Event: Chemical Kinships – RGS 2019

I’m excited to be part of the upcoming Chemical Kinships session at this year’s RGS-IBG annual conference in London, organised by the fantastic Angeliki Balayannis (Brunel University London) and Emma Garnett (King’s College London). Abstract and session outlines follow below.

Session Abstract

A. Balayannis & E. Garnett

A chemical turn is taking place across the social sciences and humanities. This bourgeoning field of research is increasingly approaching industrial chemicals ontologically, as heterogeneous material entanglements. These situated attunements to chemical relations and conditions are stimulating new conceptual developments, including: chemical kinship (Agard-Jones 2013); chemical geographies (Romero et al. 2017); the chemosphere (Shapiro 2015); chemical space (Barry 2005); and chemo-ethnography (Shapiro and Kirksey 2017). This session considers what a geographical approach to chemicals generates conceptually, empirically, and ethically. Geography has largely taken the materialities of industrial chemicals for granted – often reducing them to villainous objects. By approaching the spatiotemporalities of chemicals through their enabling and constraining capacities, this session considers the ways shared exposures afford new political possibilities (Alaimo 2016; Murphy 2006).

The session has two key strands, the first entails a set of themed paper sessions, exploring chemical entanglements in embodied, material, and affective registers. The second puts these ideas into practice, through a participatory workshop for cultivating attunements to chemical kinships in central London – exploring bodily relations with chemicals, ranging from antibiotics to air pollutants to plastics. Our point of departure for this final session is Elizabeth Povinelli’s key question (2017: 508): ‘How does one probe and discover the world that one is in, but can experience only peripherally?’

 

Paper Abstract

CH4emical Encounters: A Human/Natural Gas History – Knowledge/Politics/Governance

 P. Forman 2019

How has natural gas, an often-violently vital, yet also invisible, intangible, and largely odourless material, become humanly known? How has it transformed so radically in its everyday relationships with people that, in the space of just 200 years, it has gone from inspiring widespread fear to featuring as an everyday household commodity that people not only depend upon, but which is so normalised in daily routines that it is rarely given a second thought?

To explore these questions, I outline a brief history of human-natural gas encounters, describing the development of a range of increasingly elaborate techniques for rendering natural gas knowable, communicating its effects, and regulating its behaviour. In the process, I examine how natural gas occupies a position that seemingly contradicts dominant narratives of material vitalism (in which materials are overwhelmingly represented as villainous entities: as sources of societal threat or challenging inertia), demonstrating how gas instead presents a range of threats and opportunities for society. These vital capacities are also shown to be the focus of increasingly sophisticated practices of governance, gas being surveyed, monitored and manipulated in efforts to actualise certain vital capacities, whilst inhibiting others.

In tracing this history of gaseous knowledge production and governance, I conclude by considering the lessons that could be learned for the governance, politicisation and rendering known of other gaseous substances that have significance for ecological governance in the Anthropocene, in particular, carbon dioxide and air pollution.

 

Preliminary Programme

 

Session 1

Organisers: Angeliki Balayannis,  Emma Garnett

Chair: Angeliki Balayannis

Papers

Making microbes make materials: Chemical kinship and relations of value in the biotechnological production of industrial chemicals

  • Eleanor Hadley Kershaw (University of Nottingham, UK), Carmen McLeod (University of Nottingham, UK), Brigitte Nerlich (University of Nottingham, UK) 

Chemical regimes of living and home hygiene practices in Sydney, Australia

  • Rachael Wakefield-Rann (University of Technology Sydney, Australia) 

Here We Go; Here We Go; Here We Go: Olfactory Circulations in Moments Of Collective Delight

  • Victoria J. E. Jones (Durham University, UK)

Oxidation in Relation to Urban Bio- and Geo- Politics: When Elements and Bodies Encounter in a Petrochemical City

  • Yi-Ting Chang (National Taiwan University, Taiwan), Shiuh-Shen Chien (National Taiwan University, Taiwan), & Yi-Ting Chang (National Taiwan University, Taiwan)

Circulating stories of the air

  • Harshavardhan Bhat (University of Westminster, UK) 

Session 2

Organisers: Angeliki Balayannis, Emma Garnett

Chairs: Angeliki Balayannis, Emma Garnett

Papers:

The Social Life of Nitrogen: Organic Chemicals and Political Economy

  • Emma Cardwell (University of Glasgow, UK)

CH4emical Encounters: A Human/Natural Gas History -Knowledge/Politicization/Governance

  • Peter Forman (Lancaster University, UK) 

Beyond nuclear geographies: Exploring the entangled afterlives of para-nuclear waste 

  • Rebecca Alexis-Martin (University of Southampton, UK) 

Garbage Mountains: Chemical Geographies as Sacred Space

  • Katie Oxx (Saint Joseph’s University, USA)

CO2; the problematic chemistry of cement; and the question of substitution

  • Vera Ehrenstein (University College London, UK) 

Session 3

Organisers: Angeliki Balayannis, Emma Garnett

Chairs: Angeliki Balayannis, Emma Garnett 

Format

Workshop 

 

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Event: CfP ‘Thermal Geographies’ RGS-IBG 2019 Annual Conference

There is still time to submit an abstract to our RGS-IBG session on Thermal Geographies! Full details below.
rgs-ibg-logo SMALL

 

Thermal Geographies: empirical, conceptual and methodological encounters and consolidations.

 

RGS-IBG 2019 Annual International Conference: London (Wednesday 28th to Friday 30th August 2019).

Convenors: Elspeth Oppermann (Technical University Munich), Gordon Walker (Lancaster University) and Peter Forman (Lancaster University).

This session seeks to draw together the multiple ways in which the ‘thermal’ plays a role in shaping geographical materialities and knowledges, and their co-production. It is propelled by two shifts. First, the emergence of new modes of engaging with the thermal such as: embodied, affective, experiential and non-representational engagements with heat and warmth (Ingold, 2011; Vannini et al. 2012); new materialist accounts of energy (Bennet, 2009; Kirby 2011); and analyses in the fields of architecture (Ong, 2012) and human evolution (Jablonski, 2013), which identify heat or thermal energy as agential in the co-production of socio-material, cultural and political worlds.

Second, profound shifts in the materiality of our encounters with thermal energy; on the one hand human life has a remarkable ability to shield itself from and control thermal environments, and on the other, we are increasingly exposed to the vagaries of thermal shifts beyond our control, in part as a result of our (inadvertent) climate engineering. As such, the thermal appears as newly powerful: experientially productive, and potentially existentially destructive. Too much or too little heat, at the wrong or right times, in the wrong or right places – is playing an ever more visible role in the production of thermally differentiated physical and social geographies.

Geographers have engaged with the thermal in various ways. Examples include: the thermally shifting geopolitics of the Arctic, (Shake et al. 2017; Steinberg & Kristofferson, 2017); uneven thermal infrastructural, economic and social geographies (e.g. Buzar, 2007; Silver, 2016);  elemental and pyrotechnical geographies of ice and fire (e.g. Adey, 2015; Clark & Yusoff, 2014); and the entangled geographies of thermal flow for, through and from social practice, including in relation to corporeal vulnerabilities of various forms (e.g. Oppermann and Walker, 2018; Hitchings, 2011).

Cognisant of our temporal and spatial situatedness in a rapidly warming world, we invite empirical, methodological and theoretical papers that critically engage with the thermal as a productive geographical register for understanding, intervening in, or engaging ethically with the dynamics of political, cultural, economic, material and ecological formations.

Please send abstracts of no more than 250 words with your name and affiliation to Elspeth Oppermann (elspeth.oppermann@tum.de) and Gordon Walker (g.p.walker@lancaster.ac.uk) by the 8th of February, 5 PM UK time.

New Paper: Security & the Subsurface – Geopolitics

This paper critically examines the ways in which the securing of the UK’s natural gas flows requires complex visualisation practices through which the subterranean movements of natural gas and its dynamic, transforming infrastructures are rendered visible and actionable. Instead of seeing energy infrastructures as rigid and more or less obstinate to change (a tendency within the energy politics literatures that has recently been critiqued by Haarstad & Wanvik, 2016), I highlight the dynamisms inherent to these networks, and the ways in which they give rise to different forms of risk that must be visualised and mitigated against in order to render such networks as safe and ‘secure’.

For a free copy (50 available), follow the link below to the Taylor and Francis website:

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14650045.2018.1513918?tokenDomain=eprints&tokenAccess=sNRj48Xn2QYYCBtI4rE3&forwardService=showFullText&doi=10.1080%2F14650045.2018.1513918&doi=10.1080%2F14650045.2018.1513918&journalCode=fgeo20

This article is part of a forthcoming special issue on Subterranean Geopolitics, edited by Klaus Dodds and Rachel Squire. Look out for it, it is coming soon!

New Paper: Inorganic Becomings: Situating the Anthropocene in Puchuncavi – Environmental Humanities

Our paper on experiencing the Anthropocene in Puchuncavi Bay (Chile) is now out. It is a collaboration between fellow materialist scholars, Manual Tironi, Myra Hird, Christian Simonetti, and Nate Freiburger. You can access the full article by following the link below.

https://read.dukeupress.edu/environmental-humanities/article/10/1/187/134706/Inorganic-BecomingsSituating-the-Anthropocene-in

Abstract

In this choral essay we, an assorted group of academics interested in inorganic life and matter, explore a mode of thinking and feeling withour objects of inquiry—chemicals, waste, cement, gas, and the “project” as a particular form of circulation and enactment of materials and things. To experiment with alternative modes of knowing, we went to Puchuncaví, the largest, oldest, and most polluting industrial compound in Chile, to encounter the inorganic through and with its inorganicness and to attend to the situated, historicized, and political composition of both our materials and our experiences. Thinking of this as a collective provocation, we do not rehearse a conventional argument. Its parts are connected but only partially. There is no dramatic arc but rather an attempt at composing an atmosphere through which our thought and feelings are invoked. We have made visible the authorship behind each of the stories recounted here to celebrate the multivocality of our collaboration and to rehearse a nonabstracted mode of attention to Puchuncaví and the inorganic forces and entities we encountered there. We connect our irritations and speculations with the Anthropocene precisely as a way of summoning the multiple violences, many of them of planetary reach, that have to be denounced when situating our knowledge practices in Puchuncaví. Thinking about the ethico-political challenges of research in territories that have been, and are being, transformed under the weighty history of contamination and that are lived in and lived with by generations of beings (human and otherwise), we call in our concluding remarks for an enhanced pedagogy of care born of our inherited pasts and of engagement, interest, and becoming as response-ability.

Guest Blog: Hard to Follow Things – Natural Gas

@Followthethings has just published my post on the methodological challenges of following natural gas. You can check it out here:  https://followtheblog.org/2017/08/21/guest-post-hard-to-follow-things-natural-gas-by-peter-forman/

While you are at it, why not also check out Ian and his students’ work on their other website, www.followthethings.com?

Review: Dobraszczyk et al. (2016) ‘Global Undergrounds: Exploring cities within’

This book review was written on behalf of the RGS-IBG Urban Geographies Research Group, and is reproduced here with their permission. For more book reviews, and for an overview of their current work, please go to: http://urban-geography.org.uk/

Dobraszczyk, P., López Galviz, C., & Garrett, L. (2016) “Global Undergrounds: Exploring Cities Within.” London: Reaktion Books

ISBN: 978-1-78023-576-9

Reviewed by Peter Forman

Depth is currently proving a popular dimension for geographical analysis (Elden, 2013; Bridge, 2013; Graham, 2016; Squire 2017). Dobraszczyk et al.’s (2016) edited collection, ‘Global Undergrounds: Exploring cities within’, published by Reaktion Books, contributes to geographers’ efforts to document the relationships between underground – and often unseen – environments, and typically more familiar social formations on the surface. Their book consists of an extraordinarily extensive collection of ethnographic accounts that vividly narrate experiences of underground sites from across the planet. From sewers, storm drains and built-over waterways in cities such as Istanbul, Bogotá, Las Vegas, Cape Town and London, to tunnels, caves, catacombs, mines, metros, data centres, bunkers, and nuclear storage sites, the breadth of accounts is matched only by the diversity of the collection’s authors (which include cultural historians, urban geographers, geographers of art, history, politics and culture, sociologists, archaeologists, journalists, artists, and scholars of literary studies and the history of science). Indeed, the book comprises the single largest collection of subterranean stories to date. Illustrated with over 75 full-colour photographs, it invites its readers to repeatedly dip below the surface, guiding them on a series of fleeting, but evocative, below-ground excursions.

This emphasis on the affective forcefulness of subterranean environments, and the ways in which undergrounds assert themselves on human bodies (both corporeally and cognitively), is a unifying theme in this collection. Dobraszczyk et al.’s principal aim is not just to emphasise the connectedness of ‘above’ and ‘below’ ground spaces, but to dispel any notion that the underground is a purely technological domain; a linear site/surface that simply supports ‘above-ground’ structures. Readers are called to appreciate the astonishing multiplicity of ways in which subterranean environments and urban existence have been, are, and increasingly will be, mutually constitutive. Undergrounds are presented as sites of analysis that can help us to better understand what it means to ‘be’ in the world: a question that drives the broadly phenomenological approach of these accounts. We are invited to travel alongside the writers as they make their descents; to vicariously experience these below-ground spaces, and along the way, to ‘remain mobile’ in our imaginations (p. 16) so that we might become sensitive to new connections between the surface, subsurface, matter and human practices, and so that we might develop new appreciations for how urban life is fundamentally entangled with the dynamic and vital worlds beneath our feet.

A second objective, and one that is particularly relevant to urban, rural and cultural geographers, is to expand the sites understood to constitute urban life. Many of the locations discussed here exceed the spatial limits of what is traditionally thought of as ‘urban’. From the mushroom-shaped bunkers strewn across Albania’s rural landscapes, to a proposed nuclear storage site 100 miles outside Las Vegas; or to the Svalbard global seed vault, located far from any centre of human population, the authors present us with a variety of underground environments that appear distinctly removed from urban life. Yet these disparate spaces are shown to be intimately linked. Urban existence is shown to be predicated upon distanced undergrounds, and these sites are revealed to be products of urban ways of life. The authors consequently offer an account where what it means to be ‘urban’ is significantly expanded.

The book is unusual however, in that it does not try to rigidly group these accounts, nor does it try to neatly tie together the numerous loose threads that multiply along the way. It is purposefully open-ended. Its thirteen thematic sections are loose and overlap, and there is no conclusion through which these tangled stories are folded into a coherent narrative. Instead, what the underground is, and what its relationships with the surface are, frays and multiplies. As the editors reflect, the aim was to create a book that is ‘less documentary and more aspirational’ (p. 20); one where readers can make their own connections, and are inspired to join in in documenting the underground. It is an exercise in opening up, not closing down.

This is not to say that connections are not explicitly drawn. Indeed, the book is at its strongest when it grapples with social inequalities and threats to human life rendered visible through studying these spaces. Highlights include accounts of how undergrounds illuminate the violences of socio-political structures on the surface, from the forcing below ground of left-wing political advocates and impoverished inhabitants in Bogotá (who shelter in city sewers to avoid death squads), to homeless people in the USA, who are forced underground by neoliberal policies, finding shelter in places such as the bottom of Whacker Drive, Chicago, or in the storm drains of Las Vegas.

Yet ‘Global Undergrounds’ is not flawless. Whilst the editors claim to depart from the exoticism present in existing accounts of undergrounds, they are only partly successful in this endeavour. There is a familiar language of mysticism and otherness that liberally peppers these stories, and the book presents the reader with a vision of multiple subterranean worlds waiting to be explored, ready to be mined for scholarly profit. When combined with the book’s many photographs, its grand geographical scope and its journalistic style, the result is a pervasive sense of voyeurism that is reminiscent of well-known accounts of early explorers. Perhaps this is not surprising, given that many of the writers self-identify as explorers themselves.

Yet whilst this might seem significant, it is not a substantive critique. This language is often communicative of the existing myths and imaginaries that surround these spaces, and it is testimony to the way that these environments make voluble utterances. Whilst geographers might question the nature of the subterranean gaze promoted in this book, the underground is not reduced to a speechless and passive ‘other’: it speaks loudly through its ever-present materialities, and through the ways that it draws in its narrators.

Perhaps most significantly, one of the book’s great successes is also the way that it consistently illuminates alternative narratives that would otherwise remain buried. From the lives of the present-day homeless living in sewer networks, to the forgotten histories of cities past, or the stories of exploited workers who constructed these spaces, care is taken to avoid privileging the narratives of those ‘who have the power to plan, transform and manipulate urban space’ (p. 17). As such, whilst I am wary of the language accompanying these accounts (and the necessity of this must be reflected upon), its negative consequences are not immediately clear. It may simply speak of the significant allure of these environments, or perhaps more cynically, of its value for promoting an underground research agenda. If so, then the authors have certainly achieved their goal: I aspire to know more. Reading ‘Global Undergrounds’ is an invigorating experience – one that raises far more questions than it answers, and one that urges its readers to continue the work its authors have begun.

References

Elden, S. (2013) ‘Secure the Volume: Vertical geopolitics and the depth of power’ Political Geography 34(1) pp.35-51.

Bridge, G. (2013) ‘The Hole World: Scales and spaces of extraction’ New Geographies 2 pp.43-8.

Graham, S. (2016) ’Vertical: The city from satellites to bunkers’ London: Verso

Squire, R. (2017) ‘’Do You Dive?’: Methodological considerations for engaging with volume’ Geography Compass 11(7) pp.e12319. <https://doi.org/10.1111/gec3.12319&gt;

New Paper: “A Material Politics of Citizenship” – Citizenship Studies

Our article for Citizenship Studies is now out in early access! Entitled ‘A Material Politics of Citizenship: The potential of circulating materials in UK immigration removal centres’, this paper forms part of a special issue edited by Gaja Maestri & Sarah Hughes on contested spaces of citizenship.

In this article, Sarah Hughes and I explore the ways in which acts of citizenship are mediated through the actions of diverse materials. Drawing on doctoral research conducted by Sarah Hughes (Durham, UK), we describe how the materials circulating out of UK immigration removal centres can hold within them the potential for the making of new claims to citizenship, and how certain materials consequently become subjected to different kinds of governance practices. We also draw attention to how the political entanglements that these materials may form in the future may exceed our understanding, potentially opening up unexpected future claims to citizenship as well as troubling the notion of human intent within every kind of citizenship act or practice of resistance.

To view this paper, and other papers in this special issue, go to Taylor & Francis’s website: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13621025.2017.1341659

If your institution does not have access to Citizenship Studies, please contact me on peter.forman[@]wiso.uni-tuebingen.de. I have a limited number of free codes, so first come, first serve!