Lectures

The life of the coral body

Life comes apart on the reef. Changes to ocean chemistry and temperature—generated by the fossil-hunger of militarism, extractivism, and industrialism—break open coral worlds on Australia’s northeast coast. Encountering death’s ascendency on the Great Barrier Reef, scientists seek to track coral life by descending within: to study limestone structures, the tiny polyps that build them, and the microscopic symbiotic algae that …

Lectures

Seeking Urban Metabolisms through Archaeology

The metabolism of a city is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in its archaeology. Decades of excavations triggered by cultural heritage management legislation in Melbourne, Australia reveal a city honeycombed with rubbish pits. Disused cesspits (old-fashioned long-drop toilets), purpose-dug holes and localised dumps filled to the brim with rubbish remain below the factories, office buildings and car parks we see …

Lectures

Who feeds (on) whom? Labour and the porosity of environments and bodies

Hannah Landecker writes about the new metabolism as “a model in which food enters the body and in a sense never leaves it, because food transforms the organism’s being as much as the organism transforms it” (2011: 177). Articulating Landecker’s insights into the porosity of bodies through an anthropological lens, Harris Solomon (2016) offers an ethnography of absorption in the …

Lectures

Gloves, embryos, and DDT: thinking with surfaces on toxicity in South Africa

In the early 1980s, researchers at Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa were confounded by the persistent failure of their experimental mice embryos. The researchers had hoped to develop the first successful in vitro fertilization (IVF) programme in Africa. Yet, attempt after attempt, the mice embryos died. One researcher recounted to me later that he reviewed other protocols and …

Lectures

Eating in Class: Notes on Nourishment and Decolonial Pedagogy

It’s a common adage, following Lévi-Strauss, that “food is good to think with.” A class assignment that includes food-centred ethnographic presentations expands the scope of such thinking into embodied and institutional memory. Below I describe such a class feast prepared by second-year social anthropology students at Sol Plaatje University in 2019 (one of two post-Apartheid South African Universities). The idea …

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Provincializing Metabolism (On the Poverty of Modernism)

According to accepted wisdom and textbooks, “metabolism” is a nineteenth-century term and concept, established at the confluence of organic chemistry, cell biology, and physiology. In Microscopical Researches (1839), Schwann spoke of the “metabolic phenomena of the cells,” using for the first time the adjective metabolische, from which “metabolic” entered the English language in the 1847 translation (Bing 1971). This standard …