Ecology of capture

My doctoral thesis drew on twelve months of ethnographic fieldwork on material engagements with fog at the margins of the Peruvian city of Lima and coastal areas further south. My aim was to examine the politics of contemporary urban and environmental relations in these places of aridity, where glacial retreat and rapid urban expansion are increasingly raising concerns about water scarcity and the gradual disappearance of urban fog oasis ecosystems. In this context, a steady inflow of coastal fog has recently been re-apprehended as a potential water source. Based on fieldwork undertaken with a Peruvian NGO and a network of fog oasis conservationists in Lima, my study showed how these collectives became enmeshed with Peru’s long-standing history of informal urbanisation. Of particular concern was how their different modes of engaging fog were directly at odds with one another. The NGO was trying to tap into ground-touching clouds as a water source for the urban poor, meaning that their activities aimed to render Lima’s hilly surrounds habitable for squatters. In contrast, conservationists sought to capture fog for the purpose of making the very same areas uninhabitable for human dwelling. My thesis demonstrated how, in setting out to capture fog so as to attain their own respective goals, actors became ensnared in one another’s activities, demands, and expectations. Inspired by the language of capture and entrapment variously invoked by the collectives in question, these relations were described as being constitutive of an ecology of capture: an emergent web of relationships held together by conflicting aims and expectations, the possibilities and limits of fog capture, and the material qualities of fog itself.

Infrastructures on/off Earth

Over the past years, Sweden has begun to expand its rocket launch-site Esrange with a view to develop small-satellite launch capability by 2023. My project takes these ongoing efforts as an impetus to explore outer space imaginaries in Sweden more broadly. The Swedish space strategy is symptomatic of wider, emergent framings of outer space as a matter of concern to be addressed infrastructurally. As such, it folds into broader engagements with outer space as an arena for projection, experimentation, and infrastructural possibility, able to support and/or limit human existence on Earth. This is evident not least in how orbital space has become apprehended as a key arena for generating climate- and Earth-system data. In tandem, a growing NewSpace industry has started to push former government-centred paradigms towards opening up a free-market space frontier. However, with the increasing reliance on post-terrestrial infrastructure, space weather and orbital debris present new threats to critical, ground-based infrastructures. It is in response to these developments that Sweden now aims to strengthen independent access to low Earth orbit and offer infrastructural services to space agencies, commercial actors, and the international scientific community. This is undertaken for instance by branding the city of Kiruna as a space town, which by virtue of its arctic position, vast surroundings, and relatively unoccupied airspace promises to bring outer space closer to Earth. Through fieldwork in Stockholm and Kiruna as well as analyses of official documents, media, and science fiction, this project explores the making and reshaping of on/off Earth ecologies through various forms of infrastructural mediation, asking what happens to social and environmental relations when confronted by the extraterrestrial as an infrastructural phenomenon.