European Journal of Cultural and Political Sociology Submit your papers to this special issue on Big Data and the Environmental Humanities

Big Data and the Environmental Humanities

European Journal of Cultural and Political Sociology
Ecologically, we are confronted by forms of potential destruction that cannot immediately be seen – processes of species extinction, pollution, climate change, that Timothy Morton has called ‘hyperobjects’. This is not a new cultural dilemma. Morton suggests that the nineteenth century witnessed an increasingly fearful perception of its own hyperobjects – geological time, evolution, the conservation or dissolution of energy. This anxiety was sharpened by the very factors – intensive agriculture, mass industry, capital, the growth of cities – that Andreas Malm (Fossil Capital) argues underlie the current environmental crisis and the emergence of the ‘Anthropocene’, the apparent new epoch defined by humans’ permanent alteration of the Earth’s geological structure and atmosphere.
Hyperobjects such as mass extinction, climate or atmospheric change, and pollution, have been captured by statistics, graphs or tables or, where the data is particularly vast, by methods of computer-generated visualisation. Yet in what may be read as a sign of humanity’s mounting hysteria, such attempts to quantify environmental crisis have often amounted to a bombardment or saturation of data that adds to rather than allays extreme anxiety. Moreover, the very tools by which we measure (computers, processors, software packages) can often themselves be symptomatic of the crisis – whether in emphasising our reliance on capital and technology or in highlighting traits of attempted mastery or human control. Nevertheless, while political, ethical, and aesthetic conundrums inform how we manage and communicate complex environmental information, ‘information management [remains] central to millennial citizenship,’ as Heather Houser (2014) has argued.
This proposed issue will explore the myriad ways in which ‘big’ environmental data generated by scientific or social scientific research, and often mediated through information technology, might be visualised into palatable forms that display and communicate the unseen workings of hyperobjects. Taking a lead from Marx’s deployment of metaphor (fetishism or metabolism), particular (though not exclusive) attention will be paid to the role that affective forms – whether art, culture, or literature – can play in short-circuiting the inadequacies, inaccessibility or tediousness of rational explanation. Examples might range from the amalgamation of statistics, narrative and biography that characterises classic social science to online interactive visualisation, photography or the use of literature and literary devices (e.g. narrative or focalisation) in opening up a recognition of the environmental consequences of our actions or renewed possibilities for how we might live within nature.
In this context of exploring the possibilities and problems in how we manage, visualise and communicate complex environmental information, we invite full essays designed to address the ways in which particular kinds of texts clarify and concretise abstract information on issues ranging from climate change to species extinction. Articles should seek, in particular, to explore the practical implications of these modes: to what extentmight such texts help us identify environmental problems; what forms of intervention can these representations offer, encourage or restrict; how might information facilitate ‘ground level’ interventions in (say) citizen science or journalism? We ask, therefore that all papers address the question of how big data can be channelled – within the complex crosscurrents of culture, science and political power – to communicate urgent environmental imperatives in effective and potentially transformative ways.

 Themes may include, but are not limited to:

  • Case studies of forms and media that visualise otherwise inaccessible environmental information, such as artworks, graphics, photography, interactive/online simulations, maps and mapping;
  • The representation of environmental big data in visual media such as ‘ecocinema’ television, installation art, computer games;
  •  Literary genres and modes (e.g. narrative, poetics, focalisation, etc);
  •  ‘Scientific’ representational modes and strategies:
  •  Statistics, graphs, charts, tables, etc;
  •  Data visualisations
  •  Earth mapping
  •  Aesthetics, e.g. spectacle, focalisation, framing;
  • The communication of complex environmental information as political intervention, action or protest;
  • And interventions in localised action, citizen science, citizen journalism;
  • Representation and/or the communication of data in journalism, environmental activism, social science, and/or policy documents.

Instructions for Authors

Articles should be 6–7,000 words and conform to the journal’s style guide – see 'instructions for authors'. [Note: the journal is published in UK English and authors should use the relevant spelling convention (e.g. ‘organisation’ rather ‘organization’).

Please upload full articles to the journal’s online submission platform ScholarOne by the deadline, Friday 2nd March 2018.

Each article will be refereed and a decision on which articles will be published will be taken by August 2018. The special issue will be published no later than 2019.

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