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Tearing and forming: a conceptual history of clouds

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

This thesis thinks deeply about what clouds mean to us, first through the identification of a paradigmatic ‘cloud concept’ that is brought into play by economists and engineers of the cloud computing industries, before moving to identify the historical interlocutors of this cloud concept within art, literature, poetry, theory and theatre and performance. The cloud computing industries are contributors to greenhouse gases, responsible for at least 2% of carbon emissions. The service-oriented architecture of these industries, which allows “users” to deposit data in remote databanks and access this data from mobile devices in disparate locations, depends on outsourcing labour through biocapital arrangements that generate vital energy from displaced migrant workforces in the US and dislocated populations in the global South. Digital capitalism abstracts economic flexibility from a disposable workforce that live in a secured state of precarity. 
This thesis takes the cloud computing industries as an emblematic sociotechnology, through which global populations are mediated into these economic relations. This thesis has henceforth sought to interrogate how a system of exploitation could be sustained behind the icon of a cloud. According with this central aim, this thesis unfolds upon an interrogation of the deep conceptual history of the cloud concept, written against the notion of a ‘total history,’ following Michel Foucault’s ‘general history’ in The Archaeology of Knowledge (1969) or Friedrich Nietzsche’s ‘genealogy’ in On the Genealogy of Morality (1887). That is, I visit disparate phenomena and disciplines in the history of ideas, seeking disruptive moments that can displace the contemporary valorisation of clouds as environmental forms. The decentring move that is driving this historical method puts my work in dialogue with Kalindi Vora, Life Support: Biocapital and the New History of Outsourced Labor (2015), Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation (2004) and Joan Martinez- Alier, The Environmentalism of the Poor: A Study of Environmental Conflicts and Valuation (2002). These writers have narrated the discontinuous history of environmental values by way of mapping those values through the appalling co-ordinates of global structures of biocapital. My work similarly decentres our conceptual frameworks for thinking about clouds, by locating historical moments where ideas about them seem to stem not from deep meditation “on” or “about” the “truth” of the “ecology,” but from gendered and racialised operations of social ostracism, modes of biocapital abstraction, and the dialectics of bestiality and sacralisation, primitivism and value-conferral, to recapitulate the economic relations of gendered and racial capitalism. Therefore, I attempt to deconstruct the cloud concept as an environmental value claiming to be the summation of a long history of “humans” relating to the skies, where in actual fact it services a global model of capital accumulation by dispossession. Overall, the thesis hopes to displace its readers’ way of looking at the skies via dispersing static concepts about clouds. The thesis seeks to rescind the conceptual assumptions through which we perceive clouds as tearing and forming. Through these unremarked conceptual assumptions clouds lend to biocapital patterns of life, an image of ecological orchestration. Dissolving this illusion of ecological orchestration is the central aim of this thesis.
Original languageEnglish
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Award date1 Jun 2018

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