- Animate Planet: Making Visceral Sense of Living in a High-Tech Ecologically Damaged World by Kath Weston
Kath Weston's book, Animate Planet, invites the reader to explore the relationships and entanglements that arise in profoundly transformed environments. It is composed of a series of beautifully written essays that investigate emerging intimacies in places where humans exist in co-constitutive relationships with environments produced by the projects of modernity.
In the introductory chapter, Weston situates the essays in relation to discussions of post-humanism and the ontological turn (Descola 2013, Kohn 2013). The analysis begins from a moment when people start to "wake up from the dream of modernity" (5) and recognize their intimate entanglements with disrupted environments of our own creation, a moment that also seeks to disrupt the division between nature and the human. "People are not just in the world," Weston argues, "but of it" (16, emphasis in original), and we come into being through intimate relationships with pollutants, technologies of surveillance, and the climate. The argument proposes a shift from animism to animacies as a way to think about these co-constitutive environments; it does not seek to provide a "pastoral blurring of the human offered by so many posthumanist accounts…" (79) but rather an investigation of bio- and techno-intimacy, where we become and are the products of an industrialized world. "This is not your great-greatgrandmother's animism," she warns (33).
The book is divided into four cases, and a final essay that does not seek to bring closure but rather to provoke further discussion. Weston suggests the chapters could be read independently, and indeed they could [End Page 853] be approached that way. However, there are themes that build from one to the next, especially on citizen science, and readers would benefit from tracing the connections.
The first essay looks at the techno-intimacies produced by the use of tracking technologies for food. It argues that, especially after the outbreak of Mad Cow Disease in the US, tracing cattle through the food supply became a tool to control for risk. Animals are tagged with electronic beacons that allow producers to know their locations throughout the cycle. This surveillance co-exists with a desire for more intimate relationships between producers and consumers, a space where the provenance of food is known and the producer has a face. Nevertheless, techno-intimacy enacted through electronic traceability does not replicate these connections with modern tools; rather, it creates its own set of entanglements. Knowledge of our food comes through access to databases; depositories that allow consumers to eat meat anywhere in the country without needing to identify a specific producer or the animal in question to be reassured about risk.
The second essay on energy takes the reader to Japan and the events that transpired after the triple disasters of March 11, 2011. It opens with the author's experience in Tokyo during the earthquake, and the uncertainty that came with learning about the subsequent nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. This chapter presents one of the clearest examples of bio-intimacy. After the nuclear accident, the threat that escaped radioactive pollutants would become part of the bodies of those exposed was an "unwanted intimacy" (80) that blurred the boundary between humans and their environment. The Japanese government told people in Japan that exposure resulting from the nuclear accident would be limited. However, they were not willing to wait and discover through their own bodies whether those promises would prove true; instead, they turned to citizen science to protect themselves. "By seizing the means of perception" (92), citizens produced and shared their own data. In so doing, they resisted the unwanted intimacy forced on them by the nuclear accident.
The third essay focuses on climate change, and proposes an alternative way to think about those who are skeptical of its validity. The chapter argues that embodied sensorial knowledge plays a role in producing insights about the weather, and that even though embodied knowledge is partial and has...