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04.07.2024, 4 p.m. (ct), PEG 1.G107

Lying fallow: dichotomies and negotiations

| Dr. Anna-Katharina Laboissière (University of Oslo) |

The practice of intentional fallowing, edged out by the advent of synthetic fertilisers in the 19th century, nevertheless continues existing as an object interest in agricultural policy and microbiology in recent years; it responds to a growing concern with the depletion and regeneration of soils in agricultural and environmental policy. Fallowing emerges or re-emerges at points of ecological, economic or social breakdown, functioning variously as buffer, mediator, or destructor. It functions variously as an agricultural technique for weed-breaking or soil remediation, as a wildlife conservation tool, as a microbiological reserve or as a price-regulating constraint. Fallowed soils are the sites of interplaying dichotomies and biopolitical negotiations concerning idleness, unproductivity, and resilience.
In this seminar, I will present an overview of the first phase of my current research project “FALLOW: Generative idleness and gestures of reparation”, and ask how fallowing practices function as tools mediating different forms of human-soil relationships and allowing the formation of certain kinds of knowledge about soils and soil ecosystems.

02.07.2024, 6 p.m. (ct) , PEG 1.G107

Climate Changed Futures:  On Anticipatory Action in the Climate Emergency

| Prof. Ben Anderson (Durham University) |

How is climate change governed as a problem of the future? And how does climate change related anticipatory action differ from pre-emption, precaution and other ways in which terrorism, trans-species epidemics, and other events and situations have been governed over the past twenty years?

The lecture asks how climate change is governed as a problem of the future by focusing on the widespread use of the term ‘emergency’ to apprehend the event. Unlike crisis or disaster, ‘emergency’ is a form of anticipation that opens up an ‘interval’ of action in the present – the promise is that correct action can make a difference. Emergency is a term of hope, albeit always a desperate hope inseparable from the affect of urgency. In an emergency, time for action is always running out. Whilst attentive to the uses of ‘climate emergency’ as technique by activists and its existence as part of the atmospheres of the crisis present, I argue that the normalisation of ‘climate emergency’ has underpinned a shift in the dominant form of climate change related anticipatory action. Climate change is rendered perceivable and governable as a proliferating set of possible ‘impacts’ or ‘effects’ through the logics, practices and affects derived from the fields of emergency planning. I speculate on how this change is part of broader shifts in how western societies relate to the future in the present impasse, and explore its implications for the politics of climate (in)action.

Ben Anderson is a Professor in the Department of Geography at Durham University, specializing in affect and emotion, non-representational theories, and anticipatory logics/techniques. His research explores the governance of life amidst emergencies, with a recent focus on examining how claims of emergency are utilized by progressive groups to highlight ongoing inequalities and injustices.

13.05.24, 6:15 p.m. – 7:45 p.m.

Predictive policy assemblages. The role of scenarios, models and future-knowledge in energy policy stability and change

Prof. Stefan Aykut (University of Hamburg) |

Unfortunately, the lecture with Prof. Dr. Stefan Aykut was canceled due to illness.

Forecasts and scenarios are ubiquitous in energy debates: commonly calculated using energy system models, they are employed by governments, administrations and civil society actors to identify problems, choose between potential solutions, and justify or legitimize specific forms of political intervention. Ongoing debates about ‘energy transitions’ have renewed scholarly interest in the role of such ‘foreknowledge’ in energy policy and in its potential to contribute to the transformation of energy systems worldwide. The talk contributes to these debates through a historic study on the evolution of epistemic practices of foreknowledge-making, and their relation to the emergence and structuring of ‘energy policy’ as an autonomous policy domain in France and Germany. Bringing together two strands of literature – work in the anthropology of politics on ‘policy assemblages’, and STS research on the ‘performative’ effects of knowledge – the talk examines how ways of assembling energy systems in energy modelling, and of bringing together policy networks in forecasting exercises, either reinforce path-dependences and lock-in, or enable alternatives and policy change.

Stefan Aykut is a professor in Sociology at University of Hamburg. The central focus of his research and teaching revolves around society’s engagement with ecological issues, particularly climate change. Stefan Aykut is interested in understanding how ecological crises are interpreted scientifically, politically addressed, and potentially catalyze processes of social change while his research emphasizes studies on global climate governance, ecological transformation processes, and the institutionalization of global ecological boundaries in various societal domains, such as finance and national legal systems.

02.05.24, 4:15 p.m. – 6:15 pm

Constructing ‚Anti-Racist‘ Authoritarian Science, 1950-Present 

Prof. Jenny Reardon (University of California, Santa Cruz) |

How did proponents of theories of racial hygiene under the National Socialist regime
in Germany come to serve as experts who drafted and commented on the UNESCO
Statements on Race? For nearly seventy-five years, these Statements have served as
paradigmatic reference points for scholars and activists who have sought to argue
that the concept of race has no meaningful basis in biology, and that all are human,
deserving of fundamental rights. What sense can be made of this troubling puzzle
that lies at the heart of their drafting? The answer, I argue, lies in unraveling how
during the early years of the Cold War, scientists, political leaders and bureaucrats
forged an understanding of ‘science’ as a moral force of ‘truth’ that could undergird
liberal democracies and oppose ideologies of racism and Communism. This talk
documents how Cold War constructions of science and science policy worked to
rehabilitate the moral status of geneticists and physical anthropologists who
supported the eugenics and sterilization policies of the National Socialist regime, but
who after WWII opposed Lysenkoist theories of genetics propagated by the Soviet
Communist Party. I conclude by considering how this episode can help shed light on
the current moment in which many once again attempt to mobilize ‘science’ as an
anti-racist, anti-authoritarian force. How far have liberal democracies moved from a
Cold War politics of science and truth that fosters racism even as it claims to be antiracist?

Jenny Reardon is Professor of Sociology and Founding Director of the Science and
Justice Research Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her research
draws into focus questions about identity, justice and democracy that are often
silently embedded in scientific ideas and practices, particularly in modern genomic
research. Her training spans molecular biology, the history of biology, science
studies, feminist and critical race studies. She is the author of Race to the Finish:
Identity and Governance in an Age of Genomics (Princeton University Press, 2005)
and The Postgenomic Condition: Ethics, Justice, Knowledge After the Genome
(Chicago University Press, 2017).

The lecture will take place in cooperation with the Critical Genomics Network.

07.03.24, 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Symposium: Living Techno-Natures: Biohybrid Objects, Life, and Technology

Organized by Dr. Josef Barla (Goethe-University Frankfurt; Fixing Futures) and Dr. Marco Tamborini (TU Darmstadt)

Proposing the notion of “biohybrid objects” for complex systems consisting of natural and
artificial components that not only imitate living beings but also share their basic principles,
this symposium explores the remarkable circulation of morphological knowledge between
biology and technology. Bringing together innovative interdisciplinary contributions, the
symposium aims at bringing together insights on the emergence and nature of biohybrid
objects form philosophy, epistemology, and science and technology studies. After a series
of breakthroughs in synthetic biology and artificial intelligence, how can we still distinguish
philosophically, scientifically, and epistemologically between living beings and technologies?
In what ways do biohybrid objects both inform and challenge established understandings of
life and technology? What does it mean to shift our understanding from organisms as objects
of knowledge to biohybrid objects, i.e., to natural-technological assemblages that do not
exist in isolation from interventions in science and engineering and economic practices?
What epistemological adjustments are necessitated by the shift in biology from organisms
as objects of knowledge to organisms as problems of genetic coding and access to
information, but also by recent reworking of organisms to technologies themselves? How
are biohybrid objects not only technoscientificially produced but themselves reconfiguring
science, engineering, and the bioeconomy? Engaging with these and other crucial questions
that emerge from the dissolution of the boundaries between life and technology, the
symposium will contribute to current debates in philosophy, epistemology, and science and
technology studies that explore the relationship between life and technology against the
backdrop of fundamental shifts brought about by synthetic biology and artificial intelligence.

With a keynote lecture from Henry Dicks (University Jean Moulin Lyon 3) on nature-culture dualism in biomicry as well as different panels on
1. Machinic Life: Philosophical Perspectives on Bioinspiration (with Julia Rijssenbeek, Marco Tamborini, Josef Barla [Fixing Futures] and Christoph Hubatschke)
2. Re/Generating Life: Biohybrid Approaches and Technological Promises (with Gabriele Gramelsberger, Louisa Estadieu and Fiorella Battaglia)
3. Simulating Life: Ethics, Practices, and Boundaries of Artificiality (with Steven Gonzalez Monserrate [Fixing Futures], Dominika Lisy and Hannah Link)

For further information on the timetable and contents, please see the symposium programm.

14.02.24, 6:15 p.m., PEG 1.G107

Lecture Dr. Lindsay Poirier: Fixing Accountability: Materializing and Mobilizing Disclosure Datasets

Assistant Professor of Statistics and Data Sciences Smith College, Northampton, MA

In her talk, Poirier examines the increasing reliance on public information disclosure for risk regulation. Policies mandating disclosure by government agencies, politicians, businesses, and organizations aim to enhance transparency and combat undesirable practices. Poirier explores how stakeholders shape the scope, meaning, and influence of such data through ethnographic observations of „disclosure datasets.“ She argues that these datasets embody inconsistent visions of credible knowledge, conflicting ideas on societal organization, and ambivalent perspectives on transparency’s role in ensuring accountability.

17.10.2023, 06:15 pm, PEG 2.G107

Lecture Dr. Malka Older: Disaster Present – Disaster Futures

Older is a science fiction writer and sociologist.

Disasters are often framed as exceptional events, bubbles of extraordinary time apart from normality, with a return to that so-called normal as the goal. In this era of the Anthropocene, however, disasters are rapidly becoming the norm. What can disaster studies tell us about how to respond? How can we better govern ourselves, both during acute crises, and throughout the slow grinding emergencies of late capitalism? Disasters, with their compressed time frames and often intense documentation and scrutiny, offer clues for better collaboration and the pitfalls of desperation.

16.01.24, 6:15 pm, SH3.105

Lecture Prof. Dr. Jörg Niewöhner: Science after Progress

Technical University of Munich /
TUM School of Social Sciences and Technology /
Anthropology of Science and Technology

Much life scientific research until today has been directed at understanding the building blocks and dynamics of life as if they existed in a pristine state. Natural life if you will. The Anthropocene, however, alerts us to the fact that life-as-natural has ceased to exist. The globally dominant capitalist exchange systems have altered life from the molecular to landscape structures and planetary circulations. ‘Science after progress’ is thus a call to pay attention to life-in-action, i.e. to how metabolic, immune, and endocrine processes are inhabited by the political economies of our past and present.
In this talk, trying to link to the theme of ‘fixing futures’, I want to explore the temporal aspects that are enacted through a science after progress. Contrary to the current obsession with anticipation of all sorts, I would like to contend that fixing futures demands at least also a biology of history (Landecker) through which we overcome the sacrificial logics of the future perfect (Povinelli). Such an approach demands interdisciplinarity in various forms and thus places an ethnographic STS in a central role as mediator between distant epistemic cultures.


23.01.2024, 6:15 pm, PEG 2.G107

Lecture Prof. Dr. Luigi Pellizzoni: Will the future ever begin? On the logic of non-linear anticipations

University of Firenze

In a seminal work, one of the greatest sociologists of the 20th century, Niklas Luhmann, noted that the relationship with time established in modernity is peculiar in that the future is conceived as open-ended and therefore requires technologies, first of all probabilistic prediction, capable of making it actionable, ‘defuturizing’ it to the present. This means limiting the number of possibilities, though the horizon of events ever shifts forward and in this sense, Luhmann says, the future ‘cannot begin’. In late modernity the politics of time has become increasingly relevant and the relationship with the future more complex. Defuturizing technologies have diversified and intensified accordingly. Two are especially worthy of attention: pre-emption and preparedness. They have been described as forms of precautionary action, yet, differently to precaution, their temporal structure is non-linear. They both foreshadow catastrophic or restorative futures, positing them as certain and elusive at once. As a result, the present becomes indefinitely protracted and plastic. This means the future ‘cannot begin’ in quite a different way to the traditional understanding – not because ever-unfolding but because occluded. Clues to this condition are the replacement of the traditional concept of revolution with that of transition; the fact, testified by ‘post-apocalyptic’ activism, that public emphasis on the future grows together with the perception of its fading away; and recent examples of emergency governance. Some mobilisations are apparently trying to (re)open the future by parting company with both utopian and dystopian thinking through a peculiar anticipatory work on the present.

7.12.2023, 4pm, PEG 1G 107

Lecture Prof. Henning Laux: Weltverbesserungstechnologien

Leipnitz University Hanover

In jüngster Zeit werden neue Technologien immer häufiger mit einer Semantik der disruptiven Weltverbesserung verknüpft. In einem laufenden Forschungsprojekt inspizieren wir anhand von drei Fallstudien – Clean Meat, Social Freezing und Digitale Assistenten – was sich hinter dieser Rhetorik verbirgt. Dabei geraten im Anschluss an Theorien der Rechtfertigungsordnung (Boltanski/Thévenot 1991; Boltanski/Chiapello 1999) und aktuelle Analysen zum digitalen Kapitalismus (Morozov 2013; Nachtwey/Seidl 2017) die Konturen einer Polis der Solution in den Blick, in der technische Lösungen für existenzielle Menschheitsprobleme wie Armut, Hunger, Krankheit oder Tod in Aussicht gestellt werden. Der Vortrag arbeitet die Besonderheiten dieser soziomateriellen Symbolordnung heraus und fragt nach den Implikationen für die Praxis der Gesellschaft und ihrer soziologischen Kritik.