Researching the Colonial International Across, Between, and Against Disciplines @ Warwick

Am reposting this excellent workshop call from CPD-BISA. The event is organised by Nivi Manchanda, Lisa Tilley (Warwick Politics and International Studies) and Kerem Nişancıoğlu (SOAS Politics and International Studies) and is taking place here at Warwick.

Call for interventions/workshop participants
Travel funding available

Colonial/ Postcolonial/ Decolonial Working Group Annual Workshop 2017: 
Researching the Colonial International Across, Between, and Against Disciplines

With Goldie Osuri, Virinder Kalra, Rashmi Varma and Kojo Koram
University of Warwick, 22nd September 2017

“International Relations has often borrowed theories and methods from elsewhere to think beyond its own disciplinary limits. Similarly, interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary scholarship has long been central to thinking about the colonial question. Indeed, a key insight of postcolonial scholarship is that disciplines are themselves products of colonial practices. At the same time, in the field of International Relations and beyond, the demands of publishing, researching, teaching and hiring continue to reproduce strict disciplinary boundaries. More positively, disciplines often offer a scholarly home, a shared language and common problems that help orient our work.

This workshop will examine how such tensions affect and direct how we think about the colonial/ postcolonial/ decolonial. Conversely it will also ask how the colonial question reconfigures how we think about our own disciplines. At its core, the event will encourage a range of scholars to engage with the colonial question from outside of – and perhaps against – their own disciplinary (disciplining) homes.

Places and travel funding are limited. Please indicate your interest in attending no later than June 24th to Kerem Nisancioglu –

CPD-BISA workshops are not organized around “paper-giving”, but rather each session is introduced by a couple of five minute opening interventions. Therefore, if you are interested in attending please do also indicate whether you would like to provide one of these five-minute interventions, and if so, on what issue area.

We will calculate participation and funding with a sensitivity to career level (phd, postdoc, faculty etc) and job type (contract, permanent etc). Please do indicate your career and job attributes when you email.

Over the past four years, the CPD-BISA Working Group has become an established community of scholars drawn from within and beyond IR – this interdisciplinarity has enriched the work and activities of the community as a whole. Our annual workshop is our most important event and provides a vital space for early career scholars to connect with more established academics working through the colonial question in their research. As in previous years, this will be an innovative and participatory event with a range of heterodox sessions.”


400ppm commentaries at Society & Space


Over at the Society & Space blog, Kathryn Yusoff has just uploaded the forum on the 400ppm concentration. Entitled ‘Exit Holocene, Enter Anthropocene’, the forum brings together a set of eleven short commentaries on the latest atmospheric CO2 ‘milestone’. In my contribution to this forum, I grapple with the rather abstract figure of 400 parts per million in the form of a mini-review-dialogue with two ‘growth objectors’, Isabelle Stengers and François Roddier.

Art-Science… Research?

At the beginning of this project, in 2006, I wrote what’s generally called a ‘working paper’ (now part of various thesis chapters) about social science and art methods to think about some of the themes that would become more prominent in the project, which used art-practice inspired methods. For the project, as well out of general curiosity, I have been going to a variety of art-science events, at which I keep finding the same themes appearing, not necessarily in the presentations themselves, but in the post-talk discussions. These discussions occasionally surprise through their condensation of these themes and the ferocity of some of the exchanges (when I brought some artist friends from a different field, they appeared rather shocked). Contrary to what the recent influx of art/science literature wants to have us believe, it feels like the major debates in this burgeoning field are not taking place between artists/non-science academia on side, and science on the other, but between and amongst artists and non-science academia. Non-science academia, in this case, includes arts, humanities and the social sciences. A known minefield is the naming of the work that is alternately called art-science, art, sci-art, art-science encounters, which I might dare to comment on in a follow-up post.

In this post, I would like to draw attention to a debate that, through artist/social scientist hybridity and my involvement with so-called ‘creative research methods’, I have a particular interest in. The last event I went to, ‘Kryolab’ (facilitated by UCL’s Tesla team), conveniently delivered most of the contentious issues in one post-talk extravaganza. What are the issues? They could be expressed in the format ‘art vs. research’ or, to put it into more familiar terms: what does an artist do?

One position seems to be that the arts ‘lack definition’ and method. Popular questions from this position are:
‘What is your research question?’
‘What is your contribution to knowledge?’
‘What is your epistemology?’ (no worries, if you don’t know that word, it took quite a few people by surprise at the event in question)
The first two questions are normally asked of anyone claiming to do university research (science and non-science), the third question appears to be more of a non-science academia issue. But what about applying them to art? Rather than this being just a general arts issue, it seems to me that the artist crossing into the space of science is particularly held accountable with these sorts of questions.

Needless to say, the above position attracts a lot of critique, not necessarily, as some people claim, from ‘practitioners’ (a word that is used in increasingly interesting ways), but from, if that separation can be made at all, academics or other sorts of critics. This critique is often characterised by a desire to make advocates of this particular form of artistic research rigour reconsider the question ‘what is research?’
Positions tend to lie mostly between these two lines of argumentations:

Yes, we do research. We do it in different, but related ways, following a goal, a question, coming to conclusions. Our affective working with materials is part of the process of discovery of new knowledge. Sometimes it is added that this knowledge is co-shaped by the materials themselves which, in artistic research, is more openly acknowledged.

The second position is more openly provocative: no, we don’t do research, we do art. Art makes its contribution precisely through not being research. We play, transform, experiment, bring together new things outside and beyond the limits of academic research.
As many artists are also keen to point out, the kind of research questions academia is allowed to ask is frequently determined by the conditions attached to grant money or considerations regarding RAE ratings – and not as purely intellectually motivated as it comes across. Of course, artists are accused of a similar thing – that they often have to accept work because of their ‘precarious financial standing’ as it is described in the article ‘The logics of interdisciplinarity’ from the Interdisciplinarity and Society project.

As a hybrid artist/social scientist I am interested in these tensions. This interest is not motivated, as the phrase ‘interest in tensions’ might indicate, by a form of intellectual disaster tourism, but by a curiosity about where these debates might lead… or whether the discussants decide that these questions cannot – or should not – be answered. For my part, I am more and more drawn towards the questions our interactions with materials and the increasingly indeterminable human-material boundaries bring to the surface. These kinds of questions – about materiality, affect, engagement – seem to appear particularly in the kinds of things recent art-science work is trying to tackle. The questions ‘what is art-research?’ or ‘what makes art different from research?’ and their references to the different materialities of research, could be interpreted as one further example of our tentative probing around our, as Karen Barad would put it, ‘intra-relationship’ with matter.

For people grappling with similar or related issues, there have been a few projects and articles that have addressed this theme. Unfortunately, some of them have been taken off the web since 2006, so I will just give a few functioning links I have mentioned during conversations. The ones that can be accessed without having to go through special channels are:

The Institute of Unnecessary Research

Landing – eight collaborative projects between artists and geographers – which features some useful essays in the bottom left hand corner

Other examples require access to libraries or research networks:

Early examples can be found in the work of Horkheimer and Adorno or Henri Lefebvre’s ‘Critique of Everyday Life (Vol. 1 & 2)’.

Recent examples are Jane Bennett’s The Enchantment of Modern Life’, Barbara Maria Stafford’s ‘Good Looking’ (the page is worth visiting for the funky design alone), Cornelia Hesse-Honegger’s essays in ‘Heteroptera’, Joseph Beuys’ and Volker Harlan’s conversations on What is art?, Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman, Deleuze & Guattari’s What is philosophy? and Michel Serres’ The Five Senses (Steven Connor’s talk is the closest there is to a preview). Also, there is a useful article called ‘Researcher as Artist/Artist as Researcher’ by Susan Finley and J. Gary Knowles (requires special access) which provides thoughts on the above named issues.

Feel free to post thoughts or links to alternative publications.