On August 5–7, we host Streaming STREAMS – a series of online conversations and presentations about the Environmental Humanities (EH). These sessions will function as an introductory event for the upcoming STREAMS-conference (Stockholm, August 3–7, 2021).
The three-day event has the ambition to initiate conversations to be continued, open a space for many other contributions to be hosted during this next months, build a community of academics, artists and activists addressing the environmental crisis to be gathered in real life.
We took up the challenge of envisioning diverse and easy-to-follow formats and adjusting academic and less academic contents to the WWW and we came up with a manifold programme consisting of three sessions per day.
Each day begins with an interview between an early career and a distinguished scholar exploring specific realms of expertise within the EH, namely postcolonial studies, ecocriticism and environmental justice. Then, a hands-on roundtable will give a taste of the selected panels for the conference and present innovative approaches and themes in use. Finally, we will dedicate the conclusive daily session to a self-reflexive and inclusive forum discussion in which an invited speaker will share her/his/their experience in facing every-day scholarly challenges.
On August 5 we will meet Dipesh Chakrabarty, historian and professor at the University of Chicago. Moving from his wide-ranging scholarship, the interview will explore crucial conceptual knots of the EH and will pay particular attention to potential future developments of the field.
On August 6, James Ogude, literary scholar and Director at the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship (Pretoria), will join us for an interview on “Ubuntu and the Principle of Co-Agency in African Ecology”.
Our forum discussion will engage with publication venues. Together with Dolly Jørgensen, historian of the environment and technology and co-editor of the open-access journal Environmental Humanities, we will see how journals are part of remaking scholarly fields.
On August 7Julie Sze, professor of American Studies at the University of California (Davis), will speak about the topic of her most recent book “Environmental Justice in a moment of danger”.
Our concluding forum discussion on making academia sustainable will have as guest speakers historian Kathleen Brosnan and political ecologist Felipe Milanez. They will address a variety of challenges under the umbrella of sustainability.
To join for the live sessions and updates on these and upcoming STREAMS-events, register here.
STREAMS is an international conference for the Environmental Humanities (EH) that gathers researchers from a wide range of academic disciplines as well as artists, activists and practitioners. EH has grown considerably during the last decade and STREAMS seeks to offer a space in which this experimental and dynamic field can meet, discuss and set out future directions for thinking and acting amidst the ongoing ecological disaster.
STREAMS is hosted by the KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory (EHL).
Conveners, organisers and participants to STREAMS remain committed to inclusivity with regard to race, ethnicity, gender, gender expression and identity, sexual orientation, and physical abilities in terms topics discussed at their conference.
Nuclear energy is a highly debated field and depending on the societal context usually either embraced or fully rejected. From an outsider position it sometimes seems as if there was no in between: you are either pro- or anti-nuclear. This does not solely apply to times of active nuclear energy generation, but it also affects the future and finding solutions for safe storage of nuclear waste. In today’s interview with Andrei Stsiapanau we will hear more about the nuclear debate in the former Soviet Union. Andrei is a guest in our Nuclearwaters project since January 2020 and he is a scholarship holder of the Swedish Institute Visby Scholarship Program for Senior Researchers. He researches how nuclear energy is being socially and politically debated in Russia, Belarus and Lithuania and he is especially interested in the politics of nuclear waste in Russia, Lithuania and Sweden.
Alicia Gutting: Andrei, could you please let us know what you have been working on in the past months?
Andrei Stsiapanau: During the last months I have been working on the nuclear waste management issues in Russia as well as in Lithuania and Sweden. When more and more nuclear facilities throughout the world enter the stage of decommissioning, it is becoming particularly urgent to find sustainable solutions to the issue of nuclear waste. The list of possible technical solutions for spent nuclear fuel and other types of waste include deep geological disposal after reprocessing (favoured in France, Japan, and UK); direct deep geological disposal (favoured in Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Germany, USA and Czech Republic); surface long-term storage (favoured in the Netherlands, Italy and Spain). Each of these solutions translates into different ways on how to communicate, classify and govern nuclear waste in a particular country.
My research is focusing on how nuclear waste issues are communicated in various techno-political contexts. While studying how nuclear waste issues are being negotiated with communities in Russia, I discovered that natural resources like clay are used within nuclear waste discourses to mitigate the risk of potential radioactive contamination. It was my starting point to investigate how natural resources are used in various discourses about nuclear waste to make it less dangerous and harmful for people and environments. In the cases of Lithuania and Sweden, I am investigating how, through awareness and information campaigns, risks associated with nuclear waste are mediated and mitigated to transform the hazardous nuclear objects into manageable waste.
AG: What role does clay play?
AS: According to numerous researches on the role of the natural barrier in the nuclear waste disposal system, clay as well as crystalline rock are considered as a retardation medium for radionuclides migration. The multi barrier protection within nuclear waste technology illustrates how natural barriers or the geology of the disposal site will retard or mediate for both fluid flow and radionuclides migration in case of the engineering layer decay. This kind of technical vision of the disposal process promotes the natural protection layer as a reliable tool for absorption and immobilization of radioactivity. Geological and chemical studies of clay rock in various sites in the United States, France, Belgium, Canada and Russia show that clay has a number of absorption properties valuable for immobilization of the radioactive elements in the geomedia in case of the technical barrier decay. Thus, clay has become employed as a part of the nuclear waste management process. It represents a tool for absorption, immobilization and confinement of radioactivity. Including clay in the whole process of the nuclear decommission and decontamination makes it possible to reconsider the role of natural resources and materials in nuclear waste technologies and multi-barrier protection discourses.
AG: Are there differences in the Swedish and the Lithuanian (political) approach?
AS: Nuclear waste management systems in Sweden and Lithuania are developing in the context of decommissioning and nuclear phase out but following different trajectories and guidelines. The final repository for short-lived radioactive waste located at Forsmark in the municipality of Östhammar started operating in 1988. Lithuania is only now entering the phase of the construction of the landfill repositories for low and medium radioactive waste, and the construction of the geological disposal is programmed for after 2045. The Swedish approach represents an advanced example of nuclear waste management, based on the long-term experience of scientific research, transparent decision-making and continued reliance on public opinion and participation. Some connections in sharing nuclear waste management technology and experience exist between these two Baltic Sea countries. The Swedish nuclear waste authority, SKB, has been involved in the assessment of the existing nuclear waste facilities at the Ignalina NPP site in Lithuania since the 1990s. Swedish nuclear research and governance institutions continue to contribute to the transfer of knowledge and expertise in nuclear waste management taking part in numerous joint international research projects (BEACON; EURAD).
AG: What role does environmentalism play in the debate?
AS: As the two countries are at different stages of implementation of nuclear waste programs, it illustrates different levels of public engagement in the site selection process and environmental impact assessment of the radioactive waste disposals. In Sweden environmental issues are at the core of the public debate and concerns about the nuclear waste management program and are involving various actors, from local communities to International NGOs and leading national media outlets. In Lithuania environmental issues are less questioned, site selection is not contested and public participation is limited to local communities of the nuclear site with scarce media coverage. I suppose this situation will change with the start of a public discussion about the site selection for geological disposal of high radioactive waste and SNF and its environmental impact assessment. This debate will expand nuclear waste issues to the national scale. Considering environmentalism not only as participatory but also as scholarly concern, at the moment there are relatively few studies in environmental humanities and history about the uses of the natural resources in nuclear waste confinement and its impact on social and natural landscapes.
AG: Do people in the two countries differ in their risk perception?
AS: Different levels of public engagement in the nuclear decision-making illustrates different public opinion dynamics as well as public perception of nuclear risks. In Sweden due to the nuclear phase-out decision in 1980 and to the high impact of environmental movements, critical voices are prevailing the publicity concerning nuclear waste. In Lithuania the nuclear energy use became public only in the 1990s after the reestablishment of the independence and were associated mostly with Chernobyl disaster risks and anti-communist, sovereignty claims. During the transition period, the use of nuclear energy was considered as necessary for the economic and social developments of the country; political personnel, nuclear engineers and Lithuanian citizens embraced the energy produced by the Ignalina NPP as a national resource. The referendums about nuclear energy uses in Lithuania in 2008 and 2012 after the start of the decommissioning of the Ignalina NPP showed a rather radical change from pro- to anti-nuclear attitudes challenging the plan to construct a new NPP in the country.
byLeonoor Zuiderveen Borgesius, PhD Candidate, University of Oslo
The Covid-19 pandemic testifies to the importance of understanding human relationships to the environment as entangled. This pathogen is the most recent, but certainly not the first, aggressive reminder of how overwhelmingly physical the intertwinement between environments and human bodies is. SARS-Cov-2 is a zoonosis, a disease transferred to people by animals from another species. It may have transferred from pangolin to human on a Chinese ‘wet market’ (Image 1). In these open-air markets, wild game is sold and slaughtered on sight for its meat or, in the case of the pangolin, its scales. In some brands of Asian traditional medicine, the consumption of body parts of certain wild animals allows humans to ingest their characteristics like strength, agility, or fertility. Building on these traditions, it is the exquisite nature of such meat that raised its high demand among the ultra-rich. The devastating effects of this virus invite a discussion about the complex and intimate connections among humans as consumers, between humans and those animals they consume, and finally, about how together they cohabit in space and time.
The new coronavirus is not the first zoonosis with vast deadly effects. However, it is the first that, since the Spanish flu, has made its way to the cultural and capitalist centers of the western world, with catastrophic effects for their economies. Ebola (transferred by human consumption of bats) has caused tens of thousands of deaths, and HIV (presumably transferred from a chimpanzee) has made no less than 34 million victims. These viruses were raging in West-Africa, Eastern Europe, and LGBTQ-communities in the western world, by and large marginalized spheres around the globe.
A disease with an unimaginable deadliness like Ebola seems to belong to “Other” spaces, including its occurrence in other times. Violent imperial histories of explorers fighting malaria have narrated Africa as primitive and impenetrable because of the relentless tropic fevers. The HIV-virus made its way to the United States, where it victimized and stigmatized the outlandish members of society. Their vulnerability was unforgivingly explained by what was considered abhorrent, immoral, uncivilized behavior. Today, the exoticization of the new coronavirus can be seen with the insistence of the US Government to address China as the virus’ origin. Quite like skyrocketing everyday racism against Asian Europeans, this blame builds upon much older colonial discourses that dictate what is “Other” and therefore dangerous. As can be seen, those discourses that connect the tropics to dangerous disease and disposability of human life are violently persistent today. French doctors suggested that Africa could be a testing ground for the vaccine against the new coronavirus, a “hangover from colonial mentality that needs to stop” according to the head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Feeding into this idea of the virus as something of another place, species, or environment, is the nature of the interactions with animal bodies through which the virus could spread. Sonia Shah shows in her book Pandemic, Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond (2016) how a combination of enhanced and prolonged interspecies contact and a lack of biodiversity allows pathogens to circulate between human and nonhuman bodies. In Europe, cattle are not slaughtered in the open air, and there are no farms where civets or dogs are caught or bred for consumption. Nonetheless, animals are bred into being for humans to eat their body parts on an unprecedented and industrial scale.
For instance, the Netherlands is the most densely populated country in Europe, both in terms of people and cattle, and it has a substantial and politically present agricultural sector. The latest zoonosis was Q-fever, causing extreme fatigue and heart failure. Between 2007 and 2010, this virus infected about a hundred thousand people, left a thousand chronically ill, and killed about a hundred people on and around goat farms. Q-fever was hard to trace down, because it could not move through interhuman contact; and in some people the symptoms only manifested themselves after months or even years. The RIVM, the national health authority, responded to the Q-fever crisis by intensifying communications and knowledge sharing between veterinarian and human medical scientists. Although their recommendations for the preservation of public health have been systematically dismissed by the Ministry for Agriculture under pressure of the agricultural sector, this effort goes to show how microbes also blur scientific boundaries between environments.
Ironically, many of the Dutch goat farmers had chosen to switch the production from pigs to goats after the swine flu outbreak had caused them to cull and destroy no less than 11 million animals a few years earlier. When animals are held in stables with hundreds or even thousands of genetically similar individuals at the same time, pathogens can easily move from one body to another. For that reason, and because it causes a slight increase in physical growth of the animals’ body mass, the use of antibiotics is widespread among pig farmers across the world. The closer humans and animals are moved into the same habitat, the lower and less sophisticated the microbial barriers for both viruses and bacteria become. The aggressive and drug-resistant MRSA bacteria, that has been ravaging the effectiveness of antibiotics within the health sector in the last decades, shows that microbes that can repeatedly move from pigs to humans and back can pose serious, deadly threats to human and nonhuman bodies (Image 2).
This goes to show why environmental boundaries between human urban space and the nonhuman, wild space become increasingly unhelpful in understanding how also the current Covid-19 pandemic came about, how to suppress it, and how it could have been prevented. Like historian of technology Kate Brown argues, “self-isolation is key if we want to stop the pandemic – and yet the need for isolation is, in itself, an acknowledgement of our deep integration with our surroundings.” Not only in terms of scientific knowledge practices but also in biological terms, different environments, nature, and culture are all intimately entangled.
Animals have a particular role to play in defining those spaces as separate environments of home, wilderness, and production. Confined to their domestic spheres, people have collectively been seeking out the company of pets. In Chicago, they have been adopting so many dogs and cats that that the local shelter has been empty for the first time in its existence. In these same homes, Netflix aired the mega-success Tiger King, a documentary about the unadulterated insanity of private tiger farms that keep more tigers in captivity in the US than exist in the wild worldwide. After seven episodes of absurdist entertainment, a viewer might arguably conclude that the charismatic animals with which it all started are the ones that are left stranded by the very people that claimed to protect them, and deserve better than to live a life in small, filthy cages to the amusement of naïve spectators.
Whether it is tigers, dogs, pigs, goats, or pangolins, the deadly devastation and socio-economic disruption of pandemics like the one caused by the new coronavirus testify to the fact that in biological terms, their bodies as microbial ecosystems are part of the same multi-species environment. Yet, the cognitive dissonance that has been cultivated for the last decades with regards to what animals deserve compassion and which are consumption products is part and parcel to what dictates a discursive separation of what animals are house pets, poached or captive wild animals, domesticated factory goods, or a combination. At best, upholding this separation runs the risk of being analytically limited for environmental humanities scholars, and, at worst and when perpetuated by national governments with economic interests, it has proven to be lethal.
Sonia Shah, Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond (New York: Sarah Crighton Books, 2016)
Author’s Bio: Leonoor is a PhD candidate at the University of Oslo and a guest at the EHL in the Spring of 2020. As part of the research project LIFETIMES – A Natural History of the Present, she writes a dissertation on imperial infrastructure and Dutch civil engineering in the late 19th and early 20th century. In particular, the project deals with imaginaries of empty space and progress in engineering practices, and how they travelled and developed between colonial and domestic spaces, while shaping both.
by Jacob von Heland and Henrik Ernstson, Co-directors of The Situated Ecologies Platform
We have made the film One Table Two Elephants (84 min, 2018) free for use and remixing, except for commercial purposes (CC-BY-NC). This website on our Situated Ecologies Platform provides a link to the full film as well as educational resources, key references, questions for students and reviews, and notes on cinematic ethnography and our trilogy of films on postcolonial ecologies. The website will be updated continuously with new materials as we ourselves—and hopefully you—share your teaching experiences with the film.
Filmed in Cape Town, One Table Two Elephants provides a textured and nuanced account of knowledge politics in a postcolonial city, which we have found translates well to many other places. It opens up important questions about nature, urbanization, class, race and the living remains of colonialism. The film deliberately does not tell an easy story, because that is now how things are. Instead we trust the audience to engage and make up their minds and feelings, reading it in diverse ways to engage with one another. Many students have found it intriguing and engaging.
We also believe the film can assist in developing ONLINE TEACHING in these times of COVID19. The film will suit the use of a “flipped classroom,” allowing students to watch the whole or parts of the film before class and read one or two texts, which we have suggested. This preparation provides conditions for a rich discussion. However, there are various other ways of using the film in teaching and learning and we hope you will share with us your teaching experience, either through an email to us, or by posting on social media with the following hashtag: #Teaching1T2E .
We especially thank Paul Munro and Jim Igoe for using the film in their courses on Political Ecology and Indigenous Landscapes/Anthropology, respectively. We also like to thank Sachiko Ishihara, Asma Mehan and Ruben Hordijk for engaging critically with the film in their own course work. We have learnt from these scholars and students.
About the film: One Table Two Elephants (84 min, CPH:DOX, 2018) is a cinematic ethnography created by Jacob von Heland and Henrik Ernstson that deals with race, nature and knowledge politics in the postcolonial city (Official trailer). The film has been nominated to several prizes and screened at film festivals in Copenhagen, Cape Town, Tirana, Nijmegen and Stockholm.
Heland, Jacob von, and Henrik Ernstson. 2018. One Table Two Elephants (84 minutes, cinematic ethnography, Color, HD, Dolby 5:1). World Premiere in Competition at CPH:DOX 2018, March 20. Published by The Situated Ecologies Platform (CC-BY-NC) at this fixed URL: bit.ly/1T2Ethefilm
By Prof. Miyase Christensen (Stockholm Univesity & Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden)
This is a moderated version (see Postscript at the end) of a chapter published in “The Sage Handbook of Media & Migration” (Sage, 2020). Editors: Kevin Smets, Koen Leurs, Myria Georgiou, Saskia Witteborn & Radhika Gajjala.
In early 2019 it was announced that Greta Thunberg, a 16-year old Swedish climate activist, had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Thunberg originally gained national and international fame with her (then) solo climate-protest outside of the Swedish parliament building in Stockholm, a protest that grew in fame to the point where it developed into the ‘School Strike for Climate’ movement and the genesis for tens of thousands of student ‘strikes’ worldwide. The question, for some, was what Thunberg’s environmental protests had to do with peace. The answer can be found in, among other places, Africa where disputes over access to water along the Nile continue to escalate (with the threat of military intervention). In addition, and just a few days after Thunberg’s nomination, a cyclone hit the African countries of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, killing large numbers and causing floodwaters in excess of 20 feet, destroying 90 percent of Mozambique’s fourth largest city, Biera. Thus, the concept of ‘peace’ cannot be separated from nature, as we witness both military conflict and humanitarian catastrophe in the Anthropocene (the current geological age marked by human influence on the environment), nor can it be separated from how human impact on the environment shapes migration, mobility and peace.
As Burke (2013) has noted in relation to what he calls the ultimate failure of a ‘moral community’, recent events such as those in north and east Africa are stark reminders of the futility of considering rising global temperatures, resource depletion or natural disasters simply as issues of national relevance:
When states draw on the same water sources, experience a common climate, depend on global prices and currency values, transmit conflict and weapons beyond their borders, and threaten and affect the lives of others far away, enclosed or circular models of moral community — however generous — fail to reflect an urgent reality. It is no longer a matter of deciding whether national interests and global goods must clash, but of honoring the common space of life and death that we have created.
Clearly, in all of these cases — from warfare to famine to human/natural disasters — mobility and migration are central components. It is the purpose of this chapter to offer a discussion of cosmopolitanism vis-à-vis mobility and migration from the standpoint of planetary politics and the Anthropocene, rather than within a global framing. Here, cosmopolitanism and mobility are considered in an integrativemanner in which the material and symbolic aspects can be considered together to open up new cosmopolitan horizons.
A Brief History Of Cosmopolitan Thought
In her 1980 collection of essays, Under the Sign of Saturn, Susan Sontag wrote a chapter on the Bulgarian-born writer Elias Canetti, who was taken from Austria to Britain in 1938 to escape the incoming Nazi regime. Canetti, described as the ‘son of a family of wandering Sephardic Jewish merchants’ and inspired by Goethe, wrote of his experiences in war-torn London. Sontag saw the connection between Canetti’s personal history, his writing and his connection to cosmopolitanism, and wrote of him:
He has, almost by birthright, the exiled writer’s easily generalized relation to place: a place is a language. And knowing many languages is a way of claiming many places as one’s territory. Canetti has the privilege and the burden of understanding, Jew that he is, the higher cosmopolitanism. (Mitgang, 1981)
Sontag continued by writing that a great deal of Canetti’s works point toward the importance of ‘how to pay attention to the world’ and that, in his work, ‘there is no doctrine’. Of course, the very form of cosmopolitanism that Sontag ascribed to Canetti — the fluid, exiled Jewish artist able to adapt and understand multiple cultural contexts — was the same form reviled by Stalin in the late 1940s and early 1950s Soviet Union. Employing the term ‘rootless cosmopolitan’ (originally used in 19th century Russia against Jewish writers), an anti-Semitic campaign to smear Jewish intellectuals was put into action in which their loyalty to both party and nation were questioned.
The flexibility and utility of the terms cosmopolitanand cosmopolitanism — there were, after all, only 30 years between the pejorative Stalinist use and Sontag’s celebration — speak to the long, rich (and often problematic) history of the terms. The concepts of cosmopolitanism and the cosmopolitan have, in various iterations and for various political and social ends, been woven into the intellectual history of humankind: from early Chinese Confucianism, to the ancient Greeks to Stalinist Russia. Ancient Greece is perhaps most famous for what was clearly not a cosmopolitan political and social project, namely evident in the political philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, in which men (and only men) swear their allegiance to a specific city (‘polis’) and its inhabitants alone. This essentially anti-cosmopolitan ideology — where sharing or collaborating with those who resided outside of polis was frowned upon, and where the only foreigners with whom one could/should interact were those already living within the walls of the polis — was juxtaposed by the philosophy famously attributed to the Cynic Diogenes, a 4th century BC resident of Sinope (now part of the Black Sea region of Turkey) who, when asked where he came from, answered: ‘I am a citizen of the world (kosmopolitês)’. This philosophy was then adapted by the Stoics and crystalized by the philosopher Hierocles who envisioned Stoic cosmopolitanism in the form of concentric circles with the human mind at the center, expanding outward to encompass family, extended family, local community, wider community, country/nation and, at the outer edge of the circles, the entirety of the human race. The goal, Hierocles posited, was to pull these various circles inward, thereby making the human, the national and the local issues of the person and the mind.
The ‘citizen of the world’ position taken by Diogenes was later adopted by intellectuals such as Thomas Paine. While in Paris in the late 1790s, Paine argued that, although not French by birth, his opposition to the execution of the deposed king Louis XVI — Paine claimed that capital punishment was inhumane and that the former monarch should be exiled — should be taken seriously because he was a ‘citizen of the world’. As Lamb (2014) writes, there is perhaps no political thinker in the post-ancient era that is so closely associated with the philosophy originally espoused by Diogenes. Lamb (2014: 638) notes that Paine regularly points out the ‘universal validity (and falsity) of moral and political claims’ and that their ‘evaluation can never be confined to one particular national, historical or cultural context’. In a famous line from his pamphlet Common Sense, and in the spirit of universalism and inter-connectedness, Paine (2003) unwittingly presaged questions related to environmental degradation and the Anthropocene when he wrote, ‘the cause of America is in great measure the cause of all mankind’. At almost precisely the same time as Paine was writing Common Sense, Immanuel Kant published Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch(1970) in whichhe outlined his ideas for a program of global peace to be enforced by national governments. In addition to a list of articles intended to eliminate warfare, three additional articles were included to ensure that peace and stability could be maintained with the third of these directly related to cosmopolitanism: ‘The law of world citizenship shall be limited to conditions of universal hospitality’. This ‘Cosmopolitan Law’ was an addition to constitutional and international law and was predicated on the belief that human beings have inalienable rights as citizens of earth and not just as citizens of states.
What this brief history of cosmopolitanism shows us is not only the flexibility in how the term has been used, but, also, how the conception of being a ‘citizen of the world’ tends to dominate the epistemological framing of being a cosmopolitan. This is a citizenship that is on the surface dynamic, but ultimately static and rooted in time. Interestingly, however, it was the original proponent of cosmopolitanism, Diogenes, who provided the most forward-thinking and radical conception of the term. For Diogenes, cosmopolitanism was more than simply the acceptance of ‘the other’, it was about active (rather than theoretical) participation in dissent: to challenge prevailing wisdom, to question power, to expose excessive consumption and greed and to live a life free of material possessions and waste. The ‘anti-elite and anti-institutional notions of belonging and citizenship’ held by Diogenes and the Cynics were in opposition to the more conservative Stoic tradition (Delanty, 2012: 3). It is this conception of cosmopolitanism that is perhaps most useful when considering the relationship to the Anthropocene and environment as it foregrounds the long-term, temporal impact of human action (and inaction) rather than focusing on short-term impact. For example, Marxist notions of dominating nature and expanding production to benefit workers were geared toward an ultimately cosmopolitan end: the erosion and collapse of nation-states and the emergence of a classless, humanitarian society. Yet, this end is untenable and can result in the destruction of earth if no governed tightly and sensibly. In the subsequent sections, how cosmopolitanism must embrace not only a philosophy of inclusion, but one of dissent and activism in the face of radical environmental change, will be addressed.
Cosmopolitanism in the Mediated Anthropocene
How might we conceive of a cosmopolitan vision connecting the concepts of the Anthropocene and migration within the more radical tradition of Diogenes and the Cynics? One way to start would be to challenge the ways in which media and communication studies have traditionally addressed questions of cosmopolitanism and the media. To date, the mediated ‘cosmopolitan vision’ has usually been discussed within the parameters of consumption of various forms of representation: from popular culture to news (Robertson, 2019). Such a focus, however, runs the risk of reducing media ‘consumption’ to the act of reading, listening or seeing. It doverces the acts of producing and purchasing media hardware from the act of absorbing representation. This conception also ignores what Parikka (2012; in Christensen & Nilsson, 2018) described as the ‘dirty matter’ produced in modern society. This matter includes the chemicals and minerals required for the production of contemporary communication technology hardware: chemicals and materials that are mined in predominantly poorer nations, with catastrophic environmental effects. In addition to the devastating consequences of the extraction of these materials, there exists similarly devastating environmental consequences for the disposal of the same materials. Cultural imperialism studies (e.g. Boyd-Barrett, 1977; Schiller 1976; 1991) addressed the ‘core-periphery’ relationship between ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ nations, yet reduced the material that would flow back from core (wealthy nations) to periphery (poorer nations) to media/cultural products (TV programs, films, music). This analysis, while canonic and highly insightful, overlooked the extent to which the discarded hardware of media, including vast quantities of toxic material (in the case of, for example, computers), are also dumped in poorer nations, again leading to environmental degradation (Christensen & Nilsson, 2018: 271–2).
In relation to the Anthropocene and migration, therefore, a radical cosmopolitan perspective must take into account the material impact of the consumption of media hardware upon the environment, and the potential of that consumption to contribute to the conditions that lead to forced and involunatry migration. This follows the longitudinal perspective, embraced by Diogenes, within which all stages and all forms of media ‘consumption’ — from the mining of the materials required to produce media hardware to their eventual disposal in the form of e-waste — must be considered for a truly radical and holistic cosmopolitian understanding of media consumption. This is what Parikka (2012: 97) termed ‘media-natures’, which would be used for the study of the ‘continuum between mediatic apparatuses and their material contexts in the exploitation of nature’.
In media and communication studies, notable perspectives and empirical analyses have been produced over the past few decades. Yet, we have probably just begun to scratch the surface in terms of the potential of cosmopolitan thought. As a result of media and communication studies being the off-shoot of various other disciplines (for example, Literary Studies in the US), as well as being periodically ridiculed in popular press as ‘Mickey Mouse Studies’ in the UK not so long ago, there has, at times, been a tendency to defer to dominant paradigms of thought and research, and not to develop new, radical, progressive theory (related to, for example, issues of central importance to the earth on which we live). It is telling that many of the strands of theory and thought that were perceived as marginal to media and communication research — such as environmental humanities — should, in truth, be at the heart of media and communication studies. It is only this form of thinking that will enable media and communication studies to take the steps required to address the relationship between, for example, the Anthropocene and media consumption. In concrete terms, Peters (2015: 2) has argued that we should ‘conceive of the media as both nature and culture’.
One connective tissue between this new form of theory and research, the Anthropocene and the theme of migration, is that of geo-politics. The traditional conception of geopolitics has been one of ‘the world’ or ‘the global’, yet we need to move beyond these concepts and embrace the notion of planetary politics. Along these lines, Elden (2013) suggests that we think of a ‘politics of the earth’ rather than a ‘politics of the global’. This meshes well with Burke’s (2013) cosmopolitan notion of ‘honoring the common space of life and death that we have created’. Of course, migration is one part of geo-politics and so a cosmopolitan vision should go beyond moral, ethical, legal and representational notions, and develop a more holistic understanding within the framework of the Anthropocene. As Christensen and Nilsson (2018: 272–3) write: ‘bringing in geopolitical perspectives (makes) visible the planetary scale through addressing questions of geographic interplay as well as the human scale through an emphasis on politics and power (such as colonial legacies and contemporary dynamics of subordination)’.
In this short essay, the goal has been to stimulate thought on the relationship between cosmopolitanism, migration and the Anthropocene, but to also consider how media and communication studies can and should adapt to contemporary planetary environmental conditions. The Nobel Prize nomination given to Sweden’s Greta Thunberg was presented as a starting point to consider how climate and peace are interconnected. Thunberg’s Swedish nationality is a good place to end. As has been well documented, Sweden has, per capita, taken more refugees than any other country in Europe and far more per capita than countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia. Much has also been made of the fact that a majority of these refugees have come from war-torn Syria and, just over a decade ago, from war-torn Iraq. The destabilization of Iraq, and the political and military vacuum that followed, contributed to the formation of the Islamic State (IS) which, in turn, led to the de-stabilization of Syria. Sweden’s intake of refugees and immigrants from these nations has a direct relationship to the Anthropocene: the US bombing of Iraq in the early 1990s and the US/UK invasion and occupation of Iraq that began in 2003 were both efforts to secure US and European access to oil. Thus, it can be reasonably argued it was the excessive demand for oil and petroleum products that contributed to Sweden’s considerable intake of refugees from Iraq and Syria.
How does this bring us back to cosmopolitanism and academic research? To take the case of media and communication studies, the analysis of, for example, the representation of migrants from Syria or Iraq has usually defined these groups as fleeing conflict or war. Less common (if at all) is to define them, ultimately, as victims of a hyper-consumption fuelled by the media that cover them, politicians who use them as pawns and media consumers who now read reductionist stories about them. Thus, framing refugees and migrants as the effects of specific conflicts bypasses deeper global environmental and consumption issues in favor of discourses of war which absolve the reader (and researchers) from personal responsibility.
Cosmopolitanism has usually been framed as a question of space, and empathizing with those from other places. What it rarely has been framed as, however, is a question of empathy and engagement across time. As history changes, the work and activism of Diogenes reminds us of the need to think of cosmopolitanism in temporal terms, as our actions today will have effects many years down the road.
Postscript, March 2020
Given the issues raised in this chapter, the current coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is a stark reminder of how those who work within the field of Media and Communication Studies (and academia in general) would do well do consider how our own professional practices are often at odds with the (admittedly laudible) egalitarian and pro-social framework within which a great deal of research is conducted. Earlier in this piece, I noted how the technology hardware used in the media industry, and by academics, make a significant contribution to environmental degradation: a fact that often goes without comment in political economic and social analyses of the “impact of media.” By the same token, we might ask how and why these same technologies that, at the very least, allow for instantaneous visual and aural communication over great distances — technologies used on a daily basis in so many other areas of our work — are suddenly abanadoned in favor of highly damaging long-distance travel for events such as academic conferences. That it takes an outbreak like COVID-19 to stop these practices, even in the face of existing overwhelming evidence of the damage caused by things such as air travel, speaks to the chasm between much academic rhetoric on progressive practice and action.
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