Mutable Matter was the name of an experimental public engagement prototype that I developed as part of my PhD research in Geography. The project engages with representations of matter and its effects on the political agency of publics. It arose out of a long-term interest in the ways people relate to their environment and in representations of materiality and risk. While the project has formally finished with the completionof my PhD, my interest in materiality, representation and political agency continues…
The blog will continue to be used as a research journal, resource and communication platform on issues including:
- the instrumentalisation of climate change
- risk and controversy around new technologies such as geo-engineering
- ‘over-active citizenship’/controversial creative public participation
- representations of urban precarity and renewal
- critical geo-politics
- strategies against depoliticisation
- ‘active citizenship’ and public engagement
- experimental methods
To briefly answer a frequently asked question : Why is a geographer looking at matter?
Geographers have been involved in a number of public debates around controversial new technologies such as nanotechnology, genetic engineering or nuclear power. A problem such technologies pose is that they are often undetectable with our normal senses. Hence the potential dangers associated with them are often called ‘invisible risks’.
In these debates, some of us have found that tensions between ‘experts’ and ‘publics’ arise, because the world is divided into the ‘everyday’ world accessible to our senses, and the ‘scientific’ space of ‘matter’. While scientists can comment on both spaces, publics are discouraged from accessing the ‘difficult, esoteric’ workings of ‘matter’.
Drawing on my background in art, design and science, I looked at interactive art practice, and how it could be used to bridge the two spaces with its emphasis on sensory engagement. At the same time the research critically engaged with romantic notions of art-practice based and hands-on engagement. A practical result was the public engagement prototype ‘Mutable Matter’, which used nanotechnology as a case study. ‘Mutable Matter’, in turn, was developed from two other experimental engagements I developed during my Masters research in geography and fashion: ‘Mutation’ (on the link between environmental issues and perfection) and ‘Animal Lab’ (on genetic engineering).
Geographers also engage with matter (and time) as part of imagining spatial relations, from our dependence on the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere to mutating viruses and their connection with trade relations.
Lastly, I think I have to put a disclaimer here, that this blog reflects my own views and not that of my employers.
I hope you enjoy reading and/or commenting on Mutable Matter!
Following a Masters in Fashion, during which I concentrated on design politics and issues of sustainability, I moved to the Open University to study for an MSc in Geography. This shift allowed me to engage with social theory more in-depth, and to experiment with theoretical and practical strategies which make use of the common goals of critical (design/social) theory, namely to produce tools for amplifying political agency. I finished my PhD in 2010 and started an ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship at UCL. At the moment, I teach on the MA in Art and Science at Central Saint Martins. My current research looks at representation and social impacts of climate change, especially in relation to political extremism.