Explorations in Empirical Posthumanisms (New Date!)

This diverse group of speakers apply a posthumanist lens to pressing social and environmental issues. The presentations include discussions of the entanglement of racialization, affect, and the body, and multispeciesrelationships in both Toronto and internationally.

When: Thursday, December 9, Ontario Time: 3-4:30 PM 

Where: LifeSize interactive video conferencing: https://stream.lifesizecloud.com/extension/12627650/edf0a4e1-a920-44e8-8744-5dacc2c88b7c 

Chaired by: Mickey Vallee (Canada Research Chair in Community, Identity and Digital Media, Athabasca University) 


Sarah Elton is a critical food systems researcher, investigating the food-biosphere-health nexus. She is a collaborator with Feeding the City,, external link, opens in new window a multidisciplinary study involving several universities and investigating the impact of COVID-19 on Canadian food systems. She is the primary investigator of the research that tracks the impact of the pandemic on the Ontario Food Terminal, Canada’s largest wholesale market of fresh produce that sources food for Toronto, Ontario, and the Maritimes. This study is funded by a Faculty of Arts research award. Her recent doctoral work examined the relationship between humans and nonhuman nature in a study of urban gardens in Toronto and won the 2019-2020 Joan Eakin Award for Methodological Excellence in a Qualitative Doctoral Dissertation. She also is the author of two best-selling books: Locavore (2010, Harper Collins Canada) and Consumed: Food for a Finite Planet (2013, University of Chicago Press). 
Andrew Brooks is Lecturer in Media Cultures in the School of Arts and Media, UNSW. His research proposes strategies for reading and listening to contemporary media events, systems, and infrastructures. His current research is organised around three main projects: the politics of noise and listening; infrastructural inequalities; and the politics of race and embodiment in media culture. 
Nick Fox is one of the UK’s leading proponents of new materialist and posthuman social theory as applied to sociology, with books including ‘The Body’ (Polity, 2012) and the ground-breaking ‘Sociology and the New Materialism’ (Sage, 2017; with Pam Alldred, Brunel University London).  He has written widely on new materialist theory and sexualities, health, environment and research methods, having published over 70 peer-reviewed papers.  Nick has also been the invited speaker at major conferences including the Hellenic Sociological Association, BSA Medical Sociology conference, University of Melbourne Gender and Research conference and the Korean Society for Social Theory. 


Murmur: noise beyond representation 
Andrew Brooks (University of New South Wales) 
This talk develops a conceptual and philosophical reading of the sonic figure of the murmur. A murmur draws disparate voices together in a continuous and processual unfolding. Thinking with its multiplicity, the murmur might be better understood as an  expression of foundational noise that precedes and exceeds representation. Here the murmur is developed as a figure of incommensurable difference that is both a precondition for the emergence of the subject and other individuations and mediations of the object, as well as a force of interruption and potentiality. Taken as an expression of a foundational noise, the murmur is theorised as an expression of Blackness itself, which, drawing on the work of Hortense Spillers, Fred Moten, Saidiya Hartman, and Denise Ferreira da Silva can be understood as an irreducible excess that is both anti- and ante- a regulative order that calls it into being. Such incommensurable difference is unable to be captured and contained either by the figure of the sovereign subject constructed in post-Enlightenment European thought or by the processes of racialisation that produce and uphold supremacy of this figure. Here I argue that noise, in its figuration as a murmur, interrupts the univocity of being that is so central to Western knowledge and suggests a relation of affectability that moves beyond the given grounds of representation. Considering listening as a modality of attuning to noise, we might restage Delueze’s famous statement – we do not yet know what a body can do – via Hortense Spillers’s conception of the Black maternal flesh as that which comes before the body and ask, as Moten and Harney (2021, 82) implore us to: ‘Can we imagine we don’t know what flesh can do?’ This paper suggests that attunement to the sonicity of the murmur allows us to attune to the possibilities of the flesh as a site that both moves us outside the grammar of ‘Man’ and toward new conceptions of solidarity. 
Relational health: Theorizing plants as health-supporting actors 
Sarah Elton (Ryerson University) 
The social sciences are beginning to explore how plants are imbricated in sociopolitical processes, including ones that produce health. I theorize people-plant relations and the agency of plants in the production of health, drawing on data from a multispecies ethnography conducted in Toronto’s largest social housing community during the 2018 growing season. In the presentation, I draw on posthumanist theory to explore how food-producing plants can be sociopolitical actors too. 
Climate change, environmental justice and the unusual capacities of posthumans 
Nick Fox (University of Huddersfield) 
This paper explores a posthumanist and new materialist approach to sustainable development policy.  I trace a humanist and anthropocentric emphasis in policy discussions of ‘sustainable development’ that reaches back almost 50 years, and still underpins recent United Nations (UN) statements and policies on sustainable development.  This has tied policies to counter environmental challenges such as anthropogenic climate change firmly to sustaining and extending future human prosperity.  The paper will then chart a path beyond humanism and anthropocentrism, to establish a posthuman environmentalism.  This acknowledges human matter as an integral (rather than opposed) element within an all-encompassing ‘environment’.  Posthumanism simultaneously rejects the homogeneity implied by terms such as ‘humanity’ or ‘human species’, as based on a stereotypical ‘human’ that turns out to be white, male and from the global North.  Instead, ‘posthumans’ are heterogeneous, gaining a diverse range of context-specific capacities as they interact with other matter.  Some of these capacities (such as empathy, altruism, conceptual thinking and modelling futures) are highly unusual, and – paradoxically – may be key to addressing the current crises of environmental degradation and anthropogenic climate change. 


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