robertogreco + systemthinking   2

Generation Anthropocene: How humans have altered the planet for ever | Books | The Guardian
"We are living in the Anthropocene age, in which human influence on the planet is so profound – and terrifying – it will leave its legacy for millennia. Politicians and scientists have had their say, but how are writers and artists responding to this crisis?"



"Warren’s exhibit makes Bateley’s crackly recording available, and her accompanying text unfolds the complexities of its sonic strata. It is, as Warren puts it, “a soundtrack of the sacred voices of extinct birds echoing in that of a dead man echoing out of a machine echoing through the world today”. The intellectual elegance of her work – and its exemplary quality as an Anthropocene-aware artefact – lies in its subtle tracing of the technological and imperial histories involved in a single extinction event and its residue."



"Perhaps the greatest challenge posed to our imagination by the Anthropocene is its inhuman organisation as an event. If the Anthropocene can be said to “take place”, it does so across huge scales of space and vast spans of time, from nanometers to planets, and from picoseconds to aeons. It involves millions of different teleconnected agents, from methane molecules to rare earth metals to magnetic fields to smartphones to mosquitoes. Its energies are interactive, its properties emergent and its structures withdrawn.

In 2010 Timothy Morton adopted the term hyperobject to denote some of the characteristic entities of the Anthropocene. Hyperobjects are “so massively distributed in time, space and dimensionality” that they defy our perception, let alone our comprehension. Among the examples Morton gives of hyperobjects are climate change, mass species extinction and radioactive plutonium. “In one sense [hyperobjects] are abstractions,” he notes, “in another they are ferociously, catastrophically real.”

Creative non-fiction, and especially reportage, has adapted most quickly to this “distributed” aspect of the Anthropocene. Episodic in assembly and dispersed in geography, some outstanding recent non-fiction has proved able to map intricate patterns of environmental cause and effect, and in this way draw hyperobjects into at least partial visibility. Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (2014) and her Field Notes from a Catastrophe (2006) are landmarks here, as is Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate (2014). In 2015 Gaia Vince published Adventures in the Anthropocene, perhaps the best book so far to trace the epoch’s impacts on the world’s poor, and the slow violence that climate change metes out to them.

Last year also saw the publication of The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, by the American anthropologist Anna Tsing. Tsing takes as her subject one of the “strangest commodity chains of our times”: that of the matsutake, supposedly the most valuable fungus in the world, which grows best in “human-disturbed forests”. Written in what she calls “a riot of short chapters, like the flushes of mushrooms that come up after rain”, Tsing’s book describes a contemporary “nature” that is hybrid and multiply interbound. Her ecosystems stretch from wood-wide webs of mycelia, through earthworms and pine roots, to logging trucks and hedge funds – as well as down into the flora of our own multispecies guts. Tsing’s account of nature thus overcomes what Jacques Rancière has called the “partition of the sensible”, by which he means the traditional division of matter into “life” and “not-life”. Like Skelton in his recent Beyond the Fell Wall (2015), and the poet Sean Borodale, Tsing is interested in a vibrant materialism that acknowledges the agency of stones, ores and atmospheres, as well as humans and other organisms.

Tsing is also concerned with the possibility of what she calls “collaborative survival” in the Anthropocene-to-come. As Evans Calder Williams notes, the Anthropocene imagination “crawls with narratives of survival”, in which varying conditions of resource scarcity exist, and varying kinds of salvage are practised. Our contemporary appetite for environmental breakdown is colossal, tending to grotesque: from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006) – now almost an Anthropocene ur-text – through films such as The Survivalist and the Mad Max franchise, to The Walking Dead and the Fallout video game series.

The worst of this collapse culture is artistically crude and politically crass. The best is vigilant and provocative: Simon Ings’ Wolves (2014), for instance, James Bradley’s strange and gripping Clade (2015), or Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake (2014), a post-apocalyptic novel set in the “blaec”, “brok” landscape of 11th-century England, that warns us not to defer our present crisis. I think also of Clare Vaye Watkins’s glittering Gold Fame Citrus (2015), which occurs in a drought-scorched American southwest and includes a field-guide to the neo-fauna of this dunescape: the “ouroboros rattlesnake”, the “Mojave ghost crab”.

Such scarcity narratives unsettle what we might call the Holocene delusion on which growth economics is founded: of the Earth as an infinite body of matter, there for the incredible ultra-machine of capitalism to process, exploit and discard without heed of limit. Meanwhile, however, speculative novelists – Andy Weir in The Martian, Kim Stanley Robinson in Red Mars – foresee how we will overcome terrestrial shortages by turning to asteroid mining or the terra-forming of Mars. To misquote Fredric Jameson, it is easier to imagine the extraction of off-planet resources than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.

The novel is the cultural form to which the Anthropocene arguably presents most difficulties, and most opportunities. Historically, the novel has been celebrated for its ability to represent human interiority: the skull-to-skull skip of free indirect style, or the vivid flow of stream-of-consciousness. But what use are such skills when addressing the enormity of this new epoch? Any Anthropocene-aware novel finds itself haunted by impersonal structures, and intimidated by the limits of individual agency. China Miéville’s 2011 short story “Covehithe” cleverly probes and parodies these anxieties. In a near-future Suffolk, animate oil rigs haul themselves out of the sea, before drilling down into the coastal strata to lay dozens of rig eggs. These techno-zombies prove impervious to military interventions: at last, all that humans can do is become spectators, snapping photos of the rigs and watching live feeds from remote cameras as they give birth – an Anthropocene Springwatch.

Most memorable to me is Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 novel, Annihilation. It describes an expedition into an apparently poisoned region known as Area X, in which relic human structures have been not just reclaimed but wilfully redesigned by a mutated nature. A specialist team is sent to survey the zone. They discover archive caches and topographically anomalous buildings including a “Tower” that descends into the earth rather than jutting from it. The Tower’s steps are covered in golden slime, and on its walls crawls a “rich greenlike moss” that inscribes letters and words on the masonry – before entering and authoring the bodies of the explorers themselves. It gradually becomes apparent that Area X, in all its weird wildness, is actively transforming the members of the expedition who have been sent to subdue it with science. As such, VanderMeer’s novel brilliantly reverses the hubris of the Anthropocene: instead of us leaving the world post-natural, it suggests, the world will leave us post-human.



As the idea of the Anthropocene has surged in power, so its critics have grown in number and strength. Cultural and literary studies currently abound with Anthropocene titles: most from the left, and often bitingly critical of their subject. The last 12 months have seen the publication of Jedediah Purdy’s After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene, McKenzie Wark’s provocative Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene and the environmental historian Jason W Moore’s important Capitalism in the Web of Life. Last July the “revolutionary arts and letters quarterly” Salvage launched with an issue that included Daniel Hartley’s essay “Against the Anthropocene” and Miéville, superbly, on despair and environmental justice in the new epoch.

Across these texts and others, three main objections recur: that the idea of the Anthropocene is arrogant, universalist and capitalist-technocratic. Arrogant, because the designation of the Anthropocene – the “New Age of Humans” – is our crowning act of self-mythologisation (we are the super-species, we the Prometheans, we have ended nature), and as such only embeds the narcissist delusions that have produced the current crisis.

Universalist, because the Anthropocene assumes a generalised anthropos, whereby all humans are equally implicated and all equally affected. As Purdy, Miéville and Moore point out, “we” are not all in the Anthropocene together – the poor and the dispossessed are far more in it than others. “Wealthy countries,” writes Purdy, “create a global landscape of inequality in which the wealthy find their advantages multiplied … In this neoliberal Anthropocene, free contract within a global market launders inequality through voluntariness.”

And capitalist-technocratic, because the dominant narrative of the Anthropocene has technology as its driver: recent Earth history reduced to a succession of inventions (fire, the combustion engine, the synthesis of plastic, nuclear weaponry). The monolithic concept bulk of this scientific Anthropocene can crush the subtleties out of both past and future, disregarding the roles of ideology, empire and political economy. Such a technocratic narrative will also tend to encourage technocratic solutions: geoengineering as a quick-fix for climate … [more]
environment  geology  literature  anthropocene  speculativefiction  fiction  novels  juliannelutzwarren  extinction  2016  robertmacfarlane  posthumanism  capitalism  economics  systems  systemthinking  technology  sustainability  technocracy  capitalocene  deforestation  chinamiéville  jedediahpurdy  mckenziewark  jasonmoore  danielhartley  jeffcandermeer  tomothymorton  hyperobjects  naomiklein  elizabethkolbert  gaiavince  annatsing  seanborodale  richardskelton  autumnrichardson  rorygibb  memory  holocene  earth  salvation  philiplarkin  plastic  plasticene  stratigraphy  eugenestoemer  paulcrutzen  history  apex-guilt  shadowtime  stieg  raymondwilliams  fredricjameson  glennalbrecht  johnclare  solastalgia  inequality  annalowenhaupttsing 
april 2016 by robertogreco
Prototyping Risks when Design is Disappearing
"Our current unsustainability, especially when understood in terms of materials intensity, is in large part a result of design— whether imposed by modernist design experts or tempered by user- or even human-centered design research. Generative design is not especially culpable—at its best it tries to access what might finally be truly needed by its participants rather than just-another creative-yet-still-feasible idea. However, generative design research’s materials-based techniques do tend to encourage creative innovation mostly with respect to more thing-based solutions to latent concerns (rather than leading to service systems for instance, or structural dissolving of those concerns, such as no-build options, value- or lifestyle shifts, etc).

A second thing to note is that our unsustainability is a massive problem, of a size that demands truly radical responses. It is as if there is a kind of problem beyond wicked: in addition to being complex (a large number of interdependent variables) and wicked (because some of those variables are people, who act in not always fully rational ways and change their minds), sustainability is also just a big problem—solutions will require nation-sized infrastructure rebuilding (fuel switching, city renovation and even relocation) and similarly nation-sized notion re-conceptualizations (new ideas about freedom and autonomy, cost and responsibility, etc). Can we get this level of “Big and New” from processes like generative design research?"



"What is dominant in commercial design at the moment are methods that do nevertheless have proactionary elements, by which I mean a deliberate ignoring of imagining future consequential risks. I am referring here to, for example, Agile and Lean product development. These are distinct forms of design management and each a broad church, but consistent across them is a commitment to accelerated iteration of products released to live markets. Design is driven by real-time feedback on how “Minimum Viable Products” (MVP) are being used. The rationale is that many high consequence risks, and opportunities, are unanticipatable. Rather than imagine or sense what these “blackswans” might be, designers should instead focus on being able to respond immediately to what emerges. These Lean Agile philosophies eschew the grand visioning aspects of proactionary advocates, 
but are sympathetic with the downplaying of risk anticipation. As Joi Ito, head of MediaLab at MIT is fond of saying (though I am not sure of his evidence for this claim), “the cost of assessing risk is 
now often greater than the cost of failing” [7].

If Lean Agile, etc, aim at accessing the realizably innovative, the other end of the design dialectic might be Maker culture. These neo-tinkerers also pursue multiple iterations in order to discover serendipitously new uses for existing combinations of technologies, software and/or materials. There is a similar antivisioning driving these hackathons, and in all the rapid building there is also no anticipation of consequential risk.

In either case, the approaches deploy what could be called a “generalized prototyping.” Lean Agile beta-releases and hacked systems are more than prototypes; they are live products being used by people who are not explicitly structured "



"Transition Design aims to promote staged change, not forever changing.

1. A VISION FOR THE TRANSITION to a more sustainable society is needed. This calls for the reconception of entire lifestyles in which communities are in symbiotic relationship with the environment. Lifestyles are place-based yet global in their exchange of technology, information and culture.

2. The vision of the transition to a sustainable society will require new knowledge about natural, social, and “designed” systems. This new knowledge will, in turn, evolve the vision.

3. Ideas, theories and methodologies from many varied fields and disciplines inform a deep understanding of the DYNAMICS OF CHANGE in the natural and social worlds.

4. New theories of change will reshape designers’ temperaments, mindsets and postures. And, these “new ways of being” in the world will motivate the search for new, more relevant knowledge.

5. Living in and through traditional times requires a MINDSET AND POSTURE OF OPENNESS, mindfulness, a willing-ness to collaborate, and “optimistic grumpiness.”

6. Changes in mindset, posture and temperament will give rise to new ways of designing. As new design approaches evolve, designers’ temperaments and postures will continue to change.

7. The transition to a sustainable society will require new ways of designing that are informed by a vision, a deep understanding of the dynamics of change and a new mindset and posture.

8. New ways of designing will help realize the vision but will also change/evolve it. As the vision evolves, new ways of designing will continue to be developed."
camerontonkinwise  2015  design  sustainability  materials  prototyping  via:anne  openness  mindfulness  collaboration  optimism  criticism  change  technology  culture  makers  makermovement  agiledesign  iteration  vision  foresight  modernism  neomodernism  consequences  systemthinking  criticaldesign  designcriticism 
july 2015 by robertogreco

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