Published on February 24, 2014
The Anthropocenic City Nature, Security & Cyborg Urbanisation Stephen Graham Global Urban Research Unit School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Newcastle University
“Our world, our old world that we have inhabited for the last 12,000 years, has ended. This February […], the Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London was adding the newest and highest story to the geological story. To the question ‘Are we now living in the Anthropocene?’ the 21 members of the Commission unanimously answer ‘yes.’ They adduce robust evidence that the Holocene epoch -- the interglacial span of unusually stable climate that has allowed the rapid evolution of agriculture and urban civilization -- has ended and that the Earth has entered ‘a stratigraphic interval without close parallel in the last several million years.’ In addition to the buildup of greenhouse gases, the stratigraphers cite human landscape transformation which ‘now exceeds [annual] natural sediment production by an order of magnitude,’ the ominous acidiﬁcation of the oceans, and the relentless destruction of biota. This new age, they explain, is deﬁned both by the heating trend […] and by the radical instability expected of future environments. In somber prose, they warn that ‘the combination of extinctions, global species migrations and the widespread replacement of natural vegetation with agricultural monocultures is producing a distinctive contemporary biostratigraphic signal. These effects are permanent, as future evolution will take place from surviving (and frequently anthropogenically relocated) stocks.” […] Evolution itself, in other words, has been forced into a new trajectory.” Mike Davis (2008)
Welcome to the ‘Anthropocene’: Capitalist urban-Industrialism as the Planet’s most important geophysical force • Human and urban manufacture of ‘Nature’ – climates, biospheres, carbon cycles, hydrological and geomorphological systems, even organisms and ecosystems -- has reached such an extent since the Industrial revolution that we no longer inhabit the post-glacial Holocene • Instead we live in the Anthropocene (term coined in 2000 by the Nobel Prize-winning geologist, Paul Crutzen)
Paul J Crutzen Holocene-‐Anthropocenic boundaries can now be discerned in ocean sediments, ice sheet cores, pollen cores etc.
The “Factory Planet” Nick Dyer-Witheford • Incredibly rapid growth and extension of cities and capitalist urban-industrial systems absolutely central to this shift • World 50%+ urban; 70% by 2050 • 2.6 billion people, 0.75% land area • Main hubs of global water, energy, food, waste, carbon ﬂows and demands; generators of resource conﬂicts; foci of genetic, hydrological, climatic, nano-, chemical and geological engineering (intentional and unintentional) on earth-shaping scales
• Already, cities consume 75% of world energy and produce 80% greenhouse gas emissions • More than 50% global soils farmed, grazed or logged; 1/3 of available water used for planting & grazing; 25% rivers run dry before reaching sea • Cities hubs of huge, geographicallystretched systems of infrastructure to metabolise enormous ﬂows of food, water, energy, wastes, commodities, raw materials & resources from distant sites through the city and the bodies of its human (and non-human) inhabitants within globalised and ‘neoliberal’ worlds of trade, ﬂow and exchange
Fundamentally Challenges Traditional Western Concepts of Cities, Nature, Technology • Modernist, post-Enlightenment ideas based on imagining city as being separate, and opposed to, an externalised Nature, to be ‘conquered’ through masculinised, technoscientiﬁc modernity • ‘Nature’ seen to be totally separated from the social, urban, human world • Technological ‘progress’ a means to heroically master nature, geography and time: e.g. US “Manifest destiny” • ‘Built’ environments threaten to overcome and pollute ‘natural’ ones • Deny social production of nature and inevitable reliance of urbanisation on ecological transformations • Humans and cities not external to ecosystems
Resonates With Posthumanist Ontologies Put Forward by Actor-Network and Cyborg Urbanisation Theories • Imagined ﬁxed human/machine, human/animal, physical/ non-physical, social/technological & social/natural binaries and boundaries blur away • A subjectiﬁcation of objects, and the objectiﬁcation of subjects (Donna Haraway, Bruno Latour etc.) • “The characteristic of the factory planet is the capitalist subsumption not just of production, not just of consumption, not just of social reproduction (as in Fordism), but of life’s informational, genetic and ecological dimensions” Nick Dyer-Witheford • Urban Technonature in a world of ‘post-humans’: “Cyborgs are not creatures of pristine Nature; they are the planned and unplanned offspring of manufactured environments, fusing into new organic compounds of naturalized matter and artiﬁcialized anti-matter” Tim Luke
“The entire planet now is increasingly a ‘built environment’ or ‘planned habitat’ as pollution modiﬁes atmospheric chemistry, urbanization restructures weather events, biochemistry redesigns the genetics of existing biomass, and architecture accretes new biotic habitats inside of sprawling megacities.” Tim Luke, 1997, "At the end of Nature: cyborgs, 'humachines', and environments in postmodernity" Environment and Planning A 29(8) 1367 – 1380 )
Matthew Gandy: Cyborg Urbanisation • Cyborgian thinking suggests a way of thinking about cities as a whole • Geographically and temporally-stretched hybrids of human, organic, technological, continually connecting urban sites and processes to ‘rural’ ones, both near and far • Helps create a new vocabulary for understanding what we mean by the ‘public realm’ against the vulnerability and inter-dependency of urban societies and the complex technological networks and organic and biospheric metabolisms, stretched across different geographical & temporal scales, that make them possible.
Eric Swyngedouw and Maria Kaika: • Metabolisation of water central to metabolism of cyborg cities • ‘Socionatures’ based on distant sourcing, hydroengineering of whole nations, and the circulation of water through the metabolic spaces of the body and the city
The Poli:cs of Urbanised Nature & Urban Metabolism
Cyborg Urbanisation Revealed During Disruption of Infrastructures “Cyborgs, like us, are endlessly fascinated by machinic breakdowns, which would cause disruptions in, or denials of access to, their megatechnical sources of being.” Tim Luke (above NYC blackout, 2003)
Of course for a billion urbanites or more, infrastructural failure, exclusion and precarity is perpetually and profoundly visible & imprivisation is constant Infrastructures have “always been foregrounded in the lives of more precarious social groups — i.e. those with reduced access or without access or who have been disconnected, as a result either of socio-spatial differentiation strategies or infrastructure crises or collapse.” Colin McFarlane and Jonathan Rutherford (2008)
Tim Luke: ‘Denature’ • “After two centuries of industrial revolution and three decades of informational revolution, Nature no longer can be assumed to be God-created (theogenic) or self-creating (autogenic). What is taken to be "nature" now is largely human-created (anthropogenic), not only in theory but also in practice. One need not wait for the science ﬁction of advanced space travel technologies to contact other "extraterrestrial life forms," the science facts of altered atmospheric chemistry, rampant genetic engineering, and unchecked species extinctions suggest that urban industrial humanity is a race extra-terrestrial intelligent beings already intent upon imperializing the Earth in cyborg colonies with humachinic technologies. ” Tim Luke
Infrastructure disruptions reveal often taken for granted and normalised ‘infrastructures’ and cyborg assemblies especially blackouts In cyborg cities, these increasingly threaten life, not mere inconvenience: Turning off becomes suicide
• Also unerringly reveal the often concealed politics of cyborganised cities • e.g. Katrina in 2005 not a ‘natural disaster,’ ‘technical failure’ or ‘Act of God.’ Rather, the inevitable result of: • Climate change accentuating hurricanes • Hitting a city denuded of natural protection and • Very poorly covered by a levee network that was systematically racially biased over centuries of constructed socio-nature in more recent context of • A Neoconservative and racist Federal Government that had systematically skewed Emergency Planning towards terrorism for political ends
Dominant Responses: Earth Systems Engineering, Geoengineering, Securitisation • “The world as design space” ; “The human as design space” Brad Allenby • “Earth Systems Engineering and Management is the capability to design, engineer, and manage, through dialog and continual feedback, integrated built/human/natural systems that achieve the multivariate and sometimes mutually exclusive goals and desires of humanity, including at the least personal, social, economic, technological, and environmental dimensions, within the constraints imposed by the states and dynamics of existing complex adaptive systems.” Brad Allenby
We must be wary of ‘quick technical ﬁx’ ideas of ‘Terraforming’, ‘Geoengineering’ and ‘Earth Systems Engineering’ in the Anthropocene. These tend to depoliticise and commodify the problems, legitimise an unchanged political economy, and would inevitably bring major unintended effects
Securitisation and Weaponisation of the Anthropocene • Ole Wæver's Copenhagen School Securitization Theory (1995) • Security as a “speech act” where a securitizing actor designates a threat to a speciﬁed reference object and declares an existential threat implying a right to use extraordinary means to fend it off. • Such a process of “securitization” is successful when the construction of an “existential threat” by a policy maker is socially accepted and where “survival” against existential threats is crucial. • Strong Anthropocenic turn in securitisation discourse
• Neoliberalised ‘global’ cities often have a parasitic relationship with near and distant hinterlands • “Bio-rifts of neoliberalism” DyerWitheford • Resource (food, water, energy) grabs organised and ﬁnance through the ﬁnancial centres and technopoles of the North’s global ﬁnance capitals • New highly regressive paradigms of ‘urban ecological security’ (Simon Marvin and Mike Hodgson) E.g. Daewoo (South Korean corporation) has just leased half of all the arable land in Madagascar to feed South Korean cities in the future The Anthropocenic Global City System: A New Imperialism?
Biopiracy and biofuels push (indigenous groups in Indonesia, protesting, above) Global South ‘land grab’ by global North agribusiness
• Neoliberalised ‘global’ cities often have a parasitic The Anthropocenic relationship with near and distant hinterlands Global City System: • Global neoliberal urbanisation has led to A New Imperialism? ‘devastating disparities between the mobility of capital and labour that have produced new forms of economic serfdom in the global South’ Matthew Gandy • Resource (food, water, energy) grabs organised and ﬁnance through the ﬁnancial centres and technopoles of the North’s global ﬁnance capitals • New highly regressive paradigms of ‘urban ecological security’ (Simon Marvin and Mike Hodgson) E.g. Daewoo (South Korean corporation) has just leased half of all the arable land in Madagascar to feed South Korean cities in the future
Four Conclusions: (i) Conceptual Implications • Throws “us onto a meta-historical playing ﬁeld without a clue as to how to play the game” Gibson-Graham and Roelvink (2010) • Drastically destablises concepts of ‘city’, ‘technology’, ‘nature’ and ‘scale’, along with persistent ‘urban-rural’, ‘natural-social’, ‘natural-technological’ and ‘global-local’ binaries • Profound implications for conceptualisations of the ‘urban’. Is the entire Anthropocenic biosphere, in effect, ‘urban’? Tim Luke (2009) talks of the multiple interconnections and new spatial practices of “urbanatura” (Tim Luke, 2009); • “The accidental normaliity of greenhouse-gassing global capitalism envelops humans, non-humans, and hybrids in technonaturalized systems and structures” Tim Luke
(ii) Map on to Conventional Policy Paradigms • Crucially, these processes map continuously onto, and through, more usual policy paradigms and discourses • “Whether they examine technoscience operations, natural disasters, or socio-spatial collapses”, new research must “scan the property boundaries of urban space as they are stabilized in ordinary policy terms such as urbanization, land use, environment, river basins, industrialization, economic growth, sprawl, or natural resources. Once scrutinized more closely, the unstable, unconventional, and undetected properties of multiple industrial hybridities do emerge out of foggy phenomena, including the ’greenhouse effect’” (Tim Luke, 2009)
(iii) But Reveal Their Limits • Reveal limits of both ‘sustainability’ and environmentalist debates: Sustainability discourses often involve elements of ‘greenwash’, over-aesthetic conceptions, or outright bourgeois environmentalism. “Sustainability is too often a self-absorbed mechanism for avoiding the complexity of the Anthropogenic world” Brad Allenby • Environmentalist tropes of pristine nature, meanwhile, “suggest the importance of minimizing alterations of many habitats; but so many habitats are now obviously ‘artiﬁcial’ that the invocation of a preservationist ethos is frequently inappropriate if ecology, rather than aesthetics, is considered as the basis for policy prescription” Simon Dalby
(iv) Challenge of Politicising the Anthropocene • New “technonatural formations” required based on a “foundational reimagination of the innovations unfolding in many intersecting terns in what are called “Nature” and “society”’ (Tim Luke) • Need a new ethics and research paradigms for to politicise the Anthropocenic city: Must blur debates about global neoliberalised political economy, global urbanisation, global environmental change and environmental justice • “About human beings being transformed by the world in which we ﬁnd ourselves” Gibson-Graham and Roelvink (2010) • Planetary, Anthropocenic, urban and human concepts of ‘security’ required rather than national-militaristic ones • Dangers that dominant responses -- earth systems and geo-engineering and securitisation -- offer myths of technological panaceas based on further securitisation, depoliticisation, commodiﬁcation, colonisation centred on global north corporate capital and ‘global’ metropolitan regions
“ Thus, in the Anthropocene we will be confronted with a form of world political economy in which global warming and other totalizing commodiﬁcations are risked in the pursuit of progress. Whereas the initial stages of commodiﬁcation tested the statics of nature (namely the absorption capacities of land, water, and air), the Anthropocene challenges the dynamics of nature, in particular, the seasons, the tides, the breathing of the planet, and the reproductive cycles of living things. While the emblems of advancing industrialism remain waste, pollution, and risk, there has been a fundamental breach of the nature-society relation in the Anthropocene. Modern life transpires not simply outside the constraints of nature, but relegates nature to commodity status, to be purchased and sold in the world along with other products and services.” John Byrne, Leigh Glover and Cecilia Martinez 2002
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