Research Project 2015–2019

The twentieth-century celebrated technology as a way to achieve planetary unity and control. Yet today technics, nature, and human activity seem to combine in increasingly disorienting, uncontrolled compositions in which once-reliable distinctions lose their stability. What governs this constitution (or collision) of forces? And what are the contingent, strategic, or historical events and networks that form durable apparatuses among them? The Technosphere (2015-19) research project investigated origins and future itineraries of this technical world within a larger series of international events, performances, seminars, and conferences taking place at HKW.

Scientists and thinkers introduced the term technosphere to describe the mobilization and hybridization of energy, material, and environments into a planetary system on par with other spheres such as the atmosphere or biosphere. The term emphasizes the leading role of the technological within this global system. At the same time, this term encompasses the enclosure of human populations, forests, cities, seas, and other traditionally non-technical entities within systems of technical management and productivity. But where is that ominous technosphere to be found? How does it impact the everyday concerns and experiences of humans, animals, a state, or an ecosphere?

The coining of the term technosphere announces a conceptual innovation as well as a political challenge. As a conceptual innovation, the notion of the technosphere invites us to recognize and confront the reality of technical systems whose unintended consequences and internal dynamics have accumulated into a quasi-autonomous global force in the world today. Moreover, the very naming of these forces constitutes the posing of new political and social challenges that, though already widely felt, remain largely misunderstood. Their description and study will entail inquiries into physical and political science, but also topics as diverse as aesthetics, international law, financial markets, migration, material flows, and colonialism.

From 2015 to 2019 the Technosphere project hosted public events and seminars that explored the potential of this concept to coordinate conversations among scientists, artists, and the general public. It investigated the events, structures, and mechanisms by which the twentieth-century dreams of global unity and human hegemony morphed into disorienting compositions of technics and nature, of human and non-human actors. These investigative and experimental exchanges asked how the technosphere operates today and endeavored to imagine alternative futures. The result was a tentative vision of communities and understanding equal to the challenges of our world today.

Four stages of the project brought together actors from the arts, sciences and society to discuss how we ended up in this world of technological vertigo, this Mobius strip of world and planetary technics, wherein cause and effect, local and global factors, human and non-human agency, perpetually confuse and confound one another’s borders. The The Technosphere, Now investigated how planetary-scale apparatuses operate and affect common, daily practices. Afterwards, Technosphere×Knowledge – a public event which was part of the Anthropocene Campus: The Technosphere Issue - focused on the technicity and logics of current modes of knowledge production. The third stage of the project, 1948 Unbound, identified the mid-twentieth century as a decisive moment when rapid changes in technology, economics, industry, and policy interwove, inaugurating a new set of apparatuses for controlling and defining the technosphere. The fourth and final stage of the research project, Life Forms, looked at the technosphere as the horizon against which new forms of life emerge and are organized.

To conclude the project, an edited volume of the HKW publication series 100 Years of Now Library compiles essays and explorations of the Technosphere from fields such as sociology, philosophy, literature, and humangeography.