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Slow seminar no. 48

How can sponges be imagined in the Anthropocene?

Info about event


Wednesday 14 November 2018,  at 17:00 - 19:30


Jens Christian Schous vej 3, 8000 Aarhus C, building 1451, 515.

Dear friends of AURA


November 14 will be our second to last slow seminar. We will have the seminar from 17.00-19.30 at Jens Christian Schous vej 3, 8000 Aarhus C, building 1451, 515.

Please join us—even if you are new to our reading circle!  We have an exciting and packed program, with two parts.  In the first part, Nils Bubandt will lead us in a discussion of “rubber boots methods for the Anthropocene."  Our discussion will prepare us for the last AURA conference, on 26-27 November, which continues this theme.  The second part of our slow seminar, on marine sponges, will be led by biologists Stine Vestbo and Peter Funch.  Please check out the attached articles.  One of our questions will be about the classic AURA theme: how can ethnographers and field biologists best work together?  Please prepare a few thoughts on that topic, using the material on sponges, and perhaps inspired by the Matthews article.  Further descriptions of each part follow.  I look forward to seeing you there.  While I know it might seem stressful to meet in the early evening, this will allow a very exciting interaction with AURA alumni and friends in Santa Cruz California.  Thank you for indulging this, and I believe you will find it worth your while.  Please let Mia Korsbaek  know if you are coming so we can order food accordingly.  


Part I (40 minutes): The upcoming AURA conference "Rubberboots Methods for the Anthropocene", scheduled for 26-27 November 2018,  is an attempt to consolidate and interrogate the many experiences in using methods across disciplinary fields that members of AURA have gathered since our research project began in 2018.  The conference will be a chance to discuss both the successes and challenges of trans-disciplinary collaboration beginning in method that AURA has pioneered.


As an introduction to these discussions, Andrew Matthews' article in Cultural Anthropology is a really interesting attempt to bridge the gap between anthropology and historical ecology in order to fashion a critical form of description that captures both soils and ghosts.


For more about the conference, see: http://anthropocene.au.dk/currently/events/show/artikel/rubber-boots-methods-for-the-anthropocene-curiosity-collaboration-and-critical-description-in-the/)


Part II:  During this Slow Seminar we will explore sponges - the world’s simplest animals. Sponges have been around for more than 600 million years. They are sessile and pump huge amounts of water through their bodies from which they filter out food particles. Even though they are multicellular they mostly lack tissue organization but have differentiated cells types that form the sponge body. Also, they possess amazing regenerative abilities. Most sponges produce minute spicules that form a siliceous or calcareous skeleton, but some sponges, like the bath sponges, only form a soft skeleton. Sponges play an important ecological role in aquatic environments and are important both in the degradation and the formation of reef structures. When they filter feed they remove phytoplankton, bacteria and virus from the enormous amounts of water they pump through their water canal system. Sponges host a vast array of symbionts and often these holobionts produce chemical compounds used as defense against predation and space competition. Some of these compounds are used as antiviral and anticancer drugs, and there is large potential for developing new types of drugs from sponges. The global market for commercial bath sponges is around $40 million per year. They are overharvested from wild populations and are declining in many areas.


In the AURA sponge group we hope that the selected papers will fuel a vivid discussion on how sponges can be imagined in the Anthropocene. What are the consequences of a shift from a coral reef to a sponge reef regarding ecosystem services? Which utilizations of sponges can be imagined in the future eg. regarding reef restoration, aquaculture and development of new drugs? What kinds of questions and methods might a social scientist or humanist adopt to get closer to the world of sponges, in dialogue with biologists?” 


Help with terminology and general information:

Leys et al paper



Overview of papers:

Bell 2008 – review of ecological role of sponges

Webster and Taylor 2012 – sponges and their microbiome

Bell et al 2013 – sponges and climate change

Van Soest et al 2007 – invasive sponges (abstract, introduction and discussion are the most important parts)

Voogd 2007 – mariculture of sponges – use of sponges in pharmaceutical industry


See you November 14!