31 October 2023
DocTalks x MoMA
Session 3
10 AM EST / 3 PM CET
(Please note that the time difference between EST and CET
is 5 hours this week, so we will start at 10 AM EST and 3 PM CET)

Turf Management, or
How To Make a Level Playing Field

Emerson College

Respondent: Dan Handel, University of Haifa

Faria, James M. and Robert T. Wright. Monofilament Ribbon Pile Product. US Patent 3,332,828, filed Dec. 28, 1965,
and issued July 25, 1967.

When the Houston Astrodome rolled out the first AstroTurf baseball field in Summer 1966 after the “World’s Most Pampered Grass” died underneath the novel stadium’s roof, few reactions were enthusiastic. Beyond ballplayers’ suspicions of its effect on the game and their bodies, critics viewed the Monsanto-developed surface as either a gimmick or an insult: the artificial rug was pilloried as an attempt to save face or, worse, the synthetic environment’s eclipse of a uniquely American pastoral.

The proposed talk will use the episode within a larger project on “environmental management” and as a precedent for contemporary debates on the political economy of energy, public culture, and sports. The Astrodome and its design illustrate a late-modern approach to environment as conditional space, and management as the discursive and operative set of ideologies, practices, and technologies that produce and maintain those conditions. The framework aims to critically re-assess the economic assumptions of management thought and its ever-finer rationalizations, optimizations, maximizations, and so on through the ambivalence of management’s different making-dos. Illustrated by the Astrodome’s volley between their expert consultants and “band-aid” solutions, management as making-do vascillates between dreams of totalizing control and maximizing ambition and the improvisational and adaptive handling of adversity. The Dome’s vicissitudes demonstrate environmental management’s impossibility of totally-administered space as well as the insufficiency of relying on small-scale solutions to structural problems.

Drawing on the ultimately fruitless grass-growing experiments for the stadium and the petrochemical industrial complex that produced AstroTurf, the talk will place the Astrodome within a history of agronomic professionalization and scientization of sports and turfgrass management. Likewise, the Astrodome’s prime role in attracting white collar labor and business tourism for Sunbelt Houston’s petrochemical, energy, and space “business climate” invites closer attention to spectator sports persistent function in issues and ideologies of urban development, environmental sustainability, and international relations through sportswashing and, naturally, “astroturfing.”


Black Mountain, Red Earth

Independent Researcher

Respondent: Megan Eardley, Princeton University

Black Mountain, Red Earth chronicles the desolation of mining towns in the Zambian Copperbelt and the emergence of multinational frontier towns in the West. Following the crash of global copper prices in the 1990’s, this mineral-rich region underwent significant changes as state-run mines were sold to multinational mining conglomerates. This privatization resulted in drastic cuts to welfare and funding for urban development, profoundly changing the lives of those who work and live there.

The project focuses on two distinct regions: Black Mountain portrays the devastating effects of privatization from the lens of miners and their livelihoods in the Zambian Copperbelt; Red Earth explores the emerging frontier towns in Western Zambia where multinational companies are vying for a share of Africa’s vast copper reserves. Through interviews and photography, these two chapters provide a comparative portrayal between a place left behind by globalization and another borne by it, between the shadows of Zambia’s colonial legacy and the emergence of a global Africa shaped by competing multinational interests. These narratives foreshadow a broader landscape intertwined by global markets and forces.

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