Unit of Play

Established in 2012, The Unit of Play (UoP) is a transdisciplinary unit, based in the Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London. Its main activities are co-ordinating and developing a research focus within the Department through the hosting of conferences, reading groups, research projects, salons, seminars, workshops as well as supporting doctoral research. The research focus is oriented around the collaborative exploration and incubation of radically new ideas, practices, and proposals that cut across established disciplinary, theoretical, methodological, and thematic boundaries and concerns of the social sciences, arts and humanities.

Beyond Reason: Postcolonial Theory and the Social Sciences

		Beyond Reason: Postcolonial Theory and the Social Sciences image

Beyond Reason: Postcolonial Theory and the Social Sciences

A Roundtable

Tue 15th June, 5.30-7.30pm GMT
Zoom Event. All Welcome. Please register here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/beyond-reason-postcolonial-theory-and-the-social-sciences-tickets-153684363067

In this bold and ambitious new book, Beyond Reason: Postcolonial Theory and the Social Sciences (Oxford University Press, 2021), Sanjay Seth maintains that while the knowledge disseminated by universities and mobilized by states to govern populations has been globally dominant for more than a century, it first emerged in the early modern period in Europe and subsequently became globalized through colonialism. Despite the historical and cultural specificity of its origins, modern Western knowledge was thought to have transcended its particularities such that, unlike pre-modern and non-Western knowledges, it was “universal,” or true for all times and places. Traversing many disciplines, and critically examining the work of a range of major contemporary thinkers, Seth argues that, while global in their impact, the social sciences do not and cannot transcend the Western historical and cultural circumstances in which they emerged.

If the social sciences are not explained and validated simply by the fact that they are “true,” it becomes possible to ask what purpose they serve, what it is that they “do.” It also requires asking what ways of understanding the world they facilitate and what they disallow. Beyond Reason proceeds to anatomize the disciplines of history and political science to ask what representations and relations with the past and with politics these academic disciplines enable, and what ways of understanding and engaging the world they foreclose.

In this roundtable, international scholars come together to discuss some of the many provocative questions raised by Seth’s book, and engage in conversation with the author.


Humeira Iqtidar | Department of Political Economy, King’s College (London)

Branwen Gruffydd Jones | School of Law and Politics, Cardiff University

José Manuel Viegas Neves | Department of History, Universidade Nova de Lisboa

Sanjay Seth | Department of Politics & International Relations, Goldsmiths, University of London

chaired by

Martin Savransky | Department of Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London

Atacameño Geologies: Subterranean Pluralities and Extractivist Un-Worlding in the Atacama Saltflat

Atacameño Geologies: Subterranean Pluralities and Extractivist Un-Worlding in the Atacama Saltflat

Manuel Tironi (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile)

Thursday 20th May 2021, 5-7pm GMT
Online Event | Zoom
Please Register with Eventbrite here: https://tinyurl.com/ybuffn4f

In the Salar de Atacama, northern Chile, different forms of doing and knowing geology meet. In this talk, Manuel Tironi reflects on the relation between Indigenous sovereignty, geological knowledge, and the (im)possibilities of onto-epistemic alliances in the context of extractivist harm to Lickanantai (Atacameño) worlds.

Manuel Tironi is Associate Professor at the Instituto de Sociologia, Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile. He is co-editor of Thinking with Soils: Material Politics & Social Theory (Bloomsbury, 2020) and of Disasters and Politics: Materials, Experiments, Preparedness (Sage, 2014)

Savage Ecology: War and Geopolitics at the End of the World

Wednesday 3rd February 2021 | 5.30-7pm GMT
Online Talk @ Zoom
Please register with Eventbrite here: https://tinyurl.com/y55g58n6

Savage Ecology: War and Geopolitics at the End of the World

Jairus V. Grove (University of Hawai’i)

In this talk Jairus Victor Grove contends that we live in a world made by war. In Savage Ecology he offers an ecological theory of geopolitics that argues that contemporary global crises are better understood when considered within the larger history of international politics. Infusing international relations with the theoretical interventions of fields ranging from new materialism to political theory, Grove shows how political violence is the principal force behind climate change, mass extinction, slavery, genocide, extractive capitalism, and other catastrophes. Grove analyzes a variety of subjects—from improvised explosive devices and drones to artificial intelligence and brain science—to outline how geopolitics is the violent pursuit of a way of living that comes at the expense of others. Pointing out that much of the damage being done to the earth and its inhabitants stems from colonialism, Grove suggests that the Anthropocene may be better described by the term Eurocene. The key to changing the planet’s trajectory, Grove proposes, begins by acknowledging both the earth-shaping force of geopolitical violence and the demands apocalypses make for fashioning new ways of living.

Jairus Victor Grove is Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Hawai’i Research Centre for Future Studies at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. He is the author of Savage Ecology: War and Geopolitics at the End of the World (Duke University Press, 2020)

organised by Martin Savransky (Goldsmiths, University of London)

After Progress | Digital Exhibition | Call for Stories!

Due to the overwhelming interest in this call, we have extended the deadline to 1st February 5pm GMT!

How to reimagine human and more-than-human arts of living and flourishing from the ruins of the modern idea of progress? What would counter-progressive stories sound like? What would they read like? What might earthbound, collaborative forms of storytelling engender after progress?

We invite storytelling proposals from groups and individuals from around the world, with stories that might help us envisage ways of living and dying well outside of the modern coordinates of progress.

The notion of “progress” is arguably the defining idea of modernity: a civilisational imagery of a boundless, linear, and upwards trajectory towards a future that, guided by reason and technology, will be “better” than the present. It was this notion that placed techno-science at the heart of modern political culture, and it was the global unevenness of “progress” that imagined European imperialism as a civilising mission inflicted upon “backward” others for their own sake. Thanks to the relentless work carried out by decolonisation movements, as well as by scholars across the social sciences and humanities, the colonial, , rationalistic, and ecocidal consequences of the story of “progress” have been laid bare, even if they still govern our imaginations today. At the same time, the ruins of progress are teeming with divergent worlds and collective experiments whose stories upend the its modern dreams, cultivating plural value-ecologies of living and dying with others on Earth. How to intensify them? How to make them felt?

In 2019 the Unit of Play hosted a very successful After Progress symposium series to help us develop ideas, concepts, questions, and propositions to activate arts of living after progress. But we also need stories that regenerate our imaginations, that connect our sense-making with the sense of other worlds-in-the-making. In the spirit of The Sociological Review’s track-record in promoting the generative interlacing of social science and fiction, we are calling for collaborative experiments in storytelling that take it upon themselves to explore and dramatise the above questions. At a time of social distancing, home-based work, but also of increased digital interactions, we invite collaborative storytellling proposals from individuals and groups from around the world (with or without institutional affiliations) to work together on stories that might help up envisage lives and deaths outside of the modern coordinates of progress. Accepted submissions will form part of a digital exhibition to be published in Autumn 2021.

Stories can be speculative, ethnographic, poetic, drawing on or reinventing any genre: we welcome a wide variety of narrative forms, SF, nature writing, poetry, aphorisms, brief dramas, letters and epistolary forms, fictional encyclopaedia entries, instructions, original bestiary entries, etc. Most things except essays! We understand “stories” in a very expansive sense: text, image, film, sound, or a combination of the above. We also welcome them in any language (though we may request English translations to be submitted as well). What matters is that they probe, through different genres and media, imaginative social practices, artefacts, environments, arts of living and dying, forms of political action, kinship, subjectivity, and more-than-human worlds in a possible future no longer governed by modern coordinates of progress.

The call is open to everyone (academics, students, artists, activists, and many others), preferably groups (but we also welcome individual submissions), who may be interested in weaving speculative stories that imagine and experiment with what living and dying well after progress might look like.

Would you like to meet others to collaborate on a story together? Get in touch with us at: afterprogress@gmail.com !

Themes may involve (but are not limited to):

  • Ecology, Climate Change, and “Nature” after progress
  • Health, Illness and Healing after progress
  • Animal Lives after progress
  • After Capitalism
  • Decolosination after progress
  • Social and Environmental Justice after progress
  • Multispecies flourishing after progress
  • Science after progress
  • Aesthetics after progress
  • Education after Progress
  • Progressive Politics after progress
  • Stories of decay, resurgence, or collapse
  • Indigenous futures and heritages after progress
  • Political activism, struggles and experiments after progress
  • Alternative timelines, counterfactual stories
  • Civilisation after progress
  • Death and dying after progress
  • History after progress
  • Energy after progress
  • Food after progress
  • Etc.

Storytelling Guidelines

  • Format: short story/poem/short drama/single or individual images/ short film
  • Style: a variety of narrative forms, SF, nature writing, poetry, aphorisms, brief dramas, letters and epistolary forms, fictional encyclopaedia entries, instructions, original bestiary entries, etc.
  • Language: Any (plus English translation where relevant).
  • Copyright: work must be previously unpublished (or permissions for reuse should be secured and attached–please get in touch with us if you’re intending to reuse your own material). Authors will retain copyright of their submissions.

Submission Timeline

  • 1st February 2021, 5pm GMT: Proposals
  • 16th May 2021: Draft Stories.
  • 16th August 2021: Final Stories.

This project is directed by Dr Martin Savransky (Goldsmiths, University of London) and Dr Craig Lundy (Nottingham Trent University). It is generously funded by The Sociological Review Foundation, with the support of the MA Ecology, Culture & Society and the Unit of Play, Department of Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London.

The Possibilities and Limits of Experimentation in the Anthropocene

Wed 2nd December 2020, 5-7pm GMT
Please register via Eventbrite here

The Possibilities and Limits of Experimentation in the Anthropocene
Stephanie Wakefield (Life University)

This talk will draw on resilience ecology’s adaptive cycle to suggest that liberal societies have left the Anthropocene’s ‘front loop’ and entered its ‘back loop,’ a period of collapse, chaos, and reorientation, in which not only populations and climates are being dislocated but also physical and metaphysical grounds. Analyzing coastal urban resilience infrastructures, ‘entanglement’ critical theory, and a range of informal, everyday practices from survival skills to amphibious architecture, the talk will trace an analytical framework for understanding prominent modes of back loop response, highlighting how ‘experimentation’ has become a key methodology for diverse actors operating at distinct scales. These efforts often let go of past frameworks, hubristically experiment with new uses, allow the unknown, and confidently explore autonomous pathways. As such, they offer a politically compelling mode of Anthropocene practice and suggest that the back loop, long imagined in the singular, is opening onto myriad trajectories. As the century progresses, will emancipatory trajectories of experimentation take shape at a comparative scale and depth of power to those of the planet’s ruling classes? Will the epoch be marked by a widespread movement of peoples delinking from dehumanizing structures to create other, rich, unbounded territories, ones infrastructurally and subjectively capable of deciding how to live on their own terms (and is this possible or desirable)? Or will the oft-touted liberatory potential of the back loop be cut short by some of its own responses and conditions, such as critical theory’s anti-humanism, neoliberal innovation, or the extreme asymmetry between well-resourced governments’, designers’, and academic institutions’ capacity to experiment and explore potential transformation in the Anthropocene, and the ability of the poor and working class to do the same? Through what epistemological and practical tools can ordinary people outmaneuver these roadblocks to access the possibilities, not just the risks, of the back loop?

Stephanie Wakefield is an urban geographer whose work critically analyzes the environmental, social, and technical transformations of urban life in the age of climate change. She is currently Director and Assistant Professor of Human Ecology at Life University in Marietta, GA. Previously she was a Visiting Assistant Professor of Culture and Media at The New School and taught urban and environmental studies and planning for many years in the Department of Urban Studies and Environmental Studies Program at Queens College.She is the author of Anthropocene Back Loop: Experimentation in Unsafe Operating Space (Open Humanities Press) and co-editor of Resilience in the Anthropocene: Governance and Politics at the End of the World (Routledge), as well as numerous articles in academic and cultural journals including Political Geography, Geography Compass, Geoforum, Environment and Planning E: Nature and Place, and e-flux architecture. Drawing on research she conducted as an Urban Studies Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellow based at Florida International University and co-lead of the NSF-funded Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research Project Human Dimensions Working Group, she is now finalizing a new book manuscript titled Urbanization in the Anthropocene, which critically analyzes experimental sea rise resilience infrastructures in Miami and traces an emergent Anthropocene spatial paradigm beyond both urban resilience and urbanization itself.

Fragmentary Institute of Comparative Timelines

The Unit of Play is collaborating with multiple other institutions and groups around the world in a speculative storytelling project, the Fragmentary Institute of Comparative Timelines (led by colleagues at Osaka University, Japan) working on the impact of European Colonialism in our timeline by creating artefacts and stories from another timeline in which the disease(s) known as the “Black Death” or “Plague” would have triggered a series of events that quickly ended attempts by countries of what was called “Europe” to invade and colonize much of the Earth. As part of this project, a group of postgraduate students from a variety of programmes in the Departments of Sociology and Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths are working together to develop a speculative artefact that contributes to a forthcoming digital exhibition. Stay tuned for updates!