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Environing technologies – shaping, seeing, sense-making

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Twenty-Sixth Annual Hans Rausing Lecture

One of the major policy concepts of the twentieth century was ‘the environment’. From an obscure, partly dubious existence in deterministic strands of the scientific register, this old word rose after World War II to stardom, a vulnerable thing to love, protect and manage with ‘governance’ that became global. The environment became the word for some of humanity’s largest ailments and concerns. But what exactly was it? Around and after the Millennium, it proliferated into a plural set of concepts, emphasizing different topics and trajectories within the environment: sustainability, climate, the Earth System, resilience, Anthropocene. Some of these were new. Others were old, gaining new meaning as they enrolled in the evolving, escalating human-Earth entanglement. To historians it may sometimes seem as if the world resides in concepts and we have certainly learned from Reinhart Koselleck that considering concepts can be very productive. With ‘the environment’, it is also very tangibly something that has a material existence, which draws on human intervention. One way of thinking about the rise of the modern environment is to evoke ‘technology’. In this lecture, I will talk about ‘environing technologies’. I will explore some of the ways we can think about what technologies do when they shape the material environment that is now present on all possible scales of the Planet, but also how technologies – observational, computational, visual, economic – were essential in shaping the policy concept.

This talk is part of the Rausing Lecture series.

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