Over the past decade, studies of culture have crystallized around the elements, as scholars have endeavored to think with material substances. The classical elements of earth, water, air, and fire for example, have inspired several recent books, including Jussi Parikka’s A Geology of Media (2015), Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s Stone (2015), and Thinking with Water, edited by Cecilia Chen, Janine MacLeod, and Astrida Neimanis. Nigel Clark and Kathryn Yusoff drawing together histories of fire, cultural theories of the sun, and pyrotechnics, have proposed that a “generalized study of combustion” is key to understanding human energetic exchanges. More broadly, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Lowell Duckert recently published a collection driven by all the classical elements, assembling elemental criticism as an explicitly ecological project: Elemental Ecocriticism: Thinking with Earth, Air, Water, and Fire. Other forms of matter, from ice to plastics, are forming new centers for emerging environmentally-oriented conversations. And we expect that more scholars will undertake projects focusing on the chemical elements of contemporary science, as carbon, rare earth minerals, and polymetallic sulfides—entangled in climate change, ocean acidification, terrestrial mining and deep sea mining—become the focus of scientific, ethical, and political concerns.
Book series tend to be bound by geographic areas, disciplinary focus, a shared set of theoretical questions, and objects of study. The Elements series would include texts with a commitment to examining social and cultural processes in relation to particular forms of matter, regardless of disciplinary approach. We imagine that the series will include historical texts that explicate discourses and knowledge about the elements, ethnographies that track how the elements are socially engaged and culturally constituted, studies of scientific knowledge of the elements, and works that think through the representation and material role of the elements in the production of art, texts and technologies. Regardless of their site, we welcome texts in which the elements, whether as part of the waves of the ocean or the circulations of the atmosphere, are not a neutral background, but lively forces that shape culture, politics, and communication. We are interested in manuscripts that track the elements in their classical sense, that follow particular scientific elements, molecules, and materials, or that offer inventive sites for rethinking what constitutes the elemental.
The elemental approach has reached the point where researchers have begun to offer philosophies and paradigms for its analysis, including David Macauley’s Elemental Philosophy: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water as Environmental Ideas (2010), Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Lowell Duckert’s edited collection, Elemental Ecocritcism: Thinking with Earth, Air, Water, and Fire (2015), and John Durham Peters’ The Marvelous Clouds: Towards a Philosophy of ElementalMedia (2015). These works offer a number of strategic reasons to adopt the elemental as a framework for ecological analysis, rather than concepts such as “environment” or “nature.” Macauley writes, for example, that understanding the elements does not entail “referring back to ‘Nature’ itself as an entirely stable sphere of meaning—a repository of the ontologically pregiven—so much as gesturing forward (sideward and wayward) to the possibility of discovering a more fluid, open and unfolding philosophical framework and ecological field.” Although many of the elemental works mentioned above have been motivated by a need to better understand the ecological crisis, many others do not fit within existing ecocritical and environmental frameworks. And similarly, just as many of these works are informed by work in the new materialism, not all operate under this rubric.
As is true of the elements themselves, the books we witness engaging them, and which we would feature in this series, are not always neatly constrained in a particular field such as geography, history, anthropology, literary criticism or philosophy, nor within areas such as digital media or new materialism, even as their study has profound implications for all of these fields. In assembling diverse inquiries into particular forms of matter, we hope that the series will be a meeting ground for work on earth, water, air, chemicals, minerals, fuels, plastics, and other such substances as they circulate and interact with and as part of environmental, technological, cultural and political formations. Our interest is not in creating a set of definitions for what the elemental might be, but to open a space for such innovative work at Duke University Press. Duke’s strengths in theory, cultural analysis, environmental studies, and science studies, and the fact that the Press has already published many works emerging around this topic, make it an ideal location for these exchanges.
In order to maintain a distinctive focus on the Elemental, we are not soliciting projects that lack sustained attention to substances and materialities. While the books in the series will all be theoretically informed—and some may be primarily theoretical—all of the projects should still engage, in a serious and sustained way, with the elements—broadly conceived.
Each book in the Elements series will go through the standard submission process of Duke University Press and will be approved by the series editors. For consideration in this series, please email proposals, sample, chapters, or completed manuscripts to Nicole Starosielski and Stacy Alaimo: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Proposals may also be sent directly to Courtney Berger at Duke UP: email@example.com; see also https://www.dukeupress.edu/Authors/
[1}Nigel Clark and Kathryn Yusoff, “Combustion and Society: A Fire-Centred History of Energy Use,” Theory, Culture & Society 31 no. 5 (September 2014): 203-226; See also: Kerry Ryan Chance, “Where there is Fire, there is Politics”: Ungovernability and Material Life in Urban South Africa,” Cultural Anthropology 30, no. 3 (2015): 394-423; Nigel Clark, “Fiery Arts: Pyrotechnology and the Political Aesthetics of the Anthropocene,” GeoHumanities 1, no. 2 (2015): 266-284.
 Jennifer Gabrys, Gay Hawkins, and Mike Michael, eds. Accumulation: The Material Politics of Plastic (New York: Routledge, 2013).
 David Macaley, Elemental Philosophy: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water as Environmental Ideas (Albany: SUNY Press, 2010), 4.
Last year I was contacted by the publisher of Digital Contagions, which was my first book in English: the commissioning editor proposed to edit a new, upgraded version of the book. Yesterday, the final product arrived and I am happy to tell that with a new cover, with some new text and in general edited, pruned and much more smoothly flowing, it is out – again! And I very excited that it has Sean Cubitt’s new preface too.
The new cover is from Eva and Franco Mattes’ installation Perpetual Self Dis/Infecting Machine (2001-04): a Custom made computer infected with the virus Biennale.py.
Here’s the back cover with a summary and some nice endorsements from Tiziana Terranova, Charlie Gere, Alex Galloway and Sean Cubitt!
You can find the book on Peter Lang website and on Amazon and hopefully other online bookshops. Please contact me if you require a review copy.
And as a blast from the past, here’s an interview Matthew Fuller did with me around the publication of the first edition.
The site for our new research group, AMT (Archaeologies of Media and Technology) is now live: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/amt/.
Directed by myself and Ryan Bishop, AMT is located at the Winchester School of Art and is an “office for media theory and speculative practice in art & design”.
We are on Twitter as @amt_office and here’s the short description of what AMT stands for:
Amt – (German) an administrative unit, office
Also: Airy Mean Time, a time standard used for timekeeping on Mars
Archaeologies of Media and Technology (AMT) is a research group that approaches technology and media writ large through their links to science, art, visual culture and critical theory with a strong emphasis on artistic practices. We investigate the conditions of existence of contemporary media technologies through design and art, in relation to both contemporary culture and cultural heritage with an eye toward the future.
The group will kick off with a range of activities after the summer including a small launch event planned tentatively for October even if we are already now involved in many things happening. The group builds on earlier work we have done with the transmediale-festival as well as many other links both in the School, in the UK and internationally. We have hosted various talks in these fields in the past years, including by Shannon Mattern, Alex Galloway, Lawrence Grossberg, Laurence Rickels, Olga Goriunova, Tony Sampson, Joanna Zylinska, Shintaro Miyazaki, Victor Burgin, Esther Milne, Pasi Valiaho and many others. We have hosted events such as Media Theory in Transit and The Image of the Network.
This week Linda Hilfling is giving an artist talk “Adding to the Paradox.”
We will post more info during and after summer with events at WSA and through projects with our international friends and partners!
I am giving a talk on Laboratory Fever in Amsterdam later in May and I am currently drafting some notes for that. This talk is part of the larger research and book project with my colleagues Lori Emerson and Darren Wershler, and most of our research process is documented on the What is a Media Lab-website. Below however a short excerpt from the forthcoming Amsterdam talk, and relating to a passage about (culture/humanities) labs as places of making, and the lab as a symptom.
In her historical contextualisation of the laboratory (“The Laboratory Challenge”), Ursula Klein puts it in rather clear terms: the laboratory was not merely a place of pure science and before the institutionalisation of the site since the 19th century as part of the scientific set up, it had many artisanal connotations as well. The lab was anyway part and parcel of a set-up of making and things, where knowledge was produced in material settings. Indeed, her interest is articulated relating to this “laboratory tradition that meshed studies of nature with technological innovation.” Now, I wonder, how much could we gain and how far could we venture with the poached idea if we did a sort of a minor tweak and see how it sounds when considering the rhetorical promise as well as conditions how we think of labs in the humanities interested in culture and making?
“the laboratory tradition that meshes studies of culture with technological innovation”.A simple and elegant hack, and an update of the scientific lab to a more humanities one? Acknowledging both the relation to “critical making” and also the nexus of culture and technology? Would this solve some of our problems and establish a seeming relation to the scientific labs as labor and elaboration of nature?
But too easy quips aside, there is something in the ways in which the lab as a site of technological making and artefactuality, in some ways, can be seen relating to the arguments by historians of science. Indeed, have we arrived at a situation where we return to the pre-scientific contexts of experimentation and wonder, where also romantic poetry is pitched as such a mode of experimentation, as Novalis once had it, and cultural realities can also found their sites of tests and experiments? Is the lab the neo-romantic but also the pre-scientific lab – a place of making and apparatuses, a place happy to borrow from the scientific aura of the science lab but not merely as an imitation of that model, but a sort of a institutional move that fits in with the issues of basic funding for departments too? Some might critique it as exactly a nostalgic move: at a time when most technocultural processes seem to be escaping the horizon of phenomenological perception and the tool-making Man’s hand, we establish sites of such nostalgic proximity to individual technologies that are merely at most interfaces to the massive planetary level technological infrastructures. And yet, establishing concrete sites might be one way of interfacing not only with technologies but educational possibilities of intervention with that technological reality.
Because of the magnitude of questions “the lab” triggers, the number of separate and distinct labs there exists, and that every lab could produce their own particular answer, I would suggest that it is more fruitful to consider the lab not so much as a solution but as a symptom itself; just like Thomas Elsaesser (2016) recently asked about the discipline of media archaeology the question: instead of what is, we should ask why now? And we can extend the same logic of questioning to labs: not just what is a lab but why now? What is it about the lab not merely as an internal place of new methods or new forms of creative or academic activity but as a fold between such techniques and external political and economic conditions of current institutions that makes it a symptom? What are the sort things that temporalise this spatial setting as a question of the now – a question that defines it as a contemporary setting for particular experiments in not only academia or creative industries, but in “political anthropology of new institutional forms” to use Brett Neilson and Ned Rossiter’s ideas.
We are happy to host Shannon Mattern at the Winchester School of Art. She is giving a talk on Infrastructural Tourism on May 3rd, at 12 – details below! The talk is organised by our Centre for Global Futures and the emerging new research group AMT – Archaeologies of Media & Technology, about which more information later.
Here’s the information about the talk:
Abstract: Infrastructural Tourism
We seem to have come to a sudden recognition that the Internet is a place made of countless material things – cables and data centers and rare earth minerals. We’ve witnessed a dawning realization that our Amazonian consumptive appetites are dependent on similarly heavy logistical systems and exploitative labor practices. We’ve surrendered to the reality of the Anthropocene and its precarious infrastructural, environmental, political, and ethical futures. This emergent infrastructural intelligence has spawned an explosion of infrastructural “literacy” and engagement projects that seek to “make visible the invisible,” to call out the unrecognized, to bore into the “black-boxed.” Grand Tours of nuclear infrastructures and key sites in telecom history have inspired many a recent Bildungsroman, in myriad mediated forms. Apps and data visualizations, sound walks and speculative design workshops, DIY manuals and field guides, urban dashboards and participatory mappings, hackathons and infrastructural tourism – strategies employed by artists and activists and even some city governments and federal agencies – all seek to “raise awareness” among a broader public about infrastructure’s existence and its politics. They aim, further, to motivate non-specialist communities to contribute to infrastructure’s maintenance and improvement, to inspire citizen-consumers to advocate for more accessible and justly distributed resources, and perhaps even to “engineer” their own DIY networks. In this talk I’ll explore various pedagogical strategies, representational techniques, and modeling methods that have been employed to promote “infrastructural intelligence” — and consider what epistemologies, ontologies, ethics, affects, and politics are embedded in those approaches.
Shannon Mattern is an Associate Professor of Media Studies at The New School. Her writing and teaching focus on archives, libraries, and other media spaces; media infrastructures; spatial epistemologies; and mediated sensation and exhibition. She is author of _The New Downtown Library: Designing with Communities_ and _Deep Mapping the Media City_ (both published by University of Minnesota Press), and she writes a regular column about urban data and mediated infrastructures for _Places_, a journal focusing on architecture, urbanism, and landscape. She has also contributed to various public design and interactive projects and exhibitions. This spring she is a senior fellow at the Internationales Kolleg für Kulturtechnikforschung und Medienphilosophie at the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar. You can find her at wordsinspace.net.
Some quick updates on new reviews and other news about some recent books, first starting with A Geology of Media. Our university PR-team did a short news item about it being selected on the Choice-magazine list of “Outstanding Academic Title for 2015“.
It was reviewed in a couple of places including Contriver’s Review: “An Archive Beneath“. Kyle Bickoff writes in his review: “Parikka describes his book as part of the material landscape it defines, leaving little room for misinterpretation about the ubiquity and consequent exigence of his topic. This is clearly evident in the text’s construction, from its precisely demarcated, stratified chapters, to the coherence of the argument within each layer; the book, indeed, has a geology of its own.”
Also Leonardo ran a review of it. Gabriela Galati’s text gives an overview of the book, highlighting some key themes and questions too.
In addition, also our other recent new book that we launched in a couple of places (including Kiasma (Helsinki), Montreal and London) Writing and Unwriting (Media) Art History: Erkki Kurenniemi in 2048 was recently reviewed. The short review in Neural summarises the book as follows: “The book challenges the reader to interpret Kurenniemi and his symbolic involvement in different disciplines, including his feverish daily archiving activities and the (re)invention of audio visual machines. The impact of this work is amplified, implicitly reinforcing both present complexity and future uncertainty.”
I will be taking part in the Mediaarthistories 2015 conference soon (in November) in Montreal. Under the title Re-Create the event promises to be several days of exciting panels again with a good emphasis on practice-based research. We are participating with a panel on labs in humanities and media studies, addressing the practice and contexts of this interdisciplinary trend (incidentally, with Lori Emerson and Darren Wershler we are also working on a book and a project on labs; we will be also talking about this at Concordia University).
In addition, the same day (Saturday 7th of November) we are with Joasia Krysa and Perttu Rastas launching the Erkki Kurenniemi-book that came out with MIT Press! This is one of several launch events. Please join us and come hear more whether about labs or Kurenniemi!
The programme of the conference is online here.