Benson, Etienne S

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Now showing 1 - 10 of 16
  • Publication
    Minimal Animal: Surveillance, Simulation, and Stochasticity in Wildlife Biology
    (2014-01-01) Benson, Etienne S
    This article discusses the problematics and potentialities proposed by the "minimal animal" an animal that is nothing but a stochastic pattern across a blank page. The minimal animal was not an invention of the 1960s, but the tracking systems and digital computers that first became available during that period both broadened its reach and changed its character in significant ways.
  • Publication
    The Urban Upwelling
    (2015-11-01) Benson, Etienne S
    In late September 2015 a video began circulating on social media under the hashtag #pizzarat. As of early October, it had garnered more than seven million views on YouTube—sufficient evidence of cultural relevance to make not only meme-happy sites such as BuzzFeed and Gawker take note, but also mainstream media such as the New York Times, CNN, and NPR. The 14-second video, shot by comedian Matt Little, showed a rat dragging a slice of pizza down the steps of a Manhattan subway station. Responses to the video varied. Some interpreted it as evidence of poor sanitation, while others admired the little rodent's pluck and perseverance, seeing him or her as "a symbol of the ultimate New Yorker."1
  • Publication
    Movement Ecology and the Minimal Animal
    (2016-01-01) Benson, Etienne S
    Among ecologists, movement is on the move. Over the past decade or so, a growing number of researchers have begun to focus their attention on how and why individual animals move across landscapes through time. Research programs come and go, and there is no way of knowing how long this new filed of movement ecology will retain its promise or what new forms it might take. Nonetheless the emergence of this approach to studying animals and landscapes can tell us something about the way scientific practices and conceptions of the animal are changing in an era of Big Data and of growing concerns about the impact of humanity on global ecological processes.1
  • Publication
    Autonomous Biological Sensor Platforms
    (2011-01-01) Benson, Etienne S
    Late in 2010, the Journal of Geophysical Research printed a report under the title "Narwhals Document Continued Warming of Southern Baffin Bay."1 The research described by the report was heavily promoted by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which had partially funded it, and the story was picked up by a number of newspapers and blogs, one of which praised the narwhals as "excellent field techs."2 Who were these narwhals? How had they gotten into the business of not merely responding to or communicating among themselves about Arctic climate change but actually documenting it?
  • Publication
    Environment between System and Nature: Alan Sonfist and the Art of the Cybernetic Environment
    (2014-09-01) Benson, Etienne S
    This paper examines the role of systems thinking in environmental(ist) art and activism through a close reading and contextualization of Army Ants: Patterns and Structures (1972), an installation by Alan Sonfist, one of the leading figures in U.S. land art and environmental art of the 1960s and 1970s. It challenges a commonly held retrospective understanding of "environmental art" as being inherently about bringing nature into art (or into the gallery) by showing how important systems thinking, which blurred the natural-cultural divide, was to Sonfist and other artists of the time. It suggests that these two understandings of the environment -- one focused on nature, the other on systems -- were both allied and in tension, and that the unexpected technical problems faced by Army Ants can be attributed at least in part to a failure to acknowledge those tensions. Similarly, the paper suggests, the legacy of glossing over these different understandings of the environment has been at the root of broader conceptual problems with environmental art and activism.
  • Publication
    (2017-01-01) Benson, Etienne S; Braun, Veit; Langford, Jean M; Münster, Daniel; Münster, Ursula; Schmitt, Susanne
    Species categories are not simply an invention of the human mind. Plants, animals, fungi, and viruses engage in "species making" by mingling and separating.1 Yet, at the same time, the boundaries that define or differentiate species are not simply "natural"; they are actively made, maintained, politically charged, and fashioned to serve some needs more than others, inviting new essentialisms even as they alert us to important differences. Like other rubrics for organizing social worlds—race, ethnicity, gender, age, ability—the concept of species and the alternative classifications it invites are complicated and controversial. Whether wild or domestic, pet or pest, such categories are subject to temporally fluctuating human motives, shifting values, and cultural diversities.
  • Publication
    Paparazzi in the Woods: Hidden Surveillance Cameras are Making the Wilderness Less Wild
    (2008-08-14) Benson, Etienne S
    Next time you go for a hike, keep an eye out for the hidden cameras. The first sign that you're under surveillance might be a plastic or metal case, about the size of a hefty hardcover book, strapped to a tree or the whirr of the film advancing.
  • Publication
    Author's Response
    (2013-01-01) Benson, Etienne S
    On a humid summer evening in 2006, I joined a small team to search for turtles in the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, which stretches along parts of the Concord and Sudbury Rivers outside of Boston. The team consisted of employees of a local environmental consulting company hired by the town of Concord a few years earlier to study and protect the refuge's population of Blanding's turtles, which had been declining since the 1970s. During the nesting season, employees of the company monitored the turtles' movements, recorded causes of mortality, and set up protective fences around egg-laden nests, which were sometimes plundered by raccoons and dogs. Their monitoring work had revealed that many female Blandings turtles never even got to the point of laying eggs; instead, moving away from the wetlands in search of dry ground, they were crushed by cars on the roads surrounding the refuge. Like most such refuges, Great Meadows was intimately connected to the landscape that surrounded it.
  • Publication
    Introduction: Knowing the Wild
    (2010-01-01) Benson, Etienne S
    The argument that wildlife conservation and the science that supports it are contentious and politicized is, of course, not new. American wildlife managers and biologists have been complaining about "biopolitics"—understood as political interference into decisions properly left to experts—since at least as far back as the 1930s, when they first established the journals, conferences, professional associations, degree programs, and financial supporters that allowed them to lay claim to the status of an autonomous, self-accrediting profession. Conservation activists have regularly protested the manipulation of policy by (other) special interests. New administrations in Washington have brought sudden reversals in supposedly science-based government policies; populations designated as "threatened" or "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act have been delisted under one administration only to be relisted under the next, with little if any change in the scientific evidence. This sort of political conflict is well worth attending to, but as this book argues, disputes over the interpretation and application of scientific findings are not the only or, in many cases, the most important way in which wildlife biology becomes imbued with social values. As the history of wildlife radiotelemetry over the past half century shows, an engaged public, consisting often of small but highly vocal activists, some of them also scientists, has shaped the techniques that scientists can use and thus the kinds of findings that may be politicized in the first place.
  • Publication
    Generating Infrastructural Invisibility: Insulation, Interconnection, and Avian Excrement in the Southern California Power Grid
    (2015-05-01) Benson, Etienne S
    The fact that industrial infrastructures are embedded in complex environments animated by unexpected agencies is often invisible to their users—at least those who live in rich, industrialized societies with reliable systems for distributing water, power, and other goods and services. This article investigates how that invisibility is generated through a case study of electric power transmission in California in the early twentieth century. In the 1910s, the Pacific Light and Power Company constructed a 150,000-volt transmission line that delivered power from the Big Creek hydroelectric complex in the Sierra Nevada to customers in Los Angeles, more than 240 miles (386 kilometers) away. When the Southern California Edison Company upgraded this line to 220,000 volts in the early 1920s, the rate of disruptive "flashovers" on the line jumped dramatically. After months of investigation, the cause was determined to be excrement from birds perching on the transmission towers. To render this and other sources of interruption invisible to users, two techniques were used: insulation and interconnection. These kinds of humble techniques of separation and resilience are ubiquitous in modern infrastructure. By creating and maintaining divisions, they make it possible for new kinds of agency to emerge. Infrastructures become animate: responsive to their environments in ways that allow them to persist in the face of continual change.