As the introduction to this special issue points out, railroads are a relatively new object of attention for anthropologists. My response dives more substantially into the question of why they are such compelling sites in this present moment. What does the growing interest in railroads—exemplified by this collection of articles—tell us about current anthropological concerns, as well as about how the discipline might further contribute to wider debates about the politics of infrastructures? The first half of this response considers railroads within academic trajectories, while the second half examines them in relation to wider environmental conversations, especially ongoing public debates about climate-friendly transit.
Anthropology of Infrastructure and Debates around “Green” Transit
Heather Anne Swanson
Thinking with Salmon Otoliths and Scales
Heather Anne Swanson
This article proposes that multispecies anthropology and its curiosities about non-humans constitute a ‘minor anthropology’ that poses challenges not only to anthropological categories, but also to anthropological methods. Through attention to Pacific salmon, I probe why and how anthropologists might explore the ways non-humans know and enact worlds via collaborations with natural scientists. Working with biologists, I examine salmon scales and otoliths, or ear bones, whose crystallization patterns act as a kind of fish diary, recording a fish’s migrations and relations. I take up these methods with an anthropological eye, asking how one might use such practices to learn about multispecies encounters that classical ethnography often misses. Lastly, I demonstrate how anthropologists can engage natural science tools while remaining alert to the politics of knowing.
Anthropocene as Science Fiction and Scholarship-in-the-Making
Heather Anne Swanson, Nils Bubandt, and Anna Tsing
How might one responsibly review a field just coming into being—such as that provoked by the term Anthropocene? In this article, we argue for two strategies. First, working from the premise that the Anthropocene field is best understood within its emergence, we review conferences rather than publications. In conference performances, we glimpse the themes and tensions of a field-to-come. Second, we interpret Anthropocene as a science-fiction concept, that is, one that pulls us out of familiar space and time to view our predicaments differently. This allows us to explore emergent figurations, genres, and practices for the transdisciplinary study of real and imagined worlds framed by human disturbance. In the interplay and variation across modes for constructing this field, Anthropocene scholarship finds its shape.