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New Materialist Reflections for the Anthropocene—Two New Speaker Events

18 January 2019

‘Imagining the Eco-Social: New Materialist Reflections for the Anthropocene’—Two New Speaker Events

This series engages with one of the most imaginative theoretical responses to the complexity of the material situation in which humans and non-humans alike find themselves in the so-called ‘Anthropocene’: New Materialism. The series grapples with the need to move beyond the human-centred vision of sociality lying at the heart of the global order, and to engage with the theoretical and empirical implications of new science, complexity and a fresh appreciation of the forces of materiality itself. Hothouse Earth is increasingly forcing movements, drifts and collisions—human, animal, insectal, vegetal, aqueous, and atmospheric—that force a confrontation between ‘the ecological’ and ‘the socio-economic-political’ and demand new ways of thinking and being. New materialism—and such vectors of movement and pressure—render the traditional sense of human agency implausible at best. Such developments have complex implications for law, politics and the construction of the social.

Hosted by the Centre of Law and Society and the Environmental Justice Research Unit, this series takes participants on a dazzling intellectual journey. Thus far we have encountered various lively agentic forces: sand, air, algorithms, water, insects and drones. We have considered law, property, urban landscape, spatial justice, ecological security, and international humanitarian law—and now, with two new speakers, we move on to examine interspecies cadence and urban life—and the political economy of milk production and consumption in the ‘Age of Humans’. All are most welcome to join the discussion, whether or not you are familiar with New Materialist thought.

February 13th, 2019: ‘Dancing with the Dog: Interspecies cadence and urban life’

1pm, Law building room 2.30/2.30a

Teresa Dillon, Professor of City Futures, Bristol UWE—and Resident at the Pervasive Media Studio, Bristol

In ‘Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene’ (2016), Donna Haraway, proposes that a humanity with a more earthly integrity, ‘invites the priority of our pulling back and scaling down, of welcoming limitations of our numbers, economies, and habitats for the sake of a higher, more inclusive freedom and quality of life’ (p.50). While this statement carries capacities for imagining new ways of living, it equally raises the question what a more earthly integrity and inclusive freedom and quality of life, actually means. For Haraway this revolves around entangled understandings of kin, multispecies justice and feminist leadership. Tsing (2012, 2017) further expands on such knotted kinship by emphasising how our human nature is an interspecies relationship that emerges in part through what Vygotsky (1980) would consider as the active participation with others in meaning making, or what Barad (2007) would refer to as the materialisation of intra-action. Despite such worldly understandings, in the face of increased biodiversity loss, extreme weather events, and human-made and natural disasters, such tethered realities are often negated in favour of more state-centred politics and geo-economic logics. Given the dominance of such framings on the daily ordering of life, the need to carve out spaces for listening, care, attending and attuning to the nuanced understandings of our interspecies relationships becomes all the more important. This paper presents how contemporary artists are dealing with such relationships. Drawing on the work of Terike Haapoja, Maja Smrekar, Laurie Anderson and others, including that of the author, emphasis is placed on species presence, visibility and privilege, with a focus on urban contexts and settings. Links will be made to how such works and narratives play a vital role in the everyday understanding of human nature as an interspecies relationship.

Teresa Dillon is a multidisciplinary artist, researcher and educator. Her work emerges from a long-standing investigation into ideas of survival and the techno-civic with a critical focus on infrastructural histories, commoning and governance, hospitality and encountering. Recent work includes the installation AMHARC (2018), the performance MTCD-A Visual Anthology of My Machine Life (2017), and academic texts, ‘Working the breaking point: maintenance, repair and failure in art’ (2017) and ‘Listening Around: Sonic Extractions of the Electromagnetic Spectrum’ (forthcoming). Since 2013, Teresa has directed Urban Knights, a programme of talks and workshops that explores practical alternatives to city living and in 2018, established the international network Repair Acts. Twitter: @TeresaDillon

March 18th 2019: ‘Milk-Drinking Cultures at the End of the Age of the Humans’

1pm, Law building room 1.28

Yoriko Otomo, Independent Researcher, Author of  ‘The Gentle Cannibal: The Rise and Fall of Lawful Milk’ (Australian Feminist Law Journal) and Co-Editor of Making Milk: The Past, Present and Future of Our Primary Food (Bloomsbury, 2017).

‘Modern’ humans have existed for around 200,000 years—a tiny blip in the history of life on Earth. Indeed, so brief has been our sojourn that it is a stretch of the imagination to declare it an ‘Age’—in any event, it is clear from the numbers (population/rate of consumption; the collapse of major planetary systems that are conditions for our survival)—that our ‘Age’ is at an end. What is of interest to note is that in the face of extinction, growing numbers of people have started becoming more mindful about their consumer habits. One of these habits—drinking milk past infancy into adulthood—has shifted for large percentages of dairy-consuming populations. Surprisingly, perhaps, this is manifest not in the reduction or cessation of milk-drinking, but in an explosion of plant-based ‘milks’. This paper looks at the historical political economy of milk to make sense of our evolving milk cultures, and asks what their significance may be at the end of the ‘Age of Humans’.


Image: ‘Grey: Detail’: Anna Grear