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Titelbild TransHumanities 2020

Summer School 2022 – Abstracts Morning Lectures

More-than-optical: Media Theory for the Anthropocene

Prof. Dr. Caroline A. Jones

The Ecological Imperative demands that we communicate and grasp the changing climate and its contested human causes in ways that mobilize citizens beyond the stasis of denial and despair. What media are effective? Since the 1970s, developed nations’ activists have often assumed that pictures of environmental disaster would be sufficient in mobilizing the public against ecological degradation (the US government even commissioned such photographs to justify its newly-founded Environmental Protection Agency). But there are deep-set patterns of occlusion and revelation in our Western image repertoires. When does the volunteer cleaning an oil-soaked bird on the shores of Prince William Sound in 1989 impede our capacity to see relations between ecology, regulations, or the political economy of oil extraction and transportation? How did communities struggle technically and politically–against a determined push-back from industrial energy providers–to make visible the unseen methane plumes from the 2015 Aliso Canyon blowout outside Los Angeles, and what were the political-epistemic results of their efforts? What impact do US “ag-gag” laws seeded in the 1990s (with the follow-on 2002 “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act” and its progeny) have on the struggle to make industrial animal depredations visible? And what senses beyond sight are propelled into action as more-than-optical cues for ongoing ecological harm?

Under water, on the ground, and in the air, images are prized and contested – yet increasingly, wavelengths beyond human detection (on the planetary scale) and stench (on the intimate human scale) must join the merely visual in our attempts to conceive of our geological epoch, identified as the Anthropocene. In this collaborative project with historian of science Peter Galison, we tackle specific cases in which visual arguments were mustered and more-than-optical data registered, in order to offer some steps toward a media theory of obscurity and visibility in our critical times.

Mandatory reading:


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