, Bookshelf

The Terraforming 2021 Reading List

Strelka Institute’s The Terraforming postgraduate design research program is accepting applications for the 2021 cycle. The team behind the program has prepared a recommended literature list that touches upon the themes that will be covered in the second year of The Terraforming and includes works by many of the program’s faculty members.

Learn more about the program and apply by November 10, 2020.

Duke University Press, 2020

By Nandita Sharma

In Home Rule, Nandita Sharma traces the historical formation and political separation of Natives and Migrants from the nineteenth century to the present to theorize the portrayal of Migrants as “colonial invaders.” The hardening of nationalism(s) and intensification of immigration controls exemplify the postcolonial politics of national sovereignty, a politics that Sharma sees as containing our dreams of decolonization. Home Rule rejects nationalisms and calls for the dissolution of the ruling categories of Native and Migrant so we can build a common, worldly place where our fundamental liberty to stay and move is realized.

Orbit, 2020

By Kim Stanley Robinson

Established in 2025, the purpose of the new organization was simple: To advocate for the world’s future generations and to protect all living creatures, present and future. It soon became known as The Ministry for the Future, and this is its story.

The Ministry for the Future uses fictional eyewitness accounts to tell the story of how climate change will affect us all. Its setting is not a desolate, postapocalyptic world, but a future that is almost upon us—and in which we might just overcome the extraordinary challenges we face.

MIT Press, 2020

By Thomas Moynihan

Thomas Moynihan revisits the pioneers who first contemplated the possibility of human extinction and stages the historical drama of this momentous discovery. He shows how, far from being a secular reprise of religious prophecies of apocalypse, existential risk is a thoroughly modern idea, made possible by the burgeoning sciences and philosophical tumult of the Enlightenment era. In recollecting how we first came to care for our extinction, Moynihan reveals how today’s attempts to measure and mitigate existential threats are the continuation of a project initiated over two centuries ago, which concerns the very vocation of the human as a rational, responsible, and future-oriented being.

MIT Press, 2011

By Nicholas de Monchaux

In Spacesuit, Nicholas de Monchaux tells the story of the twenty-one-layer Apollo spacesuit in twenty-one chapters which address twenty-one topics relevant to the suit, the body, and the technology of the twentieth century. The spacesuit, de Monchaux argues, offers an object lesson. It tells us about redundancy and interdependence and about the distinctions between natural and man-made complexity; it teaches us to know the virtues of adaptation and to see the future as a set of possibilities rather than a scripted scenario.

Princeton University Press, 2019

By Anya Bernstein

As long as we have known death, we have dreamed of life without end. In The Future of Immortality, Anya Bernstein explores the contemporary Russian communities of visionaries and utopians who are pressing at the very limits of the human.

Could immortality be the foundation of a truly liberated utopian society extending beyond the confines of the earth—something that Russians, historically, have pondered more than most? If life without end requires radical genetic modification or separating consciousness from our biological selves, how does that affect what it means to be human? The Future of Immortality is a fascinating account of techno-scientific and religious futurism—and the ways in which it hopes to transform our very being.

Tor Books, 2019

By Chen Qiufan

Award-winning author Chen Qiufan’s sci-fi novel Waste Tide is a thought-provoking future vision of how climate change affects the world.

It is set in the near future on the imaginary Silicon Isle, located off China’s southeastern coast, where electronics—from cell phones and laptops to bots and bionic limbs―are sent to be recycled.

Various forces collide in the struggle for control: migrant workers, ruthless local gangs, ecoterrorists, and American investors. A war erupts—between the rich and the poor; between tradition and modern ambition; between humanity’s past and its future.

MIT Press, 2018

By Reza Negarestani

This remarkable fusion of continental philosophy—in the form of a renewal of the speculative ambitions of German Idealism and analytic philosophy, in the form of extended thought experiments and a philosophy of artificial languages—opens up new perspectives on the meaning of human intelligence and explores the real potential of posthuman intelligence and what it means for us to live in its prehistory.

University of Minnesota Press, 2015

By Jussi Parikka

Smartphones, laptops, tablets, and e-readers all at one time held the promise of a more environmentally healthy world not dependent on paper and deforestation. The result of our ubiquitous digital lives is, as we see in The Anthrobscene, actually quite the opposite: not ecological health but an environmental wasteland, where media never die. Jussi Parikka critiques corporate and human desires as a geophysical force, analyzing the material side of the earth as essential for the existence of media and introducing the notion of an alternative deep time in which media live on in the layer of toxic waste we will leave behind as our geological legacy.

MIT Press, 2020

By Hashim Sarkis, Roi Salgueiro Barrio, and Gabriel Kozlowski

Interestingly, architects began to address the world as a project long before the advent of contemporary globalism and its assorted anxieties. Spanish urban theorist and entrepreneur Arturo Soria y Mata, for example, in 1882 envisioned a system that would connect the entire planet in a linear urban network. In 1927, Buckminster Fuller’s “World Town Plan—4D Tower” proposed to solve global housing problems with mobile structures delivered and installed by a Zeppelin. And Joyce Hsiang and Bimal Mendis visualized the conditions of a worldwide “City of Seven Billion” in a 2015–2019 project. Rather than indulging the cliché of the megalomaniac architect, this volume presents a discipline reflecting on its own responsibilities.

Cambridge University Press, 1990

By Joseph Tainter

Political disintegration is a persistent feature of world history. The Collapse of Complex Societies, though written by an archaeologist, will therefore strike a chord throughout the social sciences. Any explanation of societal collapse carries lessons not just for the study of ancient societies, but for the members of all such societies in both the present and future. Dr. Tainter describes nearly two dozen cases of collapse and reviews more than 2,000 years of explanations. He then develops a new and far-reaching theory that accounts for collapse among diverse kinds of societies, evaluating his model and clarifying the processes of disintegration by detailed studies of the Roman, Mayan, and Chacoan collapses.

Lars Mueller Publishers, 2019

By Beatriz Colomina & Mark Wigley

Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley offer a multi-layered exploration of the intimate relationship between human and design and rethink the philosophy of design in a multi-dimensional exploration, from the very first tools and ornaments to the constant buzz of social media.

Their field notes offer an archaeology of the way design has gone viral and is now bigger than the world. Design is what makes the human. It becomes the way humans ask questions and thereby continuously redesign themselves.

University of Chicago Press, 2007

By Jessica Riskin

Genesis Redux examines moments from the centuries-long experimental tradition of trying to reproduce life: efforts to simulate life in machinery, to synthesize life out of material parts, and to understand living beings by comparison with inanimate mechanisms.

Jessica Riskin collects seventeen essays from distinguished scholars in several fields. These studies offer an unexpected and far-reaching result: attempts to create artificial life have rarely been driven by an impulse to reduce life and mind to machinery. On the contrary, designers of synthetic creatures have generally assumed a role for something nonmechanical. The history of artificial life is thus also a history of theories of soul and intellect.

University of Minnesota Press, 2018

By Valerie Olson

In the first in-depth ethnography of US human spaceflight, Valerie Olson reveals how outer space contributes to defining what counts as the scope and scale of today’s natural and social environments.

At a time when the boundaries of global ecologies and economies extend far below and above Earth’s surface, Olson’s new analytic frameworks help us understand how varieties of outlying spaces are known, made, and organized as kinds of environments—whether terrestrial or beyond.

NYU Press, 2020

By Zakiyyah Iman Jackson

Zakiyyah Iman Jackson argues that African diasporic cultural production alters the meaning of being human and engages in imaginative practices of world-building against a history of the bestialization and thingification of blackness—the process of imagining the black person as an empty vessel, a non-being, an ontological zero—and the violent imposition of colonial myths of racial hierarchy. She creatively responds to the animalization of blackness by generating alternative frameworks of thought and relationality that not only disrupt the racialization of the human/animal distinction found in Western science and philosophy but also challenge the epistemic and material terms under which the specter of animal life acquires its authority. What emerges is a radically unruly sense of a being, knowing, feeling existence: one that necessarily ruptures the foundations of “the human.”

Harvard University Press, 2015

By Vanessa Ogle

As new networks of railways, steamships, and telegraph communications brought distant places into unprecedented proximity, previously minor discrepancies in local time-telling became a global problem. Vanessa Ogle’s chronicle of the struggle to standardize clock times and calendars from 1870 to 1950 highlights the many hurdles that proponents of uniformity faced in establishing international standards.

The Global Transformation of Time reveals how globalization was less a relentlessly homogenizing force than a slow and uneven process of adoption and adaptation that often accentuated national differences.

Cambridge University Press, 2018

By Bentley B. Allan

Scientific Cosmology and International Orders shows how scientific ideas have influenced international relations since 1550. Allan argues that cosmological concepts arising from the sciences enabled a shift from the sixteenth century order premised upon divine providence, to the present order centered on economic growth. The book demonstrates the rise of scientific ideas across three cases: natural philosophy in balance of power politics, 1550–1815; geology and Darwinism in British colonial policy and international colonial orders, 1860–1950; and cybernetic-systems thinking and economics in the World Bank and American liberal order, 1945–2015. Together, these cases trace the emergence of economic growth as a central end of states from its origins in colonial doctrines of development and balance of power thinking about improvement.

AI: More than Human, Barbican Centre, 16 May – 26 August 2019. Future You, © Universal Everything. Photo: Tristan Fewings

The online project AI: More than Human by Google Arts & Culture and the Barbican invites you to explore our relationship with artificial intelligence. Curated by Suzanne Livingston and Maholo Uchida, the exhibition took place in 2019 and explored creative and scientific developments in AI, demonstrating its potential to revolutionize our lives. The show brought together cutting-edge research projects by DeepMind, MIT, and Neri Oxman, as well as exhibits and installations from artists including Mario Klingemann, Massive Attack, Es Devlin, and teamLab.

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