Friday, October 3, 2014

Essay #3
Due: 10/18
Length: 6 pages

Here at Cornell the language of sustainability is everywhere you turn. Walk across campus and you’re likely to encounter a rich and varied geography of signs and artifacts, from compost bins to climate change chalk art. At an institutional level, the term 'sustainability' has emerged as a pliable designator capable of holding in place a variety of disciplinary and inter-disciplinary projects. There’s the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, the KAUST-Cornell Center for Energy and Sustainability, the Institute for Computational Sustainability, and the Center for Sustainable Global EnterpriseIn self-described 'sustainable eateries', students and faculty members sip shade-grown coffee laced with local milk produced just down the road at Cornell's sprawling experimental barns where robotic hands pump the udders of fistulated cows and bovine assholes clench under the watchful gaze of grad students in search of errant methane farts

In fall, research fellowships for sustainable gardening are advertised and awarded. In spring, residence hall energy competitions are won and lost. In the meantime, your inbox gathers the unsolicited notes of a rotating staff of campus sustainability interns. Another sustainable lecture series comes to an end. News of Zimride. News of Greeks Go Green. Lights Off Cornell

Less clear in all of this complex institutional work is how or what is actually being sustained.

In this assignment, your goal will be to offer your own modest response to this admittedly too-large-to-answer problem by conducting a close reading of a single document, virtual space, or other communicative artifact that informs local beliefs and desires for 'sustainability', as well as describes and delimits general procedures for realizing climate action here at Cornell. Use at least two assigned readings to help frame your discussion, and at least one additional article from an anthropology journal. 

Below you will find some questions that will help you begin to think about potential strategies for approaching the artifact of your choosing. Remember you do not need to answer all of them. As we've discussed in class, your success will hinge on developing your own questions in dialogue with whatever document you choose to work with and decide to pursue as you investigate your way to an original argument. However, you will definitely want to ask and answer some of them.  

  • What is the vision and communicative goal of the artifact? 
  • When might its vision of sustainability be plausibly arrived at? In short, what is the timescale of the sustaining?
  • What are criteria for fulfillment of the artifact's vision and command? 
  • How is the gap between the artifact's "vision" and its "execution" acknowledged, ignored, or obfuscated?
  • How does the language of the artifact account for different respondents or readers?
  • What groups of subjects does the artifact hail or address? Who does it not hail or address?
  • How does the artifact enable or anticipate certain actions by others? What does it demand of its users and readers? 
  • What kind of political agency does it produce? What sense of ethical duty does it seek to cultivate? 
  • How is knowledge produced through the artifact? What kind of description does it allow? What is made visible through the artifact? 
  • How and when is the artifact's command attached to some investment or pursuit of enjoyment?
  • How was the artifact produced? What network of humans and nonhumans were involved in its creation? 
  • How is the artifact's authorship made (or not made) explicit?
  • When and how do users and readers interact with the artifact? In what social contexts is it encountered?
  • What kind of responses does the artifact seek to elicit from its users or readers? How does the artifact structure these responses?
  • What technical strategies for eliciting these responses does it deploy? 
  • What does it mean to be worth sustaining?

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