Liubov Timonina (or Liuba as we call her) is not only our doctoral student in the MISTRA Sport and Outdoor project. She is also affiliated with the Arctic Institute since 2018, and produces a podcast together with two colleagues: the TAI Bookshelf Podcast. In the latest episode she interviews our very own podcast host Eric Paglia!
With this podcast Liuba and colleagues are out on a mission! To make the Arctic easy and accessible to everyone, by serving the listeners in-depth conversations with scholars and experts. Eric was invited for a chat on the art of Arctic podcasting.
– A relaxed and genuine conversation, which sheds light on the everyday of podcast-making, its challenges and funny moments, on the joy of sharing our thoughts and experiences with others and of being part of a dedicated community 🙂 Podcasts are indeed a great way of learning and communicating research, which makes our academic work so vibrant and fun, Liuba says about the episode.
If you are interested in Corinna’s outstanding work, you can join via Zoom and in case that you need technical assistance for joining please contact history[at]abe.kth.se.
Here is the abstract of this valuable contribution:
The Arctic has long been perceived as a static, timeless place of shielded wilderness. This perception extended to the reindeer as both part of the Arctic environment and of traditional Indigenous livelihoods. Physically, the reindeer of Swedish Sápmi looks largely the same today as it did a century ago – an animal ostensibly unaltered and unchanged.
Nevertheless, this thesis argues that the reindeer has undergone a number of fundamental shifts of meaning in Swedish Sápmi over the past century. The dissertation asks how the reindeer’s roles and functions evolved in Swedish Sápmi from ca. 1920 to 2020 and examines how, why and by whom the reindeer has been negotiated. It explores the changing understanding of the reindeer’s role in society, studies emerging idea(l)s and purposes, and considers what mark they left on the animal.
This study is a history of the ideas, discourses and practices that shaped the modern reindeer. It examines ways of understanding and making reindeer. At different points in time, varying combinations of actors have sought to control, shape and re-define this Arctic animal. The meaning attached to it changed as a result, and with it reindeer-related policies. Swedish state policies towards the Sámi and reindeer husbandry have especially deeply impacted the way reindeer were understood and governed. Over the course of a century, policy efforts aimed to control the reindeer’s movements, health, reproduction and death, with varying success. Discourse and associated practices generated multiple versions of the reindeer. In terms of these changing versions, the thesis conceptualizes the reindeer as a changing technology and a socially constructed resource.
Five empirical chapters trace how the reindeer was negotiated, especially between the Swedish state and Sámi herders. They show how the reindeer’s role and purpose has been under repeated negotiation and discuss some of these roles. Restrictive border and grazing policies made the reindeer a trespasser at the turn of the twentieth century. From the 1950s onwards, a modernist improvement project envisioned it as economic resource. In the course of such rationalization efforts, the reindeer became an object of techno-scientific interest. Improvers attempted to transform reindeer into productive, reliable meat machines. These efforts faced a severe setback when the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986 contaminated considerable numbers of reindeer, turning it into a toxic animal and a threatened bearer of Sámi culture. In more recent years, we find the reindeer at an intersection of consumer demand for natural foods and Sámi agency. It has become a symbol for claims to self-determination. Sámi champions of food sovereignty and land rights have started to reclaim and promote the reindeer as traditional and wholesome source of food through the Slow Food Sápmi movement.
A closer look at these re-definitions reveals that the reindeer is no timeless, passive backdrop to human action. The reindeer itself has history – it is a historical animal with agency of its own, able to challenge efforts of control. Nevertheless, the different notions of the reindeer materialized into policies and ways of governing not only the reindeer but also their Indigenous herders. The (re)negotiations of what reindeer are or ought to be provide insights into the relationship between representatives of the Swedish state and of Sámi reindeer husbandry, as well as colonial legacies and persistently unequal power relations.
Arktis har länge uppfattats som en statisk, tidlös och avskild ödemark. Denna uppfattning gäller även renar, som setts som en del av både den arktiska miljön och urfolkens traditionella levnadssätt. Renen i svenska Sápmi ser fysiskt i stort sett likadan ut idag som för hundra år sedan – ett djur som till synes förblev oförändrat genom tiden.
Ändå argumenterar denna avhandling för att renen har genomgått ett antal grundläggande betydelseförskjutningar i svenska Sápmi under det senaste århundradet. Den utforskar den föränderliga förståelsen av renens roll i samhället och den studerar framväxande idéer och syften och hur dessa påverkade djuret. Avhandlingen frågar hur renens roller och funktioner har utvecklats i svenska Sápmi mellan 1920 och 2020 och undersöker hur, varför och av vem renarnas förvandling har genomförts.
Denna studie är en historia som innefattar de idéer, diskurser och metoder som formade den moderna renen. Den undersöker sätt att förstå och “göra” renen som djur men också som inslag i ekonomi och samhälle. Vid olika tillfällen har olika kombinationer av aktörer försökt kontrollera, forma och omdefiniera detta arktiska djur. Som resultat förändrades dess betydelse, och därmed även den politiska styrningen av renen. Särskilt den svenska statliga politiken gentemot samerna och renskötseln har djupt påverkat hur renar förstods och styrdes. Under ett helt århundrade har politiska ansträngningar syftat till att kontrollera renens rörelser, hälsa, reproduktion och död, med varierande framgång. Diskurs och tillhörande praktiker genererade flera versioner av renen. Med tanke på dessa föränderliga versioner konceptualiserar avhandlingen renen som en socialt konstruerad resurs.
Fem empiriska kapitel spårar hur renen förhandlades, speciellt mellan svenska staten och samiska renskötare. Restriktiv gräns- och renbetespolitik gjorde renen till en inkräktare vid 1900- talets början. Från 1950-talet och framåt sågs renen som en ekonomisk resurs i ett statligt modernistikt förbättringsprojekt. Under dessa rationaliseringsinsatser blev renen till ett objekt av teknovetenskapligt intresse. Reformatorer försökte omvandla renar till produktiva, pålitliga köttmaskiner. Dessa ansträngningar mötte ett allvarligt bakslag när kärnkraftsolyckan i Tjernobyl 1986 förorenade ett stort antal renar och gjorde det till ett giftigt djur och en hotad bärare av samisk kultur. På senare år ser vi renarna i skärningen mellan konsumenternas efterfrågan på naturliga livsmedel och samisk agens. Renen har blivit en symbol för anspråk på självbestämmande, där samiska förkämpare för livsmedelssuveränitet och markrättigheter har börjat återta och främja renen som traditionell samisk och hälsosam matkälla genom Slow Food Sápmi-rörelsen.
En närmare granskning av dessa omdefinitioner visar att renen inte är någon tidlös, passiv bakgrund till människornas handlingar. Renen har en egen historia – det är ett historiskt djur med egen agens, som kan utmana kontrollförsök. Ändå omsattes de olika föreställningarna om renen till politik och sätt att styra inte bara renen utan också dess samiska ägare. Att förstå (om)förhandlingarna om vad en ren är eller borde vara ger insikter i förhållandet mellan representanter för den svenska staten och samiska renskötare, liksom förhållandets koloniala arv och kvarvarande ojämna maktförhållanden.
Otso Kortekangas, postdoc at the division, has written a new book. In “Language, Citizenship, and Sámi Education in the Nordic North, 1900-1940” Otso investigates how Sámi people were affected by nation state education doctrines in Finland’s, Norway’s and Sweden’s North.
One important part of the political context in the genesis of this book is the announcement of the Finnish government to form a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2019. Its task is to investigate, showcase and discuss injustice and oppression done by the Finnish state towards the Sámi, with the aim of reconciliation and a better future.
The year 2021 will witness the start of the work of a Sámi Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Finland. A TRC is already working in Norway, and in Sweden, the planning for a Sámi TRC is under way. The main aim of the TRCs in each country is to review and assess earlier governmental policies targeting the indigenous Sámi population in Norway, Finland and Sweden, make Sámi voices and experiences visible, and to point toward ways forward.
Differently from the Canadian TRC (2008–2015) that focused on indigenous education and residential schools, the Nordic Sámi TRCs will take a comprehensive approach to historical policies targeting the Sámi and, in the case of Norway, the Finnish-speaking Kven minority. However, governmental educational policies will be a very important theme for the commissions to investigate, as assimilation and segregation applied in education is one of the external forces that have molded Sámi culture the most during the 20th century.
As elucidated in my book Language, Citizenship, and Sámi Education in the Nordic North, 1900-1940 (MQUP 2021), different educational actors had different approaches. Sámi education was traditionally organized by the Lutheran churches in each country. The high priority the Lutheran dogma ascribes to the intelligibility of the gospel and Christianity education by large entailed that Sámi language varieties were in use as languages of instruction in many schools with Sámi pupils in the Nordic north. Gradually, the governments of Norway, Sweden, and Finland took over the responsibility for elementary education from the church around the turn of the century 1900. The governmental educational authorities and politicians downgraded the importance of Sámi language in education, as quality of education and the mastering of each country’s majority language became paramount educational aims. In Norway and Finland, assimilation to the majority population was the norm in the governmental elementary schools, with certain exceptions. The nomadic reindeer herding Sámi in Sweden’s mountain regions were de jure separated to their own group, with the obligation to place their children in specific schools. These so called nomad schools were designed after the idealized notion Swedish elementary authorities had on the “true” Sámi way of life and efficient reindeer herding.
The educational reforms of the early twentieth century that led, in many individual cases, to the tragic loss of Sámi language, had a brighter side, as well. As in many other instances of minority education, the skills and knowledge Sámi pupils gained in the schools had, at least in some cases, an empowering function. Most of the powerhouses spearheading the early and mid-twentieth century Sámi cultural movements and the Sámi opposition to government policies were teachers, educated at schools and on teachers’ training courses to navigate both the Sámi and the majority culture contexts. These teachers were pioneers of promoting Sámi culture as an active, independent culture that existed alongside and independent of other Nordic cultures and states.
While the TRCs in each country are paramount for the future relations of the Sámi and the majority populations, it is important to keep in mind that the Sámi existed and exist also outside of the frame and borders of each of the three nation states. There is a certain risk of nationalization and further minoritization of the Sámi in Norway, Sweden and Finland if the various Sámi groups are always first and foremost treated as a national minority rather than a transnational population. It is critical that this historical transnational fact, together with the diversity of voices and perspectives within Sámi education, are included in the work of the TRCs in each country. Only by so doing will it be possible to reproduce a rightful picture of historical events as a base for future reconciliation processes.
If you are interested in reading more, check out Otso’s book here.
In this article, I will argue for the need of a new form of history writing that takes into full account the environmental impacts of human history over the past five centuries. The purpose of this is to contribute to substantiating the Anthropocene as a new temporal unit beyond its origin in the geological sciences. I call this history writing attuned to human impact on the planet Anthropocene historiography. Such history could also be useful in response to the need to historicize the present ecocrisis, acknowledging that it did not emerge overnight or even just in the past two centuries but appeared as a new world order in the sixteenth century and to a large extent followed on the mutual developments of coloniality and mercantile to market global capitalism. Another benefit of an Anthropocene historiography could be to inject critical thought on temporality into the future dimension of climate change policy, which is currently governed by global climate models projecting changes according to different emission pathways.”
REXSAC – Resource Extraction and Sustainable Arctic Communities – is a Nordic Centre of Excellence in Arctic research, funded by Nordforsk and led by the Division, together with Stockholm University and Stockholm Environment Institute. Representants in REXSAC from the Division are researcher and LTU Professor Dag Avango, Professor Sverker Sörlin and doctoral students Jean-Sébastien Boutet and Camilla Winqvist. Today the new REXSAC film was launched.
The film “Resource Extraction and Sustainable Arctic Communities” with results and conclusions from the work in REXSAC is availabe and open access. The film highlights how mineral extraction systems combined with other societal activities and climate change exert pressures on Arctic ecosystems & local- and traditional livelihoods. Follow the link to the REXSAC blog below, to read more about why and how the film was made, and also to watch it.
Polar Geography has just released an article from the Creating Cultural Heritage in Antarctica Project (CHAQ) with both Kati Lindström and Lize-Marié van der Watt, the project’s PI, as co-authors. The article “Tourism and heritage in Antarctica: exploring cultural, natural and subliminal experiences” explores the inseparability of natural and cultural features in the tourist appreciation of heritage in Antarctica.
The guidelines on heritage management adopted by the 2018 Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting provide the most recent iteration for an Antarctic tourism sector which had, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, been projected to increase further with various risks and potential impacts requiring careful management. In this paper the role of cultural heritage for tourism prior to the COVID-19 pandemic is examined through three empirical perspectives. First, how the Antarctic cultural heritage is represented through the designation of Historic Sites and Monuments and Site Guidelines for Visitors; then how this is presented through tourism operators’ websites; and, finally, how it is experienced by visitors as narrated in open-source social media information. Each dataset suggests that, while cultural heritage is an important component of an increasingly commodified tourist offering, it is only part of an assemblage of elements which combine to create a subliminal and largely intangible Antarctic experience. In particular, a polarization of the heritage experience between cultural and natural does not appear productive. The paper proposes a more nuanced understanding of heritage tourism in Antarctica which accommodates the notion of a hybrid experience that integrates cultural heritage, the history and stories this heritage represents, and the natural environmental setting.
The Division is currently working hard to put together the history of 2019 and 2020 in a new biennial report. While waiting for the final print, we have picked up this nice piece from our former report, written by Rexsac doctoral student, Jean-Sébastien Boutet. Enjoy!
Notes from the north, 2019
Text by: Jean-Sébastien Boutet, 2019
This past summer I had the chance to travel to Canada to participate in different field schools and explore new research possibilities in the general area of Indigenous economic history. Anthropologists and ethnographers might refer to this period as their “pre-fieldwork,” or “fieldwork: season 0,” but whichever the name, it is invariably made of a strange mix of uncomfortable encounters, beginner mistakes, and a very unhealthy dose of self-doubt.
I started off in a sense where I began, in Schefferville, along the Québec-Labrador borderlands, the site of my previous graduate fieldwork where I wrote about the mining history of the region. It was special, almost surreal, to come back to this place after so many years to witness all the changes, but perhaps most extraordinarily the continuities that characterize the close-knit and isolated communities who depend, for better or for worse, on the industrial production of iron ore. Due to a lack of imagination, or better terms, I entered people’s homes introducing myself as the researcher from a decade ago who came to write about you, and has not returned since. Amazingly, I was offered coffee and a willingness to tell more stories in exchange; some even remembered me, and with guilt I could only produce, like last time, a vague promise to return again, “soon…”
I thought, in Schefferville, about the passage of time. The mining industry, much like researchers, cyclically staging a return as a function of financial swings, following the devastation of a previous abandonment. Elders whom I once interviewed have now passed, or are travelling to a far away hospital, unsure about when they will be able return to their family and home community. I’m told there are only about 30 elders left here, people who were born in the forest, sur le territoire. Surely their precious life history must never be forgotten, but how?
From Québec I carried on to the west coast for a short stop on the upper canyons of the Fraser River. There was also a going back to the roots of sort, in this case to the beginning of the Canadian mining industry (at least to my mind…). Indeed, on the Fraser, accompanied by incredibly knowledgeable Indigenous guides, rafting superstars and field scholars, we negotiated a relatively tame portion of the river – the one between Lillooet and Lytton – and visited river bars where, starting in the mid-19th century, Chinese migrants expertly operated placer gold mines in the most rigorous conditions imaginable. All this, interestingly, almost half a century ahead of the nation defining moment that constitutes, in the Canadian imagination, the Klondike gold rush. Despite the impressive work of scholars that have made these abandoned sites come alive again, there is still much mystery surrounding the composition of social life and labour conditions at the mines, whether these early miners could turn a decent profit, and most interestingly for me, the nature and extent of Indigenous peoples’ involvement with Chinese labourers.
The third major component of the travels took me to Winnipeg, and from there by road all the way past Thompson to northern Manitoba. This portion of the trip assembled an eclectic group of professors, students and artists dedicated to learning first hand about the impacts of hydroelectric development on First Nations communities in the province. Despite the enthusiasm of the group and endless humour from our Indigenous guides, this place had a more sombre tone. Compared to former and operating mine sites, which are certainly destructive but equally so full of life or traces of past lives, there is a deadening aspect to river damming ines; houses and school buses abandoned on submerged lands; a drowned moose, sick fish, and the abstract fear of possible methylmercury contamination; to sum it al local economies.
Evidently, I do not know what of make of it all. It was, at minimum, a productive year zero in the field for me. I was glad to be reminded about the field, how much I love the field, how much I miss it, how difficult and real it is. I remembered where I am most comfortable, at the kitchen table, on the lake, listening to the words and not saying very much, just awkwardly explaining myself and the purpose of our presence here.
Tataskweyak (Split Lake), July 13, 2019.
—Did I tell you the story of when I went to look for porcupine with my dad in 1975?
—Ok. I will tell you the story of when I went to look for
porcupine with my dad in 1975.
It is for these simple encounters, these generous telling
of a story imbued with morality that feels bigger than
the land, that I love the north most. It’s where I hope to
Several of the Division’s researchers have contributed to a new Swedish anthology: Humanvetenskapernas verkningar: Kunskap, samverkan, genomslag (The effects of the humanities: Knowledge, collaboration, impact). Editor, former Division postdoc, Linus Salö re-joined the Division again this year as the supervisor of Klara Müller and as researcher in the research platform Making Universities Matter. Other participating researchers from the Division in the anthology are Fredrik Bertilsson, Ulrika Bjare, and Sverker Sörlin as well as our former colleagues, with Lund University as base, Mats Benner and Eugenia Perez Vico.
The anthology is published by Dialogos Förlag, and translated from the Swedish backside of the book, this is what it is about:
In the discussion about how universities and colleges can better meet the great challenges of our time, the social sciences and humanities have begun to take an increasing place. This is not least due to the fact that a new line of research policy is taking shape, where the humanities are given greater weight than before.
This ongoing shift opens up new ideas about how academic knowledge is disseminated and used. Research collaboration is not limited to industry and business, but takes place and has always taken place with many parts of society. Innovations are not just technical or medical news and progress, but also social renewal that concerns language, media, culture, politics, economics, behavior, religion – yes, most things that people do, think and feel.
The humanities’ movements between academia and other spheres of society, not least politics, can be seen as passages through a cat door in an otherwise locked gate. This metaphor runs like a thread through the book. Who has moved through the cat door, and what kind of knowledge effects has it had? How is this activity mentioned and valued?
In the ten chapters of this anthology, a number of humanities seek to answer these questions. The participating authors are active in various fields of science at various Swedish universities. The purpose of the book is to give momentum and energy to the discussion about the effects of the humanities – and ask new questions about the universities’ goals and meaning.
Podcasts are great company for a lunch walk, a long commute or doing household chores. By now, a multitude covering all kinds of topics exist. But while some might associate this medium with leisure time, it is actually a great support for reading scientific complex texts. Eric Paglia, researcher in the project SPHERE, uses podcasts to communicate research to a wider audience. We have asked him a couple of questions on his work with podcasts, which he answers in the following.
Could you please tell us about your work with the medium of podcasts?
I actually started producing podcasts before the concept of “podcasts” even existed. I’ve worked with radio since the mid-1990s, initially as the music director and a DJ at a rock station in Stockholm. Then in 2002, directly after the Johannesburg sustainability summit, I launched the program Think Globally Radio to explore my interest in the environment and provide a media platform for sustainable development issues, which was lacking at the time. After each Sunday evening show, broadcast live on the local college radio station, I would upload the program to the website ThinkGloballyRadio.org as a downloadable MP3 file. Many of the hundreds of episodes I produced over the course of some 15 years are still available on that website, as well as on Apple Podcasts, constituting an audio archive that has proven to be very useful in my own academic research. It encompasses a wide range of interviews with leading environmental thinkers, including scientists, scholars, activists, ambassadors and other government officials.
As host of Think Globally Radio, I for example first learned of the concept of the Anthropocene in early 2004 when interviewing Earth System scientist Will Steffen, and in 2006 I discovered the discipline of environmental history during an interview with Prof. Sverker Sörlin. As it turned out, a few years later I began my PhD. training in environmental history with Prof. Sörlin as my supervisor, resulting in a dissertation entitled The Northward Course of the Anthropocene that encompassed research on climate change, the Arctic and the Anthropocene. While writing my dissertation, I often drew upon and even cited the interviews I conducted for Think Globally Radio. So it is safe to say that producing radio programs and podcasts has opened doors and had a profound effect on my career trajectory and intellectual development.
Please tell us about the podcasts you currently produce and why you started them.
The rise of podcasts as a popular form of media has allowed me to pursue and expand upon a range of my research interests. During my doctoral studies I became interested in Arctic issues, and with no other podcasts focused on the politics and science of the polar regions, I launched the Polar Geopolitics podcast. Then when the coronavirus struck Sweden in March 2020, I started the podcast Corona Crisis: Once Upon a Pandemic as a way to make sense of and engage in real time with what was certain to be a world-changing event. That podcast draws on my previous background in crisis management studies, and centers around interviews with leading scholars and practitioners ranging from political scientists, medical experts and others.
The intention behind SPHERE – a podcast on the evolution of global environmental governance is to create a platform to communicate research from the SPHERE project and to develop a free and widely accessible resource for anyone interested in learning about the history of environmental politics and the scientific ideas that structure our understanding of global environmental change. An important component of the SPHERE podcast as it continues to develop will be the oral histories of key actors who have contributed to the scientific, social and political processes that have made the environment and sustainability major international issues over the past half century. It will thus serve as a kind of living, oral history archive consisting of first-hand accounts and analyses from participants as well as historians and other scholars specializing in issues related to the environment and sustainable development.
What goes into producing your podcasts? And what do you, the guests and the listeners get out of them?
As all of the podcasts I currently produce are based on in-depth discussions with different types of experts, each episode generally requires a fair amount of preparation in terms of background research and planning the interview, as well as post-production editing and writing copy for the show notes. This is inevitably a great learning experience for me, and conducting the actual interview—a focused discussion with a leading expert on what is often a highly interesting and timely topic—can be exhilarating. For their part, guests on the podcast appreciate the opportunity to speak at some length about their research—not often the case in traditional media—and apply their expertise to current real-world affairs, while listeners learn a great deal about important contemporary issues that can be of both academic and practical interest.
What makes podcasts useful for research communication to the academic community and in regards to public outreach? Do you recommend working with podcasts in academia more frequently and if so, why?
From my perspective as a researcher with a background in radio, podcasts are an excellent research communication tool and an ideal complement to traditional academic work. Articles in peer-reviewed journals and chapters in edited volumes are often aimed at narrow specialist audiences and can take months or years from the initiation of research to the publication of results that are often behind expensive paywalls. Podcasts, by contrast, are available for free on established platforms like Apple, Google and Spotify, and can be produced relatively rapidly to communicate research at any point in the knowledge production cycle. Although academic peers are among the core listeners of my podcasts, I usually encourage guests to minimize the use of jargon and provide a more popular science-style presentation of their work that is more accessible to a broader audience. In this way podcasts can serve a pedagogical function and contribute to the academy’s third mission of engaging with society and sharing knowledge and expertise with a wide range of stakeholders—including policymakers, the media and the general public—to help address critical societal challenges. This mission is in my estimation more important than ever in such an extraordinary era of global crisis, uncertainty and disruption.
Thank you, Eric!
If you got interested in the aforementioned podcasts, feel free to listen in by clicking on the respective image:
Anna Svensson was a doctoral student with the Division and the Environmental Humanities Laboratory, and successfully defended her thesis A Utopian Quest for Universal Knowledge – Diachronic Histories of Botanical Collections between the Sisteenth Century and the Present in 2017, when she left us for new flowers to pick. Anna was our unofficial florist, and could often be seen decorating even the darkest day with brilliant flowers and plants. One of her contributions during her time with us, other than being a wonderful colleague, was the window farm. Today’s blogpost is a text about the story of the Window Farm, written by Anna for the Stories of the Anthropocene Festival (26–29 October 2016).
This is the story of a window farm – the beginning, the end, and the afterlife.
This story begins with the Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment (home of the Environmental Humanities Laboratory) moving to a newly built, climate controlled premises. It had a spacious kitchen and big windows. As these windows could not be opened, however, the air felt stale and dry. Building a windowfarm was a practical measure to improve our common working environment, improving the air quality and making ourselves feel more at home.
Over the past two years, these plants have breathed with us, and the humming of the pump and the dripping along the chains have filled the pauses in our conversations over lunch. The first attempt was a mediocre success: a few plants (basil and lemon balm) died almost immediately; the ivy and coffee plants fared much better, but eventually succumbed to systemic problems. The nutrient solution evaporated too quickly – we added plastic pipes along the chains to minimise splashing, but this did not fix the problem – eventually causing the system to clog up completely.
Learning from past mistakes, the next reincarnation of the windowfarm in the fall 2015 only contained plants that have robust root systems and survive for a long time in water without the addition of nutrient solution. The result was astonishing. The spider plants grew explosively, sending out shoot after shoot like a verdant fire-work show. (The pump died and was replaced.) Gradually, however, this enthusiastic growth became a cause for concern. The many shoots were thirsty, and eager roots began to seek their way through the water holes at the bottom of the bottles and creep along the chain. Several Monday mornings I was greeted by the silence of a system run dry. The roots and chains were so interlaced that replanting was not an option. We could either dismantle it or watch it wither.
Since taking it down, it has left an emptiness in the kitchen. I still register the silence that meant the tanks were empty or the system had clogged. In a concrete way, the windowfarm has played out like a pageant of the technofix, a microcosmic drama between the biosphere and technosphere that hovers between comedy and tragedy. Is this a story of survival? The windowfarm is itself a DIY innovation (and later corporate venture) encouraging a growing global community of windowfarmers to green the city beginning with each individual home, a promise towards self-sufficiency. What initially seemed so straightforward gave way to complication after complication, in which the very successful growth of the second planting required its destruction: there are limits to growth in the technosphere.
What, then, is the afterlife of the windowfarm? The shoots have been rooting in glass jars along the kitchen windowsill, with the main plants in pots of water. The torn bottles and rusty chains cannot be used again. While the windowfarm made the office kitchen more home-like for me, the university is not my home and with the migratory life of an academic I could not ensure its survival through the empty summer months. It became a burden.