Research Radar – Patrick Brodie

Dr. Patrick Brodie is the 2021-22 Scholar-in-Residence at Concordia University’s School of Irish Studies

Who is your favourite academic?

This is a hard question – there are so many people whose work I return to over and over that aren’t necessarily even in my research field, along with others who have been so influential to my work directly. I tend to really love critical geographers. One of my absolute favorite academic books is Deborah Cowen’s The Deadly Life of Logistics, which is an incredible work about global shipping and labor that, probably better than anything I’ve ever read, integrates dense research into the world of capitalist management with the material spaces that certain managerial strategies are enacted. My own research maps pretty dense and tangled systems and histories of technology and extraction in ways that often seem really abstract until you ground them in the experiences of people and places, and Cowen’s work really offers a template for doing this in remarkably rich and fascinating ways.

What are you reading for work and/or leisure these days?

I’m really bad at keeping up with leisure reading, and will tend to read something tangentially or even fully academic/related to my work when I’m reading for fun. For example, at the moment I’m alternating between Lenin’s Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism and Tomás Ó Criomhthain’s The Islandman, which are an interesting read together. The one book I’ve really read for leisure recently was Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam, which a friend and colleague of mine lent me. It’s about a family from Brooklyn vacationing in a really kushy Airbnb out in rural Long Island when some unknowable cataclysm happens, leaving the east coast of the US (with the exception of this house in rural Long Island) without electricity, and the wealthy owners of the Airbnb show up at the house and have to co-inhabit the place while they figure out what’s going on. It was a good COVID-era read – it really captures something about a sense of simultaneous dread and incomprehensible scale at a really intimate, personal level, and plus it relates to energy and environmental change which are two huge interests of mine.

What podcast do you recommend?

Speaking of never actually doing anything for leisure, my favorite podcast of the past year was a series by the Irish History Podcast called “The Road to Old Croghan,” which I listened to while doing research for a project on Ireland’s peat bogs and specifically Bord na Móna’s just transition out of industrial peat extraction. The podcast plays out like a murder mystery for the first episode, when a Bord na Móna worker unearths a dead body from the bog and the police are called in to investigate. Turns out (although I’m not sure there was ever truly much doubt), the body was actually ancient, like many such bodies unearthed from peat bogs – a remnant of some sort of ritual or execution of a noble tribal member from centuries ago. But the podcast really gets at this almost mystical fascination with Ireland’s peat bogs that persists to this day, in spite of how they’re seen as nothing but resource or energy frontiers by the state. 
For lefty news over the pandemic, I also listened pretty religiously to The Burner podcast from Novara Media in the UK. I’m not sure if it’s still running, but it was a tonic for the really doomy news of the pandemic through a slightly more hopeful socialist lens.

What is your favourite archive and/or library?

I’ve never done much archival research, but I spent a couple of weeks watching films at the Irish Film Archive in 2015 for my MA research. That was a great experience – much of Irish film culture and materials remain quite inaccessible outside of Ireland and this archive in particular, so it was really great to work my way through as much of that catalogue as possible while I was there.

What book or movie changed your life?

More recently, Nicole Starosielski’s The Undersea Network completely changed the course of my research when I read it during my first PhD seminar in 2016. It’s a fascinating account of undersea cable infrastructure across history, grounding the apparently atmospheric, immaterial “internet” and other telecoms technologies in the ocean-spanning cables and beach landing points where information actually travels across the world. Apparently, she wrote it so that it could be a “beach read,” and you definitely see it – she’s a great writer. Her anthropological attention to sites of media infrastructure made me start to pay much closer attention to where data and media distribution was happening in Ireland – in Dublin’s suburbs in the form of vast, multinational data center campuses, but also in the country’s more rural areas which don’t get as much attention. Things like cable landings, electrical and energy infrastructures, and smaller-scale technologies, which are ultimately powering the tech economy, are usually in these places considered “remote,” and the existence and needs of people and environments there are often last in the minds of planners, policymakers, and even academics interested in climate change and innovative kinds of low carbon technologies. The Undersea Network is still the best book I’ve read that accounts for these rural experiences.

Do you play music while you work? If so, what?

I don’t listen to music while I work – I actually tend to have the TV on as background noise, which for some reason helps me focus.

What do you know now that you wish you had known at the beginning of your career/degree?

No one else really knows what they’re talking about in the way it seems they do. Everyone’s always approaching a certain level of cluelessness. I guess in other words, don’t worry because almost everyone has imposter syndrome and just expresses it in different ways.

What is your favourite way to de-stress?

I do lots of jogging and walking my dog. I love to sit at a beer garden for pints when the weather (and covid) allows. I also need about one afternoon a week, usually a Sunday, to binge watch some form of low-rent television or films. I just spent three months in Belfast, so I took advantage of Channel 4 streaming to re-watch a bunch of British sitcoms and panel shows – I find British comedy very relaxing, for some reason.

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