RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2015

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146 Future Fossils? Specimens from the 5th millennium "Return to Earth" expedition (2): From slum fragments to shattered hard drives
Affiliation History and Philosophy of Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) Beth Greenhough (University of Oxford, UK)
Jamie Lorimer (University of Oxford, UK)
Kathryn Yusoff (Queen Mary University of London, UK)
Chair(s) Beth Greenhough (University of Oxford, UK)
Timetable Thursday 03 September 2015, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
Room Newman Building - Lecture Theatre A/Blue
Session abstract We invited participants to speculate on the traces or signals (geological or otherwise) that will mark out the Anthropocene for future geo-graphers and geo-logists. An invitation was extended to an imaginary future event: a 5000AD symposium to report the results of an Earth expedition. Participants will bring with them examples of ‘future fossils’; significant remnants of our contemporary age that illustrate how current human and non-human relations imprint their legacies into not only geological, but all kinds of biological, social, atmospheric and virtual strata.

One of the key challenges posed by the Anthropocene concept is that it forces us to engage with both an entangled present and an uncertain future. While seemingly anthropocentric (in its claim that the influence of humanity is all pervasive), the idea of an Anthropocene highlights how the non-human world is firmly embedded within and through us. How will future generations (looking back) discern the divides between human and other species and their relations to broader geomorphological, biological, socio-economic and cultural processes? The Anthropocene provides a provocation to think life differently and we seek to make prominent the geo-politics of this epochal event, whose present and future telling offers opportunities for alternative ways of writing the Earth.
Linked Sessions Future Fossils? Specimens from the 5th millennium "Return to Earth" expedition (1): From Matrimandir to oil-field bacteria
Future Fossils? Specimens from the 5th millennium "Return to Earth" expedition (3): Reflections on "Return to Earth"
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2015@rgs.org
Slum fragments: recovering Anthropecenic urbanism?
Colin McFarlane (Durham University, UK)
Archaeology entails the reconstruction of the past through fragments. In this presentation, I examine a series of fragments recovered from cities at the dawn of the Anthropocene, and asks: what is the status of the fragment in recovering the urban condition? To what extent do fragments – bits and pieces left over from another time – provide insight into the nature of urban life in the early Anthropocene? Do fragments remain mere particularities, providing only glimpses of a distant past and raising as many questions as answers, or might they provide something more? For Walter Benjamin, whose work experimented so often with fragments of the city, “completed works weigh less than fragments”. Might fragments, as Theodore Adorno argued, illuminate larger truths? I consider these questions in relation to a series of fragments of infrastructure recovered from an archaeological dig at a once vast urban slum. These include: a piece of fibre optic cable, broken parts of a septic tank, and parts of a solar panel. What do these fragments reveal – or perhaps fail to reveal - about the conditions, choices, politics, and lives of early Anthropecenic urbanism? What do these fragments suggestion about how slum infrastructures played a role in propelling, or perhaps in mitigating, human impact on planetary change? I conclude by reflecting on the status of the fragment in recovering urban truths, and in the production of urban knowledge and research.
Container Architectures: Human Settlement Transformations in the Anthropocene
Ella Harris (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
This report investigates architectural fossils dating from the early 21st Century. At this time it appears that metal shipping containers, which had once afforded transoceanic trade, were taken up as architectural forms. This move towards ‘modular’ and ‘mobile’ settlement construction marked changes in human’s relationships to temporality. While, historically, they had undertaken building projects spanning generations, they now prioritised structures that were swiftly erectable and easily relocated, appropriating transportation units as entertainment venues, retail outlets and urban farms. Container architectures also related to moments of human crisis: in Christchurch, New Zealand the destruction of the city centre by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake (2011) saw the retail district replaced by containers, and evidence from Brighton, England, shows they were employed to literally ‘contain’ the human cost of failures in housing and welfare infrastructures, storing and easily transporting those at the time referred to as ‘the homeless’. The report questions the implications of containers as architectural fossils; what do they tell us about the relationship of humans to time, space and, indeed, each other during the Anthropocene? Are they indicative of growing infrastructural motility in an era of supreme human influence, or conversely, of the increasing precarity of their settlements on earth?
Perturbations: The Green Fluorescent Protein Medaka
Helen Pritchard (Queen Mary University of London, UK)
In the coastal regions of ANBU 2325789 an anthrontological curiosity, emerges, glowing electron-lucent layers are dense around the locales of intense polyaromatic hydrocarbon and polychlorinated biphenyl records. So we spend time on the rocks, amongst two plateau anthrokarsts over which our principles become unstable: Trace fossil FOBU-1379, talk about a queer intimacy![1]. We examine the ‘chemical sentiment’, fossilised in the livers of the green fluorescent protein gene Medaca. We move through tiny cellular structures and chemical envelopes that contradict each other. Brushing up close to compressed traces, I got thinking about your fossil fish argument. Don’t get me wrong, Life is not shy[2]. And so we continue, following gene flows and taking our mouths to the impacted perturbations of Vitellogenin proteins.
(includes fragments of direct quotes from [1] Karen Barad and [2] Lynn Margulis)
“Tracing Uneven Geology”
Jeremy Bolen (School of Art Institute of Chicago, USA)
Sarah Nelson (University of Minnesota, USA)
Emily Eliza Scott (ETH Zürich, Switzerland)
A majority of our fellow geo-archaeologists investigate the Great Acceleration (1950-1970 CE)— long confirmed to be a key turning point marking the advent of the early Anthropocene era—as a spectacular and cohesive event. Indeed, the most prominent indicator in the Earth’s material record from this period is a dramatic spike in atmospheric carbon. We, however, believe that globalized, “big picture” interpretations produce inevitably narrow understandings of the Anthropocene, which emerged and developed through the complex interplay of ancient political formations, economic relations, and geological processes. As a team of dedicated Earth-readers, we specialize in tracing not-so-obvious explanations sealed within the contemporary geological record, with particular attention to events and conditions that occurred in dispersed, interrelated and/or gradual fashion. We do this through the lens of what we call uneven geology. For one of the hallmarks of the early Anthropocene was the geographically and socially imbalanced means by which phenomena such as climate change came into being and unfolded across the planet’s reach. It is furthermore clear that certain species, environments, and social-political formations and patterns were better suited (or situated) than others to be indexed in the Earth’s material archive. In this presentation of findings from our recent Earth expedition, we will analyze one or more specific specimens to demonstrate our approach to reconstructing the disequilibrium of early Anthropocenic life.

The Pacemaker: Tracing cyber (re)territorialisations
Andrew Dwyer (University of Oxford / Cyber Security CDT, UK)
The future archaeologist at a burial site in London dating from the early 21st Century, among the bones and soils, finds a degraded object of plastics, silicon(s) and other metals. Forensic analysis reveals an ancient computer system, with only hints of data originally ‘saved’ onto the pacemaker. Amongst the incomplete fragments, certain ‘secure’ properties of the pacemaker provide hints to the historic human society. This paper uses the implantable electronic medical device (IEMD) to investigate the negotiation of (re)territorialisations in ‘cyber’ and the ‘physical’. The (in)securities embedded within the device expose partial, abstracted knowledges of privacy, biolog(y)ies, and social inequalities. These play through the pacemaker’s hardware(s) and software(s), weaving the ‘natural’ materials that make its presence ‘physical’ to the ‘cyber’, where affectivity and dominant narratives of contemporary ‘western’ society become known. Hence the pacemaker enables new geologies, visions and realities of ‘life’ to the future. As data fast-becomes an all-pervasive element to the ‘everyday’, digital technologies generate emergent spaces of ‘cyber’. This materialises through securities embedded in IEMDs that collect, store, and manipulate; forming new worlds. I use this interplay of securities between the body and the pacemaker to interrogate constructions of ‘human’, the ‘non-human’ and ‘technology’ within the Anthropocene.
Franklin Ginn (The University of Edinburgh, UK)
Jacob Barber (The University of Edinburgh, UK)
Item description: Recovered item is shattered piece of 21st C technology, possibly a primitive hard-drive. To be displayed in a glass display cabinet alongside rudimentary printout of its recoverable contents. Recoverable content header reads ‘RGS-IBG 2015: Future Fossils? Return to Earth’ (???) followed by a listed itinerary. Listed topics seem incommensurate with basic rudiments of 25th C psycho-bio-political philosophy.
Provenance: 93.6%
Significance: Item is a tertiary tier paradigmatic representative of pre-Purge temporal anxiety (Class 2). The second tier is exemplified by files in the collection ACA/GEO/21/IBG/CONF/2015/SIGNIFICANCE-RHETORIC-SKYHOOK/- [these files are classed by syntactic ‘X in the Anthropocene’ where X = No Fixed Topic]. First tier is exemplified by ACA/GEO/21/IBG/CONF/2015/HYPER-MODERNISATION-BY-NUMBERS [these files are classed by syntactic invocation ‘More Spreadsheets’].
Discussion: This curious pair of items, recovered from the time-sealed garbage room of what was perhaps once a ‘university’, attest to the immense confusion of 21st Century earth-bound. A strange creature forfeit of cybernesis, xenophytic splice-enhancement, temporal distension (or indeed spatial multiplicity!), yet capable of conjuring ideas of vast arrogance. These specimens appear infatuated with a fantasy that affords them narrative oversight of their planet’s geostory and a preternatural sense of their own perceived downfall.