This is a summary of the sessions at RGS/IBG 2023.
Feeling at Home in Non-normative Living Spaces
Organisers: Andrew Power (University of Southampton) and Sophie Bowlby (University of Reading)
Presenters: Melanie Nowicki, Katherine Brickell, Ella Harris, Peter Hopkins, Robin Finlay, Matthew Benwell, Josefina Jaureguiberry Mondion, Beverley Clough, Henrietta Zeffert, Beverley Clough, Henrietta Zeffert, Aline Desmas, Janet Bowstead
‘Feeling at home’ is a phrase that refers to the deeply personal, private, affective bond that people can develop with a space, typically one’s living space. This space can be created as a reflection of one’s identity and sense of aesthetics through one’s material possessions. Feeling at home may also relate to a separate space outside one’s dwelling, including a neighbourhood where someone feels a sense of belonging, or a memory of a place where one used to live. Yet, the phrase often remains embedded in normative and ableist assumptions over people’s autonomy and power to freely cultivate a sense of feeling at home. For many people, including teenagers and older children living with parents (Collins, 2015), older people with care needs (Milligan, 2012; Dyck et al., 2005), people experiencing domestic violence, young people in shared housing (Wilkinson and Ortega-Alcazar, 2017), homeless people in temporary accommodation (Harris et al., 2020) and disabled people living in residential care, the home can often be fraught with tensions over residents’ autonomy in the home. These tensions may stem from co-residents (e.g., family members, other elderly people) or from relations with people designated to ‘look after’ residents. The tensions people may face can be relational, sensory, material, and temporal, and in some cases, a sense of home can be unmade by others (Baxter and Brickell, 2014), for example staff who treat a residence as a workspace. While Blunt and Dowling (2006) were cognisant of some these different experiences, particularly of women with inequitable domestic labour responsibilities, little has been done to address the non-normative ways in which people develop a sense of feeling at home and to unpack how this looks and feels. The session explores these divergent experiences which draw on people’s unique relationships with their home spaces, and how people do or don’t develop a sense of feeling at home in non-normative surroundings.
This session sought to explore the often difficult processes of home-making that people undertake in settings that do not fit with normative home environments. The call for papers for this session generated significant interest, with a wide range of good quality submissions to present papers (19). Following a difficult selection process, we selected nine papers for inclusion as well as a discussant slot to explore cross-cutting themes, led by Andrew Power. The two parts of the session (before and after morning coffee) were very well attended by scholars across SCGRG and beyond, with interesting presentations and debate. The non-normative settings presented in the papers ranged widely and included the dwellings of refugees, homeless people, and temporary residents occupying remittance houses. Each paper focused on the novel home-making practices of their respective residents, albeit often at the margins, including cosplay by autistic young people. One paper covered the feminist legal geographies of home-making, which helped to enhance the conceptual engagement with the topic. We felt that we had hit upon a topic of significance. The methodologies used in the studies that were reported were varied (virtual and face-to-face ethnographies and interviews, conceptual analysis) although not unusual within social and cultural geography. The topic of living in non-normative ‘homes’ is one that clearly brought together the theoretical interests of researchers examining apparently diverse topics. The questions and discussion showed a lively interest in the opportunity for theoretical cross-fertilisation amongst presenters and attendees and an interest in sharing findings and approaches. We hope to facilitate this with some form of publication such as a special issue or book arising from the sessions.
Spaces and Subjects of Impotentiality
Organisers: Vickie Zhang (University of Bristol & Guangzhou University), Thomas Dekeyser (Royal Holloway, University of London) and David Bissell (University of Melbourne)
Presenters: Gediminas Lesutis, Paul Harrison, Farai Chipato, Alex Cullen, William Jamieson, Victoria Jones, Vickie Zhang, Merle Matthew Davies, Jonathan Pugh
Ours is, we are often told, an era of impotence. Underpinning this era is, arguably, a series of spatial-affective conditions that produce diminished capacities to act. Disempowerment emerges from all directions; from multiple looming crises and failures of democratic processes, to eroded infrastructures and obstacles to effective coalitions across difference. These are assumed to be collective conditions, but ones that manifest differentially across – amongst others – lines of class, citizenship, gender, sex, ability, and race. With diminishing and overwhelmed capacities to act, sad affect seems omnipresent.
Rather than looking to assert conceptual limitations, we are interested in a wide range of impotentialities, and understandings thereof, including impotentiality as disempowerment (as an inability to act in the face of staggering and paralysing counterforces), impotentiality as a more prior alienation (as a lack of drive to act in the first place), and impotentiality as the refusal to act (such as in the face of violence or injustices). We look to examine impotentiality across varying philosophical lineages, and spatial, political, social, and affective conditions. As a problem-space, it might be borne of the vexed suspension of indifference (Hynes 2016), the challenges of attuning to vast and dissonant entities (Brigstocke and Noorani 2016), or the cruel promises of precarious existence (Pettit 2019; Anderson et al. 2022). Politically, impotentiality might address the ambivalences of living together (Berlant 2022), manifesting across reticent forms of affective comportment (Yao 2021; Bissell 2022), suspended subject positions (Biao 2021), and disconnective forms of refusal (Dekeyser 2022). Affectively, impotentiality might express the overstimulated and extinguished ends of demands to be productive (Wilkinson and Ortega‐Alcázar 2019), the insistent and melancholic suspensions of trauma and memory (Emery 2022; Coddington & Micieli-Voutsinas 2017), or the unexpected dissonances of research encounters (Zhang 2020; Todd 2021).
Contributing to the growing field of ‘negative geographies’ (Dekeyser and Jellis 2021; Dekeyser et al. 2022; Rose et al. 2021) and its challenges to understandings of space and subjects as marked by productive potential, this session invites geographers to explore the subjects, spaces and politics of impotentiality. We ask: what are the conditions that produce situations, feelings, and experiences of impotentiality? How do these come to manifest themselves? And, as Agamben (1999) would tell us, are there any possibilities for resistance within the space of impotentiality? We are looking to confront impotentiality through theoretical and empirical examinations of impotence, and explore subjects’ responses to such diagnoses.
The first session opened with a brief introduction by the chair, Thomas Dekeyser, who summarised the impulse behind organising the session as the desire to offer a supplementation to, and modest questioning of, the prevalence – in geographical thinking – of ‘potentiality’ and ‘capacity’ as necessarily possible or desirable. In anticipation of the nine presentations, he formulated three modes of impotentiality: a) as an originary ontological status for (certain) being; b) as a collective structure of feeling characteristic of our contemporary political moment of sensed disempowerment; and c) as localised affective experiences. Picking up on the first of these modes, Paul Harrison kicked off the session with a challenge to ‘lively work’ in new materialism and posthumanist thought, proposing impotentiality as a way of avoiding the lure of redeeming existence. Farai Chipato located impotentiality within the ontological status of black subjectivity, and offered thoughts on how one might, methodologically, look towards attending to such spaces of impotentiality. Gediminas Lesutis and Alex Cullen each approached impotentiality as a feeling of incapacity in the face of wider political forces, examining – respectively – the impossibility of redress in Kenyan mega-infrastructures, and the impoverishment of radical climate action.
We were very pleased that the RGS-IBG were able to include a hybrid session, which meant presenters more distantly located could speak. Things kicked off with a pun with William Jamieson’s exploration of the paradoxical omni(m)potence of Singapore’s territorial expansion, refracted through Marxist analogies of growth and accumulation. Merle Davies Matthew incisively critiqued the politics of the hopeful gesture to potential often made in critical scholarship, questioning its politics by identifying its shared characteristics with the more obviously problematic capitalist versions of attunement to potential. Victoria Jones delivered a moving performance presentation on the underperformativity of emotion for furloughed workers in the UK, whilst Jonathan Pugh and Vickie Zhang both spoke to the idea of non-relational subjectivity, albeit through different conceptual traditions – in Caribbean studies and via continental philosophy respectively.
We were inspired to see the different versions of impotence emerging in the papers across the two sessions – from critiques of worlding, liveliness and potential, to impotentiality as incapacity to act, as immobility, futility, affective performance, historical inheritance, misplaced attachment, and more. We thank the presenters for their insightful presentations and look forward to engaging with the potent and forthcoming work being undertaken in the orbit of impotentiality.
Session Summary: “Seasonal Cultures: Elements of Change”
Organisers: Hester Parr (University of Glasgow), Shawn Bodden (University of Glasgow) and Hayden Lorimer (University of Edinburgh)
Presenters: Helen Wilson, Michelle Bastian, Shawn Bodden, Rowan Jaines, Maximilian Hepach, Frederick Hubble, Felicia Liu, Pablo Arboleda, Scott Bremer, Caitlin DeSilvey
Seasonality is a meaningful part of everyday life, language, custom and culture. The seasons are a unit of measure against which experience, change and progress can be read, giving a founding structure and calendrical shape to work, holidays, schooling, community, economy, faith, infrastructure, landscape and locality. As well as being a system for parcelling up time, seasons are affective phenomena in which we dwell, forming distinct modes of human being. We embody and enculture the shifting seasons, drawing out distinctions, celebrating their colour, atmosphere, light, tone and spirit. We are expectant for their emergent ecologies: tracking the arrival and parting of migrant species, watching the garden bloom and the tree shed its leaves. All this amounts to the known-world, though one which we find increasingly unfamiliar and on which we can no longer confidently depend. Winter feels less like Winter. Summer seems an intensified but more mutable version of itself. We process the predictions and projections for 2050 and wonder what future the seasons hold in store for us…
Examining how we encounter, or re-make, seasonal culture and seasonal change is one response to the planet’s changing climates. What does it mean to acknowledge slow shifts in folk-knowledge and collective memories of winter cold or summer heat? When the rhythm of the seasons, our deeply socialised building blocks of time and calendar, no longer make full sense or seem scrambled, who is impacted and how? Cultural reference points with a cycle of four seasons might be commonplace, but the world is more patchworked than this, so what can be gleaned from those cultures more sensitively attuned to a pattern of micro-seasons? What sorts of social practices, activities and events are taking place that reclaim seasonal cultures, or champion new seasons? What might it mean existentially if our sensibilities and values no longer take their measure from a deep sense of seasonality? These new geographies of seasonal experience command academic attention and are the concern of this RGS-IBG conference session.
At this year’s RGS-IBG conference, we hosted two sessions on the theme of Seasonal Cultures. Our interest in seasonality and experiences of seasonal change took on additional significance within the context of the Chair’s theme of Climate Changed Geographies: in a series of terrific presentations, our sessions’ speakers described how learning to live amid disruptions to familiar seasonal rhythms and the emergence of new weather patterns has produced changing social, cultural, emotional and affective geographies of environmental life. A major theme across a number of the presentations was the importance of local and intimate seasons for understanding the changing cultural geographies of climate change. Presenters shared examples of how gardens, apple trees and bird migration can become sites of intimate encounter with the threat of climate change, but also of struggles to read local environments to discover ways to preserve cherished forms of life. A closely linked discussion emphasised the value of understanding seasons as sense-making in the face of disruption, anxiety and feelings of ‘global weirding’. Through rich examples from a range of geographical locations, such as accounts of a new ‘haze season’ in Southeast Asia or Norwegian beekeepers’ modification of seasonal repertoires of practice, presenters addressed ways in which communities interpreted, named and responded to changing patterns of weather and atmosphere. A final major interest was the digital mediation of seasonality. Public perceptions of seasonal patterns and disruptions can be shared through social media platforms, offering insight into experiences of climate change as well as opportunities for innovative, participatory and creative-led research methods. This is also reflected in the development of new forms of popular digital media to simulate seasonal atmospheres, such as Yule Log videos and other ‘ambient’ media. Seasons are not simply times of year we find ourselves in: people watch, learn from, respond and even seek to make them. The Seasonal Cultures sessions suggested new avenues for studying changing experiences of seasonality and opened up a number of key questions about how to learn from those particularly affected by seasonal change—be it through their profession, location, or mental health—and how to build new forms of supportive seasonal life together.
Mapping for a changing world: qualitative, arts-based, participatory methods
Organisers: Heather Miles (University of Manchester), Barbara Brayshay (Royal Holloway, University of London) and Mike Duggan (King’s College London)
Presenters: Alice Gorman Eveleigh, Buck-Matthews, Ersilia Verlinghieri, Chiara Chiavaroli, Rachel Andrews, Jina Lee, Heather Miles, Clare Qualmann
In these sessions we present a case for the potential of creative cartography as a key tool for working with valuable environmental knowledge and experience in the communities and life worlds of people most impacted by social and ecological injustice. We propose that the subjective and experiential dimensions of this methodology can provide a rich source of data for situating and interrogating the environmental power relations that are at the heart of current climate justice debates.
However we see map-makers acting within comfortable cartographic silos, rather than learning with and from each other to develop better ways to tell spatial stories. It is especially important to develop transdisciplinary approaches to mapping the so-called wicked problems of climate change, which are framed as social, economic and political phenomena, as much as environmental. We will share experiences across creative forms of mapping that can increase the participatory and grassroots engagement so frequently undervalued in climate change research practices.
Such map-making and map-using activities might focus on local, Indigenous or community-based knowledge in climate change research; prompting stories or discussion; prompting creative interpretations of space and place through mapping; considering sensory, kinaesthetic, or more visceral experience of both place and maps; experimenting with new techniques, technologies, and concepts.
The sessions’ purpose is to showcase the distinctive contribution to understanding socio-environmental phenomena these approaches make and also to consider the challenges of these forms of mapping.
Session 1 was paper presentations and in Session 2 attendees chose one practical workshop to take part in. The sessions were sponsored by the Livingmaps Network.
The Mapping for a Changing World double session sought to showcase, and consider challenges and further development, of diverse and innovative mapping approaches. Different mapping approaches can focus on contrasting forms of data and knowledges, often simultaneously and as such are an important transdisciplinary method. The mapping approaches are valuable methods for social and cultural geographers to use together, with other geographers and other disciplines, and with other communities, when these collaborators have contrasting practices of knowledge-making. The mapping approaches explored in the sessions included creative arts-based mapping, deep mapping, GIS and qualitative GIS, body mapping, participatory creative mapping and walking approaches.
As such, our presenters and audience came from a range of different backgrounds, including different academic disciplines as well as practitioners outside academia, and from a range of mapping traditions, from GIS to art. The sessions attracted a large number of attendees (around 30) and each presentation, workshop and the end of session discussion prompted many audience questions and contributions. The discussions included the topics of positionality, project and map legacy, and how such projects can shape policy.
The double session provided both presenters’ reflections on using their different mapping methods (Session 1), as well as providing attendees with practical experience in using a creative and a walking method of mapping (Session 2). The creative aspects of the session reflected the recent increased uptake of creative methods in geography and explored the distinctive contribution such methods make to understanding people’s experience of place, space and environmental processes and practices.
The critique of critique: new perspectives on the future of critique
Organisers: Victoria Ridgway (Durham University) and Philip Conway (Durham University)
Presenters: Victoria Ridgway, Philip Conway, Mark Jackson, Gediminas Lesutis, Maria Rusca, David Seitz
This session invites interventions concerning the limits and futures of critique in geography. More specifically, this session aims to build upon recent discussions that have engaged critique in relation to negativity, affirmation, and ambivalence. In recent years, concerns over phenomenon such as post-truth and conspiracism have stimulated intense discussions over the future of critique. Notably, modes of criticism set on debunking and unveiling the truth have been blamed for enabling an excess of relativism in postmodern societies. These are rendered all the more obnoxious for their failures to generate social change. In the trail of geography’s mobilization and interest in theories of affect, critical projects of affirmation, concerned with sustaining and multiplying modes of being, have shaped an alternative to negative critique. Recent debates in geography have taken stock of the limits of some experimentations that favour affirmative relations to the object of critique. Among other things, they have highlighted how an excessive focus on affirmation can shift attention away from situations of discomfort and negative affects. While safeguarding against the temptation to choose between affirmation and negation, these discussions have amplified propositions that favour ambivalent relations to the object of critique. Rather than foreclosing debates on critique with the promotion of a middle ground position, these discussions have opened it to new considerations that this session wishes to address further: what do we do with objects that are beyond repair ? Is it possible to resist without stating a clear definite ‘no’ ? How to conceptualize, and possibly operationalize, ambivalence as critique that does more than alternatively recognize the good and bad? And, following the problematisation of critique as a tool of colonial mastery and reduction of lifeworlds, how can we pursue modes of criticism that account for difference, while resisting positions of judgement that seek universal equivalence and the consecration of monological reason?
This session discussed various modalities of critique, the possibilities to do critique otherwise or to let go of critique altogether. Several papers traced brief genealogies of critique, which emphasized its position as a prominent feature of the edification of the Enlightenment and its related subject positions, as well as its conflation with negative modes of interpretation that debunk and reveal. Participants’ engagements with the question of the ‘critique of critique‘ or ‘critique after critique’, mainly varied along the line of the possibility to carry on with critique, and the general critical ethos that supports much of academic work today. While some argued in favour of bettering critique either through more ambivalent, rigorous or ethically informed modes of interpretation, others argued for the subversion of critique through an engagement with more collective and caring modes of knowing. The papers contributed to advancing our understanding of what it means to be critical in cultural and social geography. They specifically engaged with the questions of what doing critique otherwise would look like, and how shifting our understanding of how different modes of criticism are already deployed outside of academia can help us better understand how people relate to the world. Furthermore, the discussion engaged through this session directly spoke to recent debates within cultural geography which question the mobilization of hope and affirmation in critique and politics, by opening this debate for further considerations of what more ambivalent modes of criticism could resemble.
Sounding Elements I & II :Listening to weathers, waters, atmospheres, and Listening across scales, measurements
Organisers: Samuel Hertz (Royal Holloway, University of London), Indira Lemouchi (Royal Holloway, University of London) and Sasha Engelmann (Royal Holloway, University of London)
Presenters: Samuel Hertz, Indira Lemouchi, Sasha Engelmann, Nicola Di Croce, Eleni-Ira Panourgia, Carla J. Maier, Ivo Louro, Kat Austen, Kaya Barry, Margarida Mendes, Alex De Little
The story of sound is the story of elements. Whether chasing the echoes of disappearing species in the forest or the percussive frequencies of a subterranean dance floor, sonic spaces embed us in elemental media: air, water, wood, metal, earth. Sound is not only an acoustic phenomenon but also a material “by which we learn of the temporality and ephemerality of bodies and things” (LaBelle cited in Hertz, 2022: 184). Sound is political because it is inseparable from the conditions in which it emerges; sound embodies its elemental conditions and context of being.
Taking cues from sonic practitioners, geographers and geohumanities scholars, this session explores sound as the elemental expression of changing landscapes, glitching infrastructures, and warming atmospheres. From the sonic signatures of volatile weather events (Randerson, 2018; Engelmann, 2021) to tremors of earth and ice (Schuppli, 2019; Magrane, 2021) to the rhythms of subsurface and undersea mining, sound is a carrier, a commons, a host for different material, cultural and political processes. While recognising the growing interest in sound as data for the natural and climate sciences, including bio- and eco-acoustics, this session moves beyond an understanding of environments through datasets (Hawkins and Kanngieser, 2017) and places emphasis on the affective and political possibilities of listening across spaces and scales (Gallagher et al., 2017). A geographical lens is particularly suitable for grasping the relationships of listening and sounding practices to the elemental and material flows of non/life; these are spatiotemporal relations that can not only be mapped but also sensed and re-constructed.
The two sessions comprising our SCGRG-sponsored block ran successfully—with both sessions having an impressive turnout—and to an enthusiastic and engaged audience. Totalling nine presentations from 11 presenters over the two sessions, the block offered a wide range of experimental responses to concepts of sonic materialism and the elemental, fusing fields such as activism, public policy and data science to artistic responses in the form of architectural installations, field recording and dance film. Researchers and artists framed the ways in which sound offers new perspectives on grappling with changing landscapes, and in particular offered examples of how a sonic elementalism/sonic materialism may function as a geographic method itself.
The common trait shared amongst all presentations in the two sessions was an acknowledgement of sound’s potential to uncover new relationships between the practical effects of anthropogenic climate and environmental change, and the broader cultural and geographic ontological viewpoints that can be derived from participatory and experiential sonic methodologies. The presentations gracefully reinforced each other through a complex and
diverse set of practices, and both shared points of reference as well as shared terminologies suggested a strong conceptual and practical coherence between the previously undiscussed practices among the two sessions. Topics discussed included atmospheric acoustics of traditional Portuguese windmills, to workshops on inter-scalar listening, hacked instruments for listening to water as well as landscapes of drought.
The presenters and the conveners alike were very enthusiastic about each other’s presentations, and there was an immediate conversation following the end of the second session on developing further work in the form of a publication or special issue. The conveners are planning to meet at the end of September to discuss further possibilities and potential avenues within which to continue these exciting and generative conversations.
Indigenous ontologies, decoloniality and the naming of difference
Organisers: Mat Keel (Louisiana State University) and Mitch Rose (Aberystwyth University)
Presenters: Emily Hayes, Kate Maclean, Dumisani Moyo, Mariana Reyes, Mitch Rose
Couldn’t one shift to a perspective showing that the source of the most interesting concepts, problems, entities, and agents introduced into thought…is in the imaginative power of the societies -or, better, the peoples and collectives -that [we] propose to explain?
– Viveiros-de-Castro, Cannibal Metaphysics
We find ourselves in a period where geographic scholarship demonstrates a heightened interest in reflecting on and repairing its colonial legacy, aspiring to decolonize its worldviews and intellectual habits. In this period, geographic scholars increasingly turn to indigenous ontologies, seeking potential alternatives and complements to the dominance of European perspectives. Yet, this move raises a number of thorny questions. While anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro has demonstrated that there is much to be learned from indigenous thought, he is also reticent to ascribe ownership of certain modes of thinking to others in an endogenous and essentialist manner. His caution raises questions about our key terms. Indigeneity always bears the trace of primordialism, and ontology similarly suggests something ‘essential’. How are we then to acknowledge the radically different thinking of others – with its potential to open our presumptions, concepts, and modes of knowledge production -without walking backwards into such traps? How can we recognize certain ontologies as ‘alternative’ (and even emancipatory) without naming those ontologies and (in the process) identifying them as ‘theirs’ and not ‘ours’? How do we mitigate the risk of extracting ‘ontology’ as only one part of a bipartite schema from indigenous cosmologies which are often best understood as an undifferentiated union of ontology/epistemology, knowing/being. How can geographic thought engage with the foundational commitment to topos which underlies much indigenous thought without becoming incoherent or romantic? Are we in danger of (yet again) ascribing certain characteristics to those that are different and of reserving other characteristics for ourselves and those who are like us? If so, how can we avoid this being yet another form of colonial appropriation? This panel invites scholars whose work engages with both the conceptual potential and problems that emerge when engaging with indigenous thought, and particularly among those socially positioned in the Global North. It explores how engaging the ideas, concepts, and world understandings of others can potentiate complex conversations about difference, in a manner that aspires to deepen – rather than to escape – conversations about the problem of what it means to decolonize geographic thought in the twenty-first century.
The aim of the session was to explore new geographic work on indigenous ontologies. In particular we asked authors to explore the potential paradoxes imminent to the study of ingenious thought – i.e., the problem of acknowledging the radically different thinking of others without falling into the trap of essentialism. This was a theme that came through many (if not all the papers). For example, Emily Hayes’ paper explored Viveiros De Castro’s concept of multinaturalism and its antecedents in 19th century geographical thought. Kate Maclean, meanwhile, focused on the complexities of indigenous political identity, particularly when it intersects with political economies that exclude the experience of indigenous women. Similarly, Mariana Reyes examined two Brazilian museums – the Museum of Tomorrow and the Rio Art Museum – to illustrate the singular and reductive manner that indigeneity is represented within a museum space. In a slightly different vein. Dumisani Moyo, drew upon Mdembe’s notion of ‘necropolitics’ to query the appropriateness of concepts such as ‘indigeneity’ to characterize economic practices that are also exploitative. And Mitch Rose queried the alternative future that is often promised by work on indigenous ontologies, as well as critiqued the overall idea that there can be ‘better’ or ‘worse’ ontologies. All together the papers brought some critical questions to bear on the notion of indigeneity as well as its mobilization in various decolonial practices. Indeed, for many papers, the concept of indigenous ontologies – while useful for engaging how others think – also had the danger of reinforcing the strong ontological divides which are a hallmark of Western conceptions of difference.
More-than-human archives: reflecting on geographers’ archival interventions
Organisers: Lena Ferriday (University of Bristol) and Austin Read (University of Bristol)
Lena Ferriday, Austin Read, Jessica Lehman, Catherine Oliver, Merle Patchett, Hayden Lorimer
This panel seeks to examine how more-than-human geographers have theorised the slippery concept of ‘the archive’. A key contribution has been to emphasise the archive as a sensory, affective space (Lorimer, 2003), in which the researcher is an active and experimental practitioner rather than a passive observer (DeSilvey, 2007). Such approaches have allied with postcolonial (Stoler, 2009), queer-feminist (Cvetkovich, 2003) and philosophical (Derrida, 1994) inquiries into the archive that seek to position archives as lively, political spaces in which one encounters situated knowledge.
More-than-human geographers have also disrupted traditional spatial parameters, turning to more-than-human materiality as archives of ‘proxy data’, where tree rings and fish ear-bones can reveal vital information about environmental histories, or more-than-human bodies and artifacts as records of hybrid histories of labour, living and leisure (Patchett, 2021; Lorimer, 2023). In this sense, more-than-human archival research is a call to attend to the ‘archival earth’ (Ogden, 2021).
In this turn to the ‘archival earth’, more-than-human geographers are drawing upon long-standing Black and Indigenous attempts to decolonise the archive, opening it to other philosophies of history including kinship, ancestrality and storytelling that exceed the textual and visual constraints of the European archive (Gumbs, 2018; Rivera Cusicanqui, 2019). This moment is thus an exciting opportunity to foreground the influence of these decolonial philosophies of history upon more-than-human archival geographies and to build fresh connections and collaborations across these approaches.
This panel session on more-than-human archives and geography’s archival interventions prompted a rich and interesting discussion, featuring four mini presentations by each of the panellists where they presented a more-than-human archive that they work with, followed by a wide-ranging discussion involving the audience. The session drew upon and developed several key themes of cultural and social geography, including:
- Corporeality. The presentations and following discussions foregrounded, in multifaceted ways, the presence of raced, gendered and specied bodies in the archive. What emerged through the session was that geographical engagements with the archive are particularly crucial for sensing the fleshy, corporeal more-than-human bodies that both do archival work and are present in the archives.
- Labour. The session focused both on the labour of the archival researcher and the other kinds of labours that make their research possible – in the session we heard about the labour of archivists, oceanographers, chickens, birds of paradise and rocks. This discussion of labour was conceptually rich and theoretically adventurous – for example, prompting musings about whether if a chicken egg is an archive, is a chicken an archivist? What emerged here was that cultural geographic approaches to more-than-human archives, then, are perhaps particularly useful for reflecting both on method – the work it takes to do historical research – and for analytically foregrounding the different forms of more-than-human work that the archive can lead us to.
- Power. The session focused on the importance of taking a critical approach to archives, given that archives and archival work are both always-already saturated with power. We’ve also had been cautioned about taking an overly celebratory approach to “alternative” archives – even creative and insurgent archives have territorialising functions, silences and gaps. What emerged through this session was the importance of not trying to escape silences, instead paying attention to them by foregrounding the patches and the gaps in our knowledges and archival sources. We heard from multiple critical geographies, including affective and postcolonial geographies, but feminist analyses emerged as particularly essential. Feminist fieldwork ethics seems to inform how many social and cultural geographers are approaching the archive, foregrounding awareness of situated knowledges, of strong objectivity that does not fetishize “truth” or authority whilst remaining committed to the integrity of careful research and of notions of care and caregiving.
- Particularity. The session celebrated source-led commitment to materials – including map collections, eggs, and feathers. They also reminded us of the importance of beginning with particular histories rather than abstract ontologies. Each panellist drew on passion, love or some other form of affective connection when present the archive that they work with.
In sum then, the session contributed to social and cultural geography by staging a broad discussion about one of its key methods – archival research – that opened expansive, creative dialogue on some of social and cultural geography’s key concerns, including questions of gender, power, race, affect, humanism, materiality, care, knowledge, and many others.