Seminar: Feral Technologies

April 23rd, 2016

The multispecies relationships that emerge from contaminated landscapes, postwar rubble, and garbage heaps may be regarded as “feral technologies”. How can thinking through this muddle bring about materially significant change?

Making and Unmaking Multispecies Dumps

This is an exercise in conceptualizing the technosphere as an unintended muddle of multispecies relationships that emerge from contaminated landscapes, postwar rubble, and garbage heaps—in short—dumps. Such a muddle may be considered through feral technologies—novel and weedy capacities for materially significant change.

What are we to make of proliferating crises: environmental degradation, forced migration, species extinctions, unfathomable debt burdens? These are unfolding simultaneously within a golden age of technoscientifically enhanced discoveries: maze-busting slime molds, co-evolving immune systems, more-than-human webs of symbiotic, invasive, artificial intelligence. Every day, we bounce between creativity and catastrophe, grappling with love and rage. The paradoxes are not hard to enumerate. The reality of the challenge lies in describing their entanglement. And yet, the Anthropocene trips up hard-earned categories and practices, pressing for radical approaches to understanding novel social dynamics. Rather than elaborating a straightforward analytical tool for defining a human-centered geological epoch, the Anthropocene presents a multidimensional puzzle structured around complexities and ruptures. When nature and culture—ways of being and ways of belonging—can no longer be studied as exclusively human, nonhuman, or machine, how might we approach this puzzle? Who inhabits and orders the technosphere?

Critical studies of change call for serious attention to companion species and the making and unmaking of multiple technologies of coordination. This seminar proposes an interdisciplinary exercise in critical description: a mix of fieldwork on ruderal ecologies, digital art, and multispecies ethnography. It is grounded in a field trip to an abandoned switchyard for trains called Schöneberger Südgelände in Berlin—an area that was recently transformed into a nature park and features an abundance of feral technologies.