a cost and leaving and changing the path has a cost too. So individuals in New Orleans had to make that decision. And as researchers looked at it, what they found was that fear was not the only motivator, in fact fear is, of course, very perspectival, very personal, but fear operates at different scales. You may be afraid of something happening right now, but other fears may be something that you worry about happening in the future, or something that’s in the past.
Fear is not a single substance to be reduced. The better frame was trust.
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And this is what they put a lot of emphasis on, and what I want to get your reaction to: individuals in New Orleans did not trust government, they did not trust the police, not to mention science, and by extension they also did not trust weather forecasters. It came down to a question of who in the community could we have as an interface between experts and the public. Experts might have very esoteric knowledge, very important knowledge, but who will serve as sort of interlocutors or trust agents to communicate to a broader public what you really need, that this is real, that this time it’s very important. Some of the conclusions I came to were that it was pastors, ministers in the church, local people, local politicians – not state or federal politicians! Often it was a matter of “did you know someone,” which is a very hard thing about climate change adaptation and mitigation. It will not be possible for you to go and meet with all 320 million Americans, right? We have to find agents of trust if you buy into this construct. Lobbyists such as the American Petroleum Institute figured this out a long time ago: rather than going after scientific data and scientists per se their angle for some time has been to say to the public: “You do not share the same value system as these scientists, these scientists are not trustworthy.” So it’s not an argument about whether this is true and that is true, it’s much more an argument about trust and I wonder how you feel about that and how it plays back into this discussion around communication of climate science findings?
  • Eberhard Faust: There are different layers. If you are immediately involved in a catastrophic event, this is something very different from communicating climate change. In the public perception it is not yet clear to what extent the planet is already affected by climate change, and only future scenarios project truly severe impacts on a global scale. Compared to this global and long-term framework, the perspective was quite different with Hurricane Katrina, because as soon as you are involved with a catastrophic event you know there’s harm already under way, and you have to react in the most efficient way, with fear pushing adrenaline levels up. Additionally of help are the trustworthy people who have a kind of lighthouse role and can tell you what should be the next step. Since archaic times we human beings have been keen on knowledge about imminent catastrophes and responses to disaster, and this attractiveness of catastrophes is likely rooted in our evolution. It was always an advantage for survival to get those early indications that things could flip in a second, that there might be danger around the corner. Part of this fear-based attention addresses people who are deemed to have an overview due to their institutional setting and can help us escape calamities. However, this kind of mechanism could also deceive us. There are different time scales involved with climate change and rapidly unfolding disasters, so this type of fear is not a form of valid guidance for this context. A more adequate approach to climate change has two sides. One side is a sense of urgency because it will affect our children even more than us, so it is a matter of concern that falls within the medium- to long-term future of development. The flipside of this concern is an effort to understand the ongoing processes which will enable us to find strategies to adequately respond and aquire the facts that motivate those responses.Trustworthy communicators of these items – concern and corresponding facts – are necessary, and there are institutions which have a lighthouse role within society for guiding this communication. For instance, I think of business, trade unions, professional associations, and many other societal groups which are and should be involved here.
Scott Knowles: Thinking again about the need for trusted actors, you know, I’ve thought a lot about the role of the insurance and reinsurance industry broadly and also the military in different countries and I think you could also include the agricultural sector, at least in the United States, which is drawn to a very small proportion of our economy and yet culturally has an outsized importance ‒ farmers are still held up, they know the land, they are trustworthy, they have a sort of commitment over long generations. Politically they are not easy to generalize as left or right, there is a sort of separate category for them. The reason I talk about these three, or think about them is because one of those sectors has to take the long view within our society. These are sectors that have made commitments to very forward thinking, looking at least a generation ahead. I also wonder if there’s some way to think about leveraging the cultural power of the insurance and reinsurance industry ‒ in some ways you’re in the sort of restraint business: think about the military, when it's not at war the military is often also in the restraint business; it’s about thinking over things that can go wrong over long periods of time and to prepare.
  • Eberhard Faust: The business activity in the insurance or reinsurance industry is more on the short-term time scale; for instance, reinsurance covers are renewed annually. However, regarding risk-transfer solutions in the context of adequate responses to climate change, insurers have also got longer term perspectives on their radar, aiming at sustainable solutions. Sustainability is close to the basic idea of insurance, which is to internalize catastrophe-risk costs in advance of catastrophic events, and thereby to make sure that in the aftermath of a catastrophe income, consumption, and economic activity can continue. It was proven empirically by studies that when you have a substantial share of insurance in the overall natural catastrophe-risk financing of a certain country, then you are better off in terms of the GDP, debt status, and other macroeconomic variables in the years following big natural catastrophes. However, there is a lot of concern about developing countries. The problem is that after disasters, developing countries, which do not have a substantial private or public insurance sector, almost completely rely on donor assistance, external credit, and on rededication of portions of the governmental budget. All of this might not be that reliable, might be late, for instance in terms of donor assistance, and might not be sufficient. And this explains the financial gap hampering sufficient ex post-risk financing. Regarding this gap, the buildup of insurance markets in developing countries per se can be seen as an adaptation means to – possibly increasing – natural disasters. This role for insurance-based risk transfer has a structural, medium-to-long-term component which may counterbalance climate change risk impacts. This is deemed necessary, because impacts from continued climate change in the future will worsen still more the aforementioned financial gap.
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Screenshot of The NatCatSERVICE Analysis Tool, Munich Re, 2017. http://natcatservice.munichre.com/

  • One particular interesting insurance activity in developing countries in recent decades is the emergence of trigger-based or index-based insurance concepts. This means you have a weather-recording station and if a critical threshold at the rain gauge instrument is either exceeded or the index falls below the threshold, then damage is assumed and the payment is triggered. Such a scheme has a lot of advantages. One advantage is the rapidness of this payment, because it avoids time-consuming and also costly loss adjustment. You have also disadvantages, because if the farmer is affected, for instance by drought, but the weather recording station is not correlated well enough, meaning that the rain index was not falling below the threshold, there will not be a damage compensating payment. This will constitute distrust in the scheme, and this is a big problem. This problem is called “basic risk.” But there are improvements available. For instance one improvement is to apply the index not only to individual farmers but to aggregate portfolios, for instance credit portfolios of rural banks granting loans to farmers which they cannot pay back as a consequence of damaging events such as drought. In this case the correlation between losses somewhere within the portfolio and the weather index is much higher. Another means of improvement would be to start from a sample of yields within a larger area and to measure the deficit in terms of yields in this way. Or to use satellite instruments to measure the vitality of the pastures for herders in Africa. Such index-based covers are on the rise and are an important means of risk transfer for developing countries. In the context of such ideas, one should also name a recent major initiative which you might have heard of: the “InsuResilience” initiative which was launched by the G7 in 2015, in Elmau, to insure some additional 400 million people in developing countries against losses from climate-related events. In this context the entire range of instruments that insurance can provide is involved. There are already new pools in existence, for instance the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF), which pools natural catastrophe risk of Caribbean states based on index concepts, and there are other similar approaches, such as the African Risk Capacity (ARC) or the Pacific Catastrophe Risk Assessment and Financing Initiative (PCRAFI). These institutions aim at more sustainability and resilience for the respective societies by new means of risk transfer and risk finance products. There is also an inherent idea of longer term adaptation to climate change impacts involved in such approaches.
Scott Knowles: What you were describing in terms of sustainable insurance solutions is something I studied in the American context. And historically, what you were saying on public-private arrangements must be emphasized in that there are times at which the scale of problems goes beyond the capacity of governance. That doesn’t mean that governance doesn’t catch up. But you know, 125 years ago, there were peers, people who did the equivalent of what you do today, but they were doing it around built systems in urban spaces and they were concerned about fire, or they were concerned about water quality. And they turned to private instruments to assist them across a gap, a period of time when government and the scale of a problem had gone beyond the capacity of government to achieve real change democratically.
Fire insurance itself was important in reality, but what was more important was the infrastructure that had to be developed to allow that market to thrive.
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And that meant many different inputs of information, new professions: fire chiefs, fire marshals, the forest service; and what happened over one generation in the United States – it also happened in Germany, Britain, and France – is that this sort of private information, which individuals wanted, to have the insurance work, then worked its way into governments in the sense of having codes and standards and various other things. And I think there may be some interesting parallels to make here around developing countries, where people may not have the ability in Bangladesh, for example, to rely on the government to engage meaningfully in some of these efforts, global government efforts to try to bring about mitigation or sustainability, but they may be able to rely on the insurance industry or also on private sector trade organizations, which have been very very active in trying to shape extraction, in trying to shape forest management with insurance, and the various things you’re saying. When I’ve talked to some of my colleagues about this before they say, “Well you’re very right wing, to have faith in these private instruments.” And my response is that it’s much more complicated than that. We have to look at this as a process where there are new risks created, and government is not always capable, particularly under democratic systems. China can make changes very rapidly within society. In a free democratic society, government doesn’t work that way. It takes time to catch up, to apprehend risk, and to make social society-level changes, whereas the reinsurance industry, or in a private forest-management consortium, they can be much more nimble. And I think that’s worth our consideration ‒ the history and evolution of risk knowledge not as singularly public or private achievements ‒ this history could be equipment, so-called, for this time.
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Sanborn Map of Manhattan from 1905. Sanborn Maps were originally created for assessing fire insurance liability in urbanized areas, and served as an important source for detailed information about buildings as well as changes in the built environment of approximately 12,000 US towns and cities. Source: Wikipedia, Wiki Commons, 2017

  • Eberhard Faust: This whole field has many facets. Definitely, there is also a public-private partnership involved here. In economics, there was a kind of theorem which was explained by Arrow and -Lind in the 1970s, saying that states or governments do not need insurance, because disaster risk is seen as small compared with a government’s portfolio of diversified assets, and therefore such risks can be borne publicly. But this theorem does not hold anymore if applied to relatively vulnerable small-sized developing countries. This is something that really came up in the discussions, and it was also dealt briefly with in the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC on climate change adaptation, because if you think, for instance, of small island states or other countries where the GDP is foremost in the sectors of agriculture or tourism, there would hardly be found a loss-compensating portfolio of other assets in the aftermath of a climate-related disaster. Perhaps it’s almost only agriculture in some cases. For those countries it will make sense to engage in souvereign insurance or respective pools. This was one of the reasons for forming the CCRIF and other similar approaches in the field of small states or developing states. In other cases, there is an interest in risk transfer and it might be sponsored also by the government in order to improve agricultural output and to allow for more high-yield cultures or cultivars. Risk transfer is a very old thing. If you think of African villagers, it was more usual for those living close to the river, if there was a river inundation, to be supported by relatives from villages inland that had not been hit by the inundation event. The inlanders would stay for a couple of months to help their relatives close to the river rebuild things after the disaster, and the other way round in cases of drought in inland areas. This is a different form of risk transfer which worked well, but societies are changing and today monetary risk transfer is more and more important.
Scott Knowles: That’s an important case to look at, and just going back to something you said earlier, unexpectedly as insurance penetration increased in the US, it actually led to – what you might expect also – investigation, concerns about fairness, concerns about protection. It actually helped to build the judiciary sector as well, because it’s such a unique kind of product. It had these interesting important effects as Americans were going through a progressive move towards increasing the safety and standard of living for individuals, so I think it’s very well worth our consideration in exactly the way you’re describing.
This text is a transcribed and edited excerpt from a conversation the two authors held in February 2017.