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.
Pure Thought in the Physical System: Rough Metaphysics and the Earth
24th March 2022, 4-6pm
Morocco Bound Bookshop
1A Morocco Street, London SE1 3HB
Free event. Registration required: here.
(NB– This will be an in-person only event).
The philosophical humanities and critical art practice began in the last years to imagine anthropology to be almost a model discipline due to its use of ethnographic fieldwork to investigate empirically ongoing events—climate change, resurgent fascism, war—in order better to assess them critically. As progressive as this seems, it has continued anthropology’s tendency to imagine both reality and insightful research into it as inherently non- or even anti- conceptual, which in turn has perpetuated a diffuse concept—that modern thought is universal—that anthropology once worked to displace. The extensive published works of an unlikely speculative thinker, a spirit medium and “rough metaphysician” by the name of Jane Roberts (and/or her cohort of alter personalities), raises a formidable challenge to the idea of non- or post-conceptual inquiry by raising the question, “Might everything foremost be thought?” Presenting a few fragments from her vast oeuvre, this talk probes the answer she offers in her considerations of “the physical system” of thought known to modernity as the Earth.
Peter Skafish is a cultural anthropologist who works between anthropology and philosophy on the question of what human thinking is, both in and outside modernity. He is currently developing and directing The Institute of Speculative and Critical Inquiry. In addition to his forthcoming book with the University of Minnesota Press, Rough Metaphysics: Speculative Thought in a Pluriversal Channel (An Anthropology of Concepts), he introduced the English translation of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s De Montaigne à Montaigne; is the co-editor of the volume Comparative Metaphysics: Ontology After Anthropology. He is also a translator, including of Catherine Malabou’s The Heidegger Change and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’ Cannibal Metaphysics.
After 2 years of hard work, the After Progress digital exhibition has now launched!
A companion to the After Progress (2022) monograph, published by The Sociological Review, the After Progress Digital Exhibition is the result of a multiplicity of collective efforts to weave together collaborative and multimedia forms of storytelling that might help us envisage ways of living and dying well outside of the modern coordinates of progress, drawing inspiration from the “After Progress” symposium series held in 2019.
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. The colonial, rationalistic, and ecocidal consequences of the story of “progress” have been laid bare, yet progress remains a ruling idea capable of governing our imaginations today. At the same time, the ruins of progress are teeming with divergent worlds and collective experiments whose stories upend modern dreams, cultivating plural value-ecologies of living and dying with others on Earth. How to intensify them? How to make them felt?
In 2020, amidst the profound upheavals brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and the many public health responses to it, we issued an open call for 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. After over 175 initial proposals from every corner of the world (by artists, activists, academics, students, and many other people from different walks of life) and a long and collaborative process of development and curation, this exhibition of over 60 “stories” in a variety of genres, media, and styles, is one collective response to that call.
But it is also more than that. Composed collectively by contributors, curators, designers, and collaborators alike, all navigating and negotiating lockdowns and social distancing measures and a plethora of other restrictions on our modes of sociality, this exhibition is also a living archive, a testimony of what happened and what can still happen in the interstices of such distances, when we insist in spite of all on thinking and being together (apart). And because any “after” to progress necessarily calls for the plural, what one will find here is a veritable cornucopia of experiments in storytelling that are speculative, ethnographic, poetic, drawing on or reinventing any and every genre: SF, nature writing, poetry, aphorisms, brief dramas, short films, interactive webpages, letters and epistolary forms, fictional encyclopaedia entries, instructions, auditory compositions, and many more. They each raise and pursue their own questions and their own possibilities, thickening the present through the many disparate yet interlaced threads they weave in their divergences and tensions.
This exhibition has received generous funding from The Sociological Review Foundation, as well as other sources of support from the MA Ecology, Culture & Society and the Unit of Play, Department of Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London.
Beyond Reason: Postcolonial Theory and the Social Sciences
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
Martin Savransky | Department of Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London
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)
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)
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: firstname.lastname@example.org !
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
- 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.
- 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.