All posts by Paul Raven

Six foot of unkempt postgraduate researcher.

How to map nothing: Shannon Mattern on geographies of suspension

Back on 27th January, the UCL faculty of the Built Environment (virtually) hosted a seminar talk by the mighty mighty Shannon Mattern; a little more than a week ago, they uploaded a recording of said talk to A Popular Video-sharing Platform. This is that video, and I commend it to you wholeheartedly; I will not sully you or demean Prof. Mattern by trying to summarise it, because while I certainly took notes, the sheer volume of ideas in this thing—which naturally speaks very much to the concerns of The Ongoing Situation, while also being relevant to the world which preceded it, and the one which will succeed it—is quite astonishing*. (All the more so, given it was apparently conjured up out of little more than a vague thematic idea in the fortnight preceding its delivery.) So, enjoy!

[ * — Also because, frankly, I’m so behind on things I’m meant to be writing, or in some cases meant to already have written, both for other people and for myself, that I can’t presently justify the couple of hours that it would take to rewatch this, return to my notes, and do it justice. So just watch it, y’know? ]

Touring the carbon ruins: toward an ethics of speculative methods

In case you didn’t catch me trumpeting about in on the birdsite: I have a new paper (co-written with Johannes Stripple) at the journal Global Discourse. For those who don’t want to go for the full scholarly fandango, the GD people had me do a wee blog post for them on the topic of the Museum of Carbon Ruins, which is the case study for the paper.

The Museum of Carbon Ruins is… well, we’re still not sure how to categorise it, in truth. Is it an art intervention? An immersive research exhibit on decarbonisation? Climate change theatre? It’s all of these things, in a way – the common thread being the creation of a space of speculation about climate change, and how we might adapt to it.

The full paper is titled “Touring the carbon ruins: towards an ethics of speculative decarbonisation”, and it’s been made Open Access, so anyone and his uncle can just download it for free (thanks to the generosity of our funders &c &c). Why might you want to do so, you ask? Because, to the best of our knowledge, no one else has yet written a paper which confronts the ethics of a speculative climate futures intervention from the perspective of its creators/performers, and situates the work within what we describe as a dialectic of utopian modalities; regarding the latter, if you’ve been reading here for a while, you’ll recognise some thinking about the critical-utopian approach to futuring, which is yours truly bolting together ideas from science fiction studies, utopian studies, speculative design, and a few other places. Here’s the abstract:

For many years, questions about the future have been marginalised within the social sciences: asking how we might live in a post-fossil society, or what are the key decisions and events that could take us there, has been seen as outside of the disciplinary scope. In this paper – which takes as its point of departure the ‘speculative turn’ that is increasingly inspiring a range of works, from foresight scenarios to design fiction – we insist on the need to invent methods and practices which provide speculative spaces that allow such questions to be articulated. We use our own speculative initiative, ‘The Museum of Carbon Ruins’, to foreground a series of ethical questions that accompany such speculative endeavours, but which have so far been neglected in contemporary discussions. Working within a critical utopian modality, Carbon Ruins does not foreclose ethical possibilities, but allows citizens to grapple with, evaluate, amend and critique the post-fossil futures that official policy is striving towards.

Sounds like the real thing, dunnit? Advance warning, there’s—by necessity and, for me at least, delightfully—a looooot of theoretical stuff in there. If you’re simply curious about the Museum of Carbon Ruins itself, the best place to start is the project’s own website (which has lots of images of the exhibits, like the one that accompanies this post, plus the text of the original “guidebook”), perhaps accompanied by the essay mentioned at the top of this post (which explains in layman’s terms why we think this sort of work is valid and useful for working with climate futures).

Still curious? There’s more papers in the pipeline about the methodology of the Museum, so watch this space… but if you would like to ask questions at a somewhat less specialist/academic pitch, feel free to drop me a line (whether via this here blog’s contact page, or on the birdsite), and I’ll do my best to answer them.

rear window

The current view from my armchair. By way of an update for those wondering why things went a bit quiet here: I hit a motivational slump in late January, and then finished the month off by fumbling the last move on a 6b+ slab problem at Klättercentret, falling a couple of meters, and fracturing the talus in my left foot. Eleven days in a cast so far, thirty one left to go.

As such, I’m seeing even less of the world outside my apartment than before. But as the pic above shows, the light is slowly clawing its way back into the world. This morning I heard the seagulls squabbling outside. By the time my cast comes off, spring will be at the door, waiting to show me around.

Until then, I have four weeks to get my intellectual motivation back in shape, and to work on keeping what paltry physical strength I’d managed to build up in my fingers, arms and shoulders. The world spins on, and we spiral and loop in its wake as best we can…