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.

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.   

Truth Practices


24th January 2019 | 4.30-6.30 pm Professor Stuart Hall Building (PSH) 314
Goldsmiths, University of London London SE14 6NW

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


Prof Michael Hampe (ETH Zürich)

Practices of truth play an important role in every day life and in many legal and political contexts. In 1987 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the United Nations declared a “right to truth” as a human right against the background of the truth-commissions that had been established in South Africa and in South America. This development in the United Nations manifested an opposite trend to the one that took place in philosophy at the same time. But reflections about the search for truth in politics, the sciences and in philosophy are three very different things. It is a generally accepted insight of modern epistemology that absolute truth and absolute certainty are not possible. Does that have consequences for these everyday practices? Does the impossibility of absolute truth mean that there are no truths at all? In some philosophical conceptions, general theories of truth are considered to be conditions for the validity of scientific and everyday truths. But that is not the case. It is an old mistake of philosophy to see its meta-reflections as foundations for those epistemic, moral, and social practices it reflects about. This mistake was also made by some postmodern theorists of culture, who relied e.g. on Heidegger ́s view of philosophy as a sort of “engine” of western culture. The consequence of this misunderstanding was that those parts of the humanities that subscribed to this understanding became irrelevant to the sciences and to politics, especially regarding their truth practices. The “hijacking” of the constructivist language about facts and truth by the political right is a manifestation of the politi- cal indeterminacy of some currents in the humanities that resulted from this irrelevance of the general theories of culture for concrete epistemic practices.

Michael Hampe studied philosophy in Heidelberg and Cambridge and is Professor of Theoretical Philosophy at ETH Zurich. In his latest book, What Philosophy Is For (University of Chicago Press, 2018), he described the possible role of philosophy between the sciences and literature, showing how and why philosophy became what it is today, and, crucially, what it could be once more, if it would only turn its back on its pretensions to dogma: a privileged space for reflecting on the human condition.

Michael Hampe, “Truth Practices”

Thinking with Noise


5th December 2018 | 4.30-6.30pm
Margaret Macmillan Building (MMB) 220 |
Goldsmiths, University of London

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


Cecile Malaspina (Paris 7 & Nanterre)

Noise immediately evokes sound. Yet when “noise” crops up in finance, it is not the din of the trading floor we mean, nor does “noise” in population genetics refer to a zoological cacophony. Even sound has been transformed by the statistical attention to “noise” as stochastic fluctuations, non-deterministic or random variations. Notwithstanding the drifting of knowledge into archipelagos of specialization, “noise” has become an eminently shareable concept. This alone says something about knowledge itself, about the relation between different fields of knowledge in the “information era”. This is also where it is worth being sensitive to traces of the intuitive notion of “noise” in scientific conceptualizations, insofar as they elicit a judgement: be it an aesthetic one, regarding worthiness of attention, or a quasi-legal one, i.e. regarding the legitimacy of a theoretical model. What risks going unnoticed is the way in which the idea of “noise” appears to move seamlessly from an epistemological question, pertaining to how we know, to a wider problem of normativity, pertaining to the exercise of control through the norm (statistical or moral), the rule (as method or convention) and the law (governing physics or social bodies). The opportunity that must not be missed in the epistemological momentum towards “noise”, is the move from the classical elimination of “noise” to thinking with “noise”.

Cecile Malaspina is the author of An Epistemology of Noise (Bloomsbury, 2018) and translator of Gilbert Simondon’s On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects (with the collaboration of John Rogove, Univocal / University of Minnesota Press, 2017). She is commissioning editor for Copy Press and is affiliated with the CNRS Paris 7 (Laboratoire SPHERE) and Universite Paris Nanterre.

Cecile Malaspina, “Thinking with Noise” – Audio Recording