FASS Staff Profile

TOM OZDEN-SCHILLING
PRESIDENTIAL YOUNG PROFESSOR
DEPARTMENT OF SOCIOLOGY AND ANTHROPOLOGY

Appointment:
ASSISTANT PROFESSOR
Office:
AS1/02-18
Email:
tos@nus.edu.sg
Tel:
Fax:
Homepage:
https://profile.nus.edu.sg/fass/tos/
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Brief Introduction

Tom's research examines the lives of rural resource experts and the intimate attachments that experts develop to places and people within spaces undergoing radical environmental and institutional changes. His forthcoming book, The Ends of Research: Indigenous and Settler Science after the War in the Woods (Duke University Press 2023), is a historical ethnography of twenty-first century environmental deregulation in British Columbia, Canada, and its effects on both Indigenous and settler researchers’ struggles to maintain long-term forestry experiments and sovereignty projects in the wake of government downsizing. Tom’s current project examines the emergence of new critical minerals exploration and research and development initiatives in Australia, Malaysia, and the American Mountain West. Prior to joining the Department of Sociology and Anthropology as a Presidential Young Professor in 2023, Tom was assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at Johns Hopkins University, and postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University's Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. Tom obtained his Ph.D in the History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology and Society program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and his research has been supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, and the U.S. National Science Foundation.


Teaching Areas

Science and Technology Studies; Global Indigeneities; Anthropological Theory; Research Methods and Professionalization; Visualization and Representation; Environmental Conflict


Graduate Supervision

COMPLETED DOCTORAL STUDENTS (COMMITTEE MEMBER)

  • Paul Kohlbry, Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University (“Of Plots and Deeds: Property and Formations of Land Defense in the West Bank”; second reader; 2019)
  • Grégoire Hervouet-Zeiber, Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University (“Medicine and Mistrust: Citizenship, Friendship and the Domestic in the Lives of Ex-Combatants in Russia”; 2020)
  • Arpan Roy, Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University (“The Ethics of Fragmentary Life: Dom Romanies and the Kinship Bond in Jerusalem”; second reader; 2021)
  • Megan Brown, Anthropology, Southern Methodist University (“Making Forests, Making Communities: An Ethnography of Reforestation in Monteverde, Costa Rica”; 2022)
  • Thomas Thornton, Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University (“Maximum Christianity: Making Religious Life in Alabama”; 2023)
  • Zeynel Gül, Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University (“Evidence and Chronicity: Law, Expert Knowledge, and the Laboring Body in Turkey"; 2023)

DISSERTATION DEFENSE EXTERNAL EXAMINER

  • Callum Sutherland, Science and Technology Studies, York University (“Sockeye at the Boundary: Controversial and Contested Salmon in the Cohen Commission, 2009-2012”; 2021)
  • Lakshmi Pradeep Rajeswary, South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore (“Coral Worlds: An Anthrop. Study of Island Protection & Conservation in Lakshadweep in the Indian Ocean”; 2023)

Current Research

My research examines experts’ intimate attachments to places and people, and shows how these attachments come to matter in spaces undergoing radical environmental and
institutional changes. My forthcoming book, The Ends of Research: Indigenous and Settler Science after the War in the Woods (Duke University Press, 2023), examines the afterlives of ambitious environmental management programs begun in western Canada during the 1990s, when the rise of ecological monitoring programs and Indigenous treaty-making promised a new era of liberalism – an era that ended abruptly when Canadian government institutions radically shrank. I analyze precarious transitions through which new concepts of vocation, resilience, and extinction come into everyday use: Forest Service researchersretiring without successors to carry on decades-long studies; government-sponsored Indigenous capacity-building initiatives designed to train Indigenous technicians, collapsing for want of funds. Such uncertainties magnify the estranging effects of professionalization, a neglected topic in sociological studies of expertise. The book challenges existing theories of institutional reproduction by examining how experts’ experiences of state drawback and deregulation are entangled with fragile processes of inheritance that have previously escaped scholarly attention.

My current research explores the global expansion of critical minerals exploration and scientific development in Malaysia, Australia, and the United States. Rare earth elements (REEs) and other so-called “critical minerals” are integral components of electric car batteries and other technologies foundational to low carbon futures. Consequently, emergent energy and defense initiatives have underscored the dire threat that the restricted flow of these minerals could play to existing political and economic orders. Little attention has been paid, however, to the ways that critical minerals development initiatives interpolate the ambitions and vulnerabilities of individual people within imagined energy transitions. Critical minerals initiatives have reconfigured geopolitical alliances and individual lives across the Asia-Pacific region. For people living and working throughout the region, participating in globalizing knowledge economies both demands and facilitates new forms of mobility and self-fashioning. Remaining relevant in technical industries, including REE exploration, processing, and technology development, increasingly requires individuals to treat jobs as temporary engagements for building networks, acquiring skills and developing a specialized “niche,” even as rapid technological change threatens to eliminate the very needs that their specialized expertise is designed to address. My research examines how, rather than offering sweeping visions of the common good based on long-term employment and improved infrastructure, promoters for critical minerals projects encourage affected communities to celebrate flexibility and deferred returns.

With support from the US National Science Foundation, I have begun to explore these questions through fieldwork in the western US and Canada with exploration geologists and financiers, technical consultants affiliated with environmental advocacy groups, and scientists designing new technologies for utilizing rare-earths based materials and extracting them from industrial waste. Since 2022, I have also begun planning new ethnographic research in Pahang, Malaysia, among different groups engaged with a rare earths processing center and affiliated research institutions. This new research addresses the following questions: How are geopolitical conversations about Malaysia’s strategic location within mineral supply chains emerging within the lives of Malaysian scientists, students, resource workers, and other citizens? How are emergent research, technical training and outreach initiatives connected with the site being used to present technological expertise, mineral development, and technoscientific supply chains as public goods? 

As an outgrowth of both of my primary research projects, I am currently completing a second monograph based on research among geologists, forestry scientists, and other environmental simulation specialists whose lives and experimental practices were refashioned by an insect infestation that killed more than half of British Columbia’s pine trees. The manuscript asks how scientists’ increasing reliance on computer modeling tools for making sense of ecological crisis, dislocation, and individual precarity has provoked new questions about the meanings of “home” in rural settler communities. How do rural researchers secure their epistemic authority and senses of self as they lose access to archives, human colleagues, and physical spaces of experimentation? The manuscript examines connections between influence, obsolescence, and technological change by exploring how geological and ecological modelers re-imagine their roles as experts, mentors, collaborators, and friends as their research worlds continue to virtualize.

Before moving to NUS in 2022, I was assistant professor of anthropology at Johns Hopkins University. I grew up in Wyoming and studied in Berkeley, California, where I completed a master’s degree in materials science and engineering, as well as Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I completed my Ph.D in the History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I also served as a postdoctoral fellow in the Canada Program at Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.


Research Interests

Mobility, aging, Indigeneity, science and technology studies, North America, Southeast Asia, history and philosophy of science, bureaucracy, decarbonization, energy transitions, visual media


Publications

BOOKS/MONOGRAPHS AUTHORED

PEER-REVIEWED JOURNAL ARTICLES

EDITORIAL WORK ON BOOKS

  • Unsettling technoscience: Theorizing Indigenous and settler science, technology and society. Edited by Tom Özden-Schilling, Denielle Elliott, Dian Million, and Candis Callison (under review).

CHAPTERS IN BOOKS

  • “Introduction.” Tom Özden-Schilling, Dian Million, Denielle Elliott, and Candis Callison. In Unsettling technoscience: Theorizing Indigenous and settler science, technology and society (under review).
  • “Is there a relationship between Indigenous science and science and technology studies?” Kyle Powys Whyte and Tom Özden-Schilling. In Unsettling technoscience (under review).
  • “Interdigitation”; “Interleaving”; “Interstitial”; “Interweaving.” In Being material. Edited by Leila Kinney, Skylar Tibbits, Rebecca Uchill, Evan Ziporyn, Stefan Helmreich, and Marie-Pier Boucher, pp 43-44; 95-96; 127-128; 169-170. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press (2019).
  • “British Columbia mapped: Geology, Indigeneity, and land in the age of digital cartography.” In Visualization in the age of computerization. Edited by Annemarie Carusi, Aud Sissel Hoel, Timothy Webmoor, and Steven Woolgar, pp. 59-76. New York: Routledge (2014).

SHORTER ARTICLES/COMMENTS IN JOURNAL

BOOK REVIEWS

Other Information

Editorial Board, Science, Technology, and Human Values (2022-2025)

Editorial Advisory Board, East Asian Science, Technology, and Society (2023-present)

Board Member, Anthropology and Environment Society, American Anthropological Association (2023-25)



Last Modified: 2024-03-15         Total Visits: 3859