How can we work with substances and organisms that refuse systematicity while attending to ecologies that nurture us? This experimental roundtable takes coherence and disentanglement as empirical objects, asking how we can develop non-systemic togetherness.
Poisonous waste. Microbial contagion. Mineral extraction. Epigenetic toxicity. Agricultural residue. This roundtable gathers together geographers and anthropologists who study the dynamic meshworks of unruly forms of life to ask how we disentangle our ecologies of concern. After all, practices may be local, but they are never just local. They are also together. But how do we study this togetherness? Many existing methodological toolkits strive for coherence. Yet, working in messy sites and crossing disciplinary, conceptual, and methodological lines, we know that coherence is often forceful and never neutral.
In this interactive roundtable we try to imagine alternatives to coherent togetherness. We hold that this is particularly important in technoscientific worlds haunted by histories of colonial domination. In our search for "other means" to experiment with the overflowing boundaries of separation and connection we ask: What post-capitalist, decolonial strategies can help us attend to what is both elsewhere and here when researching 'the global' and 'the local'? What techniques do we draw upon for theorizing containment and cutting without reproducing the ontological violence of a one-world world? How do we trace across and through multiple worlds without presuming we know which one is 'most real'? How, in short, can we work with substances and organisms that exceed 'the system,' while still retaining the ecological entanglements that nurture us? The audience-inclusive conversation will address which tools are failing us and what we might build in their place. This is an experiment in developing non-systemic togetherness.
This track is closed to new paper proposals.
Can heat be disentangled from other determinants of health problems? I explore this question by reflecting on ongonig research on chronic kidney disease among Nicaraguan sugarcane workers.
In my current research on chronic kidney disease of nontraditional causes (CKDnt) among sugarcane cutters in Nicaragua, I am increasingly running up against the suggestion that CKDnt, which seems to be strongly linked to lengthy exposure to extreme heat, is on the rise worldwide due to global climate change. This suggestion is provocative, but it also has the whiff of the "magic bullet." After all, when I began looking into CKDnt just a year ago, activists and experts were talking with some assurance about the key role played by pesticides. Direct evidence of that role, however, is less available than evidence for heat stress. But how much heat is too much heat? Can a rise in mean temperatures by just one degree cause an epidemic? If so, what does that mean? Given the historical place of kidney-related diseases in discussions of "social determinants" of health, CKDnt raises questions about the limits of the social. While I was initially attracted to the problem of CKDnt due to an interest in chemicals, I'm now struggling to devise a meaningful way of talking about heat. In this paper, I argue that in all of the discussions of the Anthropocene in STS and allied fields, heat has been under-theorized. Medical anthropology, with its deep roots in studies of health models based on notions of heat, cold, wetness, and dryness, might offer some new and potentially fruitful ground for engaging climate change debates.
Mining Ecologies (roundtable)
Exploring the entanglements and circulations between mining, earth, planetary and life sciences, and the histories of life on Earth and beyond highlights the contingencies of systems. How to tell stories that don't easily fit with this version of togetherness?
Rio Tinto, in Spain, has been mined since time immemorial, and just last year saw a new start to its extractive activities. Recently, it also became an analog for Mars, as astrobiologists have been studying the complex chemoautotrophic ecosystems that animate its deep subsurface. Following the activities of the scientists, miners, engineers, financiers, microbes, plants, and rocks that make this landscape and its history, my current project explores the murky circulations of knowledges and practices and the exchanges and relations that weave the area together.
But how to tell these stories? What binds them together is also part of what I am interested in: the logic of extraction and of nature as a pool of limited resources is not the backdrop to all these histories, but instead got shaped in Rio Tinto and in the transformations of modern earth, planetary and life sciences over the course of the last centuries. In fact, it is through the emergence of the planetary and its onto-epistemic regime that the history of Earth has been forged. Feminist technosciences and materialsemiotics taught us to deal with these intricate stories, but how to diffract these narratives to still say something about the planet and life, about the content of our work? What kind of stylistic, disciplinary, narrative practices can I experiment with the stories of microbial entanglements, biogeochemical relationalities, and historical successions that I encounter in Rio Tinto? In this conversation I will reflect upon some of the hunches that accompany me in my fieldsite.
Reproductive Ecologies (roundtable)
What can we learn from UN discussions of ‘global development’ about the possibilities for conceptual developments in science and technology studies? I take up this question through an analysis of ecologies of reproduction in Guatemala and beyond.
The United Nations is carrying out a global initiative to improve international development by improving fetal development. Under the banner of the 'First 1000 Days of Life,' the initiative is based on research that suggests that better nutrition in the window from conception until a child is two years of age will make for a better global future. My research tracks the emergence of this initiative, examining how a longitudinal study in four Guatemalan villages has shaped a global policy, which in turn has led to a nutrition supplementation intervention in Guatemala's poorest communities. I contribute to this roundtable by unpacking differing modes of reproduction - genealogical, allegorical, analogical, or otherwise - at play in UN and Guatemalan sustainability politics. I explore what discussions of global 'development' can teach us about the terrain of possibility for conceptual developments in the field of science and technology studies. Analysis of how others are grappling with questions of when to emphasize the here and now and when to emphasize ecological and temporal entanglements will add necessary reflection on ethnographic maneuvers between the system and the particular—an admittedly general aim, but one that might also shift the terms of generality.
Resistance ecologies (roundtable)
What can malaria drug resistance sciences show us about the composition of the here and the elsewhere in our own work? I discuss this question in terms of parasite elimination experiments in Cambodia.
Malaria with delayed response to artemisinin-based drugs, called artemisinin resistance, was reported in western Cambodia around 2006, and is now present in other border zones within the Greater Mekong subregion. Initial policies focused on containment, but human hosts move too much, and resistance to partner drugs multiplies the problem. Now the focus is on elimination of P. falciparum parasites in the region. My research explores how malaria sciences in Cambodia configure and trouble this shift to elimination. For the roundtable, I consider the question of how, through which materials, modes, and models, the 'elsewhere' is present in the 'here'. Elimination experiments involve epidemiological protocols imported from Bangladesh, mobile PCR vans developed in Cambodia, blood trucked to Thailand for analysis. They involve genetic histories of the local emergence and global spread of resistant alleles, and personal histories of malaria work in Cape Verde and Tanzania. These lists—a genre of making togetherness in science and technology studies—illuminate other places and times that make up the here, and provide clues to imperial and epistemic conditions of possibility. But the lists do not quite capture how the possible itself organizes malaria science in the region. Parasite mutations and people moving—these could happen anywhere. What might we learn from the ways in which scientists attend to specificities and uncertainties of their malarias for the world?
This track is closed to new paper proposals.