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"Are dams set in stone?":
How things come to matter through media
*Tyler Quiring, Bridie McGreavy, Caroline Gottschalk Druschke,
Emma Lundberg, & Sara Randall* *- NCA: November 17, 2017* ??? Before I start, I’d like to recognize my four coauthors and also note that our research is supported by the National Science Foundation. --- class: fullback background-image: url(images/faultplane1.png) background-size: contain; ??? Today I will argue that news media . . . --- class: fullback background-image: url(images/faultplane2.png) ??? . . . populate a productive but fraught boundary between dams and decision making. I will also illustrate how the geocompositionist practices of **setting stones** and **tying knots** provide ways of working this discursive plane. --- class: fullback background-image: url(images/faultplane3.png) ??? At this interface, dams and . . . --- class: fullback background-image: url(images/faultplane4.png) ??? . . . collaborative decision making grind along tangled fault lines that make these mingled realms distinguishable. In one realm, we have dams, these seemingly stoic, stable structures set within rivers. For the most part, they do what they are built to—collapse rapidly-flowing water into bunched-up potential. Yet depending on who, where, and **when** you are, these structures may resemble . . . --- class: fullback background-image: url(images/hoover.jpg) ??? . . . a monument . . . --- class: fullback background-image: url(images/oroville.jpg) ??? . . . a menace . . . --- class: fullback background-image: url(images/moses.jpg) ??? . . . or a miracle akin to the rock that turned desert dust into refreshing water at Moses’ command. These diverse interpretations get **taken up** in quite another realm, where collaborative decision making churns. --- class: fullback background-image: url(images/knottingbooks.png) ??? This nebulous, ever-elusive mass of wriggling relations resembles what Robin Wall Kimmerer describes as *“braiding sweetgrass”* or what Tim Ingold might call *“knots in a tissue of knots.”* Such braids, such knots, never seem to stay still, never fully make sense, but always ravel potential into tightly-wrapped strands of possibility. And news media are some of the many hands doing the wrapping. --- class: middle, center #### *"tracing the temporal knot formed when distant history touches present story, since to narrate the past conjures possible futures"* ##### - Jeffrey Jerome Cohen: *Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman*, 78) ??? Said another way, putting hands to the work of stone-setting and knotting resembles what Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, in his ecology of stone, calls *“tracing the temporal knot formed when distant history touches present story, since to narrate the past conjures possible futures.”* And so today I will offer some new tracings by working through two media vignettes. These vignettes are drawn from a media discourse database and a set of stakeholder interviews my coauthors and I composed and continue to recompose through our work with diverse collaborators across a host of disciplines. I will explain this work in more detail a little later. In the meantime, I will continue to enlist stones, knots, and their companion terms as my metaphors of choice. They show that now, more than ever, we must stay with the trouble wrought by these opposed materialities. --- class: middle, center #### *"a common livable world must be composed bit by bit, or not at all"* ##### - Donna Haraway: *Stayting with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene*, 40) ??? This call echoes Donna Haraway’s recent refrain that *“a common livable world must be composed bit by bit, or not at all.”* To do so would reinvent the legacies of dams and media in the pursuit of what they may yet become, and would show that now is the time to undertake this work. --- class: fullback background-image: url(images/latimes.png) ??? The first vignette emerges from a 1994 newspaper article that inspired the title for our essay. This article is named *"Are [the] West’s dams set in stone?"* It focuses on the vision of Bruce Babbitt, President Clinton’s Secretary of the Interior, who allegedly wanted to demolish prominent dams on the West Coast. Posing Babbitt as a heroic figure, the article begins: *"Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has a dream. He wants to stand in the shadow of a massive dam and push a dynamite plunger . . . Like many past Interior secretaries, Babbitt wants to transform the Western United States . . . He wants to restore, if in small measure, the ecological balance that existed before Interior's Bureau of Reclamation began its nearly 100 years of dam-building."* Later, the article alludes to how entwined public sentiment and economic concerns might complicate Babbitt’s otherwise victorious work, explaining that *"the proposed destruction of the Glines Canyon and Elwha dams is sending waves of worry beyond the Olympic Peninsula . . . If [these] dams can be ripped down in the interests of a few salmon, critics ask, where would it stop? And how many jobs in industries long dependent on the dams would be sacrificed?"* This piece illustrates the complexities that writhe at the interface between stone-setting and knotting. Dams, built to be strong and robust, present an obstacle for Babbitt to surmount. In this sense, they are a foundation upon which he might layer new possibilities while remaking the West in his image. On the other hand, the sentiment of public decision-makers threatens to weave a web that may ensnare Babbitt between the wishes of fish advocates and people concerned about their jobs. In the midst of these tensions, the news article serves as a discursive space where these practices butt up against and test each other’s strength. --- class: middle, center #### *"each time the solidity of a string of words is tested, we are measuring the attachment of walls, neurons, sentiments, gestures, hearts, minds,
and wallets—that is, a heterogenous [sic] multitude of allies,
mercenaries, friends, and courtesans"* ##### - Bruno Latour: *The Pasteurization of France*, 183) ??? As Bruno Latour puts it, *“each time the solidity of a string of words is tested, we are measuring the attachment of walls, neurons, sentiments, gestures, hearts, minds, and wallets—that is, a heterogenous [sic] multitude of allies, mercenaries, friends, and courtesans.”* In other words, struggles over discursive knots are also struggles to re-set that which seems to be stable in the hope that shaking the world’s material discursive foundations will sediment a stronger future. --- background-image: url(images/black.jpg) ??? In this sense, the title of the article on Babbitt, *“are dams set in stone?”* expresses the urgency of determining how the knotted labor of decision making sets the possibilities for future action. In light of the various forms and modes of material discursivity that make up dams, our societies, and ourselves, this headline draws us further toward the question of how dams come to matter along with media. Or, put another way, how do dams and media enjoin each other in taking up and making other things, such as something resembling “public sentiment,” or processes of collective decision making, or—through these—the future of life on a continent scarred by generations of colonial thought and action? These questions bring us to the next vignette, which arose during a stakeholder interview with a self-described *“imported European”* who nonetheless was born on this continent and now works for a native tribe. We were sitting at an eatery a mere one-minute drive from a dam that was the result of extended negotiations between this tribe and the dam’s owner. The interviewee was reflecting on how one of the state’s most reputable newspapers had covered the removal of another nearby dam, traded for the one that still stands. He had just told me that he hadn’t been involved in the actual negotiations about these dams, but had started working for the tribe around the time that the removal happened. In his words: *"A couple of years ago [the newspaper] asked to talk to me and some other folks about the removal of the dam. So I meet them onsite where the dam used to be. And I sit there talking, we're chatting, they've got a photographer there, he's taking pictures. Anyway, in the weekend edition of [the paper] . . . was this enormous picture of me standing by the river with this driftwood all around, with this huge shit-eating grin on my face and then a quote like 'wow, this is amazing, it's so cool.' And it was, and being the arrogant prick that I am, I love to see my picture out there and think 'oh, isn't that awesome, look at me, look at how awesome I am,' it was almost sort of like I was embarrassed, it's like, 'it's not my project, I had nothing to do with it. I came in after the game.' But I was there as a representative for the tribe."* In this account, practices of stone-setting and knotting come into even closer proximity through news discourse. The interviewee was developing a sense by layering discursive stones, composing himself using his memories, the newspaper artifacts, and this interview as his building blocks. Further, as he explained during the remainder of our conversation, the complex history of native genocide at the hands of Europeans before him continues to leave its imprint, twisting and binding his feelings of heroism within a tangle of troubled relations. --- class: middle, center #### *"textual fossils are temporal knots, embedded within narrative,
ready to exert disruptive allure"* ##### - Jeffrey Jerome Cohen: *Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman*, 102) ??? In other words, this piece resembles what Cohen, again thinking through stone, calls *“textual fossils,”* which *“are temporal knots, embedded within narrative, ready to exert disruptive allure.”* In this vignette, media not only offer an opportunity to access the past, but provide a specific vision of it. And the interviewee struggles with this. He expresses a sense of embarrassment at his vanity that the newspaper took advantage of as, once again, a white man became the image of progress for an entire people that are already marginalized, under-represented, and now rendered invisible even in victory. Or at least that’s how it looks, from **here**. And that’s the thing: even though media layers can seem so stratified, so **set**, they require subjective entanglements of history, values, and ethics to make sense. And this entanglement goes differently depending on who you are. In many ways, stories like the ones in these vignettes have “disruptively allured” me and my collaborators and compelled us to explore how media matter for decision making about dams. Our work is an expression of multiple layered and intersecting collaborations that together compose a broader project called **the Future of Dams**. --- class: fullback background-image: url(images/fodgroup.jpg) ??? This project involves not only me and my four coauthors, but also dozens of others across a range of disciplines including engineering, hydrology, landscape architecture, graphic design, ecology, and economics. Expanding further outward, our project is a testament to the additional complexities that arise in the pursuit of sustainability solutions through interdisciplinary and stakeholder-engaged research. Motivated by our benefactors at the National Science Foundation, we have challenged ourselves to grapple with the nuts and bolts of decision making about dams and then rework them to provide “tools” that could potentially be used to envision how these decisions are put together and put to work. As part of this effort, we’ve been exploring how news media connect with, inform, and shape decision making about dams. This work is born of the tensely frictive mess of collaboration **and** is interested in its results. So the work **itself** resembles both stone-setting and knotting at various times, as we seek to construct using each other’s knowledge but also transform that knowledge and its attendant practices in the process. As we do this work, we realize the value of thinking about interaction, world-building, and collaboration. The worlds we are building and glimpsing through our collaborations are exciting ones, we think, but also ones we need to take care with. --- class: middle, center #### *"[My vision of caring] speaks of care as a manifold range of *doings* needed to create, hold together, and sustain life and continue its diverseness"* ##### - María Puig de la Bellacasa: *Matters of Care:
Speculative Ethics in More than Human Worlds*, 70) ??? María Puig de la Bellacasa attends to such **matters of care** in her book of the same name, as she *“speaks of care as a manifold range of **doings** needed to create, hold together, and sustain life and continue its diverseness.”* This diverseness calls to mind the differences of style that have come to “silo” academic researchers, and the manifold doings that comprise integrative activities like sustainability science. Our team works across 3 states, tiers of hierarchies that don’t simply disappear when we wish they would, and a multitude of disciplines with rich ontic and cultural diversity. In the process, we recognize that the layered stone-setting of media discourse analysis itself gradually builds a gathering place as we compose and re-work our database. Furthermore, it is within gathering places like this that we can locate the *“knots in a tissue of knots”* that comprise our organization. Others have located similar knots. Critical discourse analyst Norman Fairclough pays close attention to the role of dialogue in linking discourses across disciplines, and he is careful to distinguish between interdisciplinary research that incorporates multiple perspectives into a project and transdisciplinary research that transforms those disciplines through these incorporations. --- class: middle, center #### *"[a transdisciplinary perspective means] using categories and concepts from other theories in one's own process of theoretical development and elaboration"* ##### - Norman Fairclough: "Critical Discourse Analysis in Transdisciplinary Research," 60) ??? For Fairclough, transdisciplinary dialogue means *“using categories and concepts from other theories in one's own process of theoretical development and elaboration.”* On our team we have sought to go a step further and ask what it would mean **and afford** to link ourselves even more deeply by sharing workloads, institutional review board processes, and even precious research data throughout our consortium. As a result, team members have worked our media discourse **database** in a dizzying number of ways . . . --- class: fullback background-image: url(images/linebyline.png) ??? . . . from line-by-line readings for content like which dams, rivers, and stakeholders are mentioned . . . --- class: fullback background-image: url(images/frames.png) ??? . . . to exploratory thematic tracings of topics and frames . . . --- class: fullback background-image: url(images/codebook.png) ??? . . . to folding these tracings into a collaborative codebook that will support qualitative thematic interview analysis . . . --- class: fullback background-image: url(images/dcacoding.png) ??? . . . to content coding for a-priori economic categories of decision criteria and alternatives . . . --- class: fullback background-image: url(images/heatmap.png) ??? . . . to more automated coding in Python for making geospatial heat maps of dam coverage . . . --- class: fullback background-image: url(images/excelwords.png) ??? . . . to statistical summaries of word frequencies that tell us the terms in our database that resonate most with dams are . . . --- class: fullback background-image: url(images/excelsalmon.png) ??? . . . salmon . . . --- class: fullback background-image: url(images/excelrivers.png) ??? . . . rivers . . . --- class: fullback background-image: url(images/excelkennebec.png) ??? . . . and Kennebec (a river in Maine that was the site of the prominent Edwards dam removal in the 1990’s). --- background-image: url(images/black.jpg) ??? Each time we re-work these materials and then re-present them to each other, we find we understand ourselves a bit differently. For example, our team takes a “working group” approach to organization where we combine and recombine around specific projects as needed. One working group is dedicated to our media discourse analysis, and after one of these meetings I was interviewing a collaborator as part of an ongoing ethnography of our team. In response to a question about how the collaborative integration was going, he said: *"I realized after the [media discourse analysis] meeting the other day that I was throwing around the word ‘value’ and I’m pretty sure that means something different to me than it does to some other disciplines. Maybe I should have made that more explicit but it didn’t even occur to me at the time."* --- class: middle, center #### *"thinking-through-knotting"* ##### - Tim Ingold: *The Life of Lines*, 18, 27) ??? And so as our team uses media discourse analysis as a set of stones and a gathering point to understand ourselves and how to work together, we turn our attention to relations in a way that resembles what Ingold calls *“thinking-through-knotting.”* --- class: middle, center #### *"a relational way of thinking [or] 'thinking-with' creates new patterns out of previous multiplicities, intervening by adding layers of meaning rather than merely deconstructing or conforming to ready-made categories"* ##### - María Puig de la Bellacasa: *Matters of Care:
Speculative Ethics in More than Human Worlds*, 72) ??? As de la Bellacasa again notes, *“a relational way of thinking [or] ‘thinking with,’ creates new patterns out of previous multiplicities, intervening by adding layers of meaning rather than merely deconstructing or conforming to ready-made categories.”* In our case, these multiplicities are that of both media texts and contexts, people and perspectives, corpora and codes, and materials and meanings. --- class: middle, center #### *“let them speak! The nonhuman animal, the rock, the river, the beach, the wind, and soil: let them be heard, be represented and representable in the
governance of the earth. They have language too. They are agents too.
We need a parliament of things”* ##### - Elizabeth Povinelli: *Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism*, ch. 3) ??? Caring for these multiplicities means responding to Elizabeth Povinelli’s **Latourian** appeal to *“let them speak! The nonhuman animal, the rock, the river, the beach, the wind, and soil: let them be heard, be represented and representable in the governance of the earth. They have language too. They are agents too. We need a parliament of things.”* And adding media to this list of agents, recognizing its seat in the parliament, further expands the genres of being. --- background-image: url(images/black.jpg) ??? The vignettes shared earlier and the materials they cluster provide an image of the tensions at play in the creation, interpretation, and mobilization of news discourse. Babbitt’s story alluded to some of these tensions, for example, calling to mind the classic paradox that comes from expecting transformative public participation to unfold within neoliberal models of progress. Additionally, Babbitt’s portrayal as a savior figure evokes the issues of power at the heart of collaboration, including navigating disparities of race, class, academic rank, and gender. While we have by no means solved these issues on our team, the example of our interviewee in the second vignette provides useful equipment for thinking through them. We would do well to learn from his willingness to grapple with the power at play in how dam decisions become representated, and also his willingness to locate himself in these folds . . . **Both** of the vignettes reveal how journalism, far from a direct representation of the world, instead **composes** the world and its myriad relationships. --- class: middle, center #### *"journalism is typically a discursive re-construction of reality"* ##### - Anabela Carvalho: "Media(ted) Discourse and Society:
Rethinking the Framework of Critical Discourse Analysis," 164) ??? It does this through a tangle of inventive modes that Anabela Carvalho describes as *“a discursive re-construction of reality.”* And so we think that the news artifacts we have assembled to address the role of media discourse certainly provide unique opportunities for saying **something** about the current state of relations at play in river restoration. But **more** than that, they also compel us to take the precarious next steps of directly informing and **trans**forming these decisions. --- class: middle, center #### *"actual players, articulating with varied allies of all ontological sorts (molecules, colleagues, and much more), must compose and sustain
what is and will be. Alignment in tentacular worlding must be a seriously tangled affair!"* ##### - Donna Haraway: *Stayting with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene*, 42) ??? As Haraway explains, *"actual players . . . must compose and sustain what is and will be. Alignment in tentacular worlding must be a seriously tangled affair!"* So looking forward, our seriously tangled project on the Future of Dams and the media discourse analysis that informs it is showing us that the future will almost certainly be a strange one realized only in messy interaction among parties that do not often agree but must still work together. As I have shown, this work requires processes that resemble stone-setting as well as knotting, and the interplay between the two affords us a productive frontier of possibility. --- class: middle, center #### *"although stone is fully capable of its proverbial indifference,
within lithic intimacy confederations also unfold
that sustain ontologically mixed assemblages"* ##### - Jeffrey Jerome Cohen: *Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman*, 159) ??? As Cohen notes, *“although stone is fully capable of its proverbial indifference, within lithic intimacy confederations also unfold that sustain ontologically mixed assemblages.”* **In other words, collaboration means setting our stones in ways that support the knitting of knots into nets**. Our own collaborative team is beginning to do this work, and in the process is coming to realize that while dams are not "set in stone" so to speak, they **are** set in discourses that at once seem immutable and fragile, monolithic and multiple, and that attending to these matters **matters** for the urgent work of sustainability science that itself seeks to set dams anew. --- class: middle, center # Thank you. ??? Thank you!