International workshop “Environmental Alterities”

Sep '16

Organizers: Cristóbal Bonelli, University of Amsterdam; Antonia Walford, University College London

Discussant: Stefan Helmreich, MIT Anthropology

Chair: Annemarie Mol , University of Amsterdam

Date and time: 15th of September, 2016, from 9am till 6pm

Venue: common room B5.12, Anthropology department at Amsterdam University

If the 20th century oversaw the dissolution of the grounding concept of ‘Nature’ in social theorising, the nascent 21st century ‘after nature’ has seen the emergence of a different sort of ground, one which seems inherently transformative and unstable. As such, many scholars across Science and Technology Studies and Anthropology share a common commitment to anti-essentialism when attempting to account for such ‘natures after Nature’. With such a framing, ‘environmental’ questions and issues that focus on the environment as simply the biophysical background for human actions start to lose their footing. Indeed, rather than studying ‘Nature’ in all its cultural variants, or environments as stable backgrounds across cultures, these scholars depict environments as spaces of radical alterity located at the edges of complexly-related human worlds.

What set of ideas or conceptual tools do we need to craft in order to develop a sensitivity to such radical alterities in ways that do not return us to modernist essentialisms?

In order to think about this question, this workshop explores the empirical and analytical potential of what we call ‘environmental alterities’. As a concept, ‘environmental alterities’ is premised upon the inherently transformative potential of environmental engagements. It attends to specific relational encounters between different knowledges,

practices, and materialities that bring forth alien, transformative possibilities. But it also, simultaneously, poses the paradoxical problem of how to countenance those dimensions of the worlds we enact which are always already more-than our enactments of them. The workshop will bring together various ethnographic investigations of ways in which

such alterities emerge in situations of environmental change, precarity, and unpredictability. Particular attention will be paid to the problems ethnographers encounter when they try to write about the environment. We are concerned specifically with environmental excess (that which lies outside the ethnographer’s conceptual possibilities); uncertainty (that which cannot be stabilized through ethnographic reflections); and transformation (that which escapes objectification as environmental


We ask:

How do different ‘environments’ intersect with ‘alterity’ in different ethnographic settings? What makes such alterities appear as alter in the first place?

What sorts of environments emerge through a focus on excess, uncertainty and transformation?

How to think about ethnographic moments in which environmental alterities appear, or disappear?

What kind of ethnographic tools do we need to craft in order to grasp such moments?

Through which imaginative formats? In which languages and genres?

How might it be possible to get a grip on elusive or fugitive environmental otherness, even if it resists representation? Does it leave traces, echoes, or marks that we can track?



 9.00 – 9.40:

Brief presentation of participants plus conceptual introduction by Antonia Walford and Cristóbal Bonelli

9.40 – 10.10:

Alterities from Within: Hydrological Models, Anticipated Environment and an Ethnographic Moment. Atsuro Morita, Osaka University

10.10- 10.40:

Wave Energy’s Concepts as Alien: Demonstrating Fluidity. Brit Ross Winthereik, IT University of Copenhagen

10.40 – 11.10: Discussion

11.10 – 11.30: Break

11.30 – 12.00:

Eliciting exorbitant excess: other biologies and the decolonization of scientific thought. Filippo Bertoni, Aarhus University

12.00 – 12.30:

Apple environments at 60 degrees north. Frida Hastrup, University of Copenhagen

12.30 – 13.00: Discussion

13.00- 14.00: Lunch

14.00 – 14.30:

Elemental alterity: finding a place for the other in a continuous-matter ontology. Bronislaw Szerszynski, Lancaster University

14.30 – 15.00:

To Live and Learn. Notes on Togetherness or, On Altering Alterity. Marianne de Laet, Harvey Mudd College and University of Amsterdam

15.00 – 15.30:

The Sea Without Us: towards an anthropocentric vitalism in Hebridean fishing. Magnus Course, University of Edinburgh

15.30 – 16.10: Discussion

16.10 – 16.30: Break

16.30 – 17.30: General discussion, led by Stefan Helmreich.