Terra Infirma – Experimenting with geo-political practices
Friday, 27 January 2012, The Arts Catalyst, 50-54 Clerkenwell Road, London EC1M 5PS

What does the ‘geo’ in ‘geo-politics’ actually do?

In this workshop we would like participants to imagine how geo-politics could be thought differently. As a starting point, we have taken the contrast between the ‘biopolitical’ and the ‘geopolitical’. Whereas the ‘bio(s)’ in biopolitics does a lot of conceptual and ‘practical’ work against a rising importance of biological life for politics, by comparison, the ‘ge(o)’ in geopolitics seems to form a mere stage set for human politics. Could the ‘geo’ potentially play another role in relation to political practices?

Particularly with the arrival of ‘planetary issues’ connected to climate change and resource shortages, topics such as natural disasters, ‘land grabbing’, atmospheric data and geo-engineering are showing a growing presence in the political arena. Not only do these issues highlight the dependence of humans on a certain physical stability of our planet, but also the limits of dealing with this interdependence, whether it is in terms of political practices (e.g. how to deal with ‘naturally transforming territories’) or theoretical applications. These limitations have prompted experiments around how we could re-think the geo-political. The philosopher Michel Serres, for instance, has proposed to rethink geo-political relations through the term ‘Biogée’ (from Greek ‘bios’ – life; ‘gē’ – earth), through which he attempts to re-connect the separated spheres of ‘life’ and ‘earth’ to form a ‘contemporary global state’ (in both senses of the word). Similarly, geographers have started to experiment with the geo-political, from drawing on ‘geophilosophies’ and artistic engagements to establishing a dialogue between human and physical geography.

So far, most of the experimentation seems to have taken place in the context of climate change, however, the examples-so-far suggest that other areas of geo-politics could likewise benefit from creative attention to the ‘geo’.

We seek to discuss points and questions emerging from preliminary experimentation with the ‘geopolitical’, including but not limited to the following:

– What (else) could the ‘geo’ in geopolitics do?
– In what ways does the ‘geo’ already surface in ‘geo-politics’?
– What could theories of materiality contribute?
– What kind(s) of dialogue could exist between the bio- and geo-political?
– Dangers of simplistic links between the ‘biopolitical’ and ‘geopolitical’ (e.g. the potential return of social Darwinist interpretations)
– The role of technologies in shaping notions of the ‘geo-political’
– ‘Material interventions’ into geo-politics, e.g. artistic provocations
– What kind of work could the ‘geo’ do, for instance, in policies around climate change/geo-engineering?
– How could the ‘geo’ be embedded in public engagement?

Preliminary programme
In each session, speakers give a short paper or commentary, which will then be discussed with the workshop participants.

10:00 Registration & Tea/Coffee

10:15 Welcome and introductions

10: 30 Session 1 – Theoretical Provocations
Nigel Clark, Kathryn Yusoff, Joanne Sharp

12:30 Lunch

13:30 Session 2 – Methods & Materials
Nelly Ben Hayoun & Carina Fernley ‘The Other Volcano’, Angela Last ‘Mutable Matter’, Bron Szerszynski (discussant)

15:00 Tea Break

15:30 Session 3 – Embedding Experimental Geopolitics
Andrew Barry, Alan Ingram, Gail Davies (discussant)

17:00 Close/Dinner

The workshop is supported by the UCL Department of Geography and an ESRC Fellowship (Grant No. PTA-026-27-2869). We are able to refund reasonable travel costs for attendance at the workshop. Please contact Angela Last email hidden; JavaScript is required for more information or to reserve a place.

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