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

The Design of Scarcity translated into Greek

It was wonderful to find out that a local independent Athenian activist publisher – https://topovoros.gr/ – has translated The Design of Scarcity into Greek recently… this joins the 2018 German translation of the 2014 original published by Strelka.

Filed under: ecology, Green New Deal, research,

Bartlett/UCL MA Architecture Seminar 2020-21: Green New Deal/Green New Dialogues: Towards a World in which Many Worlds Fit

Among my various teaching positions is a decade long post at the London’s Bartlett School of Architecture (UCL), where I have the pleasure to run an elective seminar each year for a selection of MA Architecture Students, broadly titled The Ecological Calculus. I attach this years reading programme below

HT6 Green New Dialogues – Towards a world in which many worlds fit.

Dr Jon Goodbun 2020-21

The call for environmental justice, and the recognition that the effects of environmental change will be played out through class, gender, race and neo-colonial structures, articulates an essential socialisation and politicisation of what is at stake in thinking through our responses to ecological crisis.

Given the emerging scale of the environmental transformations that we are still now only in the early stages of, demands for a new planetary project of ecological planning are being raised from many quarters. These demands call for rapid and fundamental changes to the global supply chains and processes of production that feed our transportation, energy, food, manufacturing and production systems. Questions of planning confront us at every scale, from the implementation of the recommendations of the UN IPCC, through the measurement geopolitical resource flows through new international solidarities, to emissions management and carbon sequestration, land use changes and so much more. As these demands hit the ground within specific historically and geographically determined conditions, they become inseparable from questions of environmental justice, questions of ownership, and questions of social management. The need for both critical reflection and multi-dimension design research in architecture, urbanism, landscape studies and design activism is clear.

This double demand, for climate justice AND for an urgent ecological reorganisation and decarbonisation of the global production, have been articulated in different ways through practically all of the various Green New Deal proposals to have emerged in recent years.

The first Green New Deal was proposed in 2008, in a joint paper written in the UK by a group from the UK Green Party and the New Economics Foundation, called the Green New Deal Group. This group has expanded and continued to produce new work to this day, including the introduction of a Green New Deal Bill (unsuccessfully) to the UK Parliament in 2019, by Green MP Caroline Lucas and Labour MP Clive Lewis, and which fed into the manifestos of both the UK’s Green and Labour Parties manifestos in the 2019 General Election. In the same year in the USA, the Green New Deal Resolution was put to the US House of Representatives by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and to the Senate by Senator Ed Markey, a platform that was also later adopted by the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, and which is now strongly influencing (albeit with resistance to its more radical aspects) the emerging manifesto of likely Democratic candidate Joe Biden.

Almost all of the Green New Deal papers have three main components in some form or other, perhaps most clearly laid out in the 2019 Green New Deal for Europe report put forward by Yannis Varoufakis and the DiEM group: 1. Green Public Works: a broad green transition, decarbonisation and job creation programme organised around an environmental justice agenda, 2. a new democratic, legal and institutional infrastructure for delivering this and achieving a just transition, and 3. an Environmental Justice Commission with a global remit.

There were problems with the GND proposals as they stood in 2019. The adoption of a political imaginary from 30s depression-era US history might resonate in that region, and maybe UK/Europe, but it could easily be a problem in the rest of the world. Similarly, it was not clear how the demands for the growth of a new green infrastructure in the world’s richest nations would not actually reinforce an extractivist flow of mineral resources from the global south – such as lithium, cobalt, copper etc – and intensify some of the most environmentally problematic practices on the planet, almost invariably involving the exploitation and desecration of indigenous lands and peoples. In short, the GNDs, for all of their intentions otherwise, invariably articulated themselves through national concerns, and frequently risked unleashing a new green colonialism.

The defeats sustained by the green left (Corbyn and Sanders) across Europe and North America and beyond through 2019 and into 2020 might well have been expected to have sunk the renewed interest in a Green New Deal agenda before it could really get going. But that has not been the case. There are several reasons for that.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus, was identified in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. The first victims of the disease that it causes – COVID-19 –, have now been traced back a month earlier. By April 2020 the World Health Organisation had declared it a pandemic and it had spread around the world, placing large sections of the global economy in an uneven shutdown. In fact, the uneven pattern of infections, deaths, and changed spatial and labour relations, revealed that a pandemic is never simply the product of a mass of viruses, spreading through a neutral space and affecting everyone equally. It is rather, the result of what happens when our normally obscured environmental architectures of social relations act as a discriminating exposure infrastructure for pathogens and pathologies of all kinds.

The evidence is clear that the death rates for working class ethnic minorities from COVID-19 are quite disproportionate. Being poor and black is, it turns out, in terms of medical statistics, a pre-existing condition. But the death and serious infection rates for ethnic minorities under COVID-19 are simply amplifying what we have already long known – that environmental change, breakdown and crisis, ALWAYS play out through the class, gender, race and neo-colonial structures.

Arguably today the single most important development as the GND has moved beyond a green infrastructure and solutions-based discussion, towards the broader dialogue now maturing into a multi-scalar counter-hegemonic political project, has been the productive and critical engagement of indigenous communities across the Americas and beyond with the GND question. This is certainly in no small part due to the fact that Ocasio-Cortez was already recognised by these communities as a ‘Water Protector’, through her activist work at Standing Rock in opposition to the oil pipeline across Sioux lands, which preceded her standing for election to Congress.

The Indigenous Environmental Network called for any GND to work within their Just Transition framework, cautioned against using the language of ‘stakeholders’ rather than ‘rights holders’, and strongly criticised the adoption of REDD+ (simplistic reforestation to offset emission) and the use of a language of zero-emissions, which they argue is always ultimately the language of a carbon trading ‘green’ capitalism.

Meanwhile revolutionary indigenous activists The Red Nation –  published their response, the Red Deal, stating that:

‘it’s not the Red New Deal as it is the same ‘Old Deal’ – the fulfilment of treaty rights, land restoration, … ours is the oldest class struggle in the Americas: centuries long resistance for a world in which many worlds fit… The Red Deal is not a counter program to the GND. It is a call for action beyond the scope of the US colonial state.’

The environmental racism revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic has helped to feed a massive new wave of struggle around #blacklivesmatter and #antifa, in parallel with an unfolding political and economic struggle over the repercussions – both positive and negative – of the lockdown of economic activity. For those now fighting for a just recovery, and those who want to use this moment to restructure and rebalance the global economy, have found in the GND a set of ready made positions to align with.

However, there are fundamental problems regarding the very possibility of planning and justice. We need to somehow plan these changes, but we need also need to totally reimagine the very possibilities of planning, as a part of the problem is our ideas about planning themselves, or rather, the very fact of our attempting to plan anything, especially regarding ecological systems. When goals are set by an instrumental conscious purpose based upon a necessarily partial viewpoint, and unmediated by a wider eco-systemic awareness, all kinds of pathologies play out. The great lesson of radical cybernetics was not ‘how to control ecological systems’ but rather that we can’t control ecological systems. We can steer a boat, but we can’t steer an ocean…

This seminar will review the key documents that have emerged regarding the Green New Deal in recent years, and the wider global discussion, in particular looking at responses from indigenous communities and the Global South. In particular, we will take up the Zapatista demand – rearticulated by The Red Nation – for a ‘world in which many worlds fit’ as the key framework for articulating a Green New Dialogue…

Week 1: Designing in the End Times

UN IPCC Summary Report:

Summary for Policymakers of IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C approved by governments


Jon Goodbun interview with Caliper Journal:


Kathryn Yusoff, A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None. University of Minnesota Press. Minneapolis, 2018

(Available free online at https://manifold.umn.edu/read/untitled-5f0c83c1-5748-4091-8d8e-72bebca5b94b/section/5cd42c2a-f2fe-4d41-89ae-cb891dc634b5)


Zadie Smith, What Do We Want History to Do to Us? 

What Do We Want History to Do to Us?


Week 2: The Green New Deal: Problems and Possibilities

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Naomi Klein and The Intercept:


DiEM, A GND for Europe/A Blueprint for Europe’s Just Transition:


Why Race Matters When We Talk About the Environment, An interview with Dr. Robert Bullard

Why Race Matters When We Talk About the Environment



Labour for a GND:


Green Party: What is the GND


Jon Goodbun, ‘Green New Dialogue’, in Making Futures. Berlin, 2021 (prepub)

Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, Daniel Aldana Cohen and Thea Riofrancos, A Planet to Win – Why We Need a Green New Deal

Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin, Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal

Ann Pettifor, The Case for the Green New Deal

Week 3: Climate Justice and Indigenous New Deals

Ghassan Hage, Is Racism an Environmental Threat? Cambridge: Polity Press, 2017

The Red Nation, The Red Deal


Indigenous Environmental Network, Principles of a Just Transition

Just Transition



Jon Goodbun, On the Possibility of an Ecological Dialogue

Jon Goodbun: On the Possibility of an Ecological Dialogue


Week 4: A world in which many worlds fit

Arturo Escobar, Designs for the Pluriverse. Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2018

Matt Broomfield, How a Revolution Really Feels: Rojava 8 Years On

How a Revolution Really Feels: Rojava 8 Years On


Donna Harraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene.  Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2016

Week 5: The Production of Nature

Martin Arboleda, Planetary Mine – Territories of Extraction under Late Capitalism. London: Versos, 2019

Jason W Moore, Capitalism in the Web of Life. London: Versos, 2015

Elizabeth A. Povinelli, Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism.  Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2016


Jon Goodbun et al, The Design of Scarcity. Moscow: Strelka, 2014

Week 6: Responses from architecture and design schools: contributing to a Green New Dialogue

Leopold Lambert, Futurisms Introduction for Funambulist Issue 24 


Billy Fleming, Design and the Green New Deal

Design and the Green New Deal


AALU discussion: How do we confront a world on fire? – Design and The Green New Deal on a Warming Planet



The Green New Deal Superstudio: An Open Call


The Architecture Lobby, Statement on the Green New Deal


Filed under: ecology, Green New Deal, research, teaching,


Back in April I was interviewed by Tom Lemon regarding some of the effects of the Covid virus from a perspective of environmental architecture for the online journal Caliper. It has gone live today here: https://caliperjournal.online/TOM-LEMON-DR-JON-GOODBUN

Filed under: ecology, Green New Deal, research, , , ,

On the Possibility of an Ecological Dialogue

This is a short piece that I wrote for the Making Futures and Climate Care summer schools in Berlin’s Floating University and Haus der Statistik, running summer 2019, On the Possibility of an Ecological Dialoguechairsinmudfloatinguni

Filed under: ecology, research, teaching

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



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’.


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


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.


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.


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.


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

HT6 The Ecological Calculus

The Ecological Calculus

Dr Jon Goodbun

HT6 seminar at Bartlett, UCL, MA Architecture

In order to understand our place in the world today we need to understand the nature of systems – ecosystems, social and cultural systems, technical systems, spatial systems, material systems, biological systems: systems which in their dynamic and networked assemblages operate as what has been called world systems. The global economy is a mangled nest of interconnected complex systems. Our bodies and minds are a part of this, and are sympoietically produced within this, even whilst they are also constantly autopoietically re-producing their own conditions of emergence: this is the double internality of the human condition. Everything that we make, do and think changes the nature of these systems, and of ourselves, in subtle and not so subtle ways… sometimes reinforcing, sometimes undermining, sometimes transforming, sometimes bifurcating existing systems. One characteristic of complex systems’ behaviour is that they are hard to predict, hard to plan… and yet we have to manage under that condition, and we have to make choices and value judgements even whilst we lack a total cognitive mapping of our current or future possibilities. Thus every ecology (ecology is another word for a nest of complex systems) is always a political ecology. And it is in the nature of our thinking to not really understand them, to not intuitively grasp complex systems. As architects, urbanists and designers we study and co-produce important parts of these systems. The production of space – material and cognitive – is a key part of the constant reproduction of these world systems.
In this seminar we will review a series of key texts drawing upon ecological theory, cognitive science, science and technology studies and explore their often complex co-development with thinking about architecture and cities.

Each week we will approach these texts through a given dialectical frame:







which together outline a new ecological calculus: an epistemology of pattern and perception.

Dr Jon Goodbun trained as an architect, and is a researcher, practitioner and educator at the RCA (MA Environmental Architecture), the University of Westminster (Msc Advanced Environmental Design), and the Bartlett (MArch). His research focuses on the intersection of ecological theory, cybernetics, cognitive science and urbanism. He is experimenting with informal teaching with Rheomode and Derailed. Recent publications include Scarcity: Architecture in an Age of Depleting Resources (Wiley) and Design of Scarcity (Strelka). He can be found online at www.rheomode.org.uk and twitter: @jongoodbun

Filed under: ecology, research, teaching

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

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.




     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



rheomode is the research base of Dr Jon Goodbun

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.



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

Twitter Feed @jongoodbun

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