Politics and Matter Abstracts and Timetable

Abstracts

Professor Andrew Barry (University of Oxford) 

‘Energy, Materiality, Cosmopolitics’

This paper is prompted by a puzzle. This arises from a sense that while there is a burgeoning literature on energy across the social sciences, including geography, the concept of energy has been surprisingly under-examined by geographers. However, to the extent that the concept of energy is referred to in the literature on materiality, it tends to convey a vitalist understanding of ‘energetic materiality’ or what Deleuze and Guattari termed ‘matter-energy’. Although such vitalist accounts challenge the notion that matter should be understood as a merely passive or inert substratum to an otherwise lively social world, directing us to consider the energetic liveliness of materials in themselves, they leave the analysis of the thermodynamic concept of energy, as it is understood in the physical sciences, unexplored. In this paper, drawing on Isabelle Stengers’ ‘Cosmopolitics’, I address the implications of the physicists’ concept of energy for geographical accounts of materiality.

Professor Diana Coole (Birkbeck, University of London)

‘The New Materialism: Agency, Embodiment and Ecological Sensibility’

The presentation will discuss some implications of new materialist ontologies of vital / generative immanence for the way we think about agency, especially in relation to the body. Is it feasible and / or desirable to distinguish between animate and inanimate bodies here, even if the distinction between human and animal bodies is effaced? What are the implications of generalising materiality in this way? Should / can we expect these new ways of considering matter and its materialisation to yield a new ethical sensibility or ethos? If so, what are its prospects for change – and how important is it that they should be supplemented by a critical theory of the material systems bodies inhabit / are entwined with?

Dr Beth Greenhough (Queen Mary, University of London)

‘Catching Colds with Canguilhem: Culturing new relations with common cold viruses’

“Disease is a positive, innovative experience in the living being … [D]isease is not a variation on the dimension of health; it is a new dimension of life” (Canguilhem, cited in Philo 2007)

This paper explores materials from the archives of the UK’s Common Cold Research Unit (CCU) and sets these against the accounts of the CCU’s research found in the scientific papers and reports. Drawing on the work of the philosopher Georges Canguilhem, the analysis considers how different accounts of the work undertaken at the CCU offer different readings of the relationship between humans and cold viruses. One approach recounts processes of viral isolation, culturation and characterisation; the other remembers a distinctive research environment cohabited by scientists, technicians, volunteers and cold viruses. One seeks new ways of curing the common cold, the other recounts the formation of novel human-viral ecologies, reflected in the CCU’s visitor books, media interviews and popular histories. These alternative post-natural histories challenge our preconceptions about the costs and benefits of living-with-viruses and the role of infection and associated symptoms in drawing lines between the ‘normal’ and the ‘pathological’. Within the archives of the CCU we find traces to suggest that infection can be a “positive, innovative experience”, new ways of encountering viruses and their histories and a growing sense of the diverse ways in which cold viruses come to matter scientifically, socially, ethically and politically.

Dr Ben Anderson (Durham University)

‘The Foucault Affect’

By way of reflections on Michel Foucault’s (2008) brief remarks in The Birth of Biopolitics on ‘state-phobia’ as a ‘sign’ of a crisis of governmentality and in History of Madness (2006) on ‘the great fear’, I will consider two emerging problematics in the literature on affect and matter. First, how to sense and disclose the strange reality of a collective affect and the process by which a collective affect becomes a condition for life? Second, how to conceptualise changes in affective conditions whilst simultaneously attending to what Foucault (2008) describes as the ‘integration of a differential field’? I will conclude with some questions about the politics of collective affect.

Dr Emma Roe (University of Southampton)

‘The food animal as visceral-object: practices of meat production, processing and retailing’

Studies of the food and agricultural industry have been at the forefront of work that explores relations about human and nonhuman bodies in terms that give a material agency to the nonhuman foodstuff (Murdoch 2006; Whatmore 1997; Goodman 2002; Roe 2006). Within this body of work the cultural practices of the meat processing and livestock production industry have received sustained geographic interest to illustrate the politics and ethics of commodifying nature’s plants and animals – in global agricultural production (Hinchliffe 2001; Law and Mol 2008; Holloway 2001). This paper builds on this work to consider how the agencies of matters that make-up edible bodies (chickens and cattle) in agricultural production practices are shaped by and are shaping the industrial practices that deliver the global provisioning of diverse foodstuffs that contain qualities of or constituted of meat protein for human consumption. It is suggested that understanding more about the agencies of matter-processes that bring meat products to supermarket shelves may further help to understand the environment in which contemporary phenomena of food inequality, food waste and obesity manifest. This argument involves appreciating the biologies of animal bodies of different species and how growth-rates and body-shape are linked to meat product requirements for high-value meat cuts and lower-value cuts and mapping this through to culturally-specific culinary practices and the supply of highly-processed meat products. This is tackled through developing the figure of the ‘visceral object’ whose generation is reliant upon the co-generation of other visceral objects of different biological matters and capacities. In this way a novel approach to causal factors of contemporary food crisis is articulated in terms of a politics and ethics of animal body matter.

 

For a proposed Timetable see:

http://politicsandmatter.wordpress.com/proposed-timetable/

 

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