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Environmental Science

Communicating Chernobyl

Communicating Chernobyl

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I have spent the last week in Chernobyl with my Salford colleagues Dr Mike Wood and Professor Nick Beresford, as part of a programme funded by the Natural Environment Research Council. The week was spent visiting key sites around the Nuclear Reactor, including the reactor itself, along with doing some fieldwork. I have been working with Mike and Nick on a project called 'Alienated Life?' which is an artistic installation for Manchester Science Festival. I spent a lot of my time there producing films for the install and documenting what took place over the week. Films to follow.

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Mamiraua

Mamiraua

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On the recommendation of one of our PhD students, I spent some time at the Pousada Uacari, which is connected with the Mamiraua Institute, an organizational set up in the 1980s to conserve an area of the Amazon that was under threat from logging and fishing companies.  A number of the region's wildlife were affected negatively by this, notably the Uacari, a primate that was near extinction until this programme began.

Thirty years later and the Uacari is thriving again and the local communities have both ownership of the fishing industry and the capacity to feed and grow their populations. The focus of the research here remains the conservation of the natural habitat but there is so much more that they do, including health and education programmes.

The idea of conservation has defined a lot of this trip for me and I have thought a lot about how that concept may have evolved since its rise in prominence in scientific disciplines in the 1970s. It emerged clearly out of a range of disciplines and is intimately connected to the rise of wider environmentalism which defined that period.

Many of the techniques used to underage conservation research are quite primitive, involving experimentation with mimicking conditions in the wild so as to understand whether it is possible to use captive breeding or growing as as step towards a more natural repopulation.

In this sense, science and technology are servants to nature, their aim s imitation not displacement. Alternatively,  science is used to measure and monitor, with a view to establishing things like fishing quotas or simply an understanding of how populations are being affected by human behaviour.

The question I leave here with though has to do with that concept of conservation and how compatible it is with population growth and how much it may have changed over the last 40 years. This seems a nice starting point for a new line of inquiry for me which resonates with the aspirations biotechnologists have for nature. There seems something on obviously incompatible about the two approaches, but reaching this conclusion depends heavily on where one ends up with the definition and meanings of the word conservation.

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Fieldwork in Brazil

Fieldwork in Brazil

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This month, I am out in Brazil for a few things, one of which is to work with Professor Robert Young to track and document the Giant Anteater. I'm currently working on a film about this, but it's my first time out in the field with a colleague from Salford, figuring out what they do and getting an insight into their research. All of this is enriching my skills as a film maker, but also as a theorist interested in biotechnological and environmental change. I'm hoping part of what I learn at Salford will inform my theories on posthuman evolution, drawing particularly on an understanding of biological precedents for  species adaptation and change. It is one of the main reasons I took the role at Salford. I tell people that I spent the first decade of my career with humans and I want the next decade to be with non-humans. It's not quite as clear cut as this, but certainly a lot of what I have been arguing about posthumanism over the last ten years has led me much closer towards non-human species to understand how we might think about our own biological possibilities, but also the implications on disrupting. species categories through technology.

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