The Shadow of the Future

The crisis of anthropogenic global warming presents an urgent problem requiring a rapid response and a re-prioritising of values. Planetary climate change is often discussed, notably by Naomi Klein, as an irreconcilable conflict between ‘extractivist’ capitalism and Earth systems that support life. Klein and a range of climate justice social movements are advocating that communities ‘reclaim the power’ in terms of both energy production and the political economy.

My research is concerned with providing a critical reading of specific examples activism, art and cultural practices occurring in the context of climate change, the Anthropocene thesis and the many critiques of it. Having spent a fortnight amongst activists and citizens’ movements in Paris during the COP21 climate summit, December 2015, my field work will continue largely amongst communities in Berlin. Rather than develop a kind of ethnography of these communities, who are perhaps more aligned with ‘degrowth’ ideologies, I choose to read them in the context of recent visionings of the global capitalist system. In doing so, I hope to tease out where ‘Earth First’ or ‘Gaia Sovereignty’ concerns correspond and potentially converge with major political, industry and technology leaders’ vision of the next economy.

The title of this blog is lifted from Benjamin H. Bratton’s essay ‘The Black Stack’ (2014), in which the design theorist outlines his re-visioning of the current political subdivision of Earth to encompass a global system of computation and communication; a vertical layering he calls ‘The Stack.’ This ordering of the world gives rise to an inevitable ‘computational-totality-to-come’ in which humankind is no longer central and people are potentially best understood as molecular assemblages subject to re-purposing. According to Bratton, The Black Stack is ‘what the shadow of the future is to the form of the present’…‘defined at this moment by what it is not.’ He challenges his readers to consider that what may appear to be the worst options now, may prove in time to be where our best options are found. ‘It is less a ‘possible future’ than an escape from the present.’

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