Cultures and Knowledge Workshop Reading List: Scenario and Security in Climate Change Documentary

February 5th, 2021

On February 8, the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge will present the first in their Cultures and Knowledge Workshop series of webinars. This Monday's workshop, titled "Scenario and Security in Climate Change Documentary," will be presented by Dr. Thomas Pringle, a media theorist drawing on documentary studies, environmental sociology, and environmental and computer history.

Register here for the workshop on February 8.

Below is a list of further reading on the topic of the workshop, compiled by Dr. Pringle:

A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming (MIT Press)
Paul Edwards
Global warming skeptics often fall back on the argument that the scientific case for global warming is all model predictions, nothing but simulation; they warn us that we need to wait for real data, “sound science.” In A Vast Machine Paul Edwards has news for these skeptics: without models, there are no data. Today, no collection of signals or observations—even from satellites, which can “see” the whole planet with a single instrument—becomes global in time and space without passing through a series of data models. Everything we know about the world's climate we know through models. Edwards offers an engaging and innovative history of how scientists learned to understand the atmosphere—to measure it, trace its past, and model its future.
The Future as Catastrophe: Imagining Disaster in the Modern Age (Columbia University Press)
Eva Horn, trans. by Valentine Pakis
In The Future as Catastrophe, Eva Horn offers a novel critique of the modern fascination with disaster, which she treats as a symptom of our relationship to the future. Analyzing the catastrophic imaginary from its cultural and historical roots in Romanticism and the figure of the Last Man, through the narratives of climatic cataclysm and the Cold War’s apocalyptic sublime, to the contemporary popularity of disaster fiction and end-of-the-world blockbusters, Horn argues that apocalypse always haunts the modern idea of a future that can be anticipated and planned. Considering works by Lord Byron, J. G. Ballard, and Cormac McCarthy and films such as 12 Monkeys and Minority Report alongside scientific scenarios and political metaphors, she analyzes catastrophic thought experiments and the question of survival, the choices legitimized by imagined states of exception, and the contradictions inherent in preventative measures taken in the name of technical safety or political security. What makes today’s obsession different from previous epochs’ is the sense of a “catastrophe without event,” a stealthily creeping process of disintegration. Ultimately, Horn argues, imagined catastrophes offer us intellectual tools that can render a future shadowed with apocalyptic possibilities affectively, epistemologically, and politically accessible.

Life as Surplus: Biotechnology & Capitalism in the Neoliberal Era (University of Washington Press)
Melinda Cooper

Focusing on the period between the 1970s and the present, Life as Surplus is a study of the relationship between politics, economics, science, and cultural values in the United States today. Melinda Cooper demonstrates that the history of biotechnology cannot be understood without taking into account the simultaneous rise of neoliberalism as a political force and an economic policy. From the development of recombinant DNA technology in the 1970s to the second Bush administration's policies on stem cell research, Cooper connects the utopian polemic of free-market capitalism with growing internal contradictions of the commercialized life sciences. The biotech revolution relocated economic production at the genetic, microbial, and cellular level. Taking as her point of departure the assumption that life has been drawn into the circuits of value creation, Cooper underscores the relations between scientific, economic, political, and social practices and examines the speculative impulses that have animated the growth of the bioeconomy. At the very core of the new post-industrial economy is the transformation of biological life into surplus value. Life as Surplus offers a clear assessment of both the transformative, therapeutic dimensions of the contemporary life sciences and the violence, obligation, and debt servitude crystallizing around the emerging bioeconomy.


The Routledge Companion to Media and Risk (Routledge)
Edited by Bishnupriya Ghosh and Bhaskar Sarkar
This collection presents new work in risk media studies from critical humanities perspectives. Defining, historicizing, and consolidating current scholarship, the volume seeks to shape an emerging field, signposting its generative insights while examining its implicit assumptions. When and under what conditions does risk emerge? How is risk mediated? Who are the targets of risk media? Who manages risk? Who lives with it? Who are most in danger? Such questions—the what, how, who, when, and why of risk media—inform the scope of this volume. With roots in critical media studies and science and technology studies, it hopes to inspire new questions, perspectives, frameworks, and analytical tools not only for risk, media, and communication studies, but also for social and cultural theories. Editors Bishnupriya Ghosh and Bhaskar Sarkar bring together contributors who elucidate and interrogate risk media’s varied histories and futures. This book is meant for students and scholars of media and communication studies, science and technology studies, and the interdisciplinary humanities, looking either to deepen their engagement with risk media or to broaden their knowledge of this emerging field.


Energy Humanities: An Anthology (Johns Hopkins University Press)
Edited by Imre Szeman and Dominic Boyer
Energy humanities is a field of scholarship that, like medical and digital humanities before it, aims to overcome traditional boundaries between the disciplines and between academic and applied research. Responding to growing public concern about anthropogenic climate change and the unsustainability of the fuels we use to power our modern society, energy humanists highlight the essential contribution that humanistic insights and methods can make to areas of analysis once thought best left to the natural sciences. In this anthology, Imre Szeman and Dominic Boyer have brought together a carefully curated selection of the best and most influential work in energy humanities. Arguing that today’s energy and environmental dilemmas are fundamentally problems of ethics, habits, imagination, values, institutions, belief, and power—all traditional areas of expertise of the humanities and humanistic social sciences—the essays and other pieces featured here demonstrate the scale and complexity of the issues the world faces. Their authors offer compelling possibilities for finding our way beyond our current energy dependencies toward a sustainable future.

Machine (Meson Press)
Thomas Pringle, Gertrude Koch, and Bernard Stiegler
Automation, animation, and ecosystems are terms of central media-philosophical concern in today’s society of humans and machines. This volume describes the social consequences of machines as a mediating concept for the animation of life and automation of technology. Bernard Stiegler’s automatic society illustrates how digital media networks establish a new proletariat of knowledge workers. Gertrud Koch offers the animation of the technical to account for the pathological relations that arise between people and their devices. And Thomas Pringle synthesizes how automation and animation explain the history of intellectual exchanges that led to the hybrid concept of the ecosystem, a term that blends computer and natural science. All three contributions analyse how categories of life and technology become mixed in governmental policies, economic exploitation and pathologies of everyday life thereby both curiously and critically advancing the term that underlies those new developments: ‘machine.’



The Winter Quarter schedule for the Cultures and Knowledge Workshop is as follows:

Feb. 8: "Scenario and Security in Climate Change Documentary," Dr. Thomas Pringle

Feb. 22: "The Lives and Afterlives of Skulls. Biometric Methods of Measuring Race (1880-1950)," Dr. Iris Clever

Mar. 1: "Climate Emergency," Dr. Jo Guldi

Mar. 8: "Explaining Democratic Ambivalence among the Middle Class in Manila," Dr. Marco Garrido


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