Mapping Multispecies Temporalities: Experiments in Diagrammatic Representation

July 17, 2013, 15:30 | Centennial Room, Nebraska Union


This paper presents an ongoing experiment in mapping temporalities of multispecies ecologies. Addressing the conference theme, "Freedom to Explore", the paper asks: what happens to figurations of "freedom" and "exploration" when recontextualized as multispecies emergences (more-than-human freedoms), indeterminate patternings (temporal rather than spatial formations), and contingent, historically constituted mobilities (uneven trajectories and explorations constituted through difference and incommensurability)? Rather than proposing answers, my presentation offers two ways of thinking through such recontextualization. It unpacks a speculative methodology for digital and diagrammatic representations of time, and offers an early look at a working prototype for a fungal clock: a web-based visualization of polyrhythmic interactions between multiple organisms.

Diagrammatic Representation, Or Mapping Worlds Otherwise

Political ecologists describe maps as power tools: they both reveal and hide. As Arturo Escobar writes: "Who counts, draws, and narrates and how is of decisive importance." (Escobar 2008; Rocheleau 2005). Indeed, fast growing fields of data visualization, geographic information systems, simulation modeling, and scenario planning tap into silos of data to generate seemingly inexhaustible means to chart, count, tabulate, track, tag, and thus masterfully deploy a financialized Fix. Such representations are tethered to nineteenth century projects of calculation and seriality (Daston 1994; Hopwood, Schaffer, Secord 2010), epistemic tools constructed through historical materialities and discursive formations, but fraught nonetheless with violent legacies of occupation, extraction, and obsolescence. Given their rhetorical clout in the production and disruption of globalized hegemonies, how might visualizations — and specifically new diagrammatic forms and alternative cartographies — render worlds otherwise?

To describe freedom and exploration is to consider circulation. To study circulation is to unpack relationships that unfold not just in space, but through time. How might diagrammatic forms open up little-known, or perhaps long-forgotten, multiplicities of time or polyrhythms?

Unilinear orderings of time undergird scientific visualizations of growth, transformation, and exchange. Representations of species origins and variabilities — through historical timelines, energy cycles, network patterns, activity diagrams, genealogies, arborescent or rhizomatic animations — largely depend on a chronological sequence of standardized, homogeneous units of time. Entangled histories, indeterminate contingencies, and dynamic mobilities are distilled into teleological causes and effects. Qualitative differences and durational synchronies/sedimentations (Bergson 1922) that emerge from and constitute change, movement, and encounter are quantified into time series, or a measurable succession of seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years, decades, centuries. Modernity configures and depends upon a temporality abstracted from lived experiences and meterized into a compressed, scalable, and human-centric coordinate of space (Harvey 1990). Against unilinear anthropogenic time, difference is obscured and becomes difficult to locate. As capitalist breakdowns come to a head, the need for critical attention to differential temporalities can no longer be ignored.

Multispecies Times: A Fungal Clock

The second thread of this paper offers a speculative methodology for diagrammatic representation. It presents an experimental web project that reframes unilinear time as entangled polytemporalities constituted through more-than-human assemblages. An interdisciplinary collaboration between anthropologist Anna Tsing and media artist Elaine Gan, it takes the form of a fungal clock. Written in html-5, and built through the lens of field research and multispecies ethnographies of matsutake (mycorrhizal fungi) worlds, the clock brings together a series of digital experiments in representing time. Instead of visualizing cycles and encounters between determinate species beings against a single (Western European) time scale, the clock diagrams interweaving temporal relations or topologies of differential rhythms. These relations are distinguished as three main folds: synchrony or coordination across recurring seasons; emergent becomings or interspecies webs that sediment into ecologies and worlds; uneven trajectories and aleatory encounters that crystallize into historical conjunctures.

Diversity does not unfold against a standard ruler of time. Nor does "it" branch through anthropogenic scales. Learning from Karen Barad, "temporality is produced through the iterative enfolding of phenomena marking the sedimenting historiality of differential patterns of mattering." (Barad 2007) What is at stake in visualizing temporality is not how formations change, but which properties, taxonomies, and relations become meaningful, intense, and valuable within and across particular regimes, niches or semiotic systems. What comes to matter is a matter of time.

Thus, this paper considers critical diagrams of temporalities as expanded ways of defining "freedom" and "exploration". It calls for ongoing development of conceptual-practical apparatuses that rethink human-centric movements and agencies as multispecies webs and temporal patternings. It highlights these questions as generative lines of inquiry for an exciting field of possibilities, increasingly known as "digital humanities": (1) What kinds of temporal relations materialize into and emerge through biocultural assemblages? (2) How might interdisciplinary scholarship (theorizing, making, imagining) articulate these movements to work through incommensurable claims for engineering life or death? (3) What digital diagrammatic media might mobilize ethico-political practices beyond modernist master narratives and postmodernist relativisms — and towards worlds constituted through immanence and difference?


Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the Universe Halfway, Durham and London: Duke University Press. 180.
Bergson, H. (1922). Duration and Simultaneity, translation by Leon Jacobson in Durie, R. (ed.) Duration and Simultaneity: Bergson and the Einsteinian Universe, Manchester: Clinamen Press, Ltd., 1999.
Braidotti, R. (2002). Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming, Cambridge: Polity Press.
Daston, L. (1994). Enlightenment Calculations, Critical Inquiry 21(1:) 182-202. Autumn 1994.
De Landa, M. (2000). Deleuze, Diagrams, and the Genesis of Form, American Studies, 45(1): 33-41.
Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari (1987). A Thousand Plateaus. translation by Brian Massumi, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Escobar, A. (2008). Territories of Difference, Durham and London: Duke University Press. 56.
Galison, P. (2003). Einstein's Clocks, Poincaré's Maps: Empires of Time, New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company.
Harvey, D. (1990). The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry Into the Origins of Cultural Change, Cambridge, MA and Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.
Hopwood, N., S. Schaffer, and J. Secord (2010). "Seriality and Scientific Objects in the Nineteenth Century", History of Science 48, 161. 251-285.
Lima, M. (2011). Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Information. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.
Rocheleau, D. (2005). Maps as Power Tools: Locating Communities in Space or Situating People and Ecologies in Place? in Brosius, P., A. Tsing, and C. Zerner (eds.), Communities and Conservation, Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press. 326-362.
Rosenberg, D., and A. Grafton (2010). Cartographies of Time. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.