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Right Research: Modelling Sustainable Research Practices in the Anthropocene

Right Research: Modelling Sustainable Research Practices in the Anthropocene Chelsea Miya, Oliver Rossier and Geoffrey Rockwell (eds)
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The book is current and interdisciplinary, engaging with recent developments around this topic and including perspectives from sciences, arts, and humanities. It will be a welcome contribution to studies of the Anthropocene as well as studies of research methods and practices.
—Sam Mickey, University of S. Francisco

Educational institutions play an instrumental role in social and political change, and are responsible for the environmental and social ethics of their institutional practices. The essays in this volume critically examine scholarly research practices in the age of the Anthropocene, and ask what accountability educators and researchers have in ‘righting’ their relationship to the environment. The volume further calls attention to the geographical, financial, legal and political barriers that might limit scholarly dialogue by excluding researchers from participating in traditional modes of scholarly conversation.

As such, Right Research is a bold invitation to the academic community to rigorous self-reflection on what their research looks like, how it is conducted, and how it might be developed so as to increase accessibility and sustainability, and decrease carbon footprint. The volume follows a three-part structure that bridges conceptual and practical concerns: the first section challenges our assumptions about how sustainability is defined, measured and practiced; the second section showcases artist-researchers whose work engages with the impact of humans on our environment; while the third section investigates how academic spaces can model eco-conscious behaviour.

This timely volume responds to an increased demand for environmentally sustainable research, and is outstanding not only in its interdisciplinarity, but its embrace of non-traditional formats, spanning academic articles, creative acts, personal reflections and dialogues. Right Research will be a valuable resource for educators and researchers interested in developing and hybridizing their scholarly communication formats in the face of the current climate crisis.

Right Research: Modelling Sustainable Research Practices in the Anthropocene
Chelsea Miya, Oliver Rossier and Geoffrey Rockwell (eds) | April 2021
558 pp. | 96 Colour Illustrations | 6.14" x 9.21" (234 x 156 mm)
ISBN Paperback: 9781783749614
ISBN Hardback: 9781783749621
ISBN Digital (PDF): 9781783749638
ISBN Digital ebook (epub): 9781783749645
ISBN Digital ebook (mobi): 9781783749652
ISBN Digital (XML): 9781783749669
DOI: 10.11647/OBP.0213
Subject Codes: BIC: GP (Research and information: general), GPS (Research methods: general), JH (Sociology and anthropology), JHMC (Social and cultural anthropology, ethnography), ; BISAC: EDU037000 (EDUCATION / Research), SOC002000 (SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / General). OCLC Number: 1250577094.

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Contributor Biographies

Editors’ Preface Download
Oliver Rossier, Chelsea Miya and Geoffrey Rockwell


1. Why Should We Try to Be Sustainable?: Expected Consequences and the Ethics of Making an Indeterminate Difference Download
Howard Nye

2. Sustainability in the Anthropocene: From Forests to the Globe Download
Petra Dolata

3. Academia, Abstraction and the Anthropocene: Changing the Story for Right Relationship Download
Kristine Kowalchuk

4. Kitting the Digital Humanities for the Anthropocene: Digital Metabolism and Eco-Critical DH Download
Amanda Starling Gould

5. Impact of the Digital Revolution on Worldwide Energy Consumption Download
Doug Barlage and Gem Shoute

6. Sustainable DNA: In Conversation Download
Mél Hogan and Deb Verhoeven


7. Design Education in the Anthropocene: Teaching Systems Thinking Download
Eric Benson and Priscilla Ferronato

8. Inspiration from Goethe’s Tender Empiricism: How to be the Person Collecting, Analyzing and Visualizing Data Download
Joshua Korenblat

9. Solidarity Seeds: Situated Knowledges in Bishan Village, Wang Chau Village and Aarey Forest Download
Michael Leung

10. e-Waste Peep Show: A Research-Creation Project on the (In)visibility of Technological Waste Download
 Lai-Tze Fan

11. Art, Ecology, and the Politics of Form: A Panel Revisited
Natalie Loveless, Andrew S. Yang, Karin Bolender, Christa Donner, Scott Smallwood, Leanne Olson and Jesse Beier

Art and/in the Anthropocene Download
Natalie Loveless

The Aesthetics of Hidden Ecologies Download
Andrew S. Yang

R.A.W. Arts of Barnyard Becomings Download
Karin Bolender

From Repulsion to Care Download
Leanne Olson

Nurture/Future/Sculpture Download
Christa Donner

Thoughts on an Unfinished Composition... Download
Scott Smallwood

Against Frontier Sustainability (or, Breaking Up with The High Frontier) Download
Jessie Beier

Aesthetic Attunements Download
Natalie Loveless


12. The Weight of The Digital: Experiencing Infrastructure with InfraVU Download
Ted Dawson

13. Asking Why: Cultivating Eco-Consciousness in Research Labs Download
Allison Paradise

14. Sustainability, Living Labs and Repair: Approaches to Climate Change Mitigation Download
Hart Cohen, Francesca Sidoti, Alison Gill, Abby Mellick Lopes, Maryella Hatfield and Jonathon Allen

A Decade of Design-led Sustainability Projects at Western Sydney Download
Abby Mellick Lopes and Jonathon Allen

Case Studies in Sustainability: The South Vineyard Creek Story Download
Maryella Hatfield

Re-pair: An Open Project for Cultures and Economies of Repair in Western Sydney Download
Alison Gill, Abby Mellick Lopes and Francesca Sidoti

Coda Download
Hart Cohen

15. An Intro to Econferences Download
Geoffrey Rockwell, Oliver Rossier and Chelsea Miya

16. Econferences Are Not the Same, but Are They Good Enough? Download
Terry Anderson

17. Online Conferences: Some History, Methods and Benefits Download
Nick Byrd

18. ‘Greening’ Academic Gatherings: A Case for Econferences Download
Oliver Rossier, Chelsea Miya and Geoffrey Rockwell

List of Illustrations

Jonathon Allen is an Adjunct Professor in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts at Western Sydney University (WSU). Jonathon has twenty-five years’ university teaching, research, management and governance experience, the last half of which has been in significant leadership and governance roles at Western Sydney University, including Head of The Academy, Provost of Penrith Campus, Director of Academic Program for Visual Communication Design in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts, and Associate Head of School of Engineering. His research, teaching and engagement interests typically see him work in collaboration with other disciplines, to progress design’s role in bringing together arts, science and technology with a strong social conscience. He has a broad range of research outputs, including traditional publications (book chapters, journal and conference papers), exhibitions and prototypical artefacts, and has a particular interest in material intelligence (smart materials, intelligent use of materials, and in the hidden stories of sourcing and selecting materials); the application of design thinking to address pressing concerns related to food security, climate change, and health; and in the use of Augmented Reality to interact and engage with the physical world.

Terry Anderson, PhD, is a Professor Emeritus and former Canada Research Chair in the Centre for Distance Education and the Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Centre at Athabasca University. Terry has published widely in the area of distance education and educational technology and has co-authored or edited ten books and numerous papers. Much of Terry’s research work revolves around studying interaction amongst and between students, teachers and content. He claims to have organized (in 1992) the first virtual conference ever held using a variety of networks that preceded the Internet.

Doug Barlage has been a Professor in nanoelectronics for the past sixteen years. Prior to this, he was an engineer with Intel where he played a critical role in producing the first production high-k gate dielectric transistor and the first trigate transistor. For his role in demonstrating the functional transistors with gate dimensions below 30nm, he was in the MIT TR-35 class of 2002.

Jessie Beier is an Edmonton-based teacher, artist, writer and conjurer of strange pedagogies for uncertain futures. Working at the intersection between speculative philosophy, artistic production and radical pedagogy, Jessie’s research-creation practice explores the potential for visual and sonic ecologies to mobilize a break from orthodox referents and habits of repetition, towards more eco-logical modes of thought. Beier is currently completing her PhD at the University of Alberta, where she also teaches as an undergraduate instructor in the Department of Secondary Education and the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies.

Eric Benson is an Associate Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Illinois. He has worked as a professional designer for such companies as Razorfish and Texas Instruments. His research as a professor explores how design can be sustainable and consequently how to teach it. Eric has a BFA in Industrial/Graphic design from the University of Michigan and an MFA in Design from the University of Texas.

Karin Bolender (aka K-Haw Hart) is an artist-researcher who seeks ‘untold’ stories within muddy meshes of timeplaces. Under the auspices of the Rural Alchemy Workshop (R.A.W.), she explores dirty words and knotty wisdoms of earthly bodies-in-places through durational performance, writing, video, sound, and experimental books arts. Karin earned an MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts from Goddard College and a PhD in Environmental Humanities from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. She has lived and moved with a family herd of mammals and others on the semi-rural fringes of several university towns in the U.S. Southeast and West and presently makes a home in a small timber and rodeo town near a state university in the Willamette Valley/Champinefu Kalapuya territory in Oregon. 3Ecologies/punctum books published The Unnaming of Aliass, which reckons with two decades of barnyard becomings, in 2020.

Nick Byrd is a philosopher-scientist studying how differences in reasoning style relate to differences in judgments, decisions, and well-being. For example, Nick examines how reflection double checks our intuitions, how our evaluations of arguments and evidence can be biased, how our tendency to unreflectively accept our initial intuition predicts many of our philosophical beliefs, how our sense of identity influences our reasoning, how to debias our reasoning, and how our happiness can be influenced by our beliefs about happiness. Nick’s graduate coursework in cognitive science and philosophy was completed at University of Colorado and Florida State University. Institutions like the US Intelligence Community, the John Templeton Foundation, and universities have funded Nick’s research. You can find out more about Nick’s research on byrdnick.com, social media, Psychology Today, the American Philosophical Association blog, podcasts, radio segments, and other venues.

Hart Cohen is Professor in Media Arts in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts at Western Sydney University, Australia. Dr Cohen is a member of the Institute for Culture and Society and supervises a number of MA (research), DCA and PhD students. He has published widely in the field of visual anthropology, communications and film studies. Hart has directed three Australian Research Council Projects related to the Strehlow Collection held at the Strehlow Research Centre in Alice Springs. He is the co-author of the award-winning book, Screen Media Arts: An Introduction to Concepts and Practices for Oxford University Press (2009), as well as the founding editor of The Global Media Journal (Australian Edition). His most recent book is The Strehlow Archive: Explorations in Old and New Media (Routledge).

Ted Dawson is an Assistant Professor of Practice in German studies and faculty affiliate at the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He researches and teaches Austrian and German literature and culture from the nineteenth century to the present, focusing especially on environmental humanities, digital humanities and sound and media studies. Before coming to Nebraska, he was Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland, where he helped establish an interdisciplinary environmental humanities research community.

Petra Dolata is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Calgary, Canada. From 2014-2019 she was Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in the History of Energy. She holds an MA degree in American Studies from Ruhr-Universität Bochum, where she also received her PhD in International Relations with a study on U.S.-German (energy) relations in the late 1950s and early 1960s which was published in 2006 with VS Verlag (Die deutsche Kohlenkrise im nationalen und transatlantischen Kontext). She is the co-convenor of the Energy In Society research group at the Calgary Institute for the Humanities. Petra’s current research focuses on European and North American energy history after 1945 as well as the history and politics of the Canadian and circumpolar Arctic. She has published on Canada’s natural resources, foreign and Arctic policies, and the concept of energy security.

Christa Donner is an artist, mother, curator and organizer who investigates the human/animal body and its metaphors through a variety of media, from large-scale drawing and installation to guided visualizations and small-press publications. Her practice often incorporates social exchange and collaboration rooted in personal narrative and sensory experience. Christa’s work is exhibited widely, including projects for the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (Berlin, Germany), The Worldly House at dOCUMENTA 13 (Kassel, Germany); BankArt NYK (Yokohama, Japan); Chiaki Kamikawa Contemporary Art (Paphos, Cyprus); the Museum Bellerive (Zurich, Switzerland), ANTI Festival of Contemporary Art (Kuopio, Finland), the Centro Columbo Americano (Medellin, Colombia), and throughout the United States. Her work can be found at www.christadonner.com.

Lai-Tze Fan is an Assistant Professor at Waterloo University, Canada, and a Faculty Researcher of the Critical Media Lab. She researches digital storytelling, media theory and infrastructure, research-creation or critical making, and systemic inequalities in the design of tech and tech labour. She makes digital and material art about e-waste and crafts. She is the Co-Editor of 2020 collection Post-Digital: Dialogues and Debates from electronic book review, and her research appears in Mosaic, Convergence, Digital Studies, and elsewhere. Fan serves as an Editor and the Director of Communications for electronic book review, one of the oldest academic journals on the Internet, and Co-Editor of the digital review.

Priscilla Ferronato is a Lead User Experience Researcher and PhD candidate in Informatics at University of Illinois Urbana Champaign with over five years of experience in qualitative user experience research. Currently, she works with a fintech leading the research on the future of automation in finances and its impact on human behavior. Her PhD dissertation investigates the influence of individual differences on the formation of trust in autonomous systems.

Alison Gill is Senior Lecturer in Design at Western Sydney University. Alison’s research interests in design philosophy, cultural theory and socio-material studies are evident in publications about social practices of repair, alternative conceptions of use and visual narratives; sports product advertising; deconstruction fashion; audience/user practices and sustainable design education. Her current research projects investigate cultures of everyday resourcefulness like sharing, reuse, customization, and repair to encourage transitions to more sustainable economies.

Amanda Starling Gould, PhD (she/her) is currently the Senior Program Coordinator for Educational PrHopograms & Digital Humanities at the Duke University John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute. She directs the Duke Story+ Interdisciplinary Humanities Research program, consults on digital humanities projects and innovative pedagogical interventions for Duke’s Humanities Labs and Digital Humanities Initiative, and collaborates with partners across Duke (and beyond) to design creative—and sometimes remote—research and storytelling experiences. She teaches graduate and undergraduate classes on environmental humanities, critical digital practice, redesigning futures, and ‘learning to fail’.

Maryella Hatfield is a Lecturer in Screen Media (SoHCA) at Western Sydney University. She is also a filmmaker, and the director of The Future Makers, which tells the story of key Australians leading the way on the world stage in renewable energy (broadcast on Discovery Channel, 2008-2010). A graduate from the AFTRS in directing, her work has been shown with a range of international festivals and broadcasters. Eden, a short environmental documentary, was highly commended in the Dendy Awards. Range of Experience was nominated for an AFI Award, and was screened in numerous festivals including Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals, LA Women in Film Festival, Portugal’s Fantasporto Festival, Flickerfest et al. She worked as an independent director/producer over many years, and brings this experience to her work in higher education. The Living Lab project at South Vineyard Creek was highly commended in the Australasian Green Gowns Awards in 2020.

Mél Hogan is the Director of the Environmental Media Lab (www.environmentalmedialab.com) and an Associate Professor in Communication, Media and Film at the University of Calgary. Her work on data storage and cloud imaginaries has been published in journals like Ephemera, First Monday, Television and New Media, Big Data and Society, Culture Machine and the Canadian Journal of Communication, among others. Website: www.melhogan.com; Twitter @mel_hogan /@EnvMediaLab

Joshua Korenblat is an Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at the State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz. Prior to joining the Art Department faculty at SUNY New Paltz, Joshua worked as an art director, artist, writer and educator. Joshua has an MFA in Interdisciplinary Visual Art from the Maryland Institute College of Art, an MA in Teaching from Brown University and an MA in Writing from Johns Hopkins University. Also, Joshua has a dual-degree BFA and BA from Washington University in St. Louis. From 2007 until 2014, Joshua was on the Graphic Design faculty of the Boston University Center for Digital Imaging Arts, Washington, DC campus. Professionally, Joshua has seven years of experience in the Art Department at National Geographic Magazine and Science News. In 2012, Joshua helped to co-found Graphicacy, a data visualization design firm based in Washington, DC. Today, Joshua works as an Art Director with the team at Graphicacy.

Kristine Kowalchuk is an Adjunct Professor with the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta, and an instructor of English and Ethics at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT). Her research focuses on ecological humanities, including writing on food and farming systems. In 2017 she published Preserving on Paper: Seventeenth-Century Englishwomen’s Receipt Books through the University of Toronto Press.

Michael Leung is an artist/designer, researcher and visiting lecturer. He was born in London and moved to Hong Kong in 2009 to complete an MA in Design. His projects range from collective urban agriculture projects such as The HK FARMers’ Almanac 2014-2015 to Pangkerchief, a collection of objects produced by Pang Jai fabric market in Sham Shui Po. Michael is a Visiting Lecturer at Hong Kong Baptist University where he teaches Social Practice (MA). His research focuses on Insurrectionary Agricultural Milieux, rhizomatic forms of agriculture that exist in local response to global conditions of biopolitics and neoliberalism.

Abby Mellick Lopes is an Associate Professor in Design Studies at University of Technology, Sydney. Abby’s collaborative research focuses on the relationship between design and social arrangements to support the transition to more sustainable cultures and economies, with recent projects tackling the social impacts of heat and development trends on the urban commons; civic trust in drinking water; and food and waste economies and cultures of repair, with a particular focus on the communities of Western Sydney. Abby has published in Design Studies, Design and Culture, Cultural Studies Review, ACME: an international e-journal for critical geographies and elsewhere, and written several book chapters on design, sustainability and transdisciplinarity. Her work has been presented in the UK, the USA, Canada, Cyprus, Spain, Malaysia and China.

Natalie S. Loveless is Associate Professor, Contemporary Art and Theory, in the History of Art, Design, and Visual Culture division of the Department of Art and Design at the University of Alberta, located in ᐊᒥᐢᑿᒌᐚᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ (Amiskwacîwâskahikan) on Treaty Six territory, where she also directs the Research-Creation and Social Justice CoLABoratory, and co-leads the Faculty of Arts’ Signature Area in Research-Creation. Loveless is author of How to Make Art at the End of the World: A Manifesto for Research-Creation (Duke UP 2019), editor of Knowings and Knots: Methodologies and Ecologies in Research-Creation (University of Alberta Press 2019), and co-editor of Responding to Site: The Performance Work of Marilyn Arsem (Intellect Press 2020). Loveless has held fellowships and visiting positions in the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture (CISSC) at Concordia University in Montreal, the Centre for the Humanities at the University of Utrecht, and Western University. In 2020 she was elected to the Royal Society of Canada (College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists) for her scholarship at the intersection of research-creation and social and ecological justice.

Chelsea Miya is a PhD Candidate and CGS SSHRC fellow in English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta where her work focuses on the cultural history of data. She is a researcher and podcaster with the SpokenWeb, a multi-institutional interdisciplinary project dedicated to the discovery, preservation, and analysis of sonic artifacts.

Howard Nye is an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Alberta. He works primarily in the areas of normative ethics, practical ethics, and metaethics, and has related interests in political philosophy, the philosophy of mind, and decision theory. One line of Howard’s current research investigates challenges to the common assumption that life is less of a morally important benefit to beings who lack the intellectual abilities of typical human adults. Another line of his research concerns the ethics of collective action, focusing on the argument that individual actors and institutions should reduce their contributions to harmful practices because their contributions have small chances of making very important differences. A third line of Howard’s research investigates what it takes for an entity to have beliefs, desires, and sensations that represent or are about the world in a sense that admits of genuine, underivative error, with applications to the sentience and mental lives of various non-human animals, intellectually less able humans, and possible future artificial intelligence systems.

Leanne Olson is an artist, educator and writer. She has maintained a near two decade self-taught and community engaged art practice since completing a BA in Film Studies in 2003 at the University of Alberta. In 2019, she returned to campus and is an MFA candidate at the University of Victoria. Olson’s work focuses on land and water bodies that are tasked with jobs, such as landfills, sulphurous springs, and recreational lakes. Her practice includes repeat visitation and empathic documentation of these sites as they are entangled in massive change. The subjects in her images are often micro captures of ecosystems adapting to human odds and responding to the effects of time. Olson received international media coverage for her recent exhibition at the Mitchell Art Gallery at MacEwan University and for her 2018 residency with the Edmonton Waste Management Centre.

Allison Paradise has inspired thousands of people to see themselves, their relationship to others, and their relationship to the planet in a new way. She is the founder and former CEO of My Green Lab, a non-profit organization with a mission to build a culture of sustainability through science. Under her leadership, My Green Lab established the first-ever sustainability criteria for laboratory operations and products, transforming an industry half the size of the automotive industry into a paragon of sustainability. My Green Lab was founded on the philosophy of questioning our own behavior, and this continues to be the guiding philosophy behind her most recent project, Open Spaces, Open Minds (OSOM). In her work at OSOM, Allison empowers children and adults to question, explore, and connect with themselves and nature with true curiosity and joy. Allison is a frequently invited speaker at sustainability events and scientific meetings. She holds degrees in neuroscience from Brown and Harvard.

Geoffrey Rockwell is a Professor of Philosophy and Digital Humanities, Director of the Kule Institute for Advanced Study and Associate Director of the AI for Society signature area at the University of Alberta. He publishes on textual visualization, text analysis, ethics of technology and on digital humanities including a co-authored book, Hermeneutica, from MIT Press (2016). He is co-developer of Voyant Tools (voyant-tools.org), an award-winning suite of text analysis tools.

Oliver Rossier has a BA in History and Political Science, and an MA in Communications and Technology, both from the University of Alberta. He has over twenty years of post-secondary administrative experience, facilitating collaborative research projects and strategic initiatives. He is committed to helping research teams find the right tools and techniques to navigate transitions caused by the tandem tsunamis of COVID-19 and significant budget reductions.

Gem Shoute has a PhD in electrical engineering from the University of Alberta. She is the Co-Founder and CEO of Synthergy, a company which aims to improve the efficiency and sustainability of the nano-manufacturing technique used to make semiconductors and advanced coatings.

Francesca Sidoti is a PhD candidate at the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University. Her research focuses on the role of place, particularly in the lives of young adults in regional New South Wales.

Scott Smallwood is a sound artist, composer, and performer who creates works inspired by discovered textures and forms, through a practice of listening, field recording, and improvisation. In addition to composing works for ensembles and electronics, he designs experimental instruments and software, as well as sound installations and audio games, often for site-specific scenarios. Much of his recent work is often concerned with the soundscapes of climate change, and the dichotomy between ecstatic and luxuriating states of noise and the precious commodity of natural acoustical environments and quiet spaces. He performs as one-half of the laptop/electronic duo Evidence (with Stephan Moore) and has collaborated with many artists and ensembles including Continuum Ensemble, Ensemble SurPlus, Seth Cluett, Mark Dresser, Cor Fuhler, John Butcher, Pauline Oliveros, Cindy Baker, Jen Mesch, Sean Caulfield, Sydney Lancaster, Yanira Castro, Marilène Oliver, and many others. He teaches as an associate professor of composition at the University of Alberta, where he also serves as the director of the Sound Studies Institute.

Deb Verhoeven is currently the Canada 150 Research Chair in Gender and Cultural Informatics at the University of Alberta. Previously she was Associate Dean of Engagement and Innovation at the University of Technology Sydney, and before this she was Vice Chancellor’s Library Fellow and Professor of Media and Communication at Deakin University. Between 2008 and 2011 she was Inaugural Deputy Director of the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. She currently serves on the boards of the Canadian research infrastructure organisations CANARIE and NDRIO.

Andrew S. Yang works across the naturalcultural flux by way of the visual arts, natural sciences, and expanded research. His projects have been exhibited from Oklahoma to Yokohama, including the 14th Istanbul Biennial, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the Spencer Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. His writings have appeared in Leonardo, Biological Theory, Art Journal, and in the forthcoming books Kinship: Belonging in a World of Relations and the Routledge Handbook of Art, Science, and Technology Studies. He was recently inaugural artist-in-residence at Yale-NUS College in Singapore, is a Research Associate at the Field Museum of Natural History, and an Associate Professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

SECTION 1: Re-Defining Sustainability

1. Why Should We Try to be Sustainable? Expected Consequences and the Ethics of Making an Indeterminate Difference (Howard Nye)

Why should we refrain from doing things that, taken collectively, are environmentally destructive, if our individual acts seem almost certain to make no difference? According to the expected consequences approach, we should refrain from doing these things because our individual acts have small risks of causing great harm, which outweigh the expected benefits of performing them. Several authors have argued convincingly that this provides a plausible account of our moral reasons to do things like vote for policies that will reduce our countries’ greenhouse gas emissions, adopt plant-based diets, and otherwise reduce our individual emissions. But this approach has recently been challenged by authors like Benward Gesang and Julia Nefsky. Gesang contends that it may be genuinely impossible for our individual emissions to make a morally relevant difference. Nefsky argues more generally that the expected consequences approach cannot adequately explain our reasons not do things if there is no precise fact of the matter about whether their outcomes are harmful. In the following chapter, author Howard Nye defends the expected consequences approach against these objections. Nye contends that Gesang has shown at most that our emissions could have metaphysically indeterministic effects that lack precise objective chances. He argues, moreover, that the expected consequences approach can draw upon existing extensions to cases of indeterminism and imprecise probabilities to deliver the result that we have the same moral reasons to reduce our emissions in Gesang’s scenario as in deterministic scenarios. Nye also shows how the expected consequences approach can draw upon these extensions to handle Nefsky’s concern about the absence of precise facts concerning whether the outcomes of certain acts are harmful. The author concludes that the expected consequences approach provides a fully adequate account of our moral reasons to take both political and personal action to reduce our ecological footprints.

2. Sustainability in the Anthropocene: From Forests to the Globe (Petra Dolata)

Various meanings of sustainability emerged at specific historical times shaped by different prevailing energy systems. Even though sustainability in the Anthropocene always included views that saw nature as resource and hence linked sustainable practices to profit-making (yield), there are qualitative differences in the very meaning of sustainability and the ways it related to eighteenth-century forestry practices, nineteenth- and twentieth-century conservation efforts and twentieth-century environmental activism and global development goals. Some of these meanings may have been building on each other, others developed in opposition to previous understandings of sustainability. There is no straightforward, linear evolution of the term and it may be misleading to relate past meanings teleologically to today’s definitions as this may overshadow different meanings that were prominent at different times in history. A comparison over time and throughout the Anthropocene shows that the concept needs to be understood within its specific historical context.

3. Abstraction, Academia and the Anthropocene: Changing the Story for Right Relationship (Kristine Kowalchuk)

This chapter by Kristine Kowalchuk argues the need for humanities scholars to recognize the ecological crisis as a cultural issue arising from modernity’s story of human separation from, and superiority over, nature. The author urges humanities scholars to help lead the way in telling a different story, to enable genuine positive change and healing. As Kowalchuk shows, this story is not a new story, but rather an ancient one, of right relationship between humans and nature, and it has persisted in the margins for over four hundred years.

4. Kitting the Digital Humanities for the Anthropocene: Digital Metabolism and Eco-Critical DH (Amanda Starling Gould)

As our landscapes of digital stuff continue to expand and connect, it is imperative we devise a toolkit for thinking (and doing) that tends to the environmental pulses of our digital condition. It is time now, if it isn’t already too late, to enact a spongier digital-material-humanities form of knowledge-production that is tailored to the concerns of our emerging Anthropocenic humanities and that absorbs the full force of our interconnections. A deliberate environmental intervention is not only an obvious response but also an opening: it plants our field securely within the earth, opens us to seeing our tools as environmental artifacts, and urges us to use our talents for doing earth work.

5. Impact of the Digital Revolution on Worldwide Energy Consumption (Doug Barlage and Gem Shoute)

We Tweet, Facebook, Netflix and YouTube in the palm of our hand. We are aware of the amount of energy that it takes from how many times that we need to recharge our devices. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. For every joule of energy we expend locally, many more joules are spent in the backbone of the Internet. While our appetite for data has largely been insatiable over the last thirty years, the energy required to sustain this has been held in check by Moore’s Law’s driving creed that density of function in a computer chip increases by two every two years, and energy/function decreases by a similar amount. With that said, this driving relationship between power consumption and computing density is slowing due to a multitude of physical constraints when the density of transistor packing approaches the limits. In the following chapter, the authors examine these relationships and outline some of the challenges that the world is facing as we continue to meet and exceed the expectations of our data-driven world with a finite growth in worldwide power generation capacity.

6. Sustainable DNA: In Conversation (Mél Hogan and Deb Verhoeven)

Big Tech supports social media, the stock market, insurance companies, scientific research, financial transactions, mass surveillance and monitoring, the ‘Internet of things’, ‘smart city’ sensors and grids, and mobile communications for Internet users writ large. By most industry accounts, data centres – and the cloud infrastructure that undergirds it – has become the most important sociotechnical system of our time, but also the least sustainable. Interestingly, one of the alternatives to these water- and energy-intensive data storage solutions has emerged from advancements in synthetic DNA technologies, now touted by the industry as a safer, greener and more efficient alternative. But how did we get here? How might ideas of 'sustainability' and 'efficiency' function in this context? In conversation, Mél Hogan and Deb Verhoeven discuss the idea of ‘Sustainable DNA’ – in its various instantiations – as an object of critical media studies.

SECTION 2: Art and/in the Anthropocene

7. Design Education in the Anthropocene: Teaching Systems Thinking (Eric Benson and Priscilla Ferronato)

The following chapter by Eric Benson and Priscilla Ferronato discusses how teaching design through the process of systems thinking, as derived from the disciplines of both ecology and biology, is the best path forward to prevent the worst-case scenarios of climate change. Systems thinking is a process that can help designers to uncover the root cause of a problem and how it connects to the larger picture: people, profit and planet (and everything in between). The conditions of the Anthropocene mean that designers must be able to identify the social, political and environmental repercussions of their work – and take responsibility for them. This process empowers designers to evaluate and shift the emphasis of their outcomes to consider the demand put on our natural resources: where and how we get materials to produce our projects, who and what is affected by our decisions and what will happen to the project after it is implemented. The systems thinking process explored in this chapter is a four-step model (determine ¬project goals, map out the design problem, brainstorm design outcomes and evaluate each possible design outcome) as set forth in the 2017 book Design to Renourish: Sustainable Graphic Design in Practice. The authors, who are based at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, taught this systems thinking model over two years in three different courses to test its effectiveness and make improvements to the process, methods, tools and resources from one academic term to the next.

8. Inspiration from Goethe’s Tender Empiricism: How to be the Person Collecting, Analyzing and Visualizing Data (Joshua Korenblat)

Science, humanities and design might seem like unrelated fields. Yet, information designers, who unpack complex data involving real-world issues, can benefit from the ability to synthesize these seemingly disparate practices. To learn more integrated, humanistic approaches to data visualization, we might look to a time when science and the arts were less divided. The following chapter focuses on poet-scientist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the Romantic-era polymath. Goethe called his scientific method ‘tender empiricism’, a complementary practice to analytical empiricism. Goethe believed in portraying the same phenomena under subtle, changing conditions. While observing, collecting and visualizing, he also searched for what might be missing. A plant, for example, is not a collection of parts; it also portrays the process of growth even in static form. For Goethe, observational discoveries can change the inquiring mind. In contrast to data visualization practice today, which often focuses on summaries and abstract charts, Goethe believed that authentic, insightful truth dwells in real-world details. The second half of the chapter illustrates how Goethe’s ‘tender empiricism’ can be applied to design pedagogy. These case studies show how a Goethean ecological approach can be used to model a more ethical way of working with data.

9. Solidarity Seeds: Situated Knowledges in Bishan Village, Wang Chau Village and Aarey Forest (Michael Leung)

Between 2015 and 2018, artist-researcher Michael Leung visited three sites – in China, Hong Kong and India – each facing destruction as the result of land development. Leung worked with local farmers and activists on creative projects, with the goal of increasing the visibility of these local land struggles as well as strengthening transnational solidarity. In this chapter, Michael Leung revisits the ‘three seed projects’, as documented in artefacts and photographs, in order to explore what it means to use situated knowledge to enrich existing narratives. He posits a rhizomatic approach to research-creation as embedded within social practice, in which the making of objects – seed packets, critical maps, fictional stories, photographs, zines and other actors – is a generative act, the objects themselves becoming ‘seeds’ that nurture, grow and exchange local knowledge.

10. e-Waste Peep Show: A Research-Creation Project on the (In)visibility of Technological Waste (Lai-Tze Fan)

The following chapter by Lai-Tze Fan is a critical and creative reflection that describes the research-creation project e-Waste Peep Show; or, on Seeing and not Wanting to be Seen (EWPS). Since research-creation as an academic practice challenges scholars to merge creative approaches in various disciplines and to apply theory to practice, it allows scholarship to address twenty-first-century issues in innovative ways. Constructed as an art installation, EWPS features original footage of an e-waste (electronic waste) plant in Northern Hong Kong through a peephole in its walls. The camera captures a masked woman taking apart mounds of technological trash. Suddenly, she throws technological debris at me: don't look at me; don't film here. In this chapter, the author describes the process of constructing the installation such that spectators can experience the act of peeping onto sites and sights that they are not ‘supposed’ to see. The three parts of the paper describe the fragments that came together to produce the research-creation project: first, the author discusses the toxicity of e-waste and the exploitation of e-waste labourers, with a focus on East, Southeast and South Asia; second, she describes the fieldwork that I completed in December 2017 to collect video footage at an e-waste plant in Hong Kong; third, she details the creation process of the installation and the intended experience for the spectator-as-user. In doing so, this chapter aligns creative methods in sustainable research with an ethical intervention into global technological consumerism.

11. Art, Ecology and the Politics of Form: A Panel Revisited (Natalie Loveless, Andrew S. Yang, Karin Bolender, Christa Donner, Scott Smallwood, Leanne Olson and Jessie Beier)

The following forum emerges from a panel called Art and/in the Anthropocene: A Debate on Sustainability and Ecology that was co-organized by Natalie Loveless and Jessie Beier for the Kule Institute for Advanced Study’s Around the World e-Conference in May of 2018. The conference panel invited discussion by six artist-scholars in addition to the organizers – Karin Bolender, Christa Donner, Mia Feuer, Leanne Olson, Scott Smallwood and Andrew Yang. Together they discussed two pre-circulated questions: one on sustainability and one on ecological form. Organized and edited by Loveless, the contributions in this forum respond to these questions. Yang argues for systems thinking in the context of art and ecology; Bolender considers multispecies care practices; Donner makes a plea for intergenerational empathy and collective problem-solving; Olson examines our disavowed relations to waste; Smallwood grapples with problems of representing the Anthropocene; Beier reflects, in a speculative-fictive form, on the folly of attempting to sustain our current ways of living and dying; and Loveless concludes with a reflection on art, ecological form and climate justice ethics. Together these short essays invite the reader to consider the role of art in creating new conditions for climate justice thinking and action.

SECTION 3: Sustainable Campuses

12. The Weight of the Digital: Experiencing Infrastructure with InfraVU (Ted Dawson)

The following chapter by Ted Dawson explores the environmental entanglements of the digital humanities, considering the imbrication of digitally-driven attempts to confront environmental crisis with the contributions of digital technologies to that very crisis. The chapter centers on a case study of the InfraVU project undertaken in 2016-2017 at the Vanderbilt University Center for Digital Humanities, a project that sought to draw attention to the infrastructure supporting digital humanities (DH) at Vanderbilt. Dawson first considers the experience and concealment of infrastructure in contemporary life, and especially at the university. He then moves into a fuller description of the InfraVU project itself, showing how the development of the project exploited a productive tension between making and thinking which is central to so much DH work, and which can be understood as a specific inflection of the larger tension between understanding digital culture and digitally understanding culture. In addressing that tension, the InfraVU project demonstrates how digital humanists can use computational methods to think through environmental issues, while also reflecting critically on how that technology is itself implicated in environmental issues. The chapter concludes by foregrounding the role of the arts and humanities in ecocritical digital humanities (EcoDH).

13. Asking Why: Cultivating Eco-Consciousness in Research Labs (Allison Paradise)

Scientists question everything about the natural world. They work tirelessly in pursuit of understanding how and why the world behaves as it does. And yet, as a community, scientists rarely question their own behaviour in the lab. Equipment is often left on 24/7, protocols using hazardous chemicals remain unchanged for decades and freezers are filled with samples that haven’t been used since the turn of the century. These behaviours become habits, passed down through the generations. The following chapter by Allison Paradise demonstrates how My Green Lab, a non-profit founded by scientists, has helped to build a culture of sustainability by helping researchers see their behaviour in a new light. By encouraging people who work in labs to ask ‘why’, My Green Lab has been instrumental in changing the culture of scientific research. This approach has led to significant reductions in energy, water and waste in labs across North America. The laboratory sustainability movement in research has also inspired innovation in manufacturing, with laboratory product suppliers starting to design their products with sustainability in mind. This approach to sustainability – encouraging people to critically examine their behaviour and make conscious choices – is a model that could be replicated in any industry. As the work of My Green Lab demonstrates, if we want to enact lasting changes, we need to start by looking inward and questioning our habits and behaviours. When we do this it can have a profound effect on ourselves and on our planet.

14. Sustainability, Living Labs and Repair: Approaches to Climate Change Mitigation (Hart Cohen, Francesca Sidoti, Alison Gill, Abby Mellick Lopes, Maryella Hatfield and Jonathan Allen)

The year 2020 started with a massive bushfire crisis in south eastern Australia, resulting in disruption to many communities, the loss of lives and businesses, an estimated loss of a billion animals and the dirtiest air on the planet in the cities of Sydney, Newcastle and Canberra. With record-high temperatures and a punishing draught lasting several years, the Australian bush was primed to explode into flames. With lightning strikes in national parks, the spontaneous eruptions of bushfire spread from the north coast to the south and inland towards the alpine regions of New South Wales and Victoria. With the very hot year of 2019 affecting other parts of the planet in 2020, the Antarctic Peninsula reached a record 65 degrees Fahrenheit. The chapter that follows reflects the new progressive politics of climate change that emerged in 2019 with large mass demonstrations taking place in Australia and around the world and examines the critical role of universities in the mitigation of climate catastrophe. The following interventions are variably focused on the concept of ‘Living Labs’ where thinking is developed within a problem-solving ethos. The three contributions here offer ways to think about sustainability with specific reference to waste recovery, environmental awareness in urban settings and the contribution that a ‘repair’ mentality can make to a shared and re-cycled economy. With a clear-eyed recommendation that mitigation of climate change starts locally, the premise of the paper is that people can work with what is available as local solutions to specific problems. The impact of this approach can be essential to people who sense the impending catastrophe and who may have experienced the crisis directly through compromises in their health outcomes, the experience of trauma and the loss of property and livelihoods, though through no fault of their own. The links through the Western Sydney University campus, common ground to the authors to both its small bushland outpost and further to the local community it serves, suggest that the boundaries of the campus are permeable – and that Living Labs are both a means and metaphor for thinking about how the campus opens learning and knowledge creation about sustainability for its students, staff and community constituents.

15. An Intro to Econferences (Geoffrey Rockwell, Oliver Rossier and Chelsea Miya)

Flying is one of the most environmentally detrimental activities associated with our research practices. Until recently, even as colleges and universities took steps to green their campuses, conference-related air travel was on the rise. The COVID-19 pandemic forced academics (along with much of the world) back to the ground, but what will happen after travel restrictions are lifted? Will we slip back into old habits? Our reliance on flying is unsustainable, but research depends on open and timely communication of ideas, methods and results. How then can we adapt our conferencing practices to preserve their communicative value while reducing the need to fly so often? The following chapter introduces the econference medium and makes the argument for bringing academic conferences online, and maintaining these efforts after travel restrictions are lifted.

16. Econferences Are Not the Same, but Are They Good Enough? (Terry Anderson)

Terry Anderson helped pioneer econferencing with the email-based Bangkok Project event in 1992, which took place just one year after the World Wide Web went public. In the following chapter, he reflects back on the early challenges of the online conference medium and looks ahead to its future. How has the econference evolved from its origins to today? Will online gatherings always feel like a less satisfying version of their traditional, face-to-face counterpart or can they offer conference-goers something unique?

17. Online Conferences: Some History, Methods and Benefits (Nick Byrd)

Academics have probably been organizing conferences since at least the time of Plato.  More recently, academics have brought some of their conferences online.  However, the adoption of online conferences is limited. One might wonder if scholars prefer traditional conferences for their ability to provide goods that online conferences cannot. While this may be true, online conferences outshine traditional conferences in various ways, and at a significantly lower cost. By considering the costs and benefits of both conference models, we may find reasons to prefer online to traditional conferences in some circumstances. This chapter shares the methods, quantitative results and qualitative results of the Minds Online conferences of 2015, 2016 and 2017. The evidence suggests that the online conference model can help scholars better understand their profession, share the workload of conference organizing, increase representation for underrepresented groups, increase accessibility to attendees, decrease monetary costs for everyone involved, sustain conference activity during states of emergency and reduce their carbon footprint. So, the advantages of traditional conferences might be outweighed by their higher costs after all.

18. ‘Greening’ Academic Gatherings: A Case Study for Econferences (Oliver Rossier, Chelsea Miya and Geoffrey Rockwell)

Traditional academic conferences that require participants to physically travel between locations have a large environmental footprint. That is why a growing number of researchers believe it is imperative to seek out more sustainable alternatives.  The following case study looks at the ’Around the World’ virtual conferences organized at the University of Alberta as an example of how to host sustainable research gatherings without the carbon cost of flying. The success of this online event, with its diverse range of topics and presentation formats (live, pre-recorded, hybrid), shows that the econference format can be adapted to a wide range of needs. The results from the case study show how econferencing, while not without its challenges, can be a viable alternative to face-to-face conferencing that retains many of its benefits without the environmental cost.