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Facing a Toxic Object

Nuclear Waste Management and its Challenges for Nature-Culture-Relationships

Christiane Schürkmann

Over the past decades, industrial societies have produced a range of substances whose effects humans increasingly identify as toxic—a prominent example is radioactive waste and the question of its disposal. This fabricated “object of modernity” not only calls for the knowledge of the natural sciences, it also affects society at large in its immense challenge of figuring out how to dispose of this material and altogether “detoxify” society from its hazardous activity. The contribution develops a heuristic perspective on toxic objects, exemplified by analyzing documents with a focus on how different societal actors in Germany problematize high-level radioactive waste (HLW) in the context of finding a repository site. The perspective on toxic objects aims to strengthen a more nuanced view of “modern” relationships between human action and material activity with regard to hazardous socio-chemical fabrications as a consequence of an objectified nature.

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Humans “in the Loop”?

Human-Centrism, Posthumanism, and AI

Nandita Biswas Mellamphy

More and more scholarly attention is being paid to the challenges of governing artificial intelligence and emergent technologies. Most of the focus remains on questions of how to preserve the human-centeredness of increasingly advancing machine-driven technologies. I problematize discourses of “human-centered AI” that prioritize human control over nonhuman intelligences as a solution for the challenges posed by emergent technologies like artificial intelligence. Posthumanism provides a compelling theoretical basis for this line of questioning and for reimagining alternative ethical constructs. I outline and consider three distinct scenarios in which (a) humans are at the center of command and control, (b) humans and nonhumans share control, (c) human oversight is completely removed. I suggest that more attention could be given to critical and speculative ways of reimagining the concepts of “human,” “nonhuman,” and human/nonhuman relations.

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Introduction

Posthuman? Nature and Culture in Renegotiation

Kornelia Engert and Christiane Schürkmann

The contributions in this special issue focus on different phenomena and conceptual approaches dealing with “the Posthuman” as a discourse of renegotiating nature-culture-relationships that has emerged over the past decades. The selected articles from fields of sociology, political science, and social anthropology demonstrate how to work with and discuss posthumanistic and post-anthropocentric perspectives, but also how to irritate and criticize universal assumptions of particular posthuman approaches empirically and theoretically. The introduction aims to position the particular contributions in a field of tension between de- and re-centering human beings and human agency.

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Franziska von Verschuer

Since the mid-twentieth century global modernization of agriculture, seed banking has become a core technoscientific strategy to counteract agrobiodiversity loss and ensure future food security. This article develops a post-anthropocentric reading of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault as a nodal point of global ex situ conservation efforts. Based on qualitative expert interviews, I explore the rationality of crisis and salvation that underlies these efforts and discuss its roots in an anthropocentric relation to nature as a resource. By arguing that the latter produces the crises that conservation measures intend to counteract, I show how the Seed Vault conserves this resource-orientation. I then illustrate a concurrent unruliness of more-than-human worldly becoming the embracing of which, I argue, is a way for conservationism to cultivate different, non-crisic futures.

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Tim Ingold

This article asks what part prehistory could play in establishing a posthumanist settlement, alternative to the humanism of the Enlightenment. We begin by showing how Enlightenment thinking split the concept of the human in two, into species and condition, establishing a point of origin where the history of civilization rises from its baseline in evolution. Drawing on the thinking of the thirteenth-century mystic, Ramon Llull, we present an alternative vision of human becoming according to which life carries on through a process of continuous birth, wherein even death and burial hold the promise of renewal. In prehistory, this vision is exemplified in the work of André Leroi-Gourhan, in his exploration of the relation between voice and hand, and of graphism as a precursor to writing. We conclude that the idea of graphism holds the key to a prehistory that not so much precedes as subtends the historic.

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“Rights of Things”

A Posthumanist Approach to Law?

Doris Schweitzer

We can identify a legal vanishing point within neo-materialist and posthumanist approaches—either explicitly, for example, when things are regarded as political actors or contractual partners; or implicitly, when authors hint at the anthropocentric limitations of the granting of rights to human beings. Conversely, “rights of things” appear as a posthumanist approach to law as they decentralize “the human.” But do “rights of things” actually surmount the strict divide between humans (persona) and nonhumans (res) within law? By referring to three empirical cases—animal rights, rights of nature, and robot rights—I will argue that “rights of things” do not necessarily push against the anthropocentrism of law. Rather, we can identify a re-centralization of humans within a given milieu. Thus, the critical impact of the concept “rights of things” must be reconsidered; furthermore, we can draw some conclusions for the theoretical approaches of New Materialism and Posthumanism itself.

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The Alchemy of a Corpus of Underwater Images

Locating Carysfort to Reconcile our Human Relationship with a Coral Reef

Deborah James

Abstract

Through an ecocinema lens, an unconventional corpus of photographs of Carysfort Reef, one of seven iconic coral reefs along the Florida Reef Tract, represents something of an extreme time-lapse series. In the absence of a cohesive underwater documentary record at the time when the Florida Reef Tract is undergoing the most extensive reef restoration in the world, speculation allows us to search for patterns in damaged places with incomplete information and practice a form of multispecies storytelling of our encounters. Taken in 1966, 2003, 2014, and 2019, these images are evidence of cultural moments in our changing relationship with this reef in the context of anthropocentrism, the emergence of an alternative environment spectatorship of awareness, and a baseline for localized social change.

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Artificial Intelligence

Faith in Machine or Man?

Jan Martijn Meij

Lovelock, James. 2019. Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

McKibben, Bill. 2019. Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? New York: Holt.

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EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region

A new space for a study of novel forms of diplomacy

Zane Šime

Abstract

The evolution of the EU multilevel governance unleashes new dynamics that hold a potential to contribute to the theory-building of paradiplomacy and honing of a more nuanced understanding what is to be understood with science diplomacy in the EU specific setting. When evaluated in the context of a broader body of literature on paradiplomacy and science diplomacy, new empirical examples from the EU macro-regional governance level, such as the discussed role of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg in coordinating a flagship of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region called “Baltic Science Network,” should be treated with caution in terms of paying full attention to the distinct institutional environment in which a sub-national actor operates and pursues its initiatives.

Resumen

La evolución de la gobernanza multiniveles en la UE desencadena una nueva dinámica que podría contribuir a la teorización de la para-diplomacia y a una comprensión más matizada de diplomacia científica en el marco específico de la UE. Cuando se evalúan en el contexto general de la literatura sobre para-diplomacia y diplomacia científica, los nuevos ejemplos empíricos de gobernanza macro-regional europea, como el controvertido papel de la Ciudad Libre y Hanseática de Hamburgo en la coordinación del “Baltic Science Network” como parte de la estrategia europea para la región del Mar Báltico, deben tratarse con cautela con respecto a la atención al entorno institucional diferenciado en el que un agente sub-nacional opera y lleva a cabo sus iniciativas.

Résumé

L'évolution de la gouvernance multi-niveaux de l'UE génère une nouvelle dynamique qui pourrait contribuer à la théorisation de la paradiplomatie et à une compréhension plus nuancée du concept de diplomatie scientifique dans le cadre spécifique de l'UE. Lorsqu'ils sont évalués dans le contexte d'ensemble de la li.. érature sur la paradiplomatie et la diplomatie scientifique, les nouveaux exemples empiriques de gouvernance macro-régionale au sein de l'UE, tels que le rôle disputé de la Ville Libre et Hanséatique de Hambourg dans la coordination d'une stratégie de l'UE pour la région de la mer Baltique appelée “Baltic Science Network”, doivent être traités avec prudence pour ce qui est de l'a.. ention portée à l'environnement institutionnel distinct dans lequel un acteur sous-national opère et poursuit ses initiatives.

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Zenyram Koff Maganda

I have been immersed in sustainable development and regional integration since I was a baby through the activities of the RISC Consortium. I have met people coming from different parts of the world to discuss their regions and how they affect communities. I have had the opportunity to travel and see how life is in different world regions, how people are the same, and how they are different. One day, my parents asked me to explain to them what “sustainable regional integration” means. This is my answer.