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Chasing Rotten Ice

A Vitalist Ethos in Scientific Encounters with Sea Ice ‘Itself’

Julianne Yip


Changing sea ice due to anthropogenic climate change demands scientists to revisit their taken-for-granted concepts of sea ice. The ‘rotten ice project’ was one such effort by scientists at the University of Washington's Polar Science Center, which sought to develop novel methods to characterise sea ice as a physical-biological-chemical unit. Rotten ice, however, evaded scientists’ efforts to capture it. Using these ‘escapes’ from scientists’ preconceptions during my fieldwork with the team from 2014 to 2016, I draw on interpretations of Georges Canguilhem's understanding of the relationship between life and knowledge to make sense of what rotten ice demanded. Following Canguilhem's suggestions, I argue that vitalism as an ethos treats concepts as tools for scientists to relate to their environment, challenging them to to remain receptive to the difference that error, experimentation and encounters made to their concepts—and thereby stay open to more-than-human worlds like those found in sea ice.


Les modifications que la glace de mer connaît sous l'influence du changement climatique ont incité les scientifiques à revisiter leurs conceptions acquises sur cette glace de mer. Le « projet pourrissement » est l'un de ces efforts mis en œuvre par les scientifiques du Center de Science Polaire de Washington University. Il cherche à développer de nouvelles méthodes pour caractériser la glace de mer comme unité physique-biologique. La glace pourrissante, néanmoins, est jusqu’à présent parvenue à résister et à échapper aux efforts des scientifiques pour la capturer. En utilisant ces « échappées » des préconceptions des scientifiques durant mon terrain avec l’équipe entre 2014 et 2016, j'ai élaboré mon argument à partir d'une interprétation de la compréhension que Georges Canguilhem a esquissée des relations entre la vie et le savoir ; ceci afin de faire sens de ce que cette glace pourrissante demandait. Comme suggéré par Canguilhem, le vitalisme comme ethos plutôt que comme métaphysique de la matière traite les concepts comme un outil à l'aide duquel les humains peuvent se relier à leurs environnements. Un ethos vitaliste défie les scientifiques de développer des sensibilités aux contingences du savoir scientifique et de rester réceptifs et ouverts aux différences que l'erreur, l'expérimentation et les rencontres font à leurs concepts. Un ethos vitaliste suggère en effet une approche plus intéressée à ceux des concepts qui ne sont pas réduits par les sachants humains ou leurs idéalismes et demeurent ouverte à la découverte des mondes au-delà de l'humain.

Open access

Class, values, and revolutions in the Russia-Ukraine war

A response to Chris Hann

Volodymyr Ishchenko

Chris Hann's essay serves as a valuable intervention against the tendency to normalize primordial ethnonationalism following the full-scale Russian invasion. It is not immune to the common pitfalls and omissions in the writings of many authors whose point of criticism is aimed primarily at the role of Western elites in the conflict within and around Ukraine. But surely, Hann's core argument contains essential truths. Many social scientists have contributed to the construction of a theoretically shallow, methodologically nationalist, and culturally essentializing narrative. It is a telling fact that someone engaging the discussion has to begin with some basic facts of Ukrainian national identity formation, such as its diversity, or has to remind that the interests of the Western ruling classes in the war do not necessarily coincide with the interests of the Ukrainian subaltern classes, or that those are also likely to diverge from the interests and ideologies of their own comprador middle classes calling themselves “civil society.”

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Climatization and Declimatization

Climate Advocacy in Social Sectors

Katja Müller, James Goodman, Pradip Swarnakar, and Mareike Pampus


Climate change forces a reckoning with the ecological side effects of fossil-fuel-based industrial development, requiring an incorporation of climate issues into the mainstream structures of society. In this perspective article, we address this as a “climatization” process directed at aligning society with climate imperatives. We focus on the contingent dynamics of “climatization” and show how contention may be avoided by “declimatizing” climate action. Here, we emphasize the immediate co-benefits of climate action as against more distant climate benefits. “Declimatization” is therefore a strategic move: it is distinct from the “anti-climatization” backlash, though it is often figured as a reflexive response to it. We draw on climate anthropology, climate advocacy, and climate movement theory, and provide brief insights into de/climatization in Germany, India, and Australia.

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Collaborating with the Dead

Reading the Anonymous Adapter in Early Modern Stage Revivals

William David Green


Early modern dramatic co-authorship is traditionally thought of as a temporally and geographically synchronous process, yet recent advances in authorship attribution have increasingly considered later adapters who reshaped older plays for revival at much later dates. Their additions are often considered detachable from the original text, and scholarship has therefore largely focused on simply investigating the authorship of such alterations. Many plays, however, survive in adapted versions for which the identity of the adapters remains elusive. Analysing these adapters independently of identifiable authorship, this article argues that such adapters actively collaborated with a work's absent originator, supplying additions which pay attention to the play-text as a whole, thereby appropriating an old work for the requirements of a theatre company at much later moments in time.

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The Courage to Be an Outsider

Paul Mendes-Flohr


By disposition an outsider, Martin Buber had the requisite ‘civil courage’ to speak the truth as he saw it and thus the spiritual stamina to court the scorn of being marked an outsider, or worse. Accordingly, he called upon his fellow Zionists resolutely to reject the prevailing form of European nationalism and its self-righteous, self-centred pursuit of Realpolitik. The failure to eschew what Buber alarmingly called a ‘hypertrophic’ nationalism would perforce vitiate the very cure – the restoration of national dignity and spiritual renewal – that Zionism seeks to offer the ailing Jewish people. By adopting Realpolitik, a people can win the national rights for which it strove and yet fail to regain its spiritual health – because ‘nationalism, turned false, eats at its very marrow’. A nationalism of sacro egoismo – a political ethic that assumes that the pursuit of national self-interest is sacred and thus morally justified – spells not only spiritual evisceration but also political disaster.

Open access

Crafting Good Indicators

Human–Machine Entanglements in Brazil's 2022 Population Census

Moisés Kopper and Ulisses Corrêa Duarte


Big data analytics have radically transformed data collection protocols in population censuses. Yet despite the unprecedented degree of automation these technologies afford, much of the critical work that goes into making data ‘actionable’ still hinges on the ethical labour of data operators in these novel human–machine settings. By following training activities and conducting interviews with technologists who worked on Brazil's 2022 population census, this article traces the workings of a fraud-detecting system designed to reduce costs and improve data quality and collection. Our ethnography identifies two competing modes of truth-making, which we term ‘probabilistic’ and ‘performative’, whereby numbers and census-takers ‘tame’ each other. Tracking human–machine data entanglements on the fringes of calculation centres helps unpack how futurities are affectively negotiated and woven into the political fabric of these political technologies.

Open access

‘Credit Is a Basket’

On the Inclusion of Blood Donation in China's Social Credit System

Qiuyu Jiang and Rachel Douglas-Jones


In 2019, the National Health Commission of China announced a nation-wide plan to incorporate blood donation into the country's emerging informational infrastructure: the social credit system (SCS). Through analysis of comments from Weibo, one of China's largest social media sites, alongside news articles and official government announcements from the time, we follow the figure of the basket, which we regard as vernacular critique. By analysing the formation of trust indicators, contestations over their commensurability, and the prospect of converting between moral deeds and financial advantage, we aim to augment understandings of the ways that quantification practices are, and become, moral projects.

Full access

The Democratic Backsliding Debate and the Controversy over Regime Classification in Israel

Gal Ariely


Using the 2023 controversy over Israel's judicial overhaul as a case, this article analyzes the broader, decades-long debate about the nature of the Israeli regime. It demonstrates how conflicting assumptions about democracy and the Israeli regime underpin different interpretations of the proposed judicial overhaul. The 2023 debate contraposed majoritarian and liberal orientations, echoing previous understandings of Israel as either a liberal democracy or a diminished type of democracy like ethnic democracy. Despite their differences, both positions in this debate regard Israel as a democracy equivalent to other liberal democracies in the West and neglect the question of the regime's borders and its implication for the regime's classification.

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Dialogue in the Social Media Age

Structured, Democratic, Buberian?

Marcus Hallside and Clara Ng


The anti-dialogical nature of social media has exacerbated social divides while widening the gap between policy decisions and their lived implications. Effective interpersonal relationships – both a conduit and requisite of democracy – are arguably grounded in dialogue. As envisaged by Martin Buber, dialogue necessitates holding space for other subjectivities, constituting a humanistic approach to building trust and community. To build a healthy democracy, we thus need to reconceptualise the practical connections between dialogue, collaborative participation and public engagement. To this end, this article puts forth a two-pronged approach to the contribution of dialogue: by fostering presence while unsilencing marginalised voices. Specifically, we will explore the potential applications of Buberian dialogue within the practice of Structured Democratic Dialogue (SDD). As a methodology that both requires and facilitates trust-building absent in social media mechanisms, SDD promises a path towards greater inclusiveness and commitment core to the workings of deliberative democracy.

Open access

Disappointment and awkwardness as ugly feelings

Humanitarian affect in a “Global East”

Čarna Brković


 What does transnational humanitarianism look like when considered from the perspective of a “Global East”? Ethnographically studying the disappointment and awkwardness generated by two transnational humanitarian projects illuminates a sense of suspended agency among Montenegrin citizens that was developed after the end of the Cold War. Montenegrins are often simultaneously included in the racialized and class-based humanitarian discourses of the Global North and excluded from actual participation in transnational humanitarian projects due to structural constraints. The article suggests that suspended agency emerges when there is both a sense of belonging to a certain humanitarian endeavor that should enable particular kinds of action (e.g., transnational humanitarianism) and a lack of infrastructure capable of sustaining such a sense.