Skip to main content

Planetary Futures – 3 credits

International Graduate Summer School

August 1–13, 2017

How shall we inhabit the catastrophe?

In the face of the current ecological crisis, how shall we rethink concepts and practices of environment, ecology, difference, and technology to envision and create a more just, sustainable, and diverse planet? The combined histories of colonialism, extraction industries, energy, as well as innovation in design, architecture, literature and technology offer a lens by which to examine how contemporary techno-scientific societies envision planetary futures.

Site visits exploring resource extraction, colonialism in urban policy and planning, and speculative architectural design will be accompanied by an analysis of science fiction, science technology, speculative design and ethnography, as well as life and earth sciences.


Local, national and international graduate students from various backgrounds, with a focus on arts and 
design, geography, ecology, anthropology, sociology, literary studies, and practitioners in design and the arts.

Led by:

  • Orit Halpern (Concordia University)
  • Pierre-Louis Patoine (Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3)
  • Marie-Pier Boucher (Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Art, Science and Technology, M. I. T.)
  • Perig Pitrou (CNRS / Collège de France)
  • Special invited quests from science fiction authors to artists and metereologists 
Picture courtesy of NASA / Bill Anders (public domain) Picture courtesy of NASA / Bill Anders (public domain)


December 24th 1968, outer space. Williams Anders, a member of the Apollo 8 mission, photographs the Earth rising on the lunar horizon: Earthrise. The picture becomes instantaneously famous, permeating every corner of popular culture. For the first time in its history, humanity can contemplate the unambiguous finitude of its habitat. Thus, a new consciousness is born: this limited planet might not be able to sustain unlimited growth. The expanding occupation of territories and the ruthless exploitation of natural resources, intensified by technical progress and the competitive logic of capitalism, might not lead to global happiness, but to global crisis.

In our present this crisis appears to have arrived. Loss, extinction, disaster, catastrophe, seem to define our situation in relationship to the environment, each other, and the other species inhabiting our earth.  This workshop will use the space of Montréal and Québec to begin asking how we might imagine, and design, a future earth without escaping or denying the ruins of the one we inhabit?  How shall we design and encounter the ineffable without denying history, colonialism, or normalizing violence?  What forms of knowledge and experiment might produce non-normative ecologies of care between life forms? How shall we inhabit the catastrophe?

This workshop will bring together the disciplines of the arts, humanities, social sciences, and sciences to collectively investigate this question of how we shall inhabit the world in the face of the current ecological crisis and to rethink concepts and practices of environment, ecology, difference, and technology to envision, and create, a more just, sustainable, and diverse planet.

The course will include field visits to extraction sites, energy infrastructures, earth science installations, and speculative architecture and design projects. 

This course will be innovative in deploying a research-studio format to adjoin theoretical and fictive possibilities with empirical research in the present.  The course will be organized around visits to three sites organized through three themes that traverse the many temporalities with which we encounter each other and the earth: Extraction, Colonialism, and Speculation.

Each site will be accompanied by readings, historical information, and where possible interviews and conversations with community groups, labor organizations, and scientists.  These three sites will engage the past, present, and future of how we envision life.  These sites may include: 

1. Extraction: Canada is one of the most productive, and largest, mining and energy producing territories on Earth.  We will engage this present, and our contemporary treatment of the planet, the environment, and other species, through visiting sites such as the open-pit gold mines in Abitibi and Val d’Or Québec, the aluminum refining installations in Alcan, and metereology and geology research sites in Québec. In conversation with geologists, earth scientists, earth work artists, engineers, and environmentalists the class will spend four-5 days travelling to varied sites, engaging with and responding to the massive scales of geo-engineering that our currently restructuring our planet’s ecology.

2. Colonialism : The class will conduct an extensive site tour and discussion of the Cabot Square Area and the Old City. Cabot Square has multiple histories, it is a homage and monument John Cabot, an Genovese explorer, whose 1497 discovery of parts of North America under the commission of Henry VII of England is often assumed to have been the first European exploration of the mainland of North America  and thus a start point of European colonialism, for a long time it was a location for the homeless, many of them from Inuit or First Nation origins, and today there is a new set of urban initiatives whose legacy is currently in contention. It has been redeveloped as a space bridging Aboriginal concerns with the local affluent community of Westmount, for homeless advocates it has been a travesty of gentrification. The Old Port area serves as a constant monument and ruin of Montréal’s history, and a location for thinking about future development. 

3. Speculation : Montréal has a history as being central to speculative design and architecture practices.  This visit will use the remains of the 1967 Expo and the 1978 Olympics stadium to ruminate on the past, ruins, obsolescence, and futurity. We hope to conduct this visit in coordination with the Canadian Center for Architecture. 

Montréal is the home of monuments to the history of an earlier era when ecological understandings of the earth first emerged in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. These partial ruins, testify to visions and concerns about environment, globalization, decolonization, and energy. Monuments such as Habitat 67, the Biodome, and the Olympic Stadium offer testimony to both optimism over the possibilities for a new global habitat and new forms of human life, both on earth and in space, and rising concerns over environmental devastation, population increase, and geo-political terror. They also offer fertile sites to begin thinking upon, and speculating about, what a future habitat could or should look like ? How should these ruins and monuments be activated ? Are there still imaginaries we might gleam from them ? Are they best left to the past ? The class will engage with these designs and their histories and ask themselves, having encountered the current scale of geo-engineering projects, and the histories of colonialism and extraction that shape the environment,--what alternative worlds might we envision ? and construct ? and how might we begin to do so ?

Accompanying these three sites students will be given written and media materials from the following disciplines:

1. Fiction: Re-envisioning how we treat the earth demands thinking how we might envision alternative worlds. To this end, literary scholars will be leading sessions that examine the relationship between history of science and science fiction in the work of feminist, queer, African American and First Nation novelists and poets such as Ursula Le Guin, J. G. Ballard, Octavia Butler and Natasha Kanapé Fontaine. These readings will allow us understand the importance of notions such as «Umwelt », « biosphere » and « ecosystem » in the building and experiencing of alternative worlds.

2. Science Technology Studies:  Students will also be exposed to current work on the history and theory of architecture, urbanism, infrastructure and media.  We will be working with the Center for Canadian Architecture and historians and anthropologists studying green design and energy infrastructures and examining the social impact of geo-technical projects.

3. Speculative Design and Ethnography:  Students will engage with contemporary theories and methods in speculative design and urban planning and multi-modal ethnography. We will collectively engage readings that examine how to encounter and document phenomena that are happening at time and territorial scales beyond or outside the human sensorium.

4. Life and Earth Sciences: Students will be given background readings on ecology, the biosphere, and geology. They will be introduced to the history and science of the ideas, from Uexkull « umwelt » to the emergence of « ecosystem » in the 1930’s and to the idea of the anthroposcene introduced by geologists in the 1970’s.  

Canada, and Montréal in particular, has a special place to play in thinking about, responding to, and developing new methods by which to (re)think and respond to environmental catastrophe. The combined histories of colonialism, extraction industries, energy, as well as innovation in design, architecture, literature and technology offer a lens by which to examine how contemporary techno-scientific societies envision planetary futures.  Canada wavers between practicing ongoing environmental devastation and extraction and constructing itself on the imaginary of the pristine North and Arctic.

Montréal in particular, is an important territory for thinking about diversity, co-existence, and future habitats; located as it is between different colonial histories, French and British, and serving in the present as a major global center for the study and engagement with architecture and design it offers many opportunities and rich resources for cultivating thought and research. 

Interested applicants should submit a C.V. and a one page summary of their current research interests and why they wish to enroll in the course by May 10, 2017. The application should be submitted to:

Antonia Hernandez

Final decisions will be made by May 20, 2017


For Quebec residents: $351.27 CAD

For Canadian, non-Quebec residents: $841.23 CAD

For France-based Masters and PhD students: $841.23 CAD

For international MA and PhD students: $1,712.76 CAD

*International students must purchase Health Insurance through Concordia’s International Student Office (ISO) at a cost of $91.58 CAD

*Students that have never taken a course at Concordia University must pay $25.00 CAD New Student Fee

*In addition, students that are not previously registered at Concordia will need to obtain a Student Identification Card at a cost of $11.50 CAD.

There is financial aid available for foreign students to cover tuition and transport, and students not living within the Montréal area will receive free room and board in Montréal. You must apply in order to find out if you are eligible. 

If you cannot find what you are looking for, please email us.

  • Can I get credit for this course?

Yes, but if you are not registered at Concordia, contact us and we will work with you to provide you with all the information your home institution requires.

  • What is the language of instruction?

 Course instruction language is English, but assignments can be submitted in french

Contact us



1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd W., BLDG
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
H3G 1M8

Back to top

© Concordia University