rheomode

…………………………the research base of jon goodbun

‘Inter-Temporal Ecologies: In More Than Human Worlds’ at Arts Catalyst, London

 

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I’ve had the pleasure of helping to set up two of the most important masters courses in environmental design and architecture in London in recent years. First was the MSc Architecture and Environmental Design at the University of Westminster – an excellent technically-driven course details here. More recently I helped to set up the MA Environmental Architecture at the Royal College of Art – a very different kind of course organised around much more multi-scalar geopolitical agendas details here.

A few weeks ago we had the first exhibition of the MA Environmental Architecture -Inter-Temporal Ecologies: In More Than Human Worlds – in collaboration with the wonderful Arts Catalyst Centre for Art, Science & Technology

We presented three days of exhibition, performances, workshops and discussion – I chaired two sessions: on kinship, and water.

Intertemporal Ecologies: In More Than Human Worlds celebrates the work of the inaugural cohort of MA Environmental Architecture, Royal College of Art, exploring the future of environments, landscapes and ecosystems. It presents elements selected from the body of work produced collectively and individually over the last 15 months.

The research focuses on the environmental and territorial disputes resulting from the extraction on lithium in the Salar de Atacama, in Chile: on the one side lithium emerges as a key component in the global pathways to mitigating climate change; and on the other, its extraction results in the appropriation of water – a living being at the heart of fragile ecosystems and indigenous territories.

The work presented reflects upon the role of design and architecture at the intersection of these incommensurable demands, while recognising the complex system of relationships and entanglements they are part of. The exhibition brings together the dynamic cycles of both mental, social and material ecologies that inform diverse relationships between human, non-human and other than human beings. Through a programme of workshops, talks and conversations the event will explore the past, present and future of environments as more than human worlds.

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Filed under: Uncategorized

RIBA Research Medals

 

I’m very proud to have supervised Dr Kostas Grigoriadis on his PhD on ‘The Epistemology of Designing with Functionally Graded Materials’ at the #RCA– winner of the #RIBA Research Medal for Design and Technology.  See RIBA Journal and RIBA Medals.

Many congratulations also to my own PhD supervisor Professor Murray Fraser on winning the Annie Spink award for teaching.

Filed under: research, teaching

Its Own Metaphor: Ecological Calculus and the difference that makes a difference

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Existential Territories: The Chemical Sign
by RCA School of Architecture

Are alternative modes of existence possible?

What form will they take?

Every architectural proposition embodies a form of sociality. Architecture is nothing if not a set of proposals for organising human attention, habit and ritual. Far from being a mere response to pragmatic needs, architecture is – and perhaps has always been – a tool for the construction of subjectivity.

An architectural project implies a model of the human character, a specific distribution of the innate and the cultivated, the desirable and undesirable, the normal and the pathological. At the same time, the relationship between subjectification and architecture is neither straightforward nor mechanical. The future’s infrastructure is a site of political conflict between financial, legal and semiotic forces. Today, the attempt to secure the fruition and dominance of certain models of human character through disciplinary institutions – the school, the hospital, the asylum, the barracks – has been supplemented by diffuse systems of control that act at scales that we do not recognize as architecture. And yet, as many have argued, contemporary forms of power have never been more impersonal, infrastructural and architectural.

Existential Territories is a series of events that will explore architectures capacity to propose alternative forms of existence. Territory is a term that refers to the exercise of power over a defined space. The existential aspect refers to way that the abstraction of design enters into a relationship with affective micro-political investments and semiotic processes. An existential territory is what binds a power over territory to a power over the soul while also pointing to the excess of life that resides within and beyond any system of power.

If the emergence of capitalism has charged architecture with the task of naturalizing social asymmetries, the existential territories series sets out to challenge existing models of human character and sociality including the normativity of gender roles, class construction, and labour exploitation, and perhaps rethink our agency as writers and architects.

Our second Existential Territories symposium, the ‘chemical sign’, will explore the limits of the concept of subjectivity by examining the way that chemicals, pathogens and microbes influence and transform what we mean by ‘human’.

SCHEDULE

Welcome by Adrian Lahoud,
Dean of the School of Architecture at the Royal College of Art

Jon Goodbun (RCA),
Its Own Metaphor: Ecological Calculus and the difference that makes a difference

Hannah Landecker (UCLA),
The Food of Our Food: Medicated Feed and the Industrialization of Metabolism

Anna Tsing (UCSC),
Plantationocene: Life in Past and Coming Ruins

Alon Schwabe and Daniel Fernandez Pascual (Cooking Sections, RCA),
CLIMAVORE: On Tidal Zones

JON GOODBUN (RCA),

Its Own Metaphor: Ecological Calculus and the difference that makes a difference

‘…thinking in terms of stories does not isolate human beings as something separate from the starfish and the sea anemones, the coconut palms and the primroses. Rather, if the world be connected… then thinking in terms of stories must be shared by all mind or minds whether ours or those of redwood forests and sea anemones. Context and relevance must be characteristic not only of all so-called behavior (those stories which are projected out into ‘action’), but also of all those internal stories, the sequences of the building up of the sea anemone. Its embryology must be somehow made of the stuff of stories. And behind that, again, the evolutionary process through millions of generations whereby the sea anemone, like you and me, came to be – that process, too, must be of the stuff of stories.’ — Gregory Bateson (Mind and Nature, 1979) —

‘The atom… is nothing more than a relation’ — Frederick Engels (Dialectics of Nature notebooks, 1870s) —

Any attempt to think through the relationality of ‘The Chemical Sign’ begs a triad of questions: A sign of what? In relation to what? For what? In this paper I will sketch a series of attempts to approach these questions over the history of systems and process theoretic philosophy, and the critical significance of this question for an extended ecological politics today.

There have been a number of engagements with chemical and biological semiosis – Heinz von Foerster’s Biological Computing Lab at the University of Illinois which operated from 1958-1976, and contemporaneously Stafford Beer’s experiments with information processing in pond ecosystems, Gordon Pask’s work attempting to teach chemical systems how to learn in projects such as ‘How to evolve an ear’, and Humberto Maturana and Fransisco Varela’s recursive conception of cell autopoiesis. Earlier work, such as Alexandr Bogdanov’s tektology and experiments with blood transfusion, and Karl Marx and Frederick Engels’ speculations upon the meaning of metabolism in Moritz Traube’s protocell labours, also provide important insights. Most importantly, I will focus upon bio-anthropologist Gregory Bateson’s use of C. S. Peirce’s concept of abduction as the basis of an epistemology of pattern and perception.

Bateson first set out his conception of three ecologies in his 1968 position paper for a conference on ‘Human Adaptation’ which he had called through the Wenner-Gren anthropological foundation. Bringing together an small and unlikely mixture of biologists, anthropologists, Marxists and cyberneticians, Bateson wanted to test his thinking on the nature of the relation between informational-semiotic and material-energetic systems, a task which would consume his final decade in an attempt to propose a new kind of meta-science: a qualitative discipline organised around an ecological aesthetics. Bateson never completed this project, yet it remains a critical one for us today.

HANNAH LANDECKER (UCLA),

The Food of Our Food: Medicated Feed and the Industrialization of Metabolism

In 1934, nutrition scientist Clive McCay warned that children were being raised with an attitude to growth that he called “the butcher’s philosophy”: the desire to bring animals to market weight quickly and efficiently.

This talk excavates the butcher’s philosophy of the twentieth century and its consequences for the chemical landscapes of life in the twenty-first. While there has been some appreciation of the addition of antibiotics and hormones to feed as growth promoters, given worries about these as adulterations of the end-product that is milk and meat for human consumption, the systematic remaking of animal feed since the turn of the twentieth century has gone under-appreciated. This paper traces the science of the “animal as converter,” with metabolism and feed efficiency as work objects in the effort to make more with less. Vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fungal enzymes, short chain fatty acids, arsenical medicines, anti-oxidants, and many other substances are part of this story, many of which were also then used in human food fortification and engineering. As a result of the focus on feed efficiency in the science-industrial effort to promote growth, what we know about many of these elements is confined to how they affect growth, a positive knowledge that has obscured the many other questions one might ask about how these nutritional components affect animals, microbiota, environments, and humans.

This paper argues that a more systematic history of agricultural feeding points not toward the industrialization of discrete foodstuffs or activities (cows, farming), but toward the industrialization of metabolism: a major re-articulation of the metabolic interrelations of bacteria, fungi, plants, animals, and humans, in which flows of matter between organisms changed profoundly. The industrialization of metabolism has produced what we might call the anthropocene of, or in, the cell, a set of consequences that now register in terms of genome instability, physiology and metabolic dysregulation. Both philosophically and practically, this perspective allows us to ask what constitutes flourishing in the legacy chemical landscapes of growth, and to think through experimental and epidemiological approaches better equipped to take account of the historically-specific metabolic landscapes of human development and health.

ANNA TSING (UCSC),

Plantationocene: Life in Past and Coming Ruins

Landscape structure matters in constituting the Anthropocene.

This talk discusses the connections between the plantation form—a mode of modular simplification in which ecological complexity gives way to genetic homogeneity—and the “feral proliferation” of pests and pathogens. Modular simplification and feral proliferation work together, spreading the environmental dangers of the more-than-human Anthropocene. Attention to landscape morphology offers a necessary “horizontal” dimension to the discussion of “vertical” carbon circulations that have defined attention to our planet. Furthermore, the plantation form is not a matter of the amassment of individual human acts, the most common way of understanding environmental problems; instead, it directs us to infrastructures and assemblages. The plantation is both an allegorical form for reflection and a material structure that has reshaped our world. For those familiar with my earlier work: yes, there will be fungi. Pathogenic fungi, which gather, transform, and spread from plantations, form the heart of the descriptive material for this talk. Fungi are always good to think with.

ALON SCHWABE and DANIEL FERNANDEZ PASCUAL (Cooking Sections, RCA),

CLIMAVORE: On Tidal Zones

CLIMAVORE investigates how to eat as climate changes. In the case of tidal zones, the project has been specifically tackling the detrimental effects of salmon farm pollution in the Isle of Skye, Scotland. After two years of research and fieldwork, the project materialised first in a site-specific installation to gather cross-disciplinary knowledge and challenge the way in which corporate intensive farms ‘perform nature’. As a response, each day at high tide, the new structure works as an underwater oyster table to activate filter feeders in the polluted shores of the island. At low tide, the structure emerges above the sea and functions as a dining table for humans, with tastings of ingredients that clean the water by breathing: seaweeds like kelp or dulse, and bivalves like oysters, clams, scallops and mussels. Through a series of ongoing public workshops, it is activated in collaboration with local stakeholders, residents, schools, politicians and researchers. Aiming to divest away from salmon farming and develop a new cultural imaginary based on alternative aqua-cultures, a network of local restaurants has also been established as active agents in the process: each replaced farmed salmon with a CLIMAVORE dish. The long-term project aims to look at other understandings of ecology and water monitoring to consolidate human and other-than-human inhabitation on the liminal space of the coast. The tidal zone becomes then a space of opportunity for discussing the spatial construction of the ocean and its shores.

 

Filed under: ecology, research

Steps to an Ecological Aesthetic in the Atacama

Here is the text I prepared for an workshop event co-hosted by the Atacama Foundation and Royal College of Art Lithium Triangle research project, held in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile last week.

Steps to an Ecological Aesthetic in the Atacama

Good afternoon. I am Dr Jon Goodbun. I am a part of the four year RCA Lithium Triangle research project.

I have a background in architectural theory, design research and practice, which over the last two decades has focused ever more on environmental and ecological research and practice, and what this means for how we think about space. or spacetime, as a semiotic mediating field of material, biological and mental worlds. This has led me to work with ideas and thinkers who present challenges to some of the very premises of modern science, and the divisions between both the natural, social and political sciences, and between the sciences and humanities… divisions which are the legacy of western enlightenment thinking. I have pursued this work both in mainstream academic institutions such as the RCA, but also non-orthodox institutions such as Schumacher College, the Pari Institute and Burning Man, as well as in activist political arenas, and a series of independent educational and research initiatives. I mention this both by way of introduction, but also as it will become relevant to my brief discussion here.

This afternoon, following Godofredo Periera and Adrian Lahoud’s ’s introduction of the Lithium Triangle research project, I want to present briefly some notes on the kind of methodological issues that are present, and some of the epistemological questions that emerge from this.. This is a brief reflection upon what is at stake in thinking about the environment, with reference to two ‘case studies’ (narrated through two theorists: Gregory Bateson and F. David Peat) and will be followed by short presentation by Nikos Katsikis who will introduce more specifically some of the GIS-based and other techniques of analysis and speculation deployed by the studio.

Before I start I should point out that the ‘aesthetics’ in the title does not refer to the search for a style. Rather, I am using the term in the philosophical sense… aesthetics as the study of structures of feeling and perception.. how we perceive what we perceive… how we empathise with, or feel alienated from, the patterns and processes which connect us all. (Remembering that in Hegelian aesthetics the concept of ‘empathy/einfühlung’ was developed to explain spatial experience as the specific form of ‘alienation’ by which we project ourselves into and recognise the geist (which in German usefully means both mind and spirit) present in the objects that surround us.)

SLIDE human and animal footprints in the desert

Ecological questions fascinate me as they involve thinking about the extended fields of socio-environmental relations, within which and through which human life is enfolded and expressed, as a part of much broader biological, geological and historical landscapes, combining large scale mineral and energy flows, and in communication and interaction with both networks of other life-forms and other economies and peoples. All (human) modes of existence are always both a part of a broader web of life, but are also apart from it! To say that our emerging understanding the more-than-dialectical complexities of these political ecologies and environmental histories requires the development of new concepts and multi-disciplinary working methods is an understatement. The environmental question, not just here in the Atacama but all over the world, forces us to think through issues of value, difference and of communication, in a way that no other question does.

So what are the kinds of tools, techniques, technologies and processes are required to undertake an extended socio-spatial ecological project like this, and what are the issues involved?

There are of course various kinds of spatial mapping practice… and these involve the use and manipulation of Geographic Information Systems produced through satellite mapping technologies, but also on the ground surveys, observations and measurement of all kinds of conventionally-understood environmental variables, including documentation of ecosystems, mineral resources, hydrological cycles, but also social rhythms and practices. It includes of course urban analysis, and an understanding of the local microclimates and extended regional climates.

To synthesise this mix of disciplines and knowledge requires a trans-disciplinary practice, and the creation of a meta-space which can bring together very different forms of knowledge and practice. We bring together in this project a multi-disciplinary team, and draw upon all kinds of specialists.

Even on a conventional/normative basis, building up these kinds of representations is far from simple, whether at a technical level, or even more so at a conceptual and as we shall see epistemological/ontological levels. There are questions regarding the ownership activation of information, and the  political histories of the social practices, technologies and indeed the scientific concepts deployed.

And of course the affordances and potentials that this project might uncover, in a context where there are large corporate and commercial interests which work through global, state and local laws and agreements, is full of complexity.

How to qualify and quantify an environment is a political ecological project in the broadest sense (way beyond the institutionalised academic discipline of Political Ecology)…We ask you: What we should be looking at? What qualities and what values need to be quantified, measured and managed. And indeed what qualities and values should never be quantified and measured, as to do so is to bring them into a system of logic an control which will only ever ultimately destroy them? Whilst there is no ecological project which is not political, even the more critically aware forms of political ecology all too often fail to reflect upon the abstractions of modern science. It is clear that one of the things that is needed today is a radicalisation of the ecological idea… an ecology of ecology… a second order ecology, as the act of observing is always an act of performance, and the act of representation is always a mode of participation, and must always be an act of collective collaboration.

Nonetheless, of course, in a context like this there are all kinds of defensive uses  to which this work might legitimately be put by local Atacamenian communities, to counter representations produced by other actors – specifically the extractives industries active within this environment. So on one level we need to work with the language, concepts and epistemological objects produced by the state and by the various multi-national mining companies, and of course other international organisations such as the ILO (International Labour Organisation).

However, as well as defensive project, there is a much more active and positive project implicated within this work… a project which in fact demands a complete re-imagining of modern western concepts of science and objectivity.

SLIDE networks of internal and external relations

The epistemology of the modern scientific project acts as if, or pretends to be, a neutral observer: an invisible and objective measure.

This is not true, and in fact is what the ecological anthropologist Gregory Bateson described as an epistemological error, or an epistemological pathology.

What the methods of modern science actually tend to do is to take the complex differentiated dynamic unfolding and indeed semiological whole which is the cosmos, and CUT IT UP. Normative science acts as if its acts of cutting are neutral, inevitable, fundamental and so on, but this is only true within the context of the specific techno-scientific practices themselves. As the quantum physicist turned ecological theorist (and Bateson student) Fritjof Capra described the observations of quantum physics:

‘… in modern physics, the image of the universe as a machine has been replaced by that of an interconnected dynamic whole whose parts are essentially interdependent and have to be understood as patterns of a cosmic process. In order to define an object in this interconnected web of relationships, we cut through some of the interconnections – conceptually, as well as physically with our instruments of observation – and in doing so we isolate certain patterns and interpret them as objects.’

SLIDE CERN ‘observatory’

Ecological thought and systems theory, in its broadest conception, tends to challenge the biases and reductive quantitative methods of modern science, even whilst it also uses and deploys these methods. The reductive methods of physics, chemistry, biology and so on, are so successful precisely because of their reductive search for fundamental objects and concepts (atoms, quarks, cells, genes and so on). But if you cut up a dog to study it, you kill the dog. You can no longer observe and participate in its morphogenetic unfolding within a field of more-than-doggy relations. Thus in parallel with the reductive sciences emerged a series of more holistic systems disciplines: ecology, cybernetics, dialectical materialism, tektology etc. (In fact, as I have argued elsewhere, a particular conception of architecture emerged in renaissance Florence which acted as the paradigm for holistic systems thinking in general… but that is another story..).

What is at stake here then, is a challenge to the specific abstractions of objective science and the kinds of objects it produces, and the possibility of reframing the construction of ideas, concepts, objects and worlds.

It presents the possibility of a practice which adopts subject positions other than the ideology of third person objectvity.

In fact, it demands the formation of an ecological aesthetic… by which, as I’ve already said, I don’t mean some ‘style’, but rather an aesthetic project in the sense of the practical-theoretical study of how we perceive through a living engagement with a world (where, in the words of the young Marx ’the senses become theoreticians in their immediate practice’) … I mean the exploration of an entire structure of feeling (to develop a concept from the Marxian cultural theorist Raymond Williams) of the ecology of mind (to develop a concept from Gregory Bateson) which allows an empathetic relation with an environment… in fact what the Atacameni describe as a Cosmovision.

So to conclude this section of the paper, yes the local Atacameni communities need to both engage with, and contest, the techno-scientific methods and metrics of the global extractivist corporations, and we can help with that. But that isn’t the end game… that is just the start.

The mining companies and the mines, and indeed the San Pedro tourists, are now a part of (and dialectically apart from) the ecology of the Atacama… there is no simple going back in evolutionary ecological systems… However the environmental history and practices of the First Nations communities are also still alive and active too… the interesting question now is how to radicalise this field… how might a confrontation/conversation between industrial techno-science and First-Nations cosmovision be productive and transformative for us all…

SLIDE David Peat Blackfoot Physics book cover

At this point I am reminded of a series of conversations that I had with another renegade quantum physicist – F David Peat – when I was fortunate enough to spend a short period as a scholar-in-residence at his Pari Institute for New Learning a few years ago. David Peat was a collaborator with David Bohm, an extraordinary thinker who similarly was pushed through his understanding of quantum theory towards the development of a theory of enfolded developmental systems (his classic text is ‘Wholeness and the Implicate Order). Amongst other things, Bohm developed the thesis that many of the apparent paradoxes of quantum theory (such as wave/particle duality, and the apparent effect of the observer on quantum events) were more epistemological than ontological. Specifically, he argued that the processes that could be well described in mathematics (a much more process based ‘language’), were incomprehensible when described in our noun-based language which endlessly divides the world up into subjects and objects. He speculated that if only we could create a verb-based language which might be better equipped to engage with a world of mutually implicated processes of observation and performance, then many of the paradoxes of quantum theory might take on a different appearance. He called his imagined language the rheomode (Greek: flowing mode). In a seminar one time with Bohm and Peat, a student whose family were from the Blackfoot Nation suggested that their language might be of interest, as it was indeed largely verb based. Bohm died before he could explore this line of enquiry, but Peat took it up, and his engagement with Native American cosmologies produced amongst other things his book ‘Blackfoot Physics: A Journey into the Native American Universe’, and when I was working with him we spent some time talking about this. Of course, he showed to a Western academic audience that there was a sophisticated, rigorous and coherent cosmology here (this was the 1980s remember!), which indeed was more of a rheomode. More importantly for this discussion, he told me a series of stories about how some of the Blackfoot language had been recovered or regrown, through a mindful embodied engagement with various socio-spatio-ecological practices.. in particular building things and moving through landscapes… there are surely lessons in this case study for what an Atacamenian Physics might be?

I want to close these thoughts with a return to Bateson and the idea of an ecological aesthetic and the reformation of science that he called for. Bateson claimed to have trained his sensorium and widened his field of perception, through both rigorous and sensitive observation methods, and his students have supported all kinds of socio-participatory scientific projects (such as observing changes in ones own environment). For Bateson the incorporation of multiple perspectives was key to any ecological aesthetic, as an ecological aesthetic requires an abduction of affordances and empathic relation to the higher order patterns that connect multiple perspectives.

And on that note I will leave you with two quotes, two perspectives, which seem relevant to thinking about the situation and possibilities here in the Atacama, even whilst remembering that something much bigger than the Atacama is at stake here. The abstractions of modern science and technology are not just affecting the First Nations… these effects of our epistemological error are creating a pathologically schizophrenic planet, and is damaging the eco-mental systems within which our and other species beings and becomings unfold… the project of an ecological aesthetic involves us all.

‘You decide that that you want to get rid of the by-products of human life and that Lake Erie will be a good place to put them. You forget that the eco-mental system called Lake Erie is a part of your wider eco-mental system – and that if Lake Erie is driven insane, its insanity is incorporated in the larger system of your thought and experience.’

Gregory Bateson

‘for Marxists, there can be no going back, as many ecologists seem to propose, to an unmediated relation to nature (or a world built solely on face to face relations), to a pre-capitalist and communitarian world of non-scientific understandings with limited divisions of labour. The only path is to seek political, cultural and intellectual means that ‘go beyond’… The emancipatory potential of modern society, founded on alienation, must continue to be explored. But this cannot be, as it so often is, an end in itself, for that is to treat alienation as the end point, the goal. The ecologists’ and the early Marx’s concern to recuperate ‘in higher form’ the alienation from nature (as well as from others) that modern day capitalism instantiates must be a fundamental goal of any eco-socialist project. The idea of ‘re-enchantment’ with the sensuous world through a more sensitive science, more sensitive social relations and material practices, through meaningful labour processes, provides a better language than that of alienation with all of its essentialist overtones.’

David Harvey

Filed under: ecology, research, teaching, ,

Mud and Modernity, in Arena Journal for Architectural Research

What is concrete? Loved and loathed in equal measure, this building material, as soon as we try to define it, to specify it, to describe it, becomes, well, not very concrete at all, but rather fluid and surprisingly abstract! Concrete is a material which has been going through an interesting intellectual and practical renaissance in recent years, in no small part driven by the convergence of several different kinds of technology-driven manufacturing changes – ranging from computer aided manufacturing of formworks, to photograph etching, to engineering software, to nano- and bio-chemistry to 3D printing – which have opened up new worlds of realizable, expressive and performance optimised form. The demands posed by anthropogenic climate change, energy use, resource scarcity, and the environmental question more generally, have equally transformed the technologies and industries that are now feeding into developments in this material. On its own though, that is not enough to understand the revival in interest. In this paper I will argue that there are indeed profound relationships between capital, modernity and concrete. However, I will suggest that in order to really start to grasp these relations, we will need to explore some ways of thinking about concrete that have not been developed so far within the recent literature on the material. Notably I will develop an ecological approach to thinking about what concrete is, and in so doing redefine this material as a particular form of mud, or mudcrete: a material which is deployed by both human and non-human builders. I will note the ecological energetics and extended materialities of mudcrete, and will reflect upon the conceptual ‘forms’ or ‘patterns’ of this matter as a particular modality of the production of nature. Mudcretes always internalise in particularly interesting ways I argue, their external relations, the extended networks of materials, skills, labours and energies that go into their production. Mudcretes frequently stage fascinating bio-semiotic performances, whichever species or processes are dominant. But when the mudcretes in question are the product of human labour, they always act as social media.

Full article available here: http://ajar.arena-architecture.eu/articles/10.5334/ajar.6/

Filed under: ecology, research, teaching

Jon Goodbun, Benedict Singleton and Nick Srnicek in conversation, June 2016

JG: we are holding this interview in the context of our studio at the RCA. This year we explicitly took on the question of Post Capital, referencing in particular both your book, and Paul Mason’s. It’s been interesting so see how hard it’s been for students. Looking at what we produced this year, there is an interesting mix of hyper-capitalist and post-capitalist projects…
BS: haha
JG: .. which isn’t a new thing to the studio.. the studio is a mix.. there’s bits of Marx, bits of surrealism and constructivism, cybernetics… re your own work Nick, the mix of Marx and systems thinking is shared, and indeed cognitive mapping.. a lot of the work that we do charts tendencies that are either explicit or implicit in the world around us, and exaggerate them.
I first came across your work in the Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics in 2014, which I enjoyed enormously.. in your more recent work you have stopped using the term accelerationism…
NS: haha yeah. So why is that the case? The project we are trying to undertake is a counter-hegemonic project, which means convincing people and changing people’s common sense. And it means a flexibility with the sort of terms we are using, which is why we prefer post-capitalism over communism and socialism, because those terms have so much baggage. If you want to be talking about ending wage labour and things like this, and if you talk in terms of communism you have twenty battles before you get to that point, whereas if you talk about post-capitalism you can just go there. So rather than fight needless battles we chose post capitalism. Same thing with accelerationism. It has so many varied resonances, and apparently in New York it just means ‘vote Trump!’, so rather than try to explain to people every single time, no that’s not what accelerationism means, we just decided drop the term, and actually drop any branding – the work can stand on its own.
JG: In terms of the emerging discourse around post capitalism, how do you position yourselves re other theorists?
NS: Some people have rather silly ideas about what post capitalism means. I like a lot of Paul Mason’s stuff, I think he’s a bit too naive about the power of open source software, free information etc.. I don’t think that leads to post capitalism  I think it will be recuperated by Apple etc … similarly with the peer to peer economy .. some people describe this as post capitalist, I tend to think it is not really post capitalist in a meaningful sense. Indeed actually, there isa qualification that we make in the book, which is that the post work economy that we describe in the book is not post capitalist, but it is a stepping stone towards being post-capitalist.. I think this is an important point to make.
JG: can we talk more about technology.. ideas around technology seem central to post capitalist thinking.. what are some tools that can help us think here..?
NS: Broadly when you look at the philosophy of technology there are two poles. Firstly determinism, where technology determines society, and social constructivism, which says that society can completely choose how technology functions, how it is developed, what effects it has on society. I think both of those are wrong. I think what technology does is it opens up possibilities, it opens up connections. It makes certain things easier to do, other things harder to do, and given the way that society is formed at any particular moment, the technology will get taken up in a particular way. So there is a deterministic aspect, in that it is concretely changing the possibility structure available to society, but whether it gets taken up or not is up to society itself. So there is flexibility, but there is also determinism involved. Now when that plays into something like post capitalism it is a matter of saying we have the technology today to do things like infinitely reproduce music and informational goods at marginal costs. That’s a possibility, although I don’t think this will be taken up, there are too many ways to recuperate it, to make that function political effective. But there is also technology that can automate a lot of labour, and that’s a new possibility available to society, the question is can we build a political movement that takes advantage of this?
JG: What do you see as the relationship between some of the technologies just alluded to, and, in the broadest sense, the question of planning – both economic and urban-infrastructural – and the relation of planning to any conception of post capitalism? How do these technologies change the how we need to think about planning? In the manifesto at least, you refer to Stafford Beer’s Cybersyn project in Allende’s Chile for example…
NS: So I think some form of planning is absolutely necessary, for a proper post capitalist economy, because we don’t want a free market, and we don’t want anarchist communes effectively creating a free market between themselves.. I mean I am not sure how we are supposed to get rid of the free market with anarchist communes interacting with each other… and if we want a relatively sophisticated and technologically advanced society, we have to have the capacity to get resources where they are needed in an efficient and effective manner, we need some sort of planning. Now, there is a famous socialist economic composition problem, which is how do you determine what the relative values of different goods and resources? And it was thought that it was impossible to do. Today arguably it is perhaps possible to do with computers, although I’m not fully convinced of that yet. I think that there are certain fundamental technological limits that just mean that no matter how advanced our technology gets, it will never be able to immediately price everything, and that ultimately the kind of God’s eye view of planning is never going to work in the way that we want it to. What this means is that I think we need to have some kind of decentralised planning, and this is where Cybersyn is quite interesting, because it was at least theoretically an attempt to have the input of workers on factory floors, have the input of middle management,consumers the input of government, collectively coming together.. today there is an interesting possibility put forward by someone like Nick Dyer-Witherford, using the technology we have today to build an economic model, where you set out basic condition in the economy that you want.. you determine the maximum level of inequality that you are ok with, the maximum level of carbon emissions etc.. and you compute the kinds of economic plans that are possible on that basis, and you can vote..
BS: so like an economic parametricism…
NS: exactly, and it seems like this is an interesting way of getting some kind of decentralised planning, enabling the complexity of the societies that we have, and of dealing with the question of cognitive mapping.. i.e. how do you get a complex system into a manipulable framework…
JG: It often seems to me that there are two things that are under-discussed in these kinds of conversations. One is the extent of planning which goes on in the current economy.. not just of course that every business has a plan.. it is very difficult to raise capital without a plan, and of course today at the largest scales those business plans are phenomenal things, individual corporations running planned economies many times the size of the old Soviet Union! So there is the question of the extent of planning going on today, which might suggest that the task of post capitalism is in part just a question of democratising existing planning… and there is a job to do in just opening this up.. seeing what kinds of planning tools capitalism has already developed that might be deployed in other ways.. and this is all tied to a second issue, which concerns the ideology of free markets.. so one of the things that neoliberalism tends to do ideologically, as well as obscure the kind of planning already going on, is that it also tries to naturalise the notion that markets are a capitalist idea.. yet of course markets in a general form we can find historically in all kinds of economic forms… there are historical examples of non-capitalist markets… so in general, it seems that we need to think more about capitalist planning and non-capitalist markets!
NS: I’ll start with non-capitalist markets, and I’ll start with Robert Brenner’s arguments here. Brenner argues that what is unique about capitalism is that people become dependent upon the market. if you want to survive you need to sell your labour in the labour market. If you are a capitalist you need to buy and sell on the market.. everyone becomes dependent on the market, and that changes the social dynamics and the technological dynamics. So yeah you had markets beforehand, but people weren’t dependent upon them. And you can have markets after, so long as people aren’t dependent on them. It is a question of dependency. So this is what I like about post-work. You are no longer dependent upon the labour market to survive, so starting to undercut one of the key aspects of what capitalism is. Ok, so now on capitalist planning. Again yes. Someone on the left needs to write the book on how Walmart and Amazon and all these companies do economic planning, every single day, in incredibly sophisticated ways, tracking goods across the world in much more detailed ways than the Soviet Union ever had… study how are they doing this, what are they doing, and the communist potentials of it… yeah this is really interesting, and nobody really does that yet..
JG: another job for you guys! Ok.. you’ve mentioned post-work a number of times. I’d like to reflect upon this more. I guess one of the key transitional policies or platforms that you have identified in your book in this regard is UBI: Universal Basic Income. Interestingly, even in the short amount of time since you published your book, we’ve seen an amazing acceptance of this concept in more mainstream thinking.. i wonder if you have had any further reflections upon UBI.. for example, to what extent do you think this is a sign of the contemporary crisis of capitalism, the fact that after years of QE and zero percent interest, there is still a need to pump western economies, and is UBI becoming seen as a vehicle for this by more far sighted capitalist strategists, as well as radical for very different ends?
NS: well one thing that has changed actually, is for us a de-emphasis on UBI, precisely because it has been taken up by so many people. Also, our book is not one demand, it is four demands: 1. full automation, 2. reduced working week, 3. UBI, end the work ethic… and it is all of them together … if we had to narrow it down to one demand, it is the demand for a post-work society. UBI is a step towards that. However, UBI can be set in a narrative suggesting that UBI is a way to cut down on government bureaucracy, and that can play into a right wing narrative very easily. We think that UBI needs to be set in a narrative of we want to reduce work, that there is not enough good work to go around, so how do we support people in the face of that?
JG: yeah, one of the things that students had difficulty conceiving was post-work. An example I gave them was the kind of thing that you see happening at some festivals for example, where in certain situations you see people contributing all kinds of labour for free, building things, putting on side shows, etc etc. In these kinds of examples you have a very definite kind of labour going on, but it is not commodified at any stage of the process.
NS: yeah, we would more accurately describe it as post-wage-labour than post-work, but it doesn’t run off of the tongue so well!
BS: We’ve mentioned cognitive mapping .. a pre-capitalist form of mapping totalities is the mythic, and one of the things that interests me is the mythic potential of acceleration, or should we say post-acceleration…
NS: [laughing] are we post-acclerationists now!?
BS: Yeah, and it was said here first haha

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Join Derailed Lab study trip on Trans-Siberian Express

One of the pleasures of being ‘amongst other things a Marxist’ is that it is possible, or even necessary, to occupy apparently contradictory positions simultaneously, confusing non-dialectical thinkers 😉

And one of the pleasures of capitalism is in taking something to the market and seeing if it floats. I’ve launched a number of companies, products, ideas etc over the years, some worked, some didn’t. Most recently I launched with Raluca Cirstoc a new initiative, Derailed Research Lab LLP – a vehicle for a new kind of nomadic school. We launched a few months ago with a planned trip on the Trans-Siberian Express this summer… and I’m happy to say that we have had hundreds sign up to our newsletter and we have an interesting group joining us for the trip itself. Due to a couple having to withdraw we have a couple of places available – but contact us asap if you are interested! info@derailedlab.org

We will meet in St Petersburg on 17th July, and will visit the Baltic docks, Hermitage and other sites, before travelling to Moscow for a couple of days, where we will tour the revolutionary constructivist classics with the Strelka Institute and other contacts. We then join the Trans-Siberian railway proper, for a 24hr train ride to our first stop, Perm, the most eastern European city at the foothills of the Ural mountains. We spend a couple of days in Perm before re-boarding the express, this time for a three day train ride… this will be interesting ;).. much vodka, cards, chess and regional food bought from locals en route awaits 🙂 before our second stop at Irkutsk, next to the world’s largest body of fresh water – Lake Bakal. We will spend a four or five days in this region (including Ulan Ude). There is some great hiking around the lake, and a number of Buddhist sites and the like to explore. We the rejoin the train for the final epic three day leg. While some trains head south from Ulan Ude to Beijing, we keep going east along the Russian-Chinese border to Vladivostok, a city just north of Korea which, as home to the Russian Pacific fleet had been off limits to westerners until recently. The militarisation of Vladivostok means that the historic city is well preserved, for now at least, and co-exists with massive docks and a new emerging casino city. We have a few days to explore this city which relatively few have visited, before flying back to Moscow for a presentation of our expedition at the Strelka Institute on 6th August.

I guess I have a bit of a reputation for leading memorable study trips ;), with the Polytechnic Studio at Westminster back in the day (inc a number of US road trips and Moscow), or more recently the Department of Ontological Theatre at the RCA (inc the Pearl River Delta of China earlier this year, and Cuba and Beijing in recent years). This will be up there with the best of those…. 

check out www.derailedlab.orgderailedemail

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Another good year for my students!

In 2015 my students have received a few accolades, I am once again pleased to say. Both Natalie Barton and Sam Douek from the Department of Ontological Theatre (ADS5 DOT) won awards from RIBA at the RCA, whilst Isis Nunez Ferrera, who I co-supervised with Jeremy Till as a part of the EU HERA Scarcity and Creativity in the Built Environment research project, was commended on her excellent PhD in the RIBA Research Medals.

And Boni Yuen, again from ADS5 DOT, was listed by Wallpaper magazine in their  ‘world’s hottest new talents’ list http://www.wallpaper.com/graduate-directory/2016

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What is at play in Environmental Design?

envdesposter1k

What kinds of research are required to understand the forms of the human-environmental relation today? What kinds of environmental practitioners might we need in the future? In this symposium we bring together a group of leading researchers who will be making short presentations on their work, and discussing these questions and more… This symposium is open to all, and as a part of the University of Westminster School of Architecture Play Week.

Contributors include:

Claudia Dutson, Jon Goodbun, Susannah Hagan, Karin Jaschke, Torange Khonsari, Shaun Murray, Mirko Nicolic, Godofredo Pereira, Isis Nunez-Ferrera, Peg Rawes,
Andreas Rumpfhuber, Doug Spencer, Victoria Watson

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ADS5DOT Brief 2015-16

 

ADS5 was founded and has been led by Dr Jon Goodbun since 2011. The studio took on the name DOT: Department of Ontological Theatre in 2012, and was joined by Dr Victoria Watson that year and Dr Benedict Singleton in 2014.

The studio’s work explores the tensions between the planetary and the personal, between geo-ecological politics and neuro-ecological aesthetics.

 

DOT POSTCAPITALIST POTENTIALS:

PLATFORMS, STRUCTURES AND SPACES

     Global capitalism is haunted by a spectre, the spectre of post-scarcity society. All human society to date has been organised around an over-arching logic of scarcity – around the need to socially, economically and spatially manage the production and distribution of a surplus within the context of an overarching condition of ‘natural’ scarcity. That is to say, resources (money, goods, services etc) have always been limited and finite in their supply, whilst demand has been potentially infinite. But today we find ourselves in a deeply paradoxical condition. In order to perpetuate the social forms of contemporary society, it can be easily shown how contemporary ‘markets’ artificially create scarcities. This might be at a micro-level, where commodities of all kinds are designed to need replacing after an artificially short life, or at a systemic level, where the mis-managment of our ecological condition is objectively returning us to a context of absolute scarcity (in for example the collapse of fish stocks, or any number of other examples of ecological collapse). Yet as some of the more optimistic commentators have observed, we are today actually within reach of a post-scarcity condition, of – as at least one set of post-capitalist theorists hope – cyclical and managed resource flows combined with large sections of the industrial economy moving to near full automation.
     Bubbling away within capitalism there have always been enclaves of other futures, short-lived spaces of radical imagination. Technology, science and the arts have always had a complex degree of at least partial autonomy from their economic conditions of existence. Indeed the technological development of industry, in particular when overlaid with the logic of the network as an organisational form mediating information technologies and communications, has reduced the need for human labour and work as traditionally understood.  A post-scarcity society of abundant goods and services, managed by new forms of democratic and techno-ecological management which transcend old models of top-down planning or market driven emergence is a real near-future possibility, and would be based upon massively increased leisure time as the basis of new human social and aesthetic reality.
     However, whilst capitalism has never existed in the pure abstract forms described those who saw its inner workings most clearly (as described in Marx’s Capital for example), but has rather always grown within specific historical and geographical realities which have shaped its uneven development, the pure abstract model does nonetheless describe a typological strange attractor of sorts. Similarly, it is inevitable that post-capitalist potential futures will unfold in a similarly uneven manner. Nonetheless, the articulation of the logical possibility of the kind of typological post-capitalist ideal (even if in no simple way achievable) condition briefly outlined above remains an important political task facing our age.
     However, we are living through an historical moment that might take take many different routes into the future. In fact maximising, as far as it is possible to simulate and predict, the future possibility spaces available to us is itself an important political imperative. There is a strong structural tendency within the capitalist system of production to perpetuate and create scarcity and crisis, environmental destruction and social inequality, mental illness and cultural banality. It is inevitable that we are facing a future of resource wars, terrorism, mass migrations and both regional and, at least in part, systemic ecological collapse. As such post-capitalist potentials are co-evolving within a field occupied by other embryonic geopolitical forms already appearing within the collapsing order: the guns, dollars and drugs ‘post-misery’ doctrine of South American narcomarxist cartels, the engagement (if not yet the marriage) of liberalism with violent neoluddism, the fascist mutations of nazbol in Russia and Islamic State’s digital medievalism… In such a situation we need new means of making sense of things: new paradises and hells; new mythologies and archetypes to populate them; new tools, physical and cognitive; and new ways of understanding what architecture and urbanism can be and do in these scenarios.
DOT is a post-capitalist research lab. We take post-capitalism to refer to the conjunction of full automation with universal basic income in a generalised disappearance of obligations to work––and its implications (not least for design and architecture)
DOT researches and engages with realities, problems and opportunities that can be found within contemporary capitalist global economic order.
DOT researches the transformational effects that contemporary economic and technological developments have upon the human body and mind, perceptual faculties and imagination
DOT is oriented towards near futures that are very different to our recent pasts
DOT is researching potential transition routes and platforms of change which are open to a post-capitalist future
DOT believes that architecture and art schools are well placed to map, visualise and engage with the real inter-disciplinary complexities and abstractions of contemporary society.
We will organise the first semester around a seminar series designed to provide the studio with relevant conceptual equipment to tackle these questions, across contemporary politics, cybernetics, strategy, and aesthetics.
We will organise the first semester around a series of ‘workshops’, tasks, and scheduled research presentations, the most important of which are:
1. pick a contemporary material/technology and research it and its network of relations and flows.
2. pick a  contemporary organisation and research it and its network of relations and flows.
3. pick a means of production and master it (learn new software, techniques etc etc)

Filed under: research, teaching

About

rheomode is the research lbase of Dr Jon Goodbun
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I have a background in architectural theory, design research and practice, which over the last two decades has focused ever more on environmental and ecological research and practice, and what this means for how we think about space. or spacetime, as a semiotic mediating field of material, biological and mental worlds. This has led me to work with ideas and thinkers who present challenges to some of the very premises of modern science, and the divisions between both the natural, social and political sciences, and between the sciences and humanities… divisions which are the legacy of western enlightenment thinking. I have pursued this work both in mainstream academic institutions such as the RCA, but also non-orthodox institutions such as Schumacher College, the Pari Institute and Burning Man, as well as in activist political arenas, and a series of independent educational and research initiatives.

Info

Contact

You can reach me:
.
jcgoodbun (a) mac.com

Twitter Feed @jongoodbun

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