The following is a reflection from CENHS predoctoral fellow and sociocultural anthropology Phd student, Eliot Storer, on his experience as a participant in the Haus Der Kulturen De Welt’s THE ANTHROPOCENE CURICULUM II: The Technosphere Issue from April 12-23rd in Berlin.
April 2016: I left my home in the sub-tropical Anthropocene City of Houston for its ruderal cousin, Berlin. The purpose of my short visit would be to participate in a series of interdisciplinary knowledge production “tests” and pedagogical exercises called THE ANTHROPOCENE CURICULUM II: The Technosphere Issue. Hosted by the Haus Der Kultuern Der Welt with support from the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, the Anthropocene Curriculum’s carefully organized series of pedagogical exercises, modes of knowledge production, and multimedia dissemination strategies are part of a larger zeitgeist to re-think conference infrastructures within the past half-decade (Swanson et al 2015) in order to grapple with Crutzen and Stoemer’s (2000) now classic Anthropocene provocation. Probably like most of the of the anthropologists present, we remained curious observers in addition to curious participants in the second Anthropocene Curriculum, which included experimental seminars, debates, field trips, bodily exercises, digital collaborations, public talks, and musical/sound performances.
The issue of concern at this second Anthropocene Curriculum was an Anthropocene-indebted phrase – “the Technosphere”– geologist Peter Haff’s term for “the planetary-scale networks of transport, information, energy and media operating at a scale and functional efficacy that we now compare with geological and climatic forces.” Not totally unlike a privileged version of anthropologist Arjun Apurdurai’s (1990) “technoscape,” (one of five “-scapes” that maps globalization patterns onto different cultural domains), the Technosphere concept was lauded and criticized throughout the Curriculum as both eye opening and deterministic. But if we go along with the premise, like all of the Curriculum participants’ arrival in Berlin, humans and other life forms enter the Anthropocene (whenever you might date it) via Technosphere channels. Presumably, the contemporary is unstuck with/in a Technospherical layer on the Whole Earth –an M.C. Escher-esque room impossibly scaled between an un-limited algorithmic world and the fleshy grounds of finite existence. So my experience went, the Technosphere is a complex planetary feedback loop of pleasure, uncanniness, disaster, and production.
Participant selected and were divided into a course load of three intensive one-and-a-half day “seminars” – with various disciplinary, epistemic, and methodological emphases, along with the public talks and plenaries that we all attended together. Each of the ten seminars produced ‘outputs’ for the most provoking and hyped aspect of the Curriculum: “The Website” – an all-encompassing digital documentation of the Curriculum. Contributions from seminar participants take the form of critical essays, photo collections, art installations, sound collages, etc. In true Technosphere spirit, not only does each seminar produce “something,” for the website archive, every second of every discussion, presentation, and debate were recorded as well. My own collaborative contributions to the Feral Technologies and Romancing the Anthropocene seminars should be up soon.
In the end, for me, despite (or perhaps because) of the looming and challenging notion of our shared Technosphere, the Anthropocene Curriculum produced an experience of communitas. Not only in anthropologist Victor Turner’s (1969), sense as an iconic, anti-structural, and liminal rite of passage for Anthropocene scholars, but also in philosopher Roberto Esposito’s sense: communitas as “a void, a debt, a gift to the other that also reminds us of our constitutive alterity with respect to ourselves,” “a dizziness, a syncope, a spasm in the continuity of the subject” (Esposito 2010: 6). The assemblage that the Technosphere constitutes is both of and other to ourselves: we are nodes in this planetary network, yet we are also independent to it. This alterity requires an obligation that, according to Esposito, must be of life, not over life. How I see it, briefly, is that obligations of the Technosphere are dispositifs of reconfiguration not innovation, maintenance not disruption, community not immunity. The question now, is whether such obligations can indeed help achieve escape velocity from the Anthropocene via the same Technosphere that created it.
Appadurai, Arjun. “Disjuncture and difference in the global cultural economy.”Theory, culture and society 7, no. 2 (1990): 295-310.
Crutzen, P. J., and E. F. Stoermer. “The Anthropocene IGBP Newsletter, 41.”Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm, Sweden (2000).
Esposito, Roberto. “Communitas: the origin and destiny of community.” (2010).
Swanson, Heather Anne, Nils Bubandt, and Anna Tsing. “Less than One but More than Many: Anthropocene as Science Fiction and Scholarship-in-the-making.” Environment and Society: Advances in Research 6, no. 1 (2015): 149-166.
Turner, Victor. “Liminality and communitas.” The ritual process: Structure and anti-structure (1969): 94-130