Heid Jerstad

Inspired by ‘Less than one but more than many: Anthropocene as Science Fiction and Scholarship-in-the-Making’, a multi-conference review by Tsing, Bubandt and Swanson (2015)[1], I share here some reflections on the 6th meeting of the Anthropology society of Science and Technology of Brazil, 16-19th May 2017.[2]


The VIReACT conference[3] brought together scholars of science and technology, climate change and relationships with the non-human, including plants, non-human animals and the atmosphere.[4] Held in the Brazilian institute at the University of Sao Paulo, the packed afternoon and evening sessions were in a generous auditorium in the leafy campus.


The conference included a strong vein exploring ecological entanglement, focusing on agencies rather than entities (Cesarino). Humans are part of biodiversity, said Iannini – which is defined not just by the variety of species, but by the interactions and evolution of the species together in their environment, which itself consists of other species, as Marras quoted Viverios de Castro saying. Papers on Brazil nut trees, lightning and divers suspended in the weather, in the world, in relation and orientation prompted open-ended inquiry. Garcia reflected Carson (1962) with reports from farmers in Brazil that ‘the forest is silent’ because so many howler monkeys have been killed for fear of yellow fever. In contrast to this, Marras quoted a land struggle in Brazil in April 2017 where it was said ‘we are not keepers of the forest, we are the forest.’


Coming out of the forest, Vanzolini quoted a poem about people falling in love with the goods they produced and forgetting the beauty of the forest. Flaksmann reflected on how envy of these goods leads to witchcraft. Starhawk, a witch from San Francisco, commented that it’s hard for people in the US to tell what’s real these days. ‘You have been taught that you are alone in existence’ Skafish quotes Marseniac as telling Americans. People who were environmentalists have become ‘managers’ of nature, said Krenak, reflecting on decades of engagement with the environmental movement. But how to ‘read’ nature? In managing the waves, they flicker between reality and representation, Helmreich showed us; the issue being (as Simonetti pointed out about climate change) that the average is not a depiction of any given wave, and in the case of waves, measured against a fixed point (cf Ingold about the ground as a stage).


Taddei’s talk troubled the forest/city distinction with the alternative title: ‘in Brazil everybody is an animist.’ There was laughter in the room when the sound went out as he talked about a medium using metereology to affect the weather.


The mood at the conference was intensely political. The President’s statement ‘my only loyalty is to Brazil… I will not resign’ – rang out incongruously in the main auditorium. There was a surge of people leaving after the news came about the president’s corruption tapes, a move towards the avenue Paulista – the street for protests. It was diverted into Starhawk’s spiral dance, enhancing the political energy. As we finished, Starhawk said that witches traditionally say ‘Merry meet, merry part and merry meet again.’ But she says ‘merry meet, merry part and meet again on the streets!’ And the flow from the conference to Paulista went from there.


Sztutman pointed out that we come to the university because we want to escape from the market while Tible said that sometimes to have a tyrant is easier, quicker and more convenient. The political mood reached a crescendo during the performance by a group of pupils who had been part of an Occupy movement in 2016. They leapt and ran around the auditorium, confronting the audience with stories from the occupied schools (the protest – ultimately successful – concerned the removal of social science subjects from the curriculum) and shouting out defiance, commitment and solidarity. Other student performances included one with many gaits after the multispecies panel and one elemental one (see below) as well as an exhibition and a computer game.

elemental performance

I would like to leave you with two points:

· Iannini – the future points of ‘balance’ (used as a descriptive rather than morally charged term) are unknown to us.

· Marras: ‘When madness is shared it is no longer madness. If I can share some of my insanity with you, I will feel a lot safer.’


[1] Less Than One But More Than Many Anthropocene as Science Fiction and Scholarship-in-the-Making

Heather Anne Swanson, Nils Bubandt, and Anna Tsing Environment and Society: Advances in Research 6 (2015): 149–166

[2] This short review does not include all speakers and is affected by my vertigo at being on the other side of the world.

[3] Conference materials were decorated by the meticulous botanical illustrations of Merian, a German naturalist brought to anthropological attention by Strathern.

[4] For more background on Brazilian anthropology, see Peirano (1992). Stengers is clearly also a key inspiration and was mentioned in many of the talks.