Venice, October 11-16, 2021
Join a one-week educational event around the theme of Water Politics in the Age of the Anthropocene, organized by Ca’ Foscari University, the Center for the Humanities and Social Change and the Max Planck Partner Group The Water City in the framework of the Anthropocene Curriculum, a long-term collaborative project initiated by Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Berlin) and Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (Berlin).
The deadline is extended to May 9th, 2021
The disastrous effects of the high tide that flooded the city of Venice in November 2019 were rapidly circulated by the media around the world as a reminder of the responsibility that humans share for the rise in global temperatures and sea levels. The threat of a catastrophic alteration of the water-land balance is not a novelty for Venice, shaping the city’s culture and urban environments since its inception. The city’s insularity, which is at once natural and artificial, marks its specific relation to the elements. The balance of water and land has always constituted both a vital resource for its inhabitants and a crucial factor for the very existence of the lagoon. An inquiry into the geo-environmental practices and politics of Venice offers a paradigmatic case study to reflect on the coevolution of humans and their environment. Ongoing research into sustainability and geo-anthropology has brought to the fore the importance of evaluating alternative historical paths to achieve a dynamic integration of human societies and nature.
The Anthropocene Campus Venice (ACV) will take the case of Venice as a point of departure to collectively reflect on geo-environmental politics. This location is ideal, both historically and symbolically, to engage with cross-cultural comparisons and make sure that the multi-dimensionality of the geo-anthropologenic prism can be properly approached, bringing together the social, political, economic, environmental, natural, and geological facets. Over the span of a full week, this forum will provide a space for co-learning, interdisciplinary collaborations, and comparative studies, bringing together environmental scientists, artists, historians of science and technology, geologists, environmental humanities scholars, archaeologists, and architects.
The aim of the ACV is to establish an interdisciplinary forum for an eco-political reflection on collective human agency and its knowledge-mediated transformative power, as is the case with the environmental history of contexts like Venice. The question of an environmental history of science-mediated human agency stems from the Anthropocene debates on the natural embeddedness of human history. In return, the reconstruction of human water-related practices and praxes in a concrete historical setting contributes to interdisciplinary debates on earth-systems through an improved understanding of collective agency, located at the intersection of anthroposphere, biosphere, and geosphere.
ACV will be divided into 4 seminar threads, each with its own relevant workshop and field trip.
The seminars threads are (scroll down for full description):
S1 – Past and Present Waterscapes: Geological Agency in the Longue Durée
Referents: Pietro Daniel Omodeo and Tina Asmussen
S2 – System Thinking for Water Politics
Referents: Francesco Gonella, Giulia Rispoli and Jonathan Regier
S3: Aquaphobia and Beyond: The Water Politics of Representation
Referents: Shaul Bassi and Cristina Baldacci
S4 – Venice Is Leaking: Interventions in the Lagoon-City Continuum
Referents: Ifor Duncan, Heather Contant and Sasha Gora
Local scholars and activists as well as international experts will develop and convene these seminars exploring novel, collaborative, and exploratory epistemological practices and modes of acting upon the urgencies of the Anthropocene.
The call addresses researchers from a wide range of backgrounds in the sciences, humanities, engineering, design and the arts. From within academia, the call addresses levels ranging from final-year master’s degree candidates, graduates, Ph.D. students, postdoctoral candidates to tenure and tenure-track faculty.
Artists, actors, and activists from civil society, the arts, and politics (e.g. think tanks, NGOs, etc.) are strongly encouraged to apply as well.
Applicants should be strongly committed to inter- and transdisciplinary collaboration and demonstrate a broad interest in Anthropocene-related research fields, ranging from hydrology, geography, geology, climate and environmental sciences, to history, anthropology, design, landscape architecture, and the arts. Active participation is expected, including the months preceding and following the actual campus week.
Interested candidates are invited to submit an application at this link.
Edit (April 9): Please note that while filling in the application form you will be asked (among other things) the following:
- Reason for applying (max 2000 keystrokes)
- Summary of current research/work and how it relates to the Anthropocene Campus Venice (max 1000 keystrokes)
- If your application is accepted, to agree to pay the campus fee (200 euro)
- To upload a short CV in PDF format (mandatory) and a list of publications in PDF format (optional)
Please note that the application deadline has been extended to MAY 9th (it was previously April 25)
You must still use this online application form. Applicants are asked to hand in a CV, a brief description of their interest in the Anthropocene and the Water Politics in the Age of the Anthropocene project in particular. Acceptance letters will be sent out by June 1, 2021
Registration & funding
The registration fee is 200 Euros and will cover workshops, field trips and other campus activities. Participants are expected to procure their own funding and to cover all travel and accommodation costs.
The Anthropocene Campus Venice is developed and hosted by Ca’ Foscari University of Venice with support from Ca’ Foscari University, the Center for the Humanities and Social Change, and the Max Planck Partner Group The Water City. It is part of the Anthropocene Curriculum, a long-term project initiated by Haus der Kulturen der Welt and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, supported by the Federal Foreign Office of Germany.
Funders and Supporters of ACV 2021
Ca’ Foscari University of Venice
International Center for the Humanities and Social Change, Venice
Max Planck Partner Group The Water City
Venice International University (VIU)
House of the Cultures of the World
Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin
FARE Endeavor EarlyGeoPraxis
The ACV is part of an open series of similar events across the globe that are under the umbrella of the Anthropocene Curriculum (AC) initiative. The AC is a long-term project spearheaded by the Haus der Kulturen der Welt and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin exploring frameworks for critical knowledge and education in our ongoing transition into a new, human dominated geological epoch—the Anthropocene. The project draws together heterogeneous knowledge practices, inviting academics, artists, and activists from around the world to co-develop curricular experiments that collectively respond to this crisis of the customary. It does this by producing experimental co-learning situations and research possibilities for transdisciplinary collaboration—Anthropocene Campuses, workshops, field research undertakings—that are capable of tackling the epistemic and geo-social dimensions of knowledge that are at stake in this new epoch
For more information on the long-term project Anthropocene Curriculum, previous Anthropocene Campus events, and worldwide partner projects please visit anthropocene-curriculum.org.
Anthropocene Campus Venice – Seminars description
S1: Past and Present Waterscapes: Geological Agency in the Longue Durée
Referent: Pietro Daniel Omodeo and Tina Asmussen
Venice is the perfect setting for a renewed reflection on the interplay between nature and culture in the longue durée at the crossroad of human history and natural history.
This seminar is specifically dedicated to the exploration of the anthropic history of water and human cultures in the longue durée in a comparative and inter-disciplinary spirit. It responds to the growing demand for ‘more history’ on the part of the earth sciences and environmental politics. The impending climate crisis—the iconic images of which range from the melting poles to the drowning water-city of Venice and the burning of Brazilian and Australian forests—creates a broad, heavily debated and politically explosive field of science in action. Current studies at the crossroads of the natural sciences, the social sciences and the humanities, which run under the label of ‘Anthropocene’, reflect on the origins of the human induced environmental crisis. Historicizing the Anthropocene in the longue durée is meant to shed light on the many different institutions, social groups, technologies and belief-systems that power the broad concept of Anthropocene.
In spite of some ambivalence, the concept of geological agency offers an attractive heuristic tool because it brings humans, matter, time, and history to the center of the natural discourse. The problem of the incommensurable commensurability of historical time and geological time—or the problem of reinterpreting the records of human past against the background of ‘deep time’—has come to the fore after the two temporalities reached a synchronic moment of convergence at our entrance into an epoch, the ‘rhythms’ of which are both social and geological. From these geological and historical temporalities further scientific and methodological questions arise. Most importantly, how can we make the collaboration between the natural sciences and cultural studies fruitful, if the respective epistemological premises are so different? The prototypical natural scientist and cultural scholar address the same object of inquiry (say, the environment) with very different disciplinary lenses (or ‘epistemic values’); an epistemology of objectivity and quantitative measurement, in the former case, and one of subjectivity and historicity, in the latter. The question of how the perspectives of those who look at the earth and the environment as natural phenomena, and those who look at them as cultural products, can be harmonized and unified is far from settled. In order to find alternative ways to address and perhaps solve these problems, we here look back at times and scientific cultures that existed before the emergence of Capitalist economy and industrialization as well as during such modern techno-economical revolutions. We are especially interested in contexts, in which our divide between nature and culture operated differently and the boundary was seen as a continuum rather than as a division.
S2: System Thinking for Water Politics
Referent: Francesco Gonella, Giulia Rispoli and Jonathan Regier
Albert Einstein used to say that “the significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking at which they were created”. This quotation can be found in many contexts, but very rarely any indication is provided of what this “new level of thinking” should be. Systems Thinking may be regarded as what substantiates this new need.
The epistemology of Systems Thinking has been developing after the works by Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Kenneth E. Boulding, or Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen in the 1960s, then finding a quantitative application and outcome owing to Jay W. Forrester, head of the Systems Dynamic group at the M.I.T.. Despite the variety of approaches that System Thinking caters to, it has often been interpreted as primarily fashioned by Western science, especially inscribed in the mid-20th century tradition of cybernetics and systems theory. Systemic perspectives of nature-society interaction have a much more diversified and nuanced legacy, spanning faraway geographies and cultures where the very notion of “system” grew out of distinct socio-ecological contexts and practices.
Nowadays Systems Thinking addresses the ineffectiveness of linear thought at managing complex problems, and puts together different levels of inquiry, from the description of a system to its understanding, modelling and design. In the environmental sciences, it has drawn great attention after the publication authored by Donella H. Meadows et al. of The Limits to Growth (1972), a scientific report addressing long-term exponential population and economic growth in relation to resource scarcity and Earth’s capacity. The book represented an important novelty both for its content and for its epistemological approach; However, it soon became subject to criticism with regard to a simplistic computational approach based on solely five variables and homogeneous starting conditions, which, for example, abstracted from the political and economic divide between the global north and the global south.
Anthropocene-related problems we are facing today requires a multilayered approach where systemic perspectives inform views on the interaction and co-evolution of ecologies, behavior patterns, political and regulatory functions, historical and conceptual legacies, and the economic and technological visions of possible features. Such an approach is what we intend to develop in the description of the role of Water in the Anthropocene context.
The presence of water in the environment, along with its nexus with energy, food, and industrial production plays a pivotal role in facing the threat of climate change. Water policies, access, quality, distribution, equality, have been investigated by usual reductionist points of view, following bottom-up approaches that enlightened in turn the different specificities. But the complex network of interconnections between all the geo- and biophysical elements and the socio-economic issues related to water prevents from addressing in this way long-term effective scenarios for local and global policies. The emerging necessity is therefore to shift our attention from the study of events – in terms of causes and effects – to the study of the systems – in terms of patterns, structures and leverage points – from which those events emerge. Water, with all its issues, must be investigated, described and studied as an intrinsic complex system. Systems Thinking may therefore constitute a tool to capture this complexity, eventually establishing the connection between the different “cultures” linked to Water
S3: Aquaphobia and Beyond: The Water Politics of Representation
Referent: Shaul Bassi and Cristina Baldacci
The growing contemporary debate over Anthropocene – over its cultural, economic, social and political implications – has motivated forms of interdisciplinary research and cooperation, which, in the field of literature and the (visual, performative, media) arts have focused, on the one hand on the representation, on the other on the re-presentation of ecological imaginaries and environments.
In the first case, narratives oscillate between the urgency to document and the desire to falsify, between reality and fiction – where fiction can be understood both as a literary category and as a multitude of fake stories and images, i.e. lies, that pervade climate change and environmental or water politics. In the second case, especially through virtual or augmented reality and pre-/re-enactment and re-embodiment practices, possible future scenarios can be simulated and experienced in advance in order to raise awareness – but also to identify appropriate behaviours and prepare for alternative, that is, sustainable and resilient lifestyles. Or instead, disappeared ecosystems can be artificially re-created for study reasons, as places of knowledge and understanding, of scientific and cultural dissemination.
In all these cases, it is a question of producing plural and inclusive counter-narratives to set against the neoliberal and neocolonial rhetoric as to encourage forms of activism, which can be personal and collective, local and global; produce awareness and affect; denounce responsibilities; induce change (agency). The change should be in perspective too. Humans should no longer be the only ones at the centre of the discourse and traditional methodological canons should be challenged. The Harawayan imperatives of “making kin” and adopting “tentacular thinking” have taught us that it is no longer possible to think in a unidirectional and anthropocentric way, but that an expansion of views is needed, which includes diversity and change both in biological and social systems. Haraway argues that “our task is to make trouble, to stir up potent response to devastating events, as well as to settle troubled waters and rebuild quiet places”.
We propose that we first need to “trouble settled waters” by looking at the multiple resonances of the representation of waters starting from Aquaphobia (2017), a temporary immersive environment by Danish artist Jakob Kudsk Steensen, which will be reinstalled, for the duration of the Anthropocene Campus, as an exhibition and a thinking space. It is a Virtual Reality installation inspired by psychological studies of the treatment of the “fear of water”, as an entry point to transform perceptions of our relationship to future water levels and climates, and also by ecology- oriented science fiction and conversations with biologists and ethnographers. This central artwork will be complemented by the counter-narratives stimulated by other water-related artworks offered by Ocean Space and Science Gallery, two important Venice centres that combine interdisciplinary research with multiple engagement with contemporary art. We will also use as a literary reference point Amitav Ghosh’s recent works, and the various figurations of water that he has provided in his essays and novels.
We invite analyses and case studies artistic and literary interventions that engage water politics and re-present the conditions of water in various contexts, at the intersections of activism, pedagogy, and aesthetics.
S4: Venice Is Leaking: Interventions in the Lagoon-City Continuum
Referents: Ifor R. Duncan, Heather M. Contant, L. Sasha Gora
Conception: Heather M. Contant, Daniel A. Finch-Race, Ifor R. Duncan, L. Sasha Gora, Emiliano Guaraldo (Fellows of Center for the Humanities and Social Change)
Rhythms of everyday life in the hydrosphere alert us to the continuum that exists in Venezia—city and lagoon. Here, water and land are co-constitutive and have been since the first engineering of the islands into human-habitable refuges. What happens below the surface is inextricably connected to what happens above. Between fresh and saltwater. The fluctuating surface levels of the acqua alta. The caigo (the Venetian term for fog) and the stravedamento (the Chioggian term for when the Dolomites are visible). Nutrition, erosion, accretion, flooding, and toxicity all occur within this continuum at multiple scales and registers. Thinking about Venezia as an expanded watery environment follows the encouragement of Anuradha Mathur and Dilip Da Cunha to approach the future from an understanding that wetness is everywhere (2020). In addition to the presence of wetness, we consider water’s absence, salinity, and an array of other characteristics.
This seminar focuses on the critical role of activist, creative, and cultural practices in confronting environmental concerns facing the lagoon-city today and in the future. Using Venezia as a starting point, we bring diverse examples from other places into comparison to generate cross-cultural conversations around strategies of care for water ecologies. These conversations will address flora, fauna, and human appetites; the politics of public spaces; decolonization; the collection of ecological knowledge; and collective and inclusive tactics for sustainability.
In doing so, we engage with Astrida Neimanis’s provocation that humans are mostly wet matter or bodies of water embodying a leaky and porous relationality with our environments (2017). In flood, drought, or contamination. How can we refine or condense this understanding to generate ways of eroding or reshaping the infrastructures that lead to mass pollution, water privatization, overfishing, the washing away of salt marshes (barene), overtourism, cruise ships, and so on?
We set out to explore practices and methodologies for intervening into the continuities of changing environmental and social conditions in Venezia and beyond. We invite all levels of activists, artists, designers, conservators, curators, historians, chefs, and other creative practitioners to participate in transdisciplinary conversations about engaging with the lagoon-city to ensure the survival of this vital and multispecies environment. We hope to produce a toolkit to spark change now and in the future.