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Authors
  • Lawrence Abu Hamdan
  • Babak Afrassiabi
    • Babak Afrassiabi is an artist who works both in Iran and the Netherlands. Since 2004, he has collaborated with Nasrin Tabatabai on various joint projects and the publication of the bilingual magazine Pages (Farsi and English). Their work seeks to articulate the undecidable space between art and its historical conditions, including the recurring question of the place of the archive in defining the juncture between politics, history, and the practice of art. The artists’ work has been presented internationally in various solo and group exhibitions and they have been tutors at the Jan Van Eyck Academie, Maastricht (2008–13), and Erg, école supérieure des arts, Brussels (2015–).
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      published contributions
  • Malin Ah-King
  • Memo Akten
    • . He is currently a PhD candidate at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he is researching artificial intelligence, machine learning, and expressive human-ma
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      published contributions
  • Jamie Allen
  • S. Ayesha Hameed
    • Dr. S. Ayesha Hameed is a Lecturer in Visual Cultures and the Joint Programme Leader in Fine Art and History of Art Research Fellow in Forensic Architecture at Goldsmiths, London. She received her PhD in Social and Political Thought at York University, Canada in 2008
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      published contributions
  • Sammy Baloji
  • Subhankar Banerjee
  • On Barak
    • On Barak is a social and cultural historian of science and technology in non-Western settings. He has been a senior lecturer in the Department of Middle Eastern and African History at Tel Aviv University since 2012. Prior to this, he was a member of the Princeton Society of Fellows. In 2009, Barak received a joint PhD in History and Middle Eastern Studies from New York University. His most recent book is On Time: Technology and Temporality in Modern Egypt (University of California Press, 2013), and his current publication project, Coalonialism: Energy and Empire before the Age of Oil, is funded by a European Union Marie Curie Award and an Israel Science Foundation Grant.
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      published contributions
  • Anil Bawa-Cavia
    • Anil Bawa-Cavia is a computer scientist with a background in machine learning. He runs STDIO, a speculative software studio. His practice engages with algorithms, protocols, encodings, and other software artifacts and his doctoral research at the Center for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) at University College London was on complex networks in urbanism. He is a founding member of Call & Response, a sonic arts collective and gallery space in London, and a member of the New Centre for Research & Practice.
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      published contributions
  • Etienne Benson
  • Josh Berson
  • Jeremy Bolen
  • Paul Boshears
  • Benjamin Bratton
    • for Media, Architecture and Design, Moscow. Bratton is also Professor of Digital Design at the Eur
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      published contributions
  • Axel Braun
    • Axel Braun studied photography at the Folkwang University of the Arts, Essen, and fine arts at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris. His artistic research deals with controversial infrastructure projects, tautology as an attempt to understand reality, and failed utopias in art and architecture. Currently, he is pursuing the long-term project Towards an Understanding of Anthropocene Landscapes. Recently exhibited works include Some Kind of Opposition (2016) at Galeria Centralis, Budapest, and Dragonflies drift downstream on a river (2015) at Kunstmuseum Bochum.
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      published contributions
  • Keith Breckenridge
  • François Bucher
    • s, focusing on ethical and aesthetic problems of cinema and television, and more recently on the image as an interdimensional field. His work has been exhibited at
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      published contributions
  • Lino Camprubí
  • Zachary Caple
  • Ele Carpenter
    • Dr. Ele Carpenter is a senior lecturer in curating at Goldsmiths, London. Her curatorial practice responds to interdisciplinary socio-political contexts such as the nuclear economy and the relationship between craft and code.
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      published contributions
  • Andrew Chubb
    • Andrew Chubb is a PhD candidate at the University of Western Australia conducting research on the relationship between Chinese public opinion and government policy in the South China Sea. His articles have appeared in the Journal of Contemporary China, Pacific Affairs, East Asia Forum, and Information, Communication & Society. His blog, South Sea Conversations (southseaconversations.wordpress.com), provides translations and analysis of Chinese discourse on the South and East China Sea issues.
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      published contributions
  • Louis Chude-Sokei
    • Louis Chude-Sokei is a writer and scholar currently teaching in the English Department at the University of Washington, Seattle. His academic interests range from West African, Caribbean, and American literary and cultural studies to a particular focus on sound, technology, and performance. His literary and public work focuses on immigration and black-on-black cultural contacts, conflicts, and exchanges. Chude-Sokei is the author of the award-winning book The Last “Darky”: Bert Williams, Black-on-Black Minstrelsy, and the African Diaspora (2006) and The Sound of Culture: Diaspora and Black Technopoetics (2016).
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      published contributions
  • Amy Cimini
  • Claire Colebrook
    • Claire Colebrook is a professor of English at Penn State University. Her areas of specialization are contemporary literature, visual culture, and theory and cultural studies. She has written articles on poetry, literary theory, queer theory, and contemporary culture. Colebrook is the co-editor of the series Critical Climate Change, published by Open Humanities Press, and a member of the advisory board of the Institute for Critical Climate Change. She recently completed two books on extinction for Open Humanities Press, Death of the PostHuman and Sex after Life (both 2014), and with Tom Cohen and J. Hillis Miller co-authored Twilight of the Anthropocene Idols (2016).
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      published contributions
  • Flavio D'Abramo
  • Ana Dana Beroš
    • chitect and curator focused on creating uncertain, fragile environments that catalyze social chan
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      published contributions
  • Pietro Daniel Omodeo
  • Rana Dasgupta
  • Filip De Boeck
    • Filip De Boeck is actively involved in teaching, promoting, coordinating and supervising research in and on Africa at the Institute for Anthropological research in Africa at the U
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      published contributions
  • Seth Denizen
    • Seth Denizen is a researcher and design practitioner trained in landscape architecture and evolutionary biology. Since completing research on the sexual behavior and evolutionary ecology of small Trinidadian fish, his work has focused on the aesthetics of scientific representation, madness, and public parks, the design of t
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      published contributions
  • Rohini Devasher
  • Jonathan Donges
    • Jonathan Donges is a postdoctoral researcher who holds a joint position at the Stockholm Resilience Centre (as Stordalen Scholar) and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. He studies planetary boundaries and social dynamics in the Earth system from a complex dynamical system perspective. At Potsdam, he is Co-head of the flagship COPAN (Coevolutionary Pathways) project (www.pik-potsdam.de/copan). His published research includes work on complex network theory, dynamical systems theory, and time series analysis, with a focus on their application to our understanding of past and present climate variability and its interactions with humankind on planet Earth.
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  • Design Earth
    • ollaborative architectural practice led by El Hadi Jazairy
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      published contributions
  • Keller Easterling
  • Anna Echterhölter
  • David Edgerton
    • David Edgerton is Hans Rausing Professor of the History of Science and Technology and a professor of modern British history at King’s College London. After teaching at the University of Manchester, he became the founding director of the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at Imperial College London (1993–2003), and moved along with the centre to King’s College London in August 2013. He is the author of many works, including The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900 (2007), which argues for and exemplifies new ways of thinking about the material constitution of modernity.
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      published contributions
  • Technosphere Editorial
  • Sasha Engelmann
  • Lois Epstein
    • stein is Arctic Program Director at the Wilderness Society an American land conservation non-profit. A licensed engineer, she has served on a number of federal advisory committees, including a National Academy of Sciences committee studying oil and gas regulations, and, for twelve years, a committee focusing on oil pipeline safety. Epstein holds a Master of Civil Engineering with a specialization in environme
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  • Eberhard Faust
  • Jennifer Gabrys
    • Jennifer Gabrys is Reader in the Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Principal Investigator on the ERC-funded project, "Citizen Sense." Her publications include Digital Rubbish: A Natural History of Electronics (University of Michigan Press, 2011); and Program Earth: Environmental Sensing Technology and the Making of a Computational Planet (University of Minnesota Press, forthcoming).
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      published contributions
  • Elaine Gan
  • Oliver Gantner
  • Beate Geissler and Oliver Sann
  • Florian Goldmann
    • Florian Goldmann is a Berlin-based artist and a PhD candidate at the DFG Research Training Center Visibility and Visualisation – Hybrid Forms of Pictorial Knowledge as well as at the Brandenburg Center for Media Studies, both Potsdam University. His research focus is the utilization of models as a means of both commemorating and predicting catastrophe. In 2015, he took part in the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in Sendai, Japan. Goldmann is one of the founders of the research collective STRATAGRIDS and the author of Flexible Signposts to Coded Territories (2012), an analysis of football hooligan graffiti in Athens as a system of fluid signage.
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      published contributions
  • Mark Graham
  • Jacques Grinevald
  • Johan Gärdebo
    • Johan Gärdebo is a PhD candidate at the Royal Institute of Technology affiliated to the Environmental Humanities Laboratory (EHL). H
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      published contributions
  • Orit Halpern
    • Orit Halpern is a Strategic Hire in Interactive Design and an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Concordia University, Montreal. Her work bridges the histories of science, computing, and cybernetics with design and art practice. She is also a co-director of the Speculative Life Research Cluster, Montreal, a laboratory situated at the intersection of art and life sciences, architecture and design, and computational media (www.speculativelife.com). Her recent monograph, Beautiful Data (2015), is a history of interactivity, data visualization, and ubiquitous computing. www.orithalpern.net
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      published contributions
  • Eva Hayward
  • Gabrielle Hecht
  • Gerda Heck
  • Florian Hecker
    • dio 3 as the broadcaster’s first ever live binaural broadcast. Recent major exhibitions
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      published contributions
  • Carola Hein
    • Carola Hein is a professor of the history of architecture and urban planning in the Architecture Department at Delft University of Technology. She has published widely on topics in contemporary and historical architectural and urban planning, notably that of Europe and Japan. Her current research interests include transmission of architectural and urban ideas along international networks, focusing specifically on port cities, and the global architecture of oil. Her books include Port Cities: Dynamic Landscapes and Global Networks (2011), Cities, Autonomy, and Decentralization in Japan (2006), and The Capital of Europe: Architecture and Urban Planning for the European Union (2004).
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      published contributions
  • Julian Henriques
    • Julian Henriques is the convener of the MA in Script Writing and Director of the Topology Research Unit in the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. Prior to this, he ran the film and television department at the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC) at the University of the West Indies, Kingston, Jamaica. His credits as a writer and director include the reggae musical feature film Babymother (1998) and as a sound artist, Knots & Donuts, exhibited at Tate Modern in 2011. Henriques researches street cultures and technologies and his publications include Changing the Subject: Psychology, Social Regulation, and Subjectivity (1998), Sonic Bodies: Reggae Sound Systems, Performance Techniques, and Ways of Knowing (2011), and Sonic Media (forthcoming).
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      published contributions
  • Hanna Husberg
    • Hanna Husberg is a Stockholm-based artist. She graduated from ENSB-A in Paris in 2007 and is currently a PhD in Practice candidate at the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna.
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      published contributions
  • Sabine Höhler
  • Erich Hörl
  • Timothy Johnson
  • Peter K. Haff
  • Bernd Kasparek
  • Nikos Katsikis
  • Laleh Khalili
  • Axel Kleidon
  • Alexander Klose
    • Dr. Alexander Klose studied History, Law, Philosophy, Art, and Cultural Studies. From 2005-07 he held a scholarship at Bauhaus Universität Weimar for his PhD project on standardized containers used in transport as one of the leading material media in the 20th century. Between 2009 and 2014 he worked as a research associate and programme developer at Kulturstiftung des Bundes. In 2015 in the forefront of COP 21, he co-curated Blackmarket for Useful Knowledge and Non-Knowledge No. 18 – On Becoming Earthlings: 150 dialogues and exercises in shrinking and expanding the Human at Musée de l'Homme, Paris. His latest publication is: The Container Principle. How a box changes the way we think (2015).
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  • Karin Knorr Cetina
  • Scott Knowles
  • Nile Koetting
  • Nicole Koltick
    • Nicole Koltick is an assistant professor in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design at Drexel University, Philadelphia. She is Founding Director of the Design Futures Lab at Westphal College, which is currently pursuing design research to stimulate debate on the potential implications of emerging technological and scientific developments within society. Koltick’s practice spans art, science, technology, design, and philosophy, and current work focuses on the philosophical, material, and relational implications of aesthetics as they intersect with emerging developments in computational creativity, artificially intelligent autonomous systems, robotics, and synthetic biological hybrids.
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      published contributions
  • Nik Kosmas
  • Matthijs Kouw
    • Matthijs Kouw joined the Rathenau Instituut, The Hague, in March 2016. He holds an MA in Philosophy and an MSc in Science and Technology Studies from the University of Amsterdam as well as a PhD from Maastricht University. In his PhD thesis, Kouw describes how and to what extent reliance on models can introduce vulnerabilities through the assumptions, uncertainties, and blind spots concomitant with modeling practice. He was employed as a postdoctoral researcher at the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), during which time he acted as a member of the Dutch delegation for plenary sessions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
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      published contributions
  • Matija Kralj
  • Kei Kreutler
  • Lars Kulik
    • Lars Kulik studied biology at the Humboldt University of Berlin. He received his doctorate on the development of social behavior of rhesus monkeys at the University of Leipzig and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. He lives with his family in Berlin.
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      published contributions
  • Richard L. Hindle
    • Richard L. Hindle is an assistant professor of landscape architecture and environmental planning at the University of California, Berkeley. His current research focuses on patent innovation in landscape related technologies, from large-scale mappings of riverine and coastal systems to detailed historical studies on the antecedents of vegetated architecture. His work explores the potential of new technological narratives and material processes to reframe theory, practice, and the production of landscape. Recent works include the articles “Levees That Might Have Been” (2015), and “Infrastructures of Innovation” in Scaling Infrastructure (MIT Center for Advanced Urbanism, 2016), and the exhibition Geographies of Innovation at UC Berkeley (2015).
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      published contributions
  • Hannah Landecker
  • Brian Larkin
  • Bruno Latour
  • Manfred Laubichler
  • John Law
    • hn Law was a professor of sociology at Keele University, Lancaster, and the Open University, Milton Keynes, and a co-director of the Economic and Social Researc
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      published contributions
  • Yoneda Lemma
    • ents from one fiction to another. She has exhibited her work at V4ULT, Berlin; Le Cube, Par
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      published contributions
  • Esther Leslie
    • t theories of aesthetics and culture, with a particular focus on the work of Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno. It deals with the poetics of science, European literary and visual modern
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      published contributions
  • George Lewis
    • my of Arts and Letters, New York. He has been a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), Chicago, since 1971. Lewis’s work as composer, electronic performer, installa
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      published contributions
  • S. Løchlann Jain
  • Donald MacKenzie
  • Stefan Maier
  • Chowra Makaremi
  • Annapurna Mamidipudi
  • Laura McLean
    • Laura McLean is a curator, artist, and writer based in London. She is a graduate of Goldsmiths College and Sydney College of the Arts, where she later lectured. She has also studied at Alberta College of Art and Design, and the Universität der Künste Berlin.
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  • Eden Medina
    • Eden Medina is an associate professor of informatics and computing, affiliated associate professor of law, and adjunct associate professor of history at Indiana University, Bloomington. Her research and teaching address the social, historical, and legal dimensions of our increasingly data-driven world, including the relationship of technology to human rights and free expression, the relationship between political innovation and technological innovation, and the ways that human and political values shape technological design. Medina’s writings also use science and technology as a way to broaden understandings of Latin American history and the geography of innovation. She is the author of Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende's Chile (2011) and the co-editor of Beyond Imported Magic: Essays on Science, Technology, and Society in Latin America (2014).
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  • Anne-Sophie Milon
    • Anne-Sophie Milon is an artist and a freelance illustrator and animator working and living in Bristol, UK. After completing two Masters in Art, she has recently concluded the program of experimentation in Art and Politics at SciencesPo (SPEAP) in Paris.
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      published contributions
  • Paul N. Edwards
  • Gerald Nestler
    • Gerald Nestler is an artist and writer who combines theory and post-disciplinary conversation with video, installation, performance, text, code, graphics, sound, and speech. He explores what he calls the derivative condition of contemporary social relations and its paradigmatic financial models, operations, processes, narratives, and fictions. He is currently working on an “aesthetics of resolution” that maps counterfictions and counterimaginations for “renegade activism,” which revolves around the demonstration as a combined artistic, technological, social, and political practice. Nestler holds a practice-based PhD from the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London.
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      published contributions
  • Huiying Ng
  • Daniel Niles
    • terial, millenary and momentary—that their knowledge takes, and, finally, the significance of this experience to our understanding of t
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      published contributions
  • James P. M. Syvitski
    • James P. M. Syvitski is Executive Director of the Community Surface Dynamics Modeling System (CSDMS) at the University of Colorado Boulder. From 2011 to 2016, he chaired the International Council for Science’s International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), which provides essential scientific leadership and knowledge of the Earth system to help guide society toward a sustainable pathway during rapid global change. His specialty is the global flux of water and sediment (river and ocean borne) and its trends in the Anthropocene. He works at the forefront of computational geosciences, including sediment transport, land-ocean interactions, and Earth-surface dynamics.
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      published contributions
  • Luciana Parisi
    • Luciana Parisi is Reader in Cultural Theory, Chair of the PhD program in Cultural Studies, and Co-director of the Digital Culture Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her research focuses on cybernetics, information theory and computation, complexity and evolutionary theories, and the technocapitalist investment in artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and nanotechnology. Her books include Abstract Sex: Philosophy, Biotechnology and the Mutations of Desire (2004) and Contagious Architecture: Computation, Aesthetics, and Space (2013). She is currently researching the history of automation and the philosophical consequences of logical thinking in machines.
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      published contributions
  • Lisa Parks
  • Matteo Pasquinelli
  • Karen Pinkus
    • w York. She is also a faculty fellow of the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, Ithaca. Author of numerous publications in literary studies, Italian studies, critical theory, and environmental humanities, Pinkus is also Editor of the journal Diacritics. In her latest book, Fuel (2016), Pinkus thinks about issues crucial to climate ch
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  • Giulia Rispoli
  • Sophia Roosth
    • t when researchers are building new biological systems in order to investigate how biology works. She holds a PhD from the Massachuse
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      published contributions
  • Arno Rosemarin
  • Rafico Ruiz
    • afico Ruiz is Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Banting Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Sociology at the University of Alberta, Edmonton. He studies the relationships between mediation and social space, particularly in the Arctic and subarctic; the cultural geographies of natural resource engagements; and
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  • Kim Rygiel
    • f International Affairs in Waterloo, Canada. Her research focuses on border security, migration, and citizenship in North America and Europe. She investigates how citizens and non-citizens engage in citizenship practices and challenge notions
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      published contributions
  • Dorion Sagan
  • Isabelle Saint-Saëns
  • Birgit Schneider
  • Sever
    • SEVER was developed as a speculative design project by Francesco Sebregondi, Alexey Platonov, Inna Pokazanyeva, and Ildar Iakubov during the New Normal postgraduate program at Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design, Moscow. SEVER seeks to intervene into current Arctic debates by disturbing the landscape of the region’s possible futures
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      published contributions
  • Jens Soentgen
  • C Spencer Yeh
  • Nick Srnicek
  • Lizzie Stark
    • Lizzie Stark is an author, journalist, and experience designer. She is the author of two books, Pandora’s DNA (2014), exploring so-called ‘breast cancer genes’ and her first book, Leaving Mundania (2012), which investigates the subculture of live action role play, or larp. Her journalism and essays have appeared in The Washington Post, the Daily Beast, The Today Show Website, io9, Fusion, the Philadelphia Inquirer and elsewhere. She holds an MS from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has organized numerous conventions and experiences across the US. Her most recent work is as a programming coordinator for Living Games Austin, and as co-editor and contributor for the #Feminism anthology, which collects 34 nano-games written by feminists from eleven countries.
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  • Carolyn Steel
  • Benjamin Steininger
  • Lucy Suchman
    • ology of Science and Technology in the Department of Sociology at the University of Lancaster, UK. Her research interests within the field of feminist science and technology studies are focused on technological imaginaries and material practices
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  • Kaushik Sunder Rajan
    • echnology studies, and postcolonial studies, holding a special interest in the global political economy of biomedicine, with a comparative focus on the Un
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      published contributions
  • Jenna Sutela
    • Jenna Sutela’s installations, texts, and sound performances seek to identify and react to precarious social and material moments, often in relation to technology. Most recently, she has been exploring exceedingly complex biological and computational systems, ultimately unknowable and always becoming something new. Her work has been presented, among other places, at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; and the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo and her writing has been published by Fiktion, Harvard Design Magazine, and Sternberg Press.
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  • Bronislaw Szerszynski
    • Bronislaw Szerszynski is a Reader in Sociology at Lancaster University in the UK. Szerszynski’s work has developed across several themes, including the role of Western religious history in shaping contemporary understandings of technology and the environment—typified by his book Nature, Technology and the Sacred (Wiley-Blackwell, 2005).
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  • Elisa T. Bertuzzo
    • Elisa T. Bertuzzo studied comparative literature, sociology, communication, and media studies and holds a PhD in urban studies. She was a curator and project leader with Habitat Forum Berlin, including for the project Paradigmising Karail Basti (2010–16). Bridging discourses from the fields of cultural and urban studies, her research focuses on the everyday life facets of urbanization and settlement in South Asia. On that topic, she published Fragmented Dhaka: Analysing Everyday Life with Henri Lefebvre’s Theory of Production of Space (2009) and runs her multimedia project Archives of Movement (since 2012), which deals with the everyday life of temporary labor migrants in Bangladesh and India.
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  • Gregory T. Cushman
    • Gregory T. Cushman is Associate Professor of International Environmental History at the University of Kansas.
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      published contributions
  • Nasrin Tabatabai
    • Nasrin Tabatabai is an artist who works both in Iran and the Netherlands. Since 2004, she has collaborated with Babak Afrassiabi on various joint projects and the publication of the bilingual magazine Pages (Farsi and English). Their work seeks to articulate the undecidable space between art and its historical conditions, including the recurring question of the place of the archive in defining the juncture between politics, history, and the practice of art. The artists’ work has been presented internationally in various solo and group exhibitions and they have been tutors at the Jan Van Eyck Academie, Maastricht (2008–13), and Erg, école supérieure des arts, Brussels (2015–).
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      published contributions
  • Ksenia Tatarchenko
    • dies Institute, Geneva University, specializing in the history of Russian science and technology. She has held positions as a visiting Assistant Professor of History at NYU Shanghai and a post-doctoral fellow at the Harriman Institute, Columbia. Most broadly, she studies questions of knowledge circulation to situate Soviet developments in the global context. She is currently writing a book on science and innovation cultures in Siberia provisionally
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  • Katerina Teaiwa
    • Dr. Katerina Teaiwa is Associate Professor at the Department of Gender, Media and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History & Language and the president of the Australian Association for Pacific Studies. Her main area of research looks at the histories of phosphate mining in the central Pacific. Her work does not only span academic research, publications, and lectures, but also manifests itself in other formats within the arts and popular culture. Her work has inspired a permanent exhibition at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, which tells the story of Pacific phosphate mining through Banaban dance. In 2015, she published „Consuming Ocean Island: Stories of People and Phosphate from Banaba“, Indiana University Press. She is currently working with visual artist Yuki Kihara on a multimedia exhibition for Carriageworks in Sydney.
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  • Terre Thaemlitz
  • Jol Thomson
  • Claire Tolan
  • John Tresch
  • Etienne Turpin
    • Etienne Turpin is a philosopher, Founding Director of anexact office, and a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, where he coordinates the Humanitarian Infrastructures Group and co-directs the PetaBencana.id disaster mapping project for the Urban Risk Lab. He is the editor of Architecture in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Design, Deep Tim
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  • Asonseh Ukah
    • Asonzeh Ukah is a sociologist and historian of religion. He joined the University of Cape Town in 2013 and previously taught at the University of Bayreuth (2005–13), where he also earned a doctorate and habilitation in history of religions. His research interests include religious urbanism, the sociology of Pentecostalism, and religion and media. He is Director of the Research Institute on Christianity and Society in Africa (RICSA), University of Cape Town, and Affiliated Senior Fellow of Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies (BIGSAS), University of Bayreuth. He is the author of A New Paradigm of Pentecostal Power (2008) and Bourdieu in Africa (edited with Magnus Echtler, 2016).
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  • Underworlds
  • Sebastian Vehlken
    • Sebastian Vehlken is a media theorist and cultural historian at Leuphana University Lüneburg and Permanent Senior Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study on Media Cultures of Computer Simulation (MECS). From 2013 to 2017, he worked as MECS Junior Director, and in 2015–16, he was a visiting professor at Humboldt-Universität Berlin, the University of Vienna, and Leuphana. His areas of interest include the theory and history of computer simulation and digital media, the media history of swarm intelligence, and the epistemology of think tanks. His current research project, Plutonium Worlds, explores the application of computer simulations in West German fast breeder reactor programs.
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      published contributions
  • Vladimir Vernadsky
  • Ben Vida
    • Korea, Australia ,and Europe at such institutions as the Guggenheim, New York; Centro Pecci, Prato, Italy; STUK Arts Center, Leuven
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  • Davor Vidas
    • Davor Vidas is a research professor in international law and Director of the Law of the Sea Programme at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, Lysaker, Norway. He is Chair of the Committee on International Law and Sea Level Rise and a member of the Anthropocene Working Group. Vidas has been involved in international law research for over thirty years, focusing since 2009 on implications of the Anthropocene for the development of international law. Among his books are The World Ocean in Globalisation (2011) and Law, Technology and Science for Oceans in Globalisation (2010). He is the editor-in-chief of the book series Anthropocene (Skolska knjiga, Zagreb), launched in 2017.
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  • Kalindi Vora
  • Jennifer Walshe
    • porary Arts, New York; DAAD Berliner Künstle
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      published contributions
  • Hannes Wiedemann
    • Hannes Wiedemann is a Berlin-based photographer. He studied at the Ostkreuz School of Photography, Berlin. For his project Grinders (2015–16), he followed the American bodyhacking community, a small group of people across the United States working out of garages and basements to become real cyborgs. Recent exhibitions include NEW PHOTOGRAPHY II (2017) at Gallery ALAN, Istanbul, and HUMAN UPGRADE, with Susanna Hertrich (2016), at Schader-Stiftung Gallery, Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt. www.hanneswiedemann.com
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      published contributions
  • Elvia Wilk
  • Cary Wolfe
    • Cary Wolfe is Bruce and Elizabeth Dunlevie Professor of English and Founding Director of 3CT: Center for Critical and Cultural Theory at Rice University, Houston. He is the author of What Is Posthumanism? (2010), a book that weaves together principal concerns of his work: animal studies, system theory, pragmatism, and post-structuralism. It is part of the series Posthumanities, for which he serves as Founding Editor at the University of Minnesota Press. His most recent publication is Before the Law: Humans and Other Animals in Biopolitical Frame (2013) and earlier books and edited collections include Animal Rites: American Culture, The Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory (2003) and Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal (2003).
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      published contributions
  • Andrew Yang
  • Jan Zalasiewicz
    • Dr. Jan Zalasiewicz is Professor of Palaeobiology at the University of Leicester and Chair of the Anthropocene Working Group of the International Commission on Stratigraphy. A field geologist, paleontologist, and stratigrapher, he teaches and publishes on geology and earth history, in particular on fossil ecosystems and environments that span over half a billion years of geological time.
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  • Anna Zett
  • Sander van der Leeuw
    • ionships, and complex systems theory. He investigates the preconditions for and the practices and role of invention, sustainability, and innovation in societies. He has done
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  • Liv Østmo
    • Liv Østmo is one of the founders and current Dean of the Sámi University of Applied Sciences, Kautokeino, Norway, where she researches and lectures on the subject of multicultural understanding. For the last eight years, Østmo has worked with traditional Sámi knowledge and she is currently working on putting the finishing touches on a methodology book about the documentation of this knowledge.
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      published contributions
D Sharon Pruitt | Source: Wikimedia Commons

Love Pill: Oxytocin or Emotional Labor?

Is there a chemical shortcut for producing social change? Writer Elvia Wilk unpacks the cultural assumptions behind scientific research on the bonding hormone oxytocin and its potential pharmaceutical applications. Based on this research, some proponents want to extrapolate the modification of individual hormonal states to broader social improvements—a central theme in Wilk's forthcoming speculative fiction, titled Oval.
1.
Oxytocin is a hormone manufactured by the hypothalamus and stashed in the pituitary gland. Popularly known as the “bonding hormone,” it kicks in upon physical contact—sexual or platonic—elevating feelings of intimacy, emotional connection, and affection. It floods the female body in great amounts during childbirth, regulating contractions, prompting lactation, and eventually helping stimulate an affective response in the mother. Even the thought of cuddling or the mere sight of cuteness can prompt an oxytocin response.
This is the hormone that makes your heart melt when you see kittens, puppies and human babies,
says Irina Conboy, a University of California, Berkeley researcher who studies oxytocin’s effects.
As with any chemical, much surrounding research is driven by the hormone’s potential pharmaceutical applications. For instance, Conboy has studied its promising effects on muscle regeneration and aging. In a study she and other researchers conducted in 2014, injections of oxytocin were proven to help regenerate damaged muscle tissue in geriatric mice, halting or even reversing the aging process.Christian Elabd et al., “Oxytocin Is an Age-Specific Circulating Hormone That Is Necessary for Muscle Maintenance and Regeneration,” Nature Communications, vol. 5 (2014): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4512838.
In the United States, oxytocin has become the first “anti-aging molecule” approved for clinical use. It’s also been the subject of studies applying it to a range of ailments, including fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and alcoholism. However, currently its clinical uses remain rare for anything but its common application as an injection to help speed up labor.
Ailments aside, artificially inducing the hormone’s psychological “cuddle effect” is an alluring but more difficult task. The main obstacle is that injections and pills can get oxytocin only into the circulatory and digestive systems, not into the brain. Oxytocin is a peptide that can’t typically cross the blood-brain barrier, the membrane that keeps the brain insulated from pathogens (and assumedly most human test subjects are unwilling to have a hormone injected into their skulls). But through repeated animal trials, researchers have shown that it’s possible to get a small but temporarily effective amount of oxytocin into the brain through nasal inhalation, where gaps in the blood-brain barrier exist.
Enter oxytocin nasal spray—a research subject that has quickly entered the realm of pop psychology and pseudoscience. While many research outcomes about nasal inhalation are ambivalent or inconclusive, conjuring more questions than answers, the notion that a quick huff could induce emotional attachment is just too alluring a prospect for many to resist. The consumer target group for such a product is exceedingly wide: desperate lovers, the families of children with mood disorders seeking evidence of affection, do-gooders looking for ways we could all just get along.
Given a widespread societal “there’s an app for that” mentality, the fantasy that there could be “a spray for that”—compassion, empathy, attachment—plays into a whole host of beliefs and desires. The most obvious such desire is simply instant gratification as an end in itself, as opposed to attending to the complex sociocultural and interpersonal factors that make up relationships, much less the very hard work maintaining relationships can demand. But this impulse also glosses over the distinction between feeling and acting. What’s the correlation between emotional state and outward behavior? Does an outpouring of affection make up for lazy or bad relationship skills? If what you desire is to feel loved, does it matter why someone treats you with affection?
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Kedai Lelaki | Source: Flickr

2.
A foremost proponent of the incredible benefits of oxytocin is Dr. Paul Zak, a professor at California’s Claremont Graduate University who calls himself a “neuroeconomist” interested in how economic decisions relate to neurological factors. This amounts to an evolutionary psychology approach whereby affective states are believed to be hardwired into the brain and body. For Zak, those hardwired psychological traits affect not only individuals’ lives but the way entire populations function. In one 2011 TED Talk viewed over 1.5 million times, Zak gives this explanation of how the psychological factor of “trustworthiness” correlates to wide-scale economic disparity:
I had shown in the early 2000s that countries with a higher proportion of trustworthy people are more prosperous. So in these countries, more economic transactions occur and more wealth is created, alleviating poverty. So poor countries are by and large low-trust countries. So if I understood the chemistry of trustworthiness, I might help alleviate poverty.Paul Zak, “Trust, Morality—and Oxytocin?,” Ted Talk, video, 16:28, July 2011, https://www.ted.com/talks/paul_zak_trust_morality_and_oxytocin?language=en.
The dodgy cause-and-effect conclusions Zak makes between psychological traits and economic outcomes are extrapolated from his interest in molecules like oxytocin and their supposedly straightforward effects. He refers to himself periodically as “Dr. Love,” rhapsodizing about how hormone production bonds couples, forges friendships, and enhances empathy. From the same TED Talk:
Dr. Love says, eight hugs a day—you’ll be happier and the world will be a better place. Of course,
he adds, brandishing a tiny vial of oxytocin on stage,
if you don’t like to touch people, I can always shove this up your nose.
Zak’s might sound like a some retro free-love attitude, if it weren’t for the chemical vial in his hand.
Zak’s outlook is also telling because of how it cuts across scales. Attributes like empathy and trust, he suggests, are not only physically instantiated, but reproducible and scalable. If your body isn’t producing enough oxytocin to make you act empathetic toward your spouse, or enough of whatever hormone he supposes makes you more trustworthy and therefore more prosperous, you can just add these hormones to your system (and, by extension, should). Moral goodness has a biological basis, and therefore it can be engineered—maybe even scaled up by infusion into the water supply. And how else to measure goodness on the scale of the nation-state but in terms of GDP?
You’ll be happier, and the world will be a better place.
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This morality-inducibility-scalability trifecta neatly accords with the common neoliberal worldview that puts the onus on individuals’ affects and behaviors to solve (heal?) global inequality rather than, say, governments or corporations. The manipulation of affect in late-stage capitalism occurs most obviously through advertising campaigns, but as Zak suggests, it can also be done with chemical alteration—drugs. (This is not a stretch: consider the fact that over a third of US Americans are currently taking prescription medications.Carolyn Y. Johnson, "More than a third of American adults take prescription drugs linked to depression, study says," Washington Post, June 12, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/gdpr-consent/?destination=%2fnews%2fwonk%2fwp%2f2018%2f06%2f12%2fmore-than-a-third-of-american-adults-take-prescription-drugs-that-may-increase-risk-of-depression-study-says%2f%3f&utm_term=.ad762f3fe58b
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The hope is that whatever induces subjects to feel more emotion will make them better people, will make them more generous, will make them spend and donate more. Changing society becomes a matter of simply managing consumer behavior. Of course, this functional view of emotion reduces compassion to a lever to pull for spare change, which is a rather dire prospect for the real free-lovers among us. In accordance with the classic philanthropic model, rather than holding those holding the majority of economic power to account, Zak would shovel moral responsibility onto the individual. And it doesn’t matter whether the individual desire to take on this responsibility is voluntary.
3.
In response to the refugee influx in Europe in 2015, Nicholas Kristof wrote in his New York Times column that Westerners need to learn to empathize more with the suffering others whose photographs were circulating online.
If you don’t see yourself or your family members in those images of today’s refugees,
he writes,
you need an empathy transplant.Nicholas Kristof, “Refugees Who Could Be Us,” New York Times, September 6, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/06/opinion/sunday/nicholas-kristof-refugees-who-could-be-us.html.
The hypothetical empathy transplant (nasal spray?) recurs constantly in liberal discourse. Global suffering is caused by a lack of empathy: if only we could just trigger it. And in the United States at least, the empathy divide has formed the substructure for much bipartisan political rhetoric—the left continues to plead for more love, less hate. More empathy for refugees; more graphic depictions of the violence to prompt said empathy. This makes the counterargument on the right simple: Empathy is latitude, softness, weakness, femininity. The inability to make the hard (tough-guy) choices based on the cold facts.
Empathy, like all brain-body phenomena, is not defined by a single neurochemical impulse, nor is it traceable to one stimulus. And empathy presents a particularly difficult case study, because the internal “felt” state of empathic response does not correlate directly with its hoped-for external expression, which is often called altruism. In other words, if what you want to provoke is the outward expression of kindness or generosity, trying to induce an empathetic state through oxytocin may not be the best choice. Many years of research demonstrate that oxytocin doesn’t operate indiscriminately or consistently to produce the “good” behavior someone like Zak might expect.
Although oxytocin is sometimes nicknamed the “moral molecule,” psychologist Carsten de Dreu explains that oxytocin
doesn’t make people more moral or immoral. It shifts people’s focus from themselves to their group or tribe.Ed Yong, “Oxytocin Boosts Dishonesty,” Scientist, March 31, 2014, https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/oxytocin-boosts-dishonesty-37740.
In one 2014 study titled “Oxytocin Promotes Group-Serving Dishonesty,” de Dreu and his collaborators gave sixty volunteers either oxytocin spray or a placebo spray.Shaul Shalvi and Carsten K. W. de Dreu, “Oxytocin Promotes Group-Serving Dishonesty,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 111, no. 15 (April 14, 2014): https://www.pnas.org/content/111/15/5503.
They were then given an exercise that asked them to predict the result of a coin toss. The winning earnings from correct guesses were in some cases shared among small groups and in other cases the winners were allowed to keep the entire amount for themselves. The subjects who had been given oxytocin tended to be more honest about the correctness of their guesses when only their own money was at stake, but were more likely to lie about how they’d guessed if it would benefit their whole team. That is, extra oxytocin does not make one categorically more honest; it makes one want to bond with one’s in-group.
These findings highlight the role of bonding and cooperation in shaping dishonesty, providing insight into when and why collaboration turns into corruption,
write the study authors.Shalvi and de Dreu, “Oxytocin Promotes Group-Serving Dishonesty.”
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Hafakot | Source: Shutterstock

Further studies suggest that oxytocin triggers specific behaviors according to preexisting associations and relationships. While on oxytocin, “socially secure” subjects were more likely to remember their mothers as kind and caring, whereas insecure or anxious subjects remembered their mothers more negatively.Jennifer A. Bartz et al., “Effects of Oxytocin on Recollections of Maternal Care and Closeness,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 107, no. 50 (December 14, 2010): https://www.pnas.org/content/107/50/21371. See also J. Bartz et al., “Oxytocin Can Hinder Trust and Cooperation in Borderline Personality Disorder,” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, vol. 6, no. 5 (2011): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21115541.
Another study reported that oxytocin increased instances of “intimate partner violence” when given to subjects predisposed to aggressive behavior.C. Nathan DeWall et al., “When the Love Hormone Leads to Violence: Oxytocin Increases Intimate Partner Violence Inclinations among High Trait Aggressive People,” Social Psychological and Personality Science, vol. 5, no. 6 (February 12, 2014): https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550613516876.
Yet another suggests that oxytocin intake can strengthen out-group bias to the extent that ethnocentrist attitudes are displayed.Carsten K. W. de Dreu et al., “Oxytocin Promotes Human Ethnocentrism,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 108, no. 4 (January 25, 2011): https://www.pnas.org/content/108/4/1262.
One theory that supports many of the above findings is that oxytocin might simply heighten awareness to voluntary and involuntary social cues, so that the reactions of others are amplified in the subject’s mind, whether they are positive or negative.S. Leknes, “Oxytocin Enhances Pupil Dilation and Sensitivity to ‘Hidden’ Emotional Expressions,” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, vol. 8, no. 7 (October 2013): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22648957.
Amplification of perceived emotional states could engender a feeling of oneness and togetherness, but could just as easily contribute to an us-versus-them or me-versus-you mentality if others are perceived as threatening.
4.
Following so many disheartening studies, the titles of think pieces on oxytocin have noticeably changed in recent years. From “Brain in Love” and “‘Cuddle Chemical’ May Boost Male Empathy” before, Google now turns up “The Two Faces of Oxytocin” and “Shining Light on the Dark Side of Oxytocin.” But the fearmongering headlines don’t fundamentally diverge from the miracle-cure ones. Oxytocin may now have “two faces,” but it’s still presented as responsible for automatic biological reactions. In fact, the proposition that oxytocin has a “sinister” side reinforces the notion that humans are helpless to the workings of our chemical compositions. That would mean that whether we like it or not, individual responses are somehow baked in. It follows that, to fix those responses, the best recourse would be chemical or biological intervention. Moral goodness is a biological trait; anyone missing it needs an “empathy transplant.” Why engage in education when there’s a nasal spray for that?
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Dovzhykov Andriy | Source: Shutterstock

If emotions and behaviors are baked in, it’s easy to write off socially contrived differences as biological ones. Herein lies the classic potential pitfall of evolutionary biology. The gendered aspects of the structure of much oxytocin research demonstrates this problem clearly. Oxytocin, associated with childbirth, love and family relationships, and emotional reactiveness, is undoubtedly associated with the female body; studies reinforce its feminine associations, and those aspects of life thus remain the natural purview of the feminine. If there were any doubt as to how social constructs like gender are reproduced by this kind of thinking, Dr. Zak designed an experiment that demonstrates the logic. In 2010, he attended a wedding to conduct this experiment, in which he drew blood from the wedding party and guests before and after the ceremony to assess the hormonal changes. He describes his findings in the Wall Street Journal:
The changes in individual oxytocin levels at Linda’s ceremony could be mapped out like the solar system, with the bride as the sun. Between the first and second draws of blood, which were only an hour apart, Linda’s own level shot up by 28%. For the other people tested, the increase in oxytocin was in direct proportion to the likely intensity of their emotional engagement in the event. The mother of the bride? Up 24%. The father of the groom? Up 19%. The groom himself? Up 13% … and on down the line. But why, you may ask, would the groom’s increase be less than his father’s? Testosterone is one of several other hormones that can interfere with the release of oxytocin, and the groom’s testosterone level, according to our blood test, had surged 100%! As the guests admired Linda in her strapless bridal gown, he was the alpha male.
In this odd constellation, Linda, the bride, radiates female emotions after achieving monogamous hetero coupledom, alongside her nameless groom, whose aggressive maleness is evidenced by his testo state having increased twofold now that he’s fully dominated and domesticated his partner. One could spend a lot of time analyzing this imagined scene—especially factoring in the narrator, a vampiric psychologist standing beside the pew with tourniquets and syringes—but suffice it to say that Zak’s belief that feeling more is what will make us better people and the world a better place does not apply in the same way to everyone. Some people are supposed to feel more of certain things. For instance, in this scenario, women are supposed to feel more sentimental and affectionate, and men are supposed to feel more “alpha.” This suggests that, since women are oxytocin prone, empathy is more “natural to them,” and the burden of exercising empathy and turning it into altruism—a.k.a. emotional labor—will continually fall to them.
Seeing empathy as a natural response skips over the question of labor altogether. If some people have less oxytocin receptors than others, should they be excused from doing the hard work of emotional identification that produces meaningful social bonds and care relations? Should they be dosed with excess hormones? Or could people simply learn through a lot of time and effort how to form those bonds anyway? On the other hand—if they were made to learn, whose job would it be to teach them?
Some parts of this text were previously published in the essay “Science Fiction into Science Action,” Berlin Quarterly, no. 4 (Spring 2019). Previous research from the essay “Trauma Machine,” Popula, July 2018.