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  • By Adam Louis-Klein & Justin Shaffner

Oscillations, A Project for Thinking with Everyone All Together, at Once

By Adam Louis-Klein & Justin Shaffner

Oscillations: Non-Standard Experiments in Anthropology, the Social Sciences, and Cosmology is a research platform and journal dedicated to diagnosing the aporias of the Moderns and proposing positive and concrete solutions to them. Oscillations contends that many of the pressing problems of our times, such as climate catastrophe and global inequality, are direct consequences of the cosmology of the Moderns.

Rather than rejecting Modern sciences, economic, and political traditions, Oscillations seeks to think with them without their over-determining exclusivity, setting them alongside indigenous and ancient knowledges, within a generic space of thought and praxis. Rather than assuming that the forms of thought and description must be standardized and professionalized, such creative ensembles of different disciplines and practices require innovative forms of expression and communication, or “non-standard” experiments.

Starting from the assumption that the boundary between the political and the ecological has broken down, or what others have described as the end of the Nature/Culture separation (Wagner 1981, Strathern 1980, 1988, Viverios de Castro 2004, Latour 1991, 2012, 2018, Descola 2005, da Silva 2007, 2022, Latour 1991, 2018), Oscillations focuses on experiments that conjugate the Human and the Universe jointly and in new ways.

In addition to publishing innovative works from both well-known academics and ordinary researchers, Oscillations also gathers people together in its ongoing reading group, “Anthropology at the Intersection of Worlds,” as well as in an active social media presence and practice. For Oscillations, social media is a key site in which to intervene in the Modern paradigm, experimenting with alternate ways of talking in real-time, with and as ordinary people, bypassing the usual temporalities of academic publishing and the diffusion of expert knowledge. The site is in the process of experimenting with graph technologies which allow different texts to be permuted with each other in a live network of active experimentation, rather than reified as official memos or marketable products.

One of the results of this work has been the emergence of what we name Sky-Earth Systems Science (SESS). The Sky-Earth System is a positive frame distinct from the Nature/Culture scheme of the Moderns, one that takes the imagery in the ethnographic record and ordinary talk as literally as possible as a space to think inside of.

There have been many attempts now to move beyond the Nature/Culture scheme, as proposed by anthropologists, some of which reject the separation of the terms in favor of mixing them, some of which reject the idea of an overarching and totalizing framework in favor of a multiplicity of different cosmologies, instead of just one (Shaffner & Louis-Klein, forthcoming). One solution has been Gaia, the idea that the multiplicity of different “worlds” (rather than cultures) should be thought inside of the dynamics of the Earth itself, characterized by a persistent mixing and hybridity of natural and cultural agents. Gaia as a frame is defined by this mixing of nature and culture, with reference to the Earth as a materialistic and secular ground as opposed to any transcendent “Heaven” (Latour 2015).

Our idea for the Sky-Earth System has been to seek a ground that would be more literal and more directly derived from the ethnographic record, no longer relying on the Modern secular polemic of the natural Earth as against the supernatural Heaven. Inspired by Amazonian cosmologies- but also Egyptian, ancient Mediterranean, Melanesian, indigenous Australian, and others - we take stories of origin from the Sky in literal terms. This notion is very widespread, even when the Sky is also capable of reversal, being conceived as an Underworld or Ocean, in the rotation of the Sky under the Earth. Sky-Earth Systems Science derives from the recognition that this cosmological framework – of a space defined between Sky and the Earth, emerging out of an Original Sky – is how the Ancients conjugate different perspectives and compose different worlds together in a unified way, how they superpose the images to think with everyone all together at once.

Key to articulating this frame has been the recognition that it allows us to no longer speak about ethnographic materials in a way that is exterior to them, but rather internal to the same space. What Sky-Earth Systems Science seems to allow is a closeness to the images where they are no longer ‘interpreted’ or talked “about,” but thought with. One experiments with the affordances of the images by using them to define and compose the cosmology. In this sense, Sky-Earth Systems Science emerges as a modeling procedure for directly studying the Universe, in tandem with contemporary physics and science. The division between the natural sciences and the social sciences no longer seems to have purchase here, without requiring that we simply mix the terms. Rather, there is a new frame of reference altogether.

We feel that Sky-Earth Systems Science, as a collective project of thought and praxis, under experimentation and development through the Oscillations journal and its related initiatives, can work productively alongside the Leadership for the Ecozoic program, as it seeks the transformation of higher education so as to bring about an Ecozoic era, an emergent system of mutual flourishing across the face of the Earth. Like L4E, Oscillations undertakes “activist research,” treating research as a concrete and real time intervention into the impasses of the Moderns. Practicing an ethnography and symptomatology of the Moderns, SESS composes its positive, alternative frame so as to envision different pasts, presents, and futures. At the borders of academia, thinking-with and as ordinary people, both the Ecozoic and the Sky-Earth System propose a vision for emergent conviviality and flourishing.

Feel free to contact to submit a piece for publication, join the reading group, or simply learn more.

Oscillations Journal & Research Platform :

Sky-Earth Systems Science :

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