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.

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
  • 4th 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!

What Comes After Entanglement?

Friday 6th March 2020 | 4.30.00-6.30pm  
Margaret Macmillan Building (MMB) 220
Goldsmiths, University of London
London SE14 6NW

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

What Comes After Entanglement?

The Wrong Framing of the Question

Drawing on examples from environmental and vegan activism, this paper asks what possibilities for action and intervention might exist in the wake of theoretical narratives that have emphasised the entangled composition of the world. The purpose of centralising these entanglements is an ethical one, promising a means of moving beyond a worldview where the human is seen as exceptional, in order to find less anthropocentric ways of conceiving of and acting in the world. Recently, however, there have been growing concerns that these approaches might make it difficult to determine where responsibilities for particular environmental problems really lie, let alone how to meet these responsibilities. This problem has been compounded by the way that relational approaches have been critical of existing strands of animal and environmental activism, which have been depicted as offering insufficiently complex and overly moralistic solutions to ecological problems. This paper works to map some of the tensions between ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ and draws on activist narrative to complicate particular conceptual assumptions. In the process, explore the value of shifting the emphasis away from an ethics based on relationality and entanglement, towards an ethics of exclusion, which pays attention to the entities, practices and ways of being that are foreclosed as particular relations emerge at the expense of others. The paper is based on interview materials from an ongoing project about tensions surrounding contemporary vegan food politics, alongside work from my recent book What Comes After Entanglement?: a title that I ultimately suggest offers a less-than-helpful framing of the question.

Eva Haifa Giraud is a senior lecturer in Media at Keele University, whose research focuses on frictions and affinities between non-anthropocentric theories and activist practice. She has published (or has work forthcoming) on these themes in journals such as Theory, Culture & Society, Sociological Review, Social Studies of Science and New Media & Society. Her monograph What Comes After Entanglement? (Duke University Press) was published in 2019.

Philosophy Without Grounding

Thursday 13th February 2020 | 4.30-6.30pm
Margaret Macmillan Building (MMB) 220
Goldsmiths, University of London
London SE14 6NW

All Welcome.

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

Philosophy without Grounding

In the wake of the so-called “foundational crisis” in philosophy, one can discern at least two distinct responses. The first one gives up the idea of grounding thought, and replaces it by an axiomatics (as analytical philosophy has done). The second, however, never gave up the question of foundations but discovered the depths of groundlessness. This is the case of philosophers such as William James, Henri Bergson, Gilles Deleuze, or Etienne Souriau. Situated in the latter tradition, the aim of this talk is therefore to explore the following question: how is foundation possible on the basis of groundlessness? 

David Lapoujade is Professor of Philosophy at l’Universite Paris-1 Pantheon-Sorbonne. He has written extensively on the philosophy of William James, Henri Bergson, Gilles Deleuze and Etienne Souriau. His publi- cations include William James: Empiricism and Pragmatism (1997, trans. forthcoming with Duke University Press), Powers ofTime:Versions of Bergson (Univocal, 2010), Aberrant Movements:The Philosophy of Gilles Deleuze (Semiotext(e), 2017), and most recently Les Existences Moindres (Les Editions de Minuit, 2017)