Latour’s 4th lecture

A couple of thoughtful commentaries on Latour’s lecture yesterday over at Rain on Arrakis and Agent Swarm.

My favorite part of the talk was actually the question period. One questioner granted virtually every point Latour made but then repositioned it all as an outworking of Christian Theology (Latour keeps pitching his arguments as ‘political theology’ so the line of reasoning isn’t a total appropriation). He suggested we have entered the Christo-scene.

What made the question interesting is that the questioner worked from passages in the Pauline book of Romans, which often mixes ideas of creation, an expanded notion of a Christ-centric self and time. So it provides a non-secular counterpart to Latour’s ideas of a universe, a distributed notion of agency and accelerated time (the Anthropocene). And this is where Latour has tripped up – the acceleration of time – because that is exactly what a secular theory cannot hold in its back pocket. Time must be bound to things, but its rate mustn’t be cordoned to us unless it is also the case that there is something unique about our agency, which is something Latour keeps on denying – or at least trying to work without.

These claims about temporal acceleration are something that most theories of the Anthropocene have yet to deal with carefully enough. Latour gestured towards his response yesterday by referencing Sloterdijk’s work on space. The idea being that you can think in “Earth time” (i.e. through cycles and loops that crescendo and relax in relation to multiple agents acting amidst each other) once you have a secular understanding of the space of the world. It will be interesting to see whether, or if, he follows through on this.


Post-2015 water development goals: live webcast tomorrow


I received this message today, with suggestions to share it around. It does look interesting. Although you will have to look closely at times, I assume those listed are local to Geneva.

“On the occasion of the “Meeting on the Post-2015 Development Agenda Consultation on Water: Water Resources Management and Wastewater Management & Water Quality” on 27-28 February in Geneva, the organizers would like to announce that you will be able to view the meeting by live-stream video at  The plenary sessions from 10:00 to 13:00 on 27 February and 15:00-17:30 on 28 February will be available live online.  

The meeting aims to prepare for the High level Meeting in The Hague which concludes the Thematic Consultation on Water. It will facilitate the development of a short document for each stream that reflects the discussions that have taken place both online and during this meeting, thereby providing a basis, both technically sound and politically strong, for the future discussions in the Open Working Group as well as an input for the High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

Please feel free to share with interested colleagues.

Please find attached an agenda of the meeting.  For further information on the meeting, please refer to:

Latour, Gaia and “Big Modernity”

Today, Bruno Latour is set to give his fourth talk (of six) for the Gifford Lectures. There are some interesting commentaries on the earlier talks linked to here. The whole set of talks are leading in and out of a consideration of James Lovelock’s “Gaia Hypothesis.” That hypothesis, that the world is a sort of super organism that self-organizes the conditions for life, was recently criticized by Tim Morton in two sequential posts titled “Against Lovelock” available here and here.

Morton critiques what he sees as “Big Modernity” in the thought of Lovelock because he interprets the Gaia Hypothesis as entrapped by a way of thinking where, when we run into explanatory difficulties, then we appeal to some greater and grander scheme – something that is more real and which actually underpins things. So Gaia is a way to think of something “more real” about the evolution of the earth. And, when we imagine ourselves to have pushed Gaia off balance (i.e. if we feed positive feedback loops that will lead to runaway climate increases by suppressing natural negative feedbacks) then we will need something bigger and grander that can create negative feedback loops to control it (maybe geo-engineering). Morton’s critique shares some similarities with those leveled at Gaia initially by feminists, who saw it as a sort of motherhood metaphor where the Earth has its own housekeeping service that will correct for man’s mismanagement.

Now, from what Latour said last week, he sees a more charitable interpretation of Gaia available in Lovelock’s writing. It is one that does not collapse all of the Earth’s systems into a holistic account. So Gaia is not just Big Modernity. Rather, Latour has been gesturing towards the idea that Gaia presents a way to understand the distributed agency of Earth’s systems (i.e. the climate, water, biogeochemical cycles) without an appeal to the idea of a singular organism coordinating the whole earth as a sort of individual entity. So Gaia, qua organism, just is a distributed sort of thing.

Today’s talk will be on the paradox of the “global” so perhaps it will shed more light on this. Here is the abstract, the lecture streams live at 12:30EST:

“The paradox of what is called “globalization” is that there is no “global globe” to hold the multitude of concerns that have to be assembled to replace the “politics of nature” of former periods. What are the instruments —always local and partial— that are sensitive enough to Gaia’s components for the limited technical and emotional apparatus of assembled humans?”

Dan Farber with some nice insights on the intersections of politics and our understanding of society and social policy.

Arundhati Roy: Re-imagining a world beyond capitalism and communism

This article appears in full on Adbusters.

Arundhati Roy

Re-imagining a world beyond capitalism and communism.

“The day capitalism is forced to tolerate non-capitalist societies in its midst and to acknowledge limits in its quest for domination, the day it is forced to recognize that its supply of raw material will not be endless, is the day when change will come.

If there is any hope for the world at all, it does not live in climate-change conference rooms or in cities with tall buildings. It lives low down on the ground, with its arms around the people who go to battle every day to protect their forests, their mountains and their rivers because they know that the forests, the mountains and the rivers protect them.READ MORE

Making the Geologic Now: new book from Punctum

A new book, with an impressive line-up of contributors is now out from Punctum. It is available as a download or purchase here, and has a great website.

Here is the description: GeoNow_Front-Cover_web-713x1024

Making the Geologic Now announces shifts in cultural sensibilities and practices. It offers early sightings of an increasingly widespread turn toward the geologic as source of explanation, motivation, and inspiration for creative responses to conditions of the present moment. In the spirit of a broadside, this edited collection circulates images and short essays from over 40 artists, designers, architects, scholars, and journalists who are actively exploring and creatively responding to the geologic depth of “now.” Contributors’ ideas and works are drawn from architecture, design, contemporary philosophy and art.  They are offered as test sites for what might become thinkable or possible if humans were to collectively take up the geologic as our instructive co-designer—as a partner in designing thoughts, objects, systems, and experiences.

Recent natural and human-made events triggered by or triggering the geologic have made volatile earth forces sense-able and relevant with new levels of intensity. As a condition of contemporary life in 2012, the geologic “now” is lived as a cascade of events. Humans and what we build participate in their unfolding. Today, and unlike the environmental movements of the 1970s, the geologic counts as “the environment” and invites us to extend our active awareness of inhabitation out to the cosmos and down to the Earth’s iron core.

New review of my co-edited book Water Ethics

It is by Janine Selendy and is available here.

Third Gifford Lecture by Latour today

If you’ve not been following the Gifford Lecture series by Bruno Latour this year, the third of six lectures will be today at 12:30EST. It can be live streamed here.

The first two lectures are summarized here by Franklin Ginn, a geographer at Edinburgh. All of the abstracts are also available here, but here is that for today’s talk:

“In spite of its reputation, Gaia is not half science and half religion. It offers a much more enigmatic set of features that redistribute agencies in all possible ways (as does this most enigmatic term “anthropocene”). Thus, it is far from clear what it means to “face Gaia”. It might require us to envisage it very differently from the various divinities of the past (including those derived from nature).”

If you are familiar with Latour’s work then you will be able to set right into this lecture as the last two worked towards thinking about Gaia without the concept of nature and without the standard account of religion where there is some entity that acts as the ultimate referee. For Latour, as you might expect, the whole idea of what ‘acts’ is broadly dispersed.

The last lecture Latour took umbrage with Hume. But I think this was a bit of a strawman, since the later common sense philosophers (i.e. Reid) are the ones who offer something actually different than the sort of epistemology that Latour critiques as modern. This is because these philosophers get caught up with the body itself, not as a whole, but as a system of interlinked and self-organizing organs: the nose, the eyes, touch, and so on.

Anyhow, despite that quibble I’m looking forward to today’s lecture.

Earthgauge Radio interviews a host of world-leading thinkers

If you haven’t had the opportunity to check out Earthgauge Radio, I would highly encourage it. There are a number of podcasts and articles with some heavy hitters who offer insights and analysis on everything from economics, climate, politics, journalism and cities.

Individual interviews are all listed here or, alternately, here are direct links:

February Water Ethics newsletter: special look at mining

Available here.