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FRIPRO-Fri prosjektstøtte

Lifetimes: A Natural History Of the Present

Alternative title: Livstider: en naturhistorie for samtiden

Awarded: NOK 9.1 mill.

In discussions about climate change humans emerge as a "geological force" that inflicts permanent damage on the planet. Due to these changes, scientists argue, the Earth has entered a new epoch of its history: the "Anthropocene". It replaces the "Holocene", which began about 11 700 years ago, and which in its turn succeeded the "Pleistocene", taking us 2,58 million years back. These time frames differ radically from the ones we usually think of when we talk about "history". What does it mean when the "past" encompasses several million years? Or similarly, if "future" includes negotiations for next year's budget as well as long-term consequences of achieving the two-degree climate target, or not? What kind of "present" do we occupy then? The project "Lifetimes: A Natural History of the Present" responds to these and similar questions, emerging from experiences of nature intervening in history. The COVID-19-pandemic is only the most recent and most dramatic example. These radical changes demand a new understanding of time and history reaching across the human and the natural sciences. To achieve this, we have introduced the term "lifetimes, which describes times inherent in different forms of life, from the life of microbes to the life of the planet, and everything in-between. Using this concept as a lens, we turn to history and analyze events, situations and processes, in which different times are woven together and emerge in human behavior and social practices. The project has one part that deals with the history of knowledge, more specifically with 17th- and 18th-century natural history, as well as with post-war climate research, and another part that deals more with the history of technology and engineering, in the case of infrastructure development and resource extraction in both colonies and metropoles. Additionally, we perform more present-oriented investigations of times in computer games, cultural heritage, and museum work. The first year of the project was spent at CAS, hosting the subproject In Sync, co-directed b PI Helge Jordheim and PM Espen Ytreberg. A group og 8 people was located there all or most of the time, including both leading international senior researchers and more junior researcher and PhDs from UiO. Disse cooperation led to several individual and collective publications, among them and article written by the project leaders about how language and media are used to synchronize different lifetimes into social and political temporal regimes. When the pandemic hit, the project moved online. 15-17 March 2021 we organized an international conference with more than 400 participants in cooperation with Edinburgh University, Sidney University, Wellcome Institute, London. The conference was entitled «Material Life of Time», was entirely digital, and unfolded across multiple platforms allowing for both presentations, discussions, socializing, and even a comprehensive cultural program, including both concerts and exhibitions. Afterwards, we did a participant survey that gave very encouraging results. Since then we have published two articles, in which we share and discuss our experiences.The conference addressed how time is not a universal or an abstract phenomenon, but is embodied in things, technologies, practices, and behaviors, and thus take on multiple, often paradoxical and controversial forms. As a measure to counter social isolation and distancing caused by the pandemic, LIFETIMES has worked intensively with strengthening the collective parts of the project. One important result was our first collective article, signed by The LIFETIMES Research Collective, published with the prestigious journal History & Theory. The article addresses fossils and processes of fossilization as ways of thinking about the future in a period when humanity is leaving irreversible traces on the planet. Results from all projects are assembled in the volume Lifetimes, accepted for publication in the well-known and innovative publisher Punctum Press, London, and will appear by the end of 2024. The book is collectively written monograph, in which the theory of lifetimes is tested on different kinds of material, from 18th-century history of knowledge via Arabic scientific journals, geology on Greenland and ethnography on Bjørnøya, to traffic jams and industrial whaling. The most important result of the project is three eminent dissertation, on climate times in video games (Laura op de Beke), the emergence of climate research (Emil Flatø), and colonization and infrastructure in Surinam (Leonorr Borgesius). Two of them, Flat and op de Beke, have already been offered prestigious academic jobs in Copenhagen/New York and Utrecht. A third thing worth mentioning is that the project has produced two popular monographs, Espen Ytreberg’ Utryddelsen and Helge Jordheim’s Berlin, which both have received many and great reviews in the media and have sold well. A rare thing in today' research environment.

Aller størst betydning og nytteverdi har prosjektet i kraft av den kompetanse den har bygd i alle deltagere. Både stipendiater, juniorforskere og seniorforskere har fått erfaring med å tenke nytt og innovativ om tidsforståelser og tidsbegreper, på en måte som krysser grensene mellom kunnskapsfelt og disipliner. I arbeidet med å skape tverrfaglig nyvinning og innovasjon er dette av stor verdi. Dette viser seg allerede i de mange prosjektene som har blitt avfødt av Lifetimes-prosjektet: ERC-prosjektet Co-Futures (PI: Chattopadhyay), NFR-prosjektet Lifetimes of Epidemics (PI: Wigen), MSCA-prosjektet Messianic Conceptions of Politics and Authoritarianism in Turkey 1850-2015 (PI: Topal), UiO: Demokrati-prosjektet Stakes of Democracy (PI: Asdal/Jordheim), HF-prosjektet Oslo Centre for Environmental Humanities (PI: Jordheim) – for bare å nevne noen. Lifetimes har etablert UiO som et viktig sted i internasjonal tverrfaglig forskning på tid og historie. Under pandemien fungerte Lifetimes-prosjektet som en viktig form for kunnskapsberedskap, både i den norske og den internasjonale offentligheten, blant annet i kraft av bloggen «Times of Covid-19», som hadde deltagelse fra hele verden. Prosjektet har også gjort viktige erfaringer med å organisere heldigitale konferanser med stor overføringsverdi, formidlet i to artikler. Til siste skal det også nevnes at prosjektet også har skapt mer utstrakte virkninger i norsk offentlighet gjennom å formidlerresultater i populære sakprosabøker, som bidrar til at norsk offentlig tenker annerledes om tid, natur og historie.

How can a history of the Anthropocene be written, if not as a history of entanglements? The Lifetimes project sets out to discover these entanglements. To be able to write histories which can help us understand the present, and make choices about the future, we need to "collapse the age-old humanist distinction between natural history and human history", to use a recent phrase by the historian Dipesh Chakrabarty. The Lifetimes project heeds this challenge by replacing the distinction by the continuitiy of scales. Humans as political actors and humans as geological agents exist within different scales of time as well as different scales of life. But in the everyday these scales become entangled and give rise to singular temporal arrangements, or regimes, which govern decisions and actions. In the project these temporal arrangements are identified and described according to their emergence, transformations and effects in the fields of health and medicine (WP2), engineering and resource management (WP3), and politics and government (WP4). Furthermore, we investigate the history of organizing and classifying scales of time and scales of life, turning them into representations and narratives, in the genres and discourses of natural history (WP1), heritage (WP5), and future histories (WP6), in which temporal arrangements are represented as belonging to the present, the past, and the future, respectively. Finally, we look at the new concepts of time and time scales in the field indicated by the short-hand ?the quantum? (WP7). To write the natural history of the present means to engage with all these different scales and explore how they become entangled with each other as well as with political and historical events and experiences to form temporal arrangements and regimes which affect the lives of the people who live and act within them. This is what the Lifetimes research group sets out to do.

Publications from Cristin

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FRIPRO-Fri prosjektstøtte

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