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SHASS Radio Environmental Worldmaking (Experiential Learning Opportunity)




STS: Program in Science, Technology & Society

Faculty Supervisor:

Kate Brown, Megan Black, Tristan Brown

Faculty email:


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Students should email a brief letter of interest and a CV/resume to Kate Brown (brownkl@mit.edu), Megan Black (mablack@mit.edu), and Tristan Brown (tristanb@mit.edu).

Project Description

This MIT experiential learning project will enlist students with interests in climate change to oversee the production of 15-minute podcast segments based on research into histories relevant to this moment and its apparent promises of transition to a more equitable and sustainable world. Serving as a humanities research lab, the project invites environmentally minded students to explore stories of environmental justice along three tracks: the urban farming movement in the United States, the contests for control over natural resources in China, and the conflicts between settler and Indigenous populations over resources associated with renewable technologies. These histories raise questions about equitable and just access to land and resources at a time of crises when “emergency” solutions may revert to old patterns of discrimination. Our group plans to hire 9 undergraduate research assistants, 8 of whom will be assigned to one of the three tracks based on interest, and 1 of whom will be responsible for setting up the project website and overseeing the creation of the podcasts. Students of different backgrounds and interests in contextualizing environmental topics are welcome. Ideally, at least one of the students will be equipped with reading knowledge of Russian, another with reading knowledge of Chinese, and another with reading knowledge of Spanish or Portuguese. Additionally, one student will ideally have experience with web development. These students would be working 15 hours per week for 9 weeks. The tracks are as follows: 1. Urban farming initiatives in U.S. cities. This project focuses on the environmental justice underpinnings of the urban gardening movement. It asks how much is this movement is motivated by issues of racial justice and equal access to healthy diets and how much is it a product of gentrification and/or elite localvore food movement? 2. “Rare Earths for the Common People”: Natural Resource Management in China. Mining has a direct impact on climate change. Yet, without the mining of rare earths such as neodymium (Nd) and praseodymium (Pr), much of our modern lifestyle would not be possible. This project would enlist three students to examine issues related to mining and community management of natural resources in China from the nineteenth century to the present. Students will grapple with the following questions: How was mining regulated in pre-twentieth century China? How is it regulated today? How did ethnic politics, migratory shifts, anti-superstition campaigns, and the legacies of imperialism shape mining in China? Reflecting on the current moment, how does a state with a total monopoly on the means of energy production engage the “existential externality” of climate change arising in part from the success of its industrialization? Students will also get a chance to consider some of the surprising environmental debates that arose in the wake of China’s Covid shutdown in early 2020. 3. Settler-Indigenous mining economies and remote technologies. This project would enlist three students to tackle different issues related to her new project on anti-mining campaigns in settler and Indigenous lands, primarily in the United States, in the 1970s and 1980s. The project specifically focuses on elements, such as gold, copper, and molybdenum, that were increasingly valued for their part in a new global communication infrastructure with ongoing relevance to today; communication technologies and digital spaces have been central to the pandemic response and, for some, point a way out of the climate crisis by curtailing the need for fossil fuel-based travel. Attending to the history behind such technologies reveals other important dynamics that concern the environment. Where have the materials underpinning communication and other “green” technologies been sourced from? Whose lands contained these raw materials and how did governments and companies attempt to locate and unearth them? How on the ground did people--including Native communities and settler societies--react to the arrival of mining companies to extract resources that would also help to connect a “global village”? What were the environmental repercussions? 4. Web Development and Podcast creation, with the student closely following developments in the previous three tracks.


The only prerequisite is an interest in environmental issues. Ideally, within the 9 positions, we will hire students with skills in Russian, Mandarin, Spanish/Portuguese, or Web Design/Podcasting Experience - but these are not prerequisites for applying.