The Water Next Time

Stefan Helmreich – The Water Next Time


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The Water Next Time: Changing Wavescapes in the Anthropocene

Abstract: Do ocean waves have a history? This presentation looks toward a future in which waves are not only known differently (though new kinds of computer modelling, for example) but also become differently composed material phenomena than once they were. Today’s wave scientists and modellers are predicting that climate change may not only transform the global distribution of significant wave heights, but also may also (though the claim is controversial) amplify the frequency of rogue or freak waves, changing the world’s wavescape in novel ways. This presentation will deliver a history of ocean wave modelling in order to anchor an ethnographic report on how scientists think about whether waves (canonically imagined as not evolving, not decaying, but repeating, periodic–cyclical avatars of the ceaseless sea) may be transforming in synchrony with the political, economic, and social scene of the Anthropocene.

Bio: Stefan Helmreich is a science anthropologist at MIT. His essays have appeared in Critical Inquiry, Representations, American Anthropologist, and The Wire. His book Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Microbial Seas (2009) was the winner of the 2010 Senior Book Prize from the American Ethnological Society, the 2010 Gregory Bateson Book Prize from Society for Cultural
Anthropology, and the 2012 Rachel Carson Book Prize from the Society for Social Studies of Science while Silicon Second Nature: Culturing Artificial Life in a Digital World (1998) was the winner of the Diana Forsythe Book Prize from the American Anthropological Association. Helmreich’s latest book, Sounding the Limits of Life: Essays in the Anthropology of Biology and Beyond (2016), was published by Princeton University Press.

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