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.

After Progess | Plural Potentialities

29th November 2019, 2.00-6.30pm
London Bridge Hive
1 Melior Place
London SE1 3SZ

In the course of the first two After Progress symposia it has become apparent that, rather than an idea to be criticised, “progress” names instead an entire array of capitalist, colonial and extractivist operations. It is a world-ploughing machine that suffuses the very modern mode of evaluation from which the values of global development, infinite growth, technological innovation, and salvage accumulation are derived. And it is one which simultaneously infuses and animates well-meaning dreams of cosmopolitan redemption, and stories of innocence and reconciliation. Yet, despite its poisonous, ecocidal effects, we have also learned that its ruins are nevertheless teeming with divergent collective experiments whose practices upend the modern dream of progress, cultivating plural and divergent value-ecologies of living with others on Earth. Immanently, such experiments make present that other ways of making life worth living, and of making death worth living for, are not only possible but underway. Thus, in this third session of the series we seek to collectively hold out a trusting hand to a whole series of interstices and undercurrents, to a plurality of minor stories, earthly experiments, speculative propositions, and insistent possibilities, that intensify the political potentials of cultivating pluralistic value-ecologies otherwise – in the ruins of progress.

Speakers include (alphabetically):

Dimitris Papadopoulos (University of Nottingham)
“Progress aside, let’s talk about commoning planetary boundaries.”

Elizabeth A. Povinelli (Columbia University)
Progress in the Shadow of the End

Against the horizon of a possible climate catastrophe idea of progress has recently taken a battering. What is progress if the practices that have driven it since the Industrial Revolution have led to the “sixth extinction.” This talk reflects on progress from two competing traditions. On the one hand, I place the current discussion of the horizon of climate catastrophe in relation to Hannah Arendt’s discussion of atomic catastrophe The Human Condition and Gregory Bateson’s discussion of ecological catastrophe in Mind and Nature. I place these three discussions—atomic, toxic, and climate catastrophe—in a longstanding conversation in Indigenous and Black Atlantic contexts about political tactics in the wake of the colonial catastrophe.

Isabelle Stengers (Université Libre de Bruxelles)
Reclaiming Resurgence

Resurgence may be a common characterization for the divergent collective experiments to what we should hold a trusting hand. Resurgence is what comes after an eradication, and eradication or systematic attempt to eradicate is one of the many meanings of modern progress. It is always a minority experiment, experimenting moreover in a hostile majoritarian environment, an environment which has been shaped and are still shaped, by the very same ongoing eradicating powers. Since this environment includes the academy we are part of, holding a trusting hand may not be sufficient. We have to earn and deserve the trust of those who experiment, that is also, again and again, ask  what William James presented as the “great question” associated with a pluriverse in the making: “does it, with our additions, rise or fall in value? Are the additions worthy or unworthy?” And worthy, here, may well include accepting that our additions express and perform our own need to learn and cultivate resurgence, challenging a hostile academic milieu. I will take two examples, that of a missed opportunity, when feminist academics rejected the so-called ”spiritualist” eco-feminists of the eighties as escapist regression. The second will be the speculative trust required in order to take seriously the possibility of a “right to commoning”. In both cases, generativity will be at the centre of my approach.

Bronislaw Szerszynski (Lancaster University)
Planetary multiplicity, earthly multitudes

Human society has always had to engage with ‘planetary multiplicity’: the way that planets like the Earth, held far from equilibrium, manifest ‘internal difference’, are ‘out of step’ with themselves at all spatial and temporal scales.  This engagement has historically been organised through ‘earthly multitudes’: shared, skilled ways of responding to the opportunities and challenges presented by processes of planetary self-ordering.  Yet modern ‘progress’ has involved the insulation of (some) humans from planetary multiplicity, an insulation that was organised socially (through class relations), geospatially (through colonialism), materially (through the construction of an artefactual milieu for social life), intellectually (in ideas of human exemptionalism in modern thought) and culturally (in utopian fantasies of control) – making earthly multitudes almost disappear from social life.  In this talk, drawing on collaborations with Nigel Clark, I speculate on how, ‘after progress’, new earthly multitudes might arise that engage with planetary multiplicity in new and generative ways.

The event is free, but registration is required due to limited capacity.  To register, please click here.A small number of BURSARIES for unfunded PhD students/ECRs are available (places will be reserved for these, even if the registration list fills up). Deadline for applications is November 6th 2019. For further details on the eligibility criteria and the application process please go here.

This symposium is the second of the After Progress symposium series. The After Progress symposium series co-organised by Dr Martin Savransky (Goldsmiths, University of London) and Dr Craig Lundy (Nottingham Trent University). It is part of the Sociological Review Seminar Series and it is generously funded by The Sociological Review Foundation.

The room that the event will take place in is FULLY ACCESSIBLE.

Travel Directions:

The London Bridge Hive (1 Melior Place) is located to the immediate south of London Bridge Station, less than 5min walk.

PLEASE TWEET ABOUT THIS EVENT BY USING #AfterProgress

After Progress | Plural Potentialities
After Progress |Plural Potentialities

After Progress | Decolonial Alternatives

Wed 12th September 2019 | 2-6.30pm
Richard Hoggart Building (RHB) 274
Goldsmiths, University of London
New Cross, London, SE14 6NW

Can we reimagine human and more-than-human arts of living and flourishing from the ruins of the modern idea of progress? Continuing our collective experimentation with this question, in the second session of the After Progress symposium series we’re keen to discuss experiments, practices, experiences, concepts, challenges and cosmo-visions of collective arts of living and flourishing with others in and out of Europe. Indeed, just as decolonisation movements were instrumental in the critique of the deleterious global consequences of the modern imagery of progress, it is also on the margins and in the interstices of the modern world-system that, today, divergent alternatives to progress are being collectively invented and experimented with. Some (like “Buen vivir”, “Swaraj”, “Degrowth”, or “Permaculture”) are now fairly well-known and much discussed, but there is still a profusion of other, plural and concrete experiences and experiments which may be yet to be named but whose practices upend the colonial, developmental, and extractivist consequences of the modern dream of progress, making it present that other ways of living and flourishing with others –humans and more– are not only possible but underway. Exploring practices and possibilities for living and flourishing otherwise, this session will engage in the ongoing and unfinished experiment of decolonizing progress and composing other worlds in its wake.

Speakers include:

Marisol de la Cadena (University of California, Davis).

Species and Not Only: onto-epistemic openings towards a world of many worlds

A mountain that is not only such—my proverbial example– offers the grounds for this talk. It is persistently not only, the phrase around which I build my conversation with you.  Urged by that mountain, I have used the phrase to talk about complex entities, those that occupy the same space, even overlap, yet also diverge. I propose that “not only” performs ontic-openings, and has the capacity to indicate a potential emergence that could challenge what we know, the ways we know it and even suggest the impossibility of our knowing, without such impossibility canceling the emergence. This phrase shares the post-plural vocation of the cyborg and the “more than one, less than many” of partial connections. In this talk, using ‘not only’ I try to open up ‘species’—the concept, and its practice– to what might exceed it, yet also be within it. With the work of many persons, I will propose that animals, plants, and humans may bespecies and not only such. My purpose is to offer a decolonial proposal to think about “multispecies” as an emergence through a world of many worlds. In such a world, “when species meet,” the practice and notion of species may be insufficient, and constrain imagination towards decolonial justice. Notions and practices world worlds.

Barbara Glowczewski (CNRS)

What to defend? The ZAD (zone to defend) movement and Indigenous cosmovisions

Is struggling against big projects, like an airport in Notre-Dame des Landes or gold mining in the Amazon of French Guiana enough to establish an alternative mode of existence? Certainly during the time of the struggle, but how to move on afterwards? For ten years, activists in France occupied the land, squatted on old farms that were slated to be destroyed, built shelters and invented new collective ways to live together. During the same time native Americans in French Guiana tried to stop the deadly mercury pollution of their rivers by clandestine gold miners, and constructed national and international alliances against the Russian-Canadian “Mountain of Gold” project. We will discuss what is at stake when new forms of economic or religious colonisation replace or play hand in hand with the State.

Henrietta L. Moore (University College London)

The Future of Agriculture

Multispecies ethnography is currently enjoying a love affair with plants. Tending gardens is one of humanity’s oldest pursuits and one which has engaged the attention of ethnographers, from tending enormous yams to building hydroponic green towers. Demography has driven increases in agricultural productivity, and is in the limelight once again with questions about how we intend to feed 9 billion people on the planet. The scale of this challenge and the ecological threat from collapsing resources has generated a sense of impending crisis, but remarkably little action. The frames of reference tend towards climate change and the anthropocence, but perhaps a more fruitful approach to agriculture might begin with questions about progress and productivity. Instead of focusing on denial, scepticism and ignorance as the main drivers of inaction, we might turn instead to longer running ideas of value, generation and excess. This paper discusses why agriculture and not just climate change is the big challenge, and whether forms of hope might be possible, and from whence they might arise.

Krithika Srinivasan (University of Edinburgh)

Re-placing the social

The pursuit of ‘development’ has been a key hallmark, and indeed, driver, of the Anthropocene. Development is usually justified in terms of human wellbeing and progress but nonetheless often has negative impacts on people. Indeed, there is now widespread recognition that humanity’s quest for progress is endangering its (humankind’s) very conditions of possibility. In this talk, I explore the manners in which the human and human wellbeing are understood and pursued in the contemporary world. I argue that particular entrenched notions of what humanity is and should be are at the foundation of the social and ecological troubles facing today’s societies, and develop some thought experiments on re-visioning the human and human wellbeing. My purpose in doing this is to suggest that achieving multispecies justice in and after the Anthropocene requires a fundamental re-placement of the social in the rest of the nature.


The event is free, but registration is required due to limited capacity. To register please click here. A small number of BURSARIES for unfunded PhD students/ECRs are available (places will be reserved for these, even if the registration list fills up). Deadline for applications is AUGUST 19TH 2019. For further details on the eligibility criteria and the application process please go here.

This symposium is the second of the After Progress symposium series. The After Progress symposium series co-organised by Dr Martin Savransky(Goldsmiths, University of London) and Dr Craig Lundy (Nottingham Trent University). It is part of the Sociological Review Seminar Series and it is generously funded by The Sociological Review Foundation.

Please tweet about this event by using the hasthag #AfterProgress

After Progress: Modernity in Ruins

Wed 5th June 2019 | 13.30-18.30pm
Professor Stuart Hall Building (PSH) 326
Goldsmiths, University of London
New Cross, London, SE14 6NW

The event is free, but registration is required due to limited capacity. To register, please go here. A small number of BURSARIES for unfunded PhD students/ECRs are available. Deadline for applications is APRIL 30. For further details on the eligibility criteria and the application process please go here.

This symposium is the first of the After Progress symposium series. Together with fours guest speakers, we will begin to explore collectively how to understand our present as populated by the ruins of the modern idea of progress, and we’ll explore key questions concerning how we might cultivate plural arts of living and flourishing in the ruins.

with
Andrea Bardin (Oxford Brookes University)
“Political Automata at an End”
Andrea Bardin is Lecturer in Politics in the Department of Social Sciences at Oxford Brookes University, where he teaches political theory and philosophy. He is the author of Epistemology and political philosophy in Gilbert Simondon: individuation, technics, social systems (Springer 2015).

Didier Debaise (Université Libre de Bruxelles)
“The Contingency of the World”
Didier Debaise is a permanent researcher at the Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS), and director of the Research Center in Philosophy at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB).  He is the author of Speculative Empiricism: Revisiting Whitehead (Edinburgh UP, 2017 ) and Nature as Event (Duke UP, 2017).

Sanjay Seth (Goldsmiths, University of London)
“Defending Modern Reason?”
Sanjay Seth is Professor of Politics in the Department of Politics and International Relations and co-director of the Centre for Postcolonial Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of Subject Lessons: The Western Education of Colonial India (Duke UP, 2007), Marxist Theory and Nationalist Politics: The Case of Colonial India (Sage, 1995), and editor of Postcolonial Theory and International Relations: A Critical Introduction (Routledge, 2012).

Iris van der Tuin (Utrecht University)
“Haraway’s Webs of Connection”
Iris van der Tuin is Professor in Theory of Cultural Inquiry in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Utrecht University. She is the author of Generational Feminism: New Materialist Introduction to a Generative Approach (Lexington Books, 2015), co-author of New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies (Open Humanities Press, 2012), and editor of Nature for Macmillan Interdisciplinary Handbooks: Gender (Macmillan Reference USA, 2016) 

The After Progress symposium series co-organised by Dr Martin Savransky (Goldsmiths, University of London) and Dr Craig Lundy (Nottingham Trent University). It is part of the Sociological Review Seminar Series and it is generously funded by The Sociological Review Foundation.

Scene from the After Progress: Modernity in Ruins | June 5th 2019

After Progress | Symposium Series

After Progress | Symposium Series 2019

In this forthcoming symposium series, we propose to experiment, from an interdisciplinary and global perspective, with a pressing question for our troubled times: can we reimagine human and more-than-human arts of living and flourishing from the ruins of the modern idea 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 the 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 and intellectuals across the social sciences and humanities, the modern idea of progress and its deleterious consequences on a global scale have deservingly been the object of fierce criticism throughout the second half of the twentieth century. Denouncing its Eurocentric colonialism, its impoverished historicism, its rationalistic hubris, and its ecocidal extractivism, such criticisms decried the implications of the modern idea of “progress”, but they did not stop it from commanding global political imaginations, discourse, and policy to this day. Thus, rather than simply rehearsing such critiques, we propose a collective, speculative experimentation on plural arts of living and flourishing with others in the ruins of “progress”. For even at this time of socioecological devastation and perilous political repatternings, there are practical and conceptual propositions, emerging from a range of locations and experiences, that proffer generative contributions to the questions of how we might understand and effect change, learn to live and die well with others, and make other worlds possible, if we no longer rely on the modern coordinates of progress as our compass.

Bringing 4 excellent guest speakers to discuss these and related questions on each session, these half-day symposia will take place at Goldsmiths, University of London, on 5th June, 12th September, and 29th November 2019. All welcome! Details on timetable, registration (required), and some bursaries for unfunded PhD students/ECRs, will be announced very soon. Watch this space!

This symposium series co-organised by Dr Martin Savransky (Goldsmiths, University of London) and Dr Craig Lundy (Nottingham Trent University), it is part of the Sociological Review Seminar Series and it is generously funded by The Sociological Review Foundation.

Theory of Metamorphosis

13th March 2019 | 5.00-7.00 pm
Margaret Macmillan Building (MMB) 220
Goldsmiths, University of London
London SE14 6NW

Part of the Pluralistic Variations Lecture Series
Organised by Dr Martin Savransky (Sociology)

Theory of Metamorphosis

Since Darwin, we know that every biological identity is the result of a metamorphosis: every species is only a transformation of the one that preceded it. Based on some of the most remarkable examples (such as the transformation of the caterpillar into a butterfly), this talk would like to question the structure of life in its most extreme power: that of metamorphosis. In it is shown the fact that all life is unassignable to a specific anatomical and ecological identity and that all living beings participate in a single and unique life that crosses all forms and species. We will articulate the analysis of the forms of metamorphosis in three stages: mutation, nutrition and sexuality.

Emanuele Coccia is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, and formerly taught in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany. He has worked extensively on biology and aesthetics, and has written about contemporary art and fashion. His publications include Sensible Life (Fordham University Press, 2016), Goods:Advertising, Urban Space and the Moral Law of the Image (Ford- ham University Press, 2018), and The Life of Plants (Polity Press, 2018). With Giorgio Agamben, he edited an extensive anthology covering angels in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Angeli. Giudaismo, Cristianesimo, Islam (Neri Pozza, 2009). He recently published with Donatien Grau a book on the history and the meaning of concept stores, The Transitory Museum (Polity Press, 2018).

Around the Pluriverse in 9 Objects

Around the Pluriverse in 9 Objects: Cosmological Compositions for Critical Zones

Wed 13th February 2019 | 4.30-6.30pm 

Margaret Macmillan Building (MMB) 220
Goldsmiths, University of London
London SE14 6NW

Part of the Pluralistic Variations Lecture Series
Organised by Dr Martin Savransky (Sociology)

This talk presents brief episodes of a history of the cosmos. Its immediate prompt is an exhibit planned by Bruno Latour at the Center for Arts and Media (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, Germany, called “Critical Zones.” Geoscientists apply this term to the space that sets the conditions of possibility for life as we know it— a few hundred feet below and above the surface of the earth. The impact of pollution and climate change on the complicated relations within the Critical Zone among soil, geology, meteorology, and biology, as well as the commitments and policies driving industry and land use, call out for new orientations—aesthetic, political, epistemological— toward the cosmos. My contribution to the exhibit is to plan a Hall of Cosmograms— representations of the universe– highlighting the interplay between “naturalist” approaches to the earth and alternatives, pointing out some of the conflicts and constraints involved in mobilizing representations of the universe. It’s a question of how to do things with worlds. This talk shows some possibilities.

John Tresch is Mellon Chair and Professor of History of Art, Science, and Folk Practice at the Warburg Institute at the University of London. He is the author of The Romantic Machine: Utopian Science and Technology after Napoleon (Chicago, 2012)and co-editor of Aesthetics of Universal Knowledge (Palgrave, 2016), Bibliotechnica: Humanist Practice in Digital Times (Fondazione Cini, 2018), and A/V, Audio/Visual (Grey Room Quarterly, 2009). He studied anthropology, philosophy, and history of science in Chicago, Cambridge, and Paris, and taught at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia before moving to London last year.