Extended Carbon Cognition as a Machine

Ingmar Lippert

Research output: Journal Article or Conference Article in JournalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


By way of exploring ethnographic data on carbon construction practices by agents of ecological modernisation in a multinational corporation, this paper seeks to problematise the distributed and heterogeneous intelligence assembled by human and non-humans to make intelligible their carbon footprint.
Grounded in ethnographic fieldwork at a leading multinational in the financial services sector over a period of more than 12 months, I focus on everyday work practices as taking place in a capitalist context. It is through practical work that the presences of carbon emissions are imagined and brought into being. Thus, carbon emerges as co-constituted by thought. I will focus on instances in which the corporate machinery, i.e. automated thought, had to be supplemented by immediate human practices of 1) thinking themselves, 2) organising materials to think through and 3) ordering others to think. At another layer of analysis, I am to scrutinise carbon construction practices through the tension between creatively thinking / envisioning -- and calculating / number crunching. Tracing members' practices allows to reconstruct how their usage of dichotomies renders carbon emissions intelligible.
As a result of this analysis carbon accounting emerges as enabled through an extended system of cognition. The paper concludes by tentatively suggesting a view on this machinery as co-constituting a wider -- to borrow Guattari's term -- Universe: A Universe of references to carbon.
Following these relations of thinking allows to question the conceptualisa- tions of the actors involved and how their practical interactions render carbon, nature and our society (un)sustainable. This, I hope, provides a chance to better conceptualise individuals, their social and material contexts, and through that, corresponding room for manœvre.
Original languageEnglish
JournalComputational Culture
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • Félix Guattari
  • distributed cognition
  • Actor-Network theory
  • carbon accounting
  • Ecological modernisation
  • Ethnography


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