Mutable Matter


One In Other @ Anthropocene Feminism, UWM

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This week, I attended the Anthropocene Feminism conference at the Center for 21st Century Studies in Milwaukee. There, I spoke as part of a hugely enjoyable all-female (!) geophilosophy panel with Jessi Lehman and Stephanie Wakefield (organised by Rory Rowan, Elizabeth Johnson and Harlan Morehouse). On this occasion, I decided not to put together a standard paper, but something that could be described as an experiment in lyrical prose. It discusses Simone Weil’s amor fati (love of the order of the world) and Hannah Arendt’s amor mundi (love of the world). I have uploaded it here. Comments appreciated!

I would also like to thank the conference organisers for facilitating conversations between academics from such a diverse range of subjects, and Lee Mackinnon (check out her blog ‘The Speculative Ceiling’ for Anthropocene themed short stories and poems) for invaluable comments on earlier drafts.

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CFP: Geophilosophy and the Geo-Social (AAG 2014)

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Another CFP – this time for the Associate of American Geographers Conference in Tampa, Florida, 2014. In case you have been wondering about the recent absence of essay-style posts, I have been guest blogging at Society & Space and have also written a review for Science as Culture (on living with insects) that will be published shortly (e-mail me if you cannot access it).

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Geophilosophy and the Geo-Social

AAG 2014

Call for Panels/Papers

Convenors:
Elizabeth Johnson,
Harlan Morehouse, University of Minnesota
Rory Rowan, Wageningen University

There is a growing consensus that in the 21st century the planet is no longer the concern of geologists and climate scientists alone, but that philosophical and social thought must also increasingly engage with planetary concerns. Emergent literatures across the social sciences and humanities are struggling to generate new conceptual frameworks and research strategies to adequately account for the complex knots that bind social, geological, biological and technological forces together, as well as the catastrophic potentials that reside within them (see, for example: Braun and Whatmore 2010; Clark 2010; Ellsworth et al 2012; Saldanha 2013; Yusoff 2013; and the special issue of the Oxford Literary Review, 2012). At the recent RGS-IBG conference in London, Nigel Clark, Arun Saldanha and Kathryn Yusoff characterized this messy tangle of anthropogenic and nonhuman forces as the ‘Geo-Social.’ In many ways, this ‘Geo-Social’ can be considered the foundation of geographic scholarship. However, as many begin to examine the links between social history and geologic change in the context of Climate Change and the advent of the Anthropocene, the ‘Geo-Social’ invites a radical reassessment of fundamental conceptual frameworks across a number of registers – from the epistemological and ontological to the political and ethical – and a re-articulation of Geography’s relation to other disciplines. But just as these issues strain traditional disciplinary boundaries and standard methodological frameworks, they open the possibility for new forms of collaborative research stretching across the natural and social sciences and the humanities, and involving both empirically based work and speculative thought.

The massive transformations in human-planet relations also raise fundamental philosophical questions and invite re-evaluations of the complexity of concrete Geo-Social entanglements: How, for example, do planetary conditions affect our philosophical frameworks and how do we frame the Earth philosophically? Thus, in addition to examining the Geo-Social, we aim to examine Geophilosophy as a form of thought specifically committed to exploring the relationship between philosophy and the Earth. Geophilosophy has a rich heritage in modern Continental Philosophy arguably reaching from Kant and Nietzsche through Deleuze and Guattari to contemporary thinkers like Elizabeth Grosz (2008), Reza Negarestani (2011), John Protevi (2013), Michel Serres (2012) and Ben Woodard (2012). We aim to place Geography at the forefront of this debate in the belief that its critical traditions and recent efforts in rethinking human-nonhuman relations can provide crucial insights that deepen philosophical traction on the world whilst locating disciplinary concerns at the cutting edge of wider theoretical debates. We particularly seek to engage with recent attempts in Geography to re-interrogate the ‘geo’ as a way to engage with planetary questions without re-inscribing the economic and political over-determinations of ‘globalization.’

These sessions seek to advance conversations begun at the “Anthropocene” sessions at the 2013 AAG in Los Angeles and the 2013 RGS-IBG by further exploring the philosophical and empirical implications of the Geo-Social. We specifically seek papers that address any of the following concerns, among possible others:

· What modes of thought are best suited to understanding the matrix of human and non-human forces that make up the Geo-Social today? What are the political stakes of rethinking how we conceive of Geo-Social relations?

· How might Climate Change and the advent of the Anthropocene affect the ways in which we conceive of the Earth, and what new philosophical possibilities might be opened by these developments?

· What new perspectives can Geography bring to the philosophical traditions of Geophilosophy – from Kant to Negarestani – and how might it bear on its future trajectories?

· What questions and forms of knowledge production – imagined, emergent, or well established – are needed in the face of an emerging ecological catastrophe?

· Do 21st century environmental conditions call for new forms of experimental research and praxis-based approaches that bridge the physical and social sciences? How might we develop modes of examination that refuse the distinction ‘physical or social’ without reinforcing the neoliberal university’s call for ‘transdisciplinarity’?

· What is the relationship between existing Geo-Social formations and histories of capitalism? Beyond the privatization/neoliberalization of non-human life through carbon markets and ecosystem services, around what forms of value might post-capitalist Geo-Social formations organize?

Please send inquiries / abstracts of no more than 250 words to Geophilosophy.AAG2014@gmail.com by October 5th 2013.

References:

Braun. B. and Whatmore, S., editors. (2010). Political Matter: Technoscience, Democracy, and Public Life. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Chakrabarty, D. (2009). The Climate of History: Four Theses. Critical Inquiry, 39. 197-222.

Clark, N. (2011). Inhuman nature sociable life on a dynamic planet. Los Angeles: SAGE.

Clark, N., Saldanha, A., and Yusoff, K. editors. (forthcoming 2014). Capitalism and the Earth. Brooklyn, NY: Punctum Books.

Ellsworth E., Kruse, J., and Beatty. editors (2012). Making the Geologic Now: Repsonses to Material Conditions of Contemporary Life. Brooklyn, NY: Punctum Books.

Grosz, E. (2008). Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth. New York: Columbia University Press.

Negarestani, R. (2011). Globe of Revolution: An Afterthought on Geophilosophical Realism. Identities, 17, 25-54.

Protevi, J. (2013). Life, War, Earth: Deleuze and the Sciences. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Saldanha, A. (2013). Some Principles of Geocommunism. Retrieved from:

http://www.geocritique.org/arun-saldanha-some-principles-of-geocommunism/

Woodward, B. (2013). On an Ungrounded Earth: Towards a New Geophilosophy. Brooklyn, NY: Punctum Books.

Yusoff, K. (2013). Insensible Worlds: Postrelational Ethics, Indeterminacy and the (K)nots of relating. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 31(2), 208–226. doi:10.1068/d17411

Yusoff, K. editor. (2013). 400ppm: Exit Holocene, Enter Anthropocene. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. Retrieved from http://societyandspace.com/2013/07/26/400ppm-exit-holocene-enter-anthropocene


Political Geology & (In)determinate Subjects Workshops @ Lancaster University

For people who liked the Terra Infirma workshop and/or the Geologic Turn symposium, here are two days of presentations and discussions at Lancaster University:

Political Geology: Stratigraphies of Power 21 June 2012, 11am – 5pm

(In)determinate Subjects: Indeterminacy & Justice 22 June 2012, 10am – 6pm

The events are described as follows:

Political Geology: Stratigraphies of Power

‘With what language can we describe the politics of the Earth? ‘Geopolitics’ should be the name of that language; yet the geopolitical lexicon is strangely lacking in any reference to the Earth System, to its structures and resistances, its deep time and its sudden upheavals. In recent decades, social and political theory has undertaken a number of biological turns, giving rise for example to political ecology, ecological economics and theories of biopolitics. But, despite Deleuze and Guattari’s exploration of ‘geophilosophy’, there has been no comparable geological turn – no concerted inquiry into the ways that the geophysical, as much as the biological, conditions what politics is and can be. However, debates about the Anthropocene seem to mark a growing recognition of humankind as a geological force. At the same time, unregenerate seismic, volcanic, atmospheric and other geomorphological forces attest to the limits of the human, yet also propel and incite human agency.

This workshop will explore the possibilities for a political vocabulary that can articulate the geophysical dimensions of politics and the political dimensions of the geophysical.’

Speakers will include:

Nigel Clark (Open University), Deborah Dixon (Aberystwyth University), Stuart Elden (Durham University), Myra Hird (Queen’s University, Canada), Arun Saldanha (University of Minnesota), Bronislaw Szerszynski (Lancaster University) and Kathryn Yusoff (Lancaster University).

Cost for attending (including lunch): £20; £10 for students or Lancaster staff.
This workshop is organised by the Centre for the Study of Environmental Change and the Lancaster Environment Centre. To book a place, or for more information, go to
http://bit.ly/politicalgeology or contact Bronislaw Szerszynski (bron@lancaster.ac.uk).

(In)determinate Subjects: Indeterminacy & Justice

‘Increasing attention has been given to exploring how to account for entities that are both between time and between natures, such as subject/objects, forms of biotic, technoscientific and inhuman life. This conversation will ask: In what ways can indeterminate entities be observed within (and in excess of) the material/practical conditions of their emergence? How do these conditions create different kinds of responsibility(and new vocabularies which trouble and expand the contours of ‘responsibility’) which we may not have yet anticipated? How can we imagine alternative forms of accounting which apprehend ontological and temporal conditions of precarity and justice? By exploring these and further questions we hope the conversation will help us explore alternative forms of experimentality and human – inhuman configurations which may take new account of indeterminacy and move us towards a more enduring postrelational politics.’

Speakers include: Myra Hird (Queens), Rebecca Ellis (Lancaster University), Claire Waterton (Lancaster University), Nigel Clark (Open University), Natasha Myers (York University) Elizabeth Barron (Harvard University), Filippo Bertoni (University of Amsterdam), Hayder Al-Mohammad (University of Southampton), Arun Saldanha (University of Minnesota), Kathryn Yusoff (Lancaster University) with Celia Roberts (Lancaster University), Maureen McNeil (Lancaster University), and Lucy Suchman (Lancaster University).

To reserve a place contact k.yusoff@lancaster.ac.uk


How on Earth does one have an Earth in politics? … and other themes from the Terra Infirma workshop


Image: ‘Sumision’ by Santiago Sierra

It is one week after the Terra Infirma workshop, and I am still processing the discussions. Others who attended seem to be, too, as I am still getting e-mails with ideas and questions. In this blog post, I will try to outline a few themes that came up during the day, and especially the remaining questions. An outline of the day can be found on Nicola Triscott’s blog.

The intention behind the workshop was to bring together different people who are using the word ‘geopolitics’ in ways that challenge the ‘commonsensical’ notion of the term, according to which the Earth either becomes a mere stage set for a narrative of ‘heroic men’ or a physicality at the service of discrimination against particular population groups. As Joanne Sharp pointed out at the beginning of her presentation, geopolitics is also identified with the task of ‘mapping troublespots’ and of working towards a ‘terra firma’ – stable ground. So, on the 27 January 2012, a group of geographers, scientists, artists, architects, policy researchers and others met up in an effort to ‘destabilise’ and, in particular, to ask: ‘what does the ‘geo’ in geopolitics’ actually do?

The first destabilising agents were identified as the kinds of things that are excluded from the dominant interpretation of geopolitics. In the introduction to the workshop, I grouped these exclusions into three strands: the exclusion of physical earth forces and phenomena in politics, of ‘marginal’ voices and of particular practices. Biopolitics, which gives a particular image of how physical and political life are intertwined, constituted a second point of departure. The relation with biopolitics raises questions what a corresponding geopolitics might do and whether it is perhaps already in existence, for instance, if one considers the managing of issues such as climate change or natural resources. Here, the concern was how to avoid or counteract social Darwinist links between the ‘bio’ and the ‘geo’ and the political, and instead take on the problematic, as Andrew Barry put it, of the ‘nagging interference between the natural and the social’, which is present in geography and, one could argue, in geopolitics.

Climate change/Anthropocene

Climate change – and especially the concept of the ‘Anthropocene’ – featured prominently in the workshop as motivation for rethinking politics. Explorations of this theme began with references to geographer Simon Dalby and his critique of geopolitics. Dalby, in turn, was criticised for not challenging geopolitics enough, by maintaining a focusing on ‘horizontal connections’. Proposed alternatives included ‘vertical’ or ‘temporal’ thinking (‘when do I belong?’), as in Irit Rogoff’s sense of ‘terra infirma’. For some speakers and participants, ‘terra infirma’ also implied that not an ‘anchoring in the Earth’ was needed, but an ‘unanchoring’; not ‘grounding’, but a focus on the dynamism of our planet. Against this background, geopolitics morphed into a concern about choices and limits: ‘what we can or can’t do differently’ on/with our planet. Related contributions focused on ‘stratigraphic anxieties’ – the fear of becoming ‘just another geological stratum’, highlighted the asymmetry of the agency of Earth forces and humans (in both ways) and called for attention to a ‘non-vitalist materiality’. An example of the latter involved humanity’s continuing ‘becoming with’ minerals/fossil fuels, adding a further dimension to our struggle with fossil fuel dependence.

Questions in this context addressed the usefulness of attending to non-human agency (particularly the ‘non-vital’) in politics, the impact of fusing of the represented and the representing subject in the naming of the ‘Anthropocene,’ and the danger of using the term politics in connection with the physicality of the Earth. The example of geo-engineering raised further concerns, such as the use of military language around ‘pre-emptive’ efforts to make climate change happen on particular human terms. As a technology, which seems to be most intimately tied up with the planet’s physical and political fate, it invited discussions about the effects of its different modes of application on human identity (as ‘makers of climate’). Here, questions around the responsibilities of governance and ethics of experimental trials were raised, as well as questions around access, creation and levels of control. Questions that did not get answered (directly at least), due to time constraints, included:

  • Given the problematic genealogy of the term ‘geopolitics’ – with its tradition of physical features determining politics – and the normal hesitancy around using the term, why would you want to use it in connection with geology, geography, human origin stories etc? Are the dangers that this kind of connection gets abused for ‘crude’ determinist politics not too great, especially, as geography has often been portrayed as an ‘aid to statecraft’ (e.g. Mackinder)?
  • In what ways is climate change instrumentalised differently as a ‘threat’ by governments etc, for instance, compared to the War on Terror? Is its potential for provoking a rethinking of global politics suppressed or redirected in certain ways?
    (Note: in a post-workshop discussion on this topic, it was suggested that what we may be seeing is an uncanny mobility and flexibility of neoliberal experiments in filling the space opened by climatic/geological events – an example being the reorganisation of the school system after Hurricane Katrina e.g. criticised by Naomi Klein as disaster apartheid).

Feminist theory

A meeting ground between the different approaches to ‘geopolitics’ seemed to be found in feminist theory, and particularly in its attention to corporeality. According to my notes, the most often named theorist in the workshop overall (both by speakers and other participants) was Judith Butler. Her work was regarded as inviting an engagement with subjects within networks of power and as highlighting problematic connections between bio- and geopolitics. A further benefit of feminist theory was seen in attention to the margins (e.g. the work of bell hooks) and in highlighting the tension between the need to ‘embed practices of the everyday’ and ‘not losing the bigger picture’. Examples cited included the ‘bodily challenge’ to systems of geopolitical violence (e.g. setting oneself on fire) and the embodiment of this violence in particular ‘villains’, and the attention to the ‘bio’ and the ‘geo’ in the work of Elizabeth Grosz.

Post-colonial theory

Post-colonial theory and its notion of the ‘subaltern’ was mentioned as a source of challenge to traditional geopolitics’ language of ‘inside/outside’, and as a lens which flagged up already existing conflations of the ‘bio’ and the ‘geo’ (e.g. how bodies are marked, controlled to ‘stay in place’; Orientalism etc). This particular theme further emphasised the link between bio- and geopolitics and depoliticisation: how (real or perceived) physical ‘misery’, ‘crisis’ or ‘geographical disadvantage’ is utilised to justify intervention and place the ‘physical’ issue above politics. The rhetoric of ‘doing whatever is necessary to remedy the situation’, and doing away with the usual political conventions, was shown to render people as politically inactive, as almost ‘already dead’ (‘homo sacer’ status). This post-political stance, and its systemic and anonymous nature of violence/denying agency, was seen as being on the increase ‘throughout global capitalist relations’.

Space vs Earth

The discussion also brought up challenges to the ‘spatial logic’ of traditional geopolitics. One challenge was described as emerging from post-structuralist critique, but was seen as insufficient, leading to a situation of ‘critique from everywhere and nowhere’. Another was presented as a disciplinary issue: that geography should ‘forget space’ and instead focus on the problem of the ‘geo’ as both a physical and social phenomenon. This provocation arose from a dissatisfaction with the status of the earth as either ‘determining’ or ‘constructed’ – and neither position appearing convincing or useful. An additional dissatisfaction seemed to arise from the separation of the ‘geo’ into ‘above ground’ (geography) and ‘below ground’ (geology). The question summing up this discussion was phrased as follows: ‘Can one think of forms of experimental research which engage with the ‘geo’? It was argued that while there has been, for instance, artistic experimentation with the sciences, there has been little experimentation with geography/geology/earth sciences.

Experimentation

Experimentation represented a theme in its own right, with the need or desire to experiment being implicit or explicit in most contributions. Questions around what responsible experimentation in geopolitics might look like, whether there are alternatives to experiments, and what logics of experimentation are already followed guided this discussion. The scale of the ‘geo’ figured as a strong attribute and the effect it has on blurring boundaries between subject and object of experimentation. Examples included the naming of geological ages, geo-engineering and post-geopolitical-event ‘social engineering’, such as state strategies following the 9/11 attacks. The interplay of ‘geo’ and ‘social’ events or engineering was identified as a distinct concern (e.g. the above mentioned neo-liberal experiments following geological events). In addition, participants pointed towards a lack of experimentation with concepts such as ‘energy’ which seem to elude the concerns with materiality and discourse. The opposite of mobility, stability, was also attended to, especially the need for making the outcomes of particular experiments durable, perhaps even moving towards something like a ‘wider geo-social contract’ involving ‘gift economies’, ‘denizens’ and other new constructs. Such proposals prompted questions of how such visions relate to the abstractions of more traditional critical geopolitics – which tend to feature states, territories, citizens – and what languages and concepts the different alternatives to geopolitics might want to exchange for productive ends?

Multiplicity of visions

Finally, it was proposed that a multiplicity of perspectives might be the most helpful strategy to challenge the dominant practices and discourse of geopolitics. Multiplicity also showed up in discussions of particular alternative visions, which highlighted the issue of visibility and representation. Questions that remained in this area included:
How, why and for whom should such visions gain a bigger presence? And in what kinds of spaces and to what kinds of audiences? How do these visions address how people ‘care’ and ‘respond’ in different ways about how they are represented?

SUMMARY OF PRESENTATIONS

Session 1 – Theoretical Provocations
Nigel Clark – ‘When am I?’ Geopolitics and Stratigraphic Uncertainty’
Kathryn Yusoff – ‘Geologic Life or how to get up with dead things
Joanne Sharp – ‘Displacing geopolitics: imagined geographies from the margins’

Session 2 – Methods & Materials
Nelly Ben Hayoun, Carina Fearnley, Austin Houldsworth – ‘The Other Volcano’
Angela Last – ‘Public visions across scales – The Mutable Matter project’
Bron Szerszynski – ‘Making Climates’

Session 3 – Embedding Experimental Geopolitics
Andrew Barry – ’Geopolitical fieldwork’
Alan Ingram – ‘Contested visibilities: geopolitics and contemporary art’


Earth Objects and the Politics of Ecology @ Barbican


Image source: Centre for Research Architecture. Image: the cyclone Bhola, Bay of Bengal, 1970.

Another experimental geo-politics themed event in London (thanks, Gail for pointing it out!): ‘Earth Objects and the Politics of Ecology’, a salon by Goldsmiths’ Centre for Research Architecture. The salon is taking place at the Barbican Centre next Saturday, 21 January 2012, from 2-6pm, in the Barbican Art Gallery Events Space (Level 3).

As it looks, the only way to sign up for it is to sign up on facebook. From experience with previous Barbican salons, I’d recommend to just turn up. You also might want to check if you need to pay for the related OMA/Progress exhibition in order to get to the salon (happened to me at the last event & annoying, if you’ve already seen an exhibition).



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