Panel 9: Material Entanglements of Nonanthropo-centric Hope

Chairs: Seija Ridell & Tarja Rautiainen‐Keskustalo

Digital mediation of environments tends to aspire toward a logic that overlooks the scope and depth of our material involvement with and dependence on the world around us, fostering hope of limitless pursuit of human desires. This position has proven fatally untenable by the accelerating climate crisis and increasingly all‐encompassing environmental disasters. The panel addresses the asymmetrical relationships between human and nonhuman in terms of ubiquitous computing and digitally mediated infrastructures, proposing a redefinition of hope through complex human–nonhuman material entanglements. As an inspirational background, we point to Bruno Latour’s idea of a terrestrial paradigm, which urges us to understand how the current crises descend from the fact that the Earth has stopped meekly absorbing human aggression and is now striking back. The urgency of the situation for any scholarly discipline comes from the fact that the dimensions of the process are much larger and more profound than we even can imagine, and the prevailing scientific paradigms have few tools to grasp it.

The panel will focus on the increasingly digitally mediated infrastructures through challenging the human‐centered techno‐scientific and ultra‐rational agenda that often underpins the envisioning, planning and deployment of infrastructures. By theorizing and analyzing infrastructures and infrastructural imaginaries ‘against the grain’, we aim to figure out ways to promote materially entangled structures of hope that are allowed to all terrestrial inhabitants.

Mirka Muilu: Giving up anthropocentric hope – Arendt’s Earth meets Latour’s Gaia

Hannah Arendt is not often considered an environmental philosopher, but in the past decades her view, presented in The Human Condition (Arendt 1957), of us humans’ inability to understand the consequences of our actions for the totality of life on planet Earth has turned out to be chillingly correct. Arendt suspected that the expansionist efforts of humanity would eventually meet their earthly limits. Today, the unbalancing scale of human acts into the Earth systems is so huge that scientists refer to it as a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. In my presentation, I will bring Arendt’s concepts of the Earth and earth alienation into discussion with Bruno Latour’s idea of Gaia to reflect the doomsday scenario called the Anthropocene. According to Latour, this new epoch, apart from being a scientific formula, depends on our species’ (in)ability to fundamentally rethink its relationship to the Earth and other earthly beings. As a condition for any positively transformative planetary politics Latour refers to Clive Hamilton’s [2010] ‘terrifying suggestion’ to abandon anthropocentric hope. This, as a first step, means understanding the Earth not as a mere resource to be exploited by humans but as an active and formidable power in itself. My argument is that combining Arendt’s notions of Earth and earth alienation with Latour’s musings on Gaia helps to analyze critically the epochal changes presently shaping the planetary material conditions – and perhaps thereby to find some glimmer of nonanthropocentric hope.


Arendt, Hannah (1998) The Human Condition (orig. 1957). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Arendt, Hannah (2018) “Karl Marx and The Tradition of Western Political Thought”. In: Thinking Without a
Banister, Essays in Understanding, 1953–1975. Ed. Jerome Kohn. Schocken Books.
Arendt, Hannah (2018) “The Archimedean Point”. In: Thinking Without a Banister, Essays in Understanding,
1953–1975. Ed. Jerome Kohn. Schocken Books.
Crutzen, Paul & Stoermer, Eugene (2000) “The Anthropocene”. Global Change Newsletter 41, 17–18.
Latour, Bruno (2004) “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matter of Facts to the Matter of Concern”.
Critical Inquiry 30 (Winter 2004), 225–248.
Latour, Bruno (2015) “Waiting for Gaia. Composing the common world through arts and politics”. In: What Is
Cosmopolitical Design? Design, Nature and the Built Environment. Eds. Albena Yaneva & Alejandro Zaera‐Polo.London: Routledge.
Latour, Bruno (2017) Facing Gaia, Eight Lectures on the New Climatic Regime. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Jaana Parviainen & Seija Ridell – ’Not yet but soon’: Misplaced hope invested in imaginary technologies as solutions to wicked problems

This presentation focuses on implicit promises of – and hopes invested in – artificial intelligence, digitalization, and robotics as solutions to wicked problems in society. We discuss how envisioning omnipotent technologies intertwine with everyday material practices and organizational infrastructures. Drawing on recent philosophical discussions on temporality and the domain of the ‘not yet but soon’, we argue that anticipation has become a common state when it comes to the regimes of technology politics, shaping innovation and technological investments in multiple sectors of society. Inspired by Sheila Jasanoff’s notion of “sociotechnical imaginary”, we use the term “imaginary technologies” to refer to devices and applications that do not exist yet but are expected – indeed, hoped for – to be deployed soon. Imaginary technologies are not just harmless visions on policy papers but have many concrete effects on people’s activities, also affecting the conditions for existence of other living beings. As the rhetoric of futurity and anticipation keeps dominating discourses on technologies, information systems tend to be launched to users as incomplete, with the hope of developing and completingthe beta versions with the help of users’ feedback. The ‘semi‐finished’ modes of digital systems not only make life and work stressful and cumbersome but even can cause life‐threatening situations.

Tarja Rautiainen‐Keskustalo – Beyond human ears – materializing the awareness of environmental relations

Machine listening holds a promise to understand and interact with the material world in new ways. With the rapid advancement of these AI technologies, listening has been incorporated as a part of digital humanities, industrial monitoring, audio archive management, and conservation biology. In the latter, the aim has been to develop acoustic biodiversity monitoring systems, which would provide information on how the humans conquest planet earth from soil to atmosphere and everything in between. These endeavors, the importance of which cannot be denied, are not without pitfalls. This is because listening technologies are built on epistemological grounds which push thinking of sensory modalities towards separation, exclusion, and hierarchy, i.e., listening unwittingly deepens the human–nature divide. Therefore, in my presentation, I analyze machine listening against the grain by asking how listening, especially machine listening, reveals the limits of human perception. I proceed by addressing, first, the limitations that concern the traditional way of thinking of human body due to the fact that listening does not end at the ear but involves, for example, senses of touch, vision, and proprioception. Second, I argue that machine listening calls for a critical analysis of the prevailing subject–object relations and their material foundations. My suggestion is that the hope we can place on listening rests on the fact that it manifests our fateful connection to the non‐human world and its nature to act beyond human temporality; this is made audible, for example, in the humming of fossil fuels or in the popping of bubbles of sea water, filled with synthetic chemical microfluids.

Aino Kangaspuro Haaparanta _ The material entanglements of the journalist’s laptop in times of ecological crises

In recent years, planetary‐scale anthropogenic ecological crises – the climate crisis, loss of biodiversity and pollution of soil, water and air – have generated big, even sensational, headlines in news journalism almost on a daily basis. In my presentation, I argue that the accelerating deterioration of planet earth’s biosphere fundamentally challenges the traditional role and selfimage of professional journalism as merely an external transmitter of symbolic contents. My suggestion is that critical research on journalism should start paying attention to the artefacts and infrastructures essential to the production of journalism, as journalistic tools, such as laptops, are themselves material nodes in the contemporary ecological crises. Proceeding from the starting point, provided by Sy Taffel’s (2019) political media ecology, I address the journalist’s laptop in terms of a complex material assemblage that embeds embodied human processes and natural resources in entangled ways. In this sense, the journalist’s laptop provides an illuminating example of the asymmetrical relationship between humans and the Earth also more generally. The laptop is a material node in which the unethically extracted cobalt from Congo, contaminated groundwater, child labor and toxics flows come together in a tangible form. Nonetheless, if the material entanglements of the journalist’s laptop in ecological crises are identified and acknowledged both in the academia and in journalistic practices, there might be hope for a future not imprisoned in the anthropocentric idea of the Earth. The journalist’s laptop is a pharmakon – the poison and the medicine – for the ecological crises and we should treat it as such.


Taffel, Sy (2019) Digital Media Ecologies: Entanglements of Content, Code and Hardware. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.