Kamilo Beach on Material World

For a relatively small dose of my more academic writing, check out my guest post over at Material World. Lots of great articles and announcements for material culture folks, and a really interesting short entry on attempts to care for and return photos and other items lost with the 3/11 tsunami.

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Dangerous Species

This nature-culture crossing poster comes to me from Hanie (thanks lady!).  I like it because it offers, if only in jest, the possibility of waste ‘acting’ like other dangerous creatures of the sea. Roaming free, bottles, bags and batteries threaten not humans (as goes the usual understanding of ‘dangerous’), but the wellbeing of the ocean: human waste left unchecked poses “ a threat to the seas.” Imagining plastic-monster fish that swim around when we’re not looking seems like a productive way to remember the unintended consequences of synthetics.

The poster’s powers, though, seem equally grounded in the impossibility of just that: waste is not or should not be equated with wild creatures. These are species that should not meet. The poster relies on (maybe even produces) audiences that know that types of waste do not count as species (there are scare quotes around “species” in the imgur post title). So how to make sense of a poster that is effective because it at once connects and separates kinds of waste and kinds of fish? That mixes nature-creatures and culture-waste so effectively, but ultimately makes an argument for their untangling?

My initial excitement gives way to suspect that the ‘danger’ here, is a poster that only flirts with giving agency to waste to produce the familiar divisions between fish and plastic, nature and culture. Perhaps this ultimately reinforces the kind of thinking where humans are separate from the environment, and the kind of acting that is part of all the making and throwing away of synthetics in the first place. OK, OK, so it’s also eye-catching and fun and I have to admit, the bottle fish are pretty gosh darn cute.

(And yes, STS crowd, I have indeed been perusing Haraway’s When Species Meet).

Door Agents

Latour has long used the door as an illustration of the ‘missing masses,’ drawing attention to the overlooked but active roles nonhumans play in organizing everyday relationships. Doors, he argues (with help from hinges), solve the ‘wall-hole’ dilemma, keeping order by allowing for selected things to pass through walls at sometimes, but not others. My door, however, also has the power to sign. No, not in the semiotic sense of carrying meaning, representing ‘home’ or ‘privacy.’ I mean the power to sign for things. Tracking packages a few weeks ago, the internets confirmed that my book was at my house, accepted by a mysterious ‘fd.’ Yes, accepted by my Front Door, without so much as a single doorbell ring to alert me of the event. My door, it seems, has been quietly standing witness to deliveries and signing for packages in my absence.