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 intended to capture fog for the purpose of making the very same areas uninhabitable for human dwelling. The 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

I’m currently working on an ethnographic project that takes as its impetus Sweden’s ongoing initiatives to develop small satellite launch capability. In this context, I am interested in engagements with outer space as an arena for projection, experimentation, and infrastructural possibility, able to support and/or limit human existence on Earth. In Sweden outer space is framed as a key infrastructural domain for climate research. Yet, the increasing reliance on outer space infrastructures also means that space weather and orbital debris present new risks to critical, ground-based infrastructural systems. It is in response to these and other developments that Sweden now aims to strengthen independent access to orbit and offer infrastructural services for 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, relatively unoccupied airspace, and vast geographical surroundings promises to bring outer space closer to Earth. Through long-term fieldwork in Stockholm and Kiruna, I will examine 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.