Member Profile

Scott W Schwartz

Contributing Editor, Platypus: The CASTAC Blog

Research Interests

About Scott W

I am a PhD candidate and Adjunct Lecturer at the City University of New York (CUNY). My research centers on the material culture of knowledge production, specifically the intersection of quantification and vulnerability. I have conducted fieldwork in the Orkney Islands, Iceland, the Aeolian Islands, and New York City. I am a frequent collaborator with artists and curators, with some such manifestations appearing in the Queens Museum and Radiator Gallery.

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Contributions to Platypus: The CASTAC Blog

View all of Scott W's posts on Platypus: The CASTAC Blog.

The Memory of Fire: Burning Backwards into the Future

Fire breathes oxygen. Fire consumes organic material. Fire ages and dies. Fire runs, jumps, and simmers. Fire responds differentially to external irritants. Fire has moods. Among many of its seeming affinities with metabolizing life, fire also has an excellent, perhaps perfect, memory. As such, wildfires have one inviolable rule: never backtrack. Fire never goes backwards, never rewinds. Because of this stubborn refusal one of the most successful and widely practiced approaches to halting the progress of wildfires is to pre-burn swaths of land toward which a fire is raging. Once fire comes upon a burnt landscape it cannot proceed, it starves to death. When employed indirectly to create a control line, this strategy is called burnout. However, this strategy can also be employed to directly attack a fire by igniting a blaze and propelling it into the path of a wildfire. This is called backburning. Conclusively, you can fight fire with fire.

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Neolithic Plumbing: The Landscape is a Machine

Water is, among its many attributes, fluid. Left to its own devices it runs, spills, flows, leaks, crashes, and splashes. Holding H2O still is nearly impossible above 0°C. An ambitious enough goal in water management is containment and, if lucky, control. Mastery over the whims of water is of paramount concern today across a number of socio-environmental spheres—coasts flood, deserts desiccate, Flint contaminates, and California incinerates. The various infrastructural and political hydrology problems posed by Anthropocene conditions have inspired a number of technocratic and neoliberal solutions (e.g., the $118 billion storm surge gates in New York or monetization of dehydration in Africa). A brief look at archaic relationships between water and society, however, suggests conceptual alternatives to such high-energy and high-cost survival designs. Two such examples are examined below: the gravitational plumbing at the Neolithic* site of Smerquoy in the Orkney Islands and the Persian yakhchāl, a pre-Alexandrian 'icebox'. These cases challenge the common capitalized notion that solving environmental (or economic or technological) problems requires marshaling increasingly more energy toward them. These examples affirm that not all engineering dilemmas demand significant resource extraction and consumption, and equally that mere functional survival needn’t be the ultimate aspiration of hydrological management—low-impact lifestyles can be rather leisurely (see Soper’s alternative hedonism). Spa Culture 5,000 BCE Three-thousand years before Roman engineers devised the impressive urban plumbing infrastructure of the Empire's capital, Neolithic Orcadians were splashing around in hot tubs and steaming themselves with heated stones. Perhaps a mild exaggeration (but who knows), recent excavations (more...)

Battery Life: Charging Culture at the End of Energy 

Vodka-tonic. Take my picture. Charge my phone. Vodka-tonic. Take my picture. Charge my phone.  This (or a similar sequence) is an irritatingly common refrain heard by many waitstaff at lower-tier upper-class Instagram-approved destination restaurants in New York City—presumably other variations proliferate throughout the world’s urban centers. While vodka and digital reproduction make fruitful grist for social critique, the focus of the following is on the request to infuse one’s portable appendage with fresh electricity. There are a number of intriguing aspects of this “charging culture,” from its role in the resource consumption chain (Parikka 2015), to infrastructural adaptations appearing in charging societies (Larkin 2013), to the implications of portable appliances on mobility studies (Schiller 2011), to the novel linguistic interactions engendered by electronic communications (Squires 2010). In concert with these developments, the following discusses the metabolism of charging culture—that is, the processes that are necessary for the maintenance of life. (more…)