Infrastructure and Materiality: Biota

Sep 25, 2017, 12:00 pm12:00 pm



Event Description

The Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities' Fall 2017 research forum is curated by Andrew A. Johnson (Anthropology) and Curt Gambetta (Architecture).

A growing body of contemporary research about infrastructure in architecture, the humanities and social sciences takes as its object large-scale, seemingly immaterial infrastructures. Against assumptions about the invisibility of infrastructure, new scholarship accounts for the materiality of systems that range in time and scale from global networks and longue durée processes, to fleeting, microscopic phenomena. In working across different registers and sites, what possibilities and problems do work on materiality pose to theory, methods and critique? In order to understand this, our series creates dialogues across disciplinary boundaries that focus on a particular material, including water, carbon, biota, cargo and building materials, among others. In doing so, we seek to explore how material shapes the possibilities for human worlds, be they social, political, religious, cultural, or otherwise.

For a complete listing of sessions, visit

September 25 - Biota

Our material environment includes not only nonliving material and human inhabitants, but also a wide range of nonhuman biota: animals, plants, fungi, bacteria, etc. How are these disparate biota conceived of and brought into engineered landscapes, and how can such intertwinings of human and nonhuman complicate our understanding of nature and culture? In this session, anthropologist Stuart McLean (University of Minnesota) and historian Peder Anker (NYU) discuss how humans and other biota co-create the landscapes in which we live. Following each 15-minute talk, we will have a discussion facilitated by anthropologist Andrew Alan Johnson (Princeton).

Stuart McClean is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota. His work mobilizes anthropology, art, literature and philosophy to ask: what new possibilities for thinking and living might result from extending the notion of creativity beyond the human realm? As the biological and physical sciences no less than the various ‘new materialisms’ current across humanities disciplines serve to remind us, the worlds that humans often pride themselves on creating are not and have never been exclusively human but are dependent upon and inflected by a multitude of other than human powers and presences, including animals, plants, geological formations, weather systems and a range of humanly manufactured artifacts fashioned from a variety of materials. His works include Fictionalizing Anthropology: Encounters and Fabulations at the Edges of the Human. McLean, Stuart (Minnesota, 2017).

Peder Anker is Associate Professor in NYU's Gallatin School. His teaching and research interests lie in the history of science, ecology, environmentalism and design, as well as environmental philosophy. He is the co-author of Global Design: Elsewhere Envisioned (Prestel, 2014), a showcase of design research as it relates to visionary architecture, landscape architecture, urbanism, and ecological planning, the author of From Bauhaus to Ecohouse: A History of Ecological Design (Louisiana State University Press, 2010), which explores the intersection of architecture and ecological science, and Imperial Ecology: Environmental Order of the British Empire, 1895-1945 (Harvard University Press, 2001), which investigates how the promising new science of ecology flourished in the British Empire. Anker’s current book project explores the history of ecological debates in his native Norway.