Short note on ‘Objects, Infrastructure and Vocation’

infrastructure+vocation

Infra­struc­ture and Voca­tion: Field, Call­ing and Com­pu­ta­tion in Eco­logy

A bril­liant CHI paper by Steven Jack­son and Sarah Bar­brow. How many papers presen­ted at CHI cite St. Augustine of Hip­po and, to boot, suc­ceed in draw­ing out rel­ev­ant reflec­tions on sci­en­ti­fic mod­el­ling tools in eco­logy. See­ing eco­logy through the lens of both infra­struc­ture and the ‘voca­tion­al call­ing’ provides a pro­duct­ive view onto what eco­lo­gists do and how their prac­tices are chan­ging. Jack­son and Bar­brow illus­trate this nicely by writ­ing of the chan­ging notion of ‘the field’ for eco­lo­gists. I see a strong par­al­lel here between eco­logy and bio­logy. Bio­logy is a field very much in trans­ition and the changes have much to do with the mater­i­al encoun­ters in bio­lo­gic­al work — with for example the chan­ging nature of bio­lo­gists’ work at ‘the bench’ and with exper­i­ment­al appar­at­us. The turn to machines, com­pu­ta­tion and algorithms is not only reshap­ing the prac­tices but also refig­ur­ing what bio­lo­gists know and how they see their phe­nom­ena (some­thing we also tried to get across in At the inter­face of bio­logy and com­pu­ta­tion at CHI). A sim­il­ar con­clu­sion is being drawn out in this papers as it cap­tures the entangled rela­tions between the tools, prac­tices and ways of know­ing in eco­logy.

On always already

Alwaysalready

The phrase “always already” is, in the main, attrib­uted to the post­struc­tur­al­ist philo­sopher Jaques Der­rida. It has, how­ever, come to be a trope for the new mater­i­al­ists and it is in this usage that I mod­estly take it on. Spe­cific­ally, my guid­ing sources are from the fem­in­ist tech­nos­cience schol­ars Don­na Har­away and Kar­en Barad, both of whom make heavy use of the phrase to trouble the bin­ar­ies abound in sci­ence and tech­no­logy (subject-object, mind-matter, inside-outside, past-present, etc.).

For some back ground read­ing see The New Mater­i­al­ist “Always Already”: On an A-Human Human­it­ies.