Sustainable Urban Freight Systems (Among Other Things) in Colombia

Yesterday I touched down in Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, home of Praba Pilar, the performance artist and para-ethnographer I recently posted about.

I’m here to participate in a two week Pan-American Advanced Studies Institute on Sustainable Urban Freight Systems (PASI-SUFS) split between Bogotá and Cartagena. Big thanks to José Holguín-Veras and the rest of the folks at the Center for Infrastructure, Transportation and the Environment (CITE) and the Volvo Research and Educational Foundations’ Center of Excellence for Sustainable Urban Freight Systems (VREF CoE-SUFS – is it me or are the acronym’s growing bold, proliferating and getting longer?) for bringing me out here and catalyzing my first experiences in South America.

I’m currently writing up a presentation that will bring social science perspectives to the table. Something like this:

I will describe the basics of ethnographic research and share work to advance understanding of the structural positioning and perspectives of variously positioned stakeholders in environmental sustainability, using social science methods to strengthen our characterization of the social dimension of sustainability problems and solutions. I’ll describe how relevant stakeholders can be identified, characterized and interviewed to learn how they understand and work to address sustainability problems and needs for environmental governance. The presentation will include an interactive discussion to map relevant stakeholders in freight sustainability in different urban contexts, broadening our conceptualization and world views concerning the impacts of urban freight activity.

In the stakeholder analysis techniques presented here, special attention will be paid to vulnerable populations, groups and individuals that may sometimes be left out of the picture, or do not typically have a powerful voice in decisions that affect them. Any stakeholder analysis, like any map or story, will always leave some elements out of the frame, and this presentation will discuss some implications for these absences and explore issues of environmental justice and equity – such as uneven prevalence of pollution and environmental health problems like asthma and cancer – in the arena of urban freight transportation.

Feedback welcome.

my inspiring writing desk thanks to karolina, my couchsurfing host and urban grower extraordinaire

So many elements in my own frame right now. More soon on the other jostling things I find myself among and deeply affected by in this lively country.

Oh, and speaking of things (but when are we not?), check out Joe Dumit’s excellent “Writing the Implosion: Teaching the World One Thing at a Time,” available totalmente grátis from our friends at Cultural Anthropology, because that’s how they roll.

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The Multispecies Salon is (A)live!

Just a quick note to announce the launch of the Multispecies Salon website, a companion to the book out with Duke University Press on October 17th. I just added a brief page on my contributions to this experiment in multispecies ethnography. Thanks especially to Eben Kirksey and Jane Kang for all they contributed to the Salon site!

Check out the para-ethnographic tactics of Praba Pilar, a Colombian performance artist, in a short video I had the pleasure of putting together:


Praba Pilar, who masquerades as the Reverend of Nano Info Bio Cogno, has long been critical of emerging technologies that are entrenching divides marked by geography, race, and class. She insists that we think critically about how technologies are always entangled with systems of resource extraction, industrial production, and labor. But before she began dressing up in a silver jumpsuit, she found that few people in the United States were willing to take her seriously—few were willing to listen to her critiques of biotechnology and inequality. Adopting the persona of an outlandish biotech booster, Pilar began masquerading as a white person under a thick layer of silver makeup. Fervently celebrating the vacuous promises of new technologies in this disguise, she reached new audiences by staging uneasy, thought-provoking interventions.

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Research Data Alliance Summer 2014 Research Fellows Program

I just returned from a week in Bloomington, Indiana, where we kicked off the Research Data Alliance’s (RDA) 2014 Scholars Program. I’ll be working with the Interest Group in Digital Practices in History and Ethnography, conducting ethnographic research and mapping a wide variety of digital humanities projects. It’s a great opportunity to extend my research on digital media practices of environmental scientists, contribute to ongoing projects like the Asthma Files and build connections to the broader RDA community. This summer job will culminate in a presentation in Amsterdam in September. Very much looking forward to seeing what the rest of the cohort cooks up, and my first trip to Europe in almost a decade!

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EPA’s MyEnvironment

I’m calling the projects examined in my dissertation “environmental media systems” to draw attention to how they each mediate environmental information differently and shape and are shaped by larger systems, contexts and forms of collectivity.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s MyEnvironment site is a project designed to provide a wide range of environmental information based on the user’s location.  The site draws on the legacy of, which was billed as “the pollution information site” and was launched by Environmental Defense in 1998. Simply by entering your zip code (or address, city, county, waterbody, park name, etc.), MyEnvironment provides an “in-depth pollution report for your county, covering air, water, chemicals and more.”

I’d love it if readers of this blog would play around with MyEnvironment a bit and get in touch about the experience. What important kinds of information do you think they’ve left out? Is the interface fairly intuitive and usable? What imaginaries of science communication are exemplified by this project? What other questions do you think are important to bring to projects like these?

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Summer 2011!

It’s been a busy summer so far.

We’re pushing full steam ahead with the Asthma Files and will go fully public this Fall. We’ve received some beautiful mock-ups for the interface and graphic design from our collaborators at TLC2 in Houston and are ironing out the back-end structure to take full advantage of the Plone content management system with its object-oriented database.

Nick Shapiro and I are gearing up for our fellowship in Digital Humanities at USC in Los Angeles where we’ll build a multi-layered interactive map tracking environmental health issues in the FEMA trailers that were originally used post-Katrina and are now scattered all across the U.S.

More on all this soon!


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