Alien Weeds: The Origins of Life on an Uncanny Planet

Thinking about next week’s Post-Planetary Capital Symposium at the New School/Parson’s Center of Transformative Media reminded me of a short text I had included in a strange event/exhibition at Princeton’s Institute of the Humanities last May called The Secret Life of Plants. I didn’t get to see the exhibition and missed the event with Jane Bennett as I was not in town at the time but I’ve included my text below. It appeared with the image below enlarged on a wall (although I never saw images of it).

ALIEN WEEDS: The Origins of Life on an Uncanny Planet


 In January 2013 it was reported in The Huffington Post that Chandra Wickramasinghe of the University of Buckingham, U.K. and a team of researchers at Cardiff University, U.K. had found traces of fossilized algae in a meteorite that landed in the Sri Lankan village of Polonnaruwa on December 29th the previous year. Although the results of their research were immediately disputed by other astronomers when published in the March 2013 edition of the Journal of Cosmology, Wickramasinghe and his team argue that their findings provide strong evidence for the existence of extra-terrestrial life and vindicate the theory of cometary panspermia, the idea that life spreads across the cosmos via comets and meteorites.

It has become increasingly common in recent years for Continental Philosophy to turn its gaze to the relationship between the human and the non-human and many thinkers of a materialist and post-humanist leaning have begun to interrogate the complex socio-ecological assemblages that bind them together. Arguably, this materialist, post-humanist turn has taken shape in response to the dramatic changes in the conditions of planetary life that recent scientific developments have both exposed and produced. These changes have driven Continental Philosophy, a field of thought long fixated on the social construction of the world and the centrality of human subjectivity, back to fundamental epistemological and ontological questions about the human position in a more-than-human world.

Yet whilst significant attention has been afforded the ways in which human life is entangled with animal life, technologies, geological forces, fossil fuels, atmospheric conditions and the planetary biosphere, the human relationship to plants has for the most part gone unexplored. Hence, recent attempts to explore this long overlooked relationship within Continental Philosophy, such as Michael Marder’s Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life (2013), break important new ground. Coming to a better understanding of the mutually constitutive entanglements between human and plant life can play a crucial part in the wider philosophical project of reassessing the ontological position of the human with regard to non-human things, processes and relations and perhaps help unravel the nature/culture distinction that is so foundational to much modern social, and indeed environmental, thought.

However, is there something else, something darker, something weirder, that remains to be thought about plant life: something that does not simply concern its relation to human life but the planet as a whole, and even the cosmos?  The field of astrobiology and the fossilized algae identified in the Polonnaruwa comet by Chandra Wickramasinghe and his team suggests so.

The basic hypothesis of cometary panspermia is that life on earth may have originated from life forms found on comets or meteorites that arrived on earth either from other planets (interplanetary panspermia) or other solar systems (interstellar panspermia) rather than having been generated from chemical reactions between organic materials found on earth itself. The fossilized algae traces that Wickramasinghe’s team claim to have found indicate that such a scenario may no longer simply be the wild conjecture of galactic-Darwinians on the lunatic fringe of astronomy. They in fact appear to suggest that algae, or similar forms of microscopic plant life, may not only be the denizens of rock-pools and deep ocean trenches but the agent of a great cosmic fertilization from which earthly life was born.

But what might this mean philosophically? In one sense of course this (perhaps unverifiable) hypothesis simply adds an astrobiological spin to the Copernican turn. In another sense however, it is perhaps unavoidable that humans might experience this as yet another blow to anthropocentric consciousness from an indifferent cosmos. Yet perhaps cometary panspermia does more than deepen the narcissistic wound in humans’ sense of cosmological centrality. Given that these algae fossils do not simply decenter the human in relation to a more-than-human world but decenter earthly life in relation to a wider living cosmos, is it possible to argue that they produce a kind of planetary trauma? Cometary panspermia suggests not simply that the mysterious throb of some alien Other exists, but that its extraterrestrial pulse might lie at the very roots of planetary life. In this case life on earth becomes at once familiar and strange, worldly and alien, its genesis found in some form of cosmic contamination; this originary astral infiltration leaves our earthly home a stranger to itself and renders the planet uncanny. What we have known as earthly life can no longer be distinguished from an extraterrestrial Other but in fact comes to resemble the prolonged incubation of the alien within.

Perhaps then the fossilized algae traces Wickramasinghe and his team claim to have found imply that plant life is located in a liminal position with regard to earthly life as a whole: that planetary life as we know it is in fact the outgrowth of alien weeds. Might these crystalized formations suggest that plant life is not something that can simply be cozied up to via some post-humanist blurring of the nature/culture binary but rather that plants are already simultaneously much more intimate and alien than such a conceptual gesture would presume? Indeed, this peculiar intimacy is perhaps why plant life is so often approached with a degree of anxiety. There is a sense that the scent-filled blossoms and Triffid-like tendrils of the plant world give direct expression to a vital excess of life that not only encompasses a vivid cornucopia of vegetal becoming but places them in uncomfortable proximity to contingency, decay and ultimately death, their indifferent and ceaseless growth bordering on a mindless organic death drive.

This sense is perhaps strongest when confronted with those forms of life such as algae, fungi, slime molds, photosynthesizing bacteria and viruses that squirm loose from the classification tables and upset the stable taxonomies of being with which we try to separate our selves from other living things and them from each other. It is perhaps no surprise that thinkers associated with Speculative Realism have found the dark vitality of these ambiguous life forms so aesthetically compelling: think for example of Graham Harman’s Lovercraftian Weird Realism, Reza Negarestani’s ontologies of putrification, Dylan Trigg’s “alien phenomenology” or Ben Woodard’s Slime Dynamics. Read in light of recent findings in astrobiology the unsettling indeterminacy that characterizes the boundaries of plant life evokes a secret affinity between the domestic pot-plant and the alien imbroglios from which life on earth may have emerged.

So in what new directions might the evidence of cometary panspermia bend the crooked timber of philosophical inquiry? Perhaps the possibility of an alien origin to earthly life – even if recent findings can not be verified – requires us to radicalize and intensify the lines of materialist thought and post-humanist philosophy, to not only decenter the human in relation to the non-human (animals, computer technologies, tectonic plates, cloud patterns, distribution networks, microbes, and yes, plants), but decenter the conditions of planetary life in relation to the cosmos. Maybe these crystalline remnants of past life demand that we think beyond the bounds of the ‘blue marble’ and open our thought to the complex contingencies of the cosmos, including those shards of matter surging through the black eternity of space along trajectories wholly indifferent to earthly life. The Garden of Eden has been choked in alien weeds. In cultivating them in thought we can better understand our rootedness in the cosmos.

Upcoming Talks: ‘Post-Planetary Capital Symposium’ at Parsons & ‘After 400ppm’ Conference

A busy week coming up with a number of exciting events a couple of which I am speaking at.


First up is thePost-Planetary Capital Symposium’ at the Center for Transformative Media at the New School/Parsons Design School in New York organized by Ed Keller (the center’s director) and Ben Woodard (whose work myself, Kai Bosworth and Harlan Morehouse recently reviewed at Society and Space) I’ll be speaking alongside a great line up of artists, architects, designs, media theorists and philosophers, many of them friends, including Kai, Julieta Aranda, Ben Bratton, Keith Tilford,MacKenzie Wark, Amanda Beech, Deneb Kozikoski, amongst others. Ed and Ben have put together a great program around a really exciting topic. The event is free requires tickets, available here, and the description written by Ed and Ben is below: 

As the dull glow of nationalism and cold war politics has faded from governmental space programs it is little surprise that space exploration has undergone widespread privatization.Yet it is only recently that potentially massive profitability has accelerated off-planet projects, replacing narrower and perhaps unrealistic dreams of space tourism with asteroid mining (purportedly a multi-trillion dollar industry) and long term Mars colonization. Such projects present an odd combination of new technologies (especially advanced robotics) and lower cost older technologies (rocket propulsion) deployed in unfamiliar and lawless territory. While much has been said regarding the internal limits of capital, much yet remains to be said about how capitalist imperatives can be taken off-world, questioning whether capital[ism] has external limits as it begins to spread across the solar system and out into space. Is the fact that asteroid mining extends an old logic of environmental degradation rendered moot by its non-terrestrial location? Does off-world colonization by non-governmental entities lay troubling ground work for the advent of mega-corporations and unregulatable capitalism? Furthermore, the complicity between capitalist expansion and space exploration which centers upon large-scale collective action potentially questions stock oppositions between capital and ecological betterment, technological progression and radical politics, as well as space travel and non-national collectivity. This one day symposium aims to address the potential strategies and claims surrounding these issues. 

I’m really glad to have a chance involved in this conversation as I’ve had plans for a project on the extra-planetary geopolitics and the philosophical questions about the future of space exploration for the last 18 months or so but have not had time to dig in to it yet. I’ll be writing a chapter around this material for Capitalism and the Earth, a book forthcoming from Punctum and edited by Nigel Clark, Arun Saldanha and Kathryn Yusoff that I mentioned here before. This will give me an opportunity to lay out some initial lines of inquiry although nothing is worked out as yet. I’ve included my abstract below (the ‘beyond the beyonds’ of the title being an Irish phrase for something rash, excessive and irrational):

Beyond the Beyonds: The Political Horizon of Extra-Planetary Expansion 

Any ‘true to the planet’ thinking must recognize the earth’s inherently post-planetary condition. Whether we consider its dependence on the sun’s energy or the more speculative thesis of cosmic panspermia, it is clear that life on the terrestrial nugget is constitutively entangled with inhuman forces beyond. Indeed, since the development of the Cold War space programs, human activity has been shaping the nature of this post-planetary condition, and has intensified to such an extent that the prosthetic halo of satellites orbiting the planet has not only become integral to the operation of global social systems (communications, logistics agriculture, finance, infrastructure, warfare), but also their convergence with the earth’s natural forces, molding the contours of the Anthropocene and forming an extra-planetary strata that dilates the ‘planet’ beyond the bounds of its atmospheric membrane. Yet today we appear on the cusp of a new ‘frontier’ of expansion in extra-planetary activity, defined not only by familiar patterns of techno-military competition between states, but the emergence of commercial actors speculating in off-sourced extractive industries and the colonization of astral bodies. Such ventures have a long history in cosmic speculation but have taken on new significance in light of increased technological viability and an awareness that capitalism is fast bringing the planet to the point of ‘burn out’. This paper seeks to question some of the geopolitical implications of this ‘second space age’. Is it likely to simply mark the further extension of existing patterns of inter-state competition and capitalist accumulation into extra-planetary space, or rather might it radically transform existing relations between space and the political, both on and off earth, reformulating the economic, ecological, and juridical bases of governing geopolitical formations? This paper will argue that if we jettison the terrestrial myopia in which so much of our thinking is mired then the latter is a clear possibility – the question then becoming how to steer the development of extra-planetary activity and its feedback effects on earth. The fact that those driving recent developments appear to aspire to little more than the astral expansion of capitalist accumulation as a sort of spatio-energetic fix to stave off economic collapse and mass extinction, should not deter us from embracing the transformative potential of this new horizon and imagining the possibility of post-capitalist futures for the post-planetary condition. The paper will nonetheless conclude by highlighting some of the fundamental challenges that face any attempt to think politically within the unpredictable horizon of future space exploration, a domain in which conceptual frameworks, founding principles and guiding programs formulated in relation to centuries-old, earth-bound social forms may no longer be adequate.  

This is followed the next day by another event at the Center of Transformative Media, Function: Decomposition, Localization, Abstraction, a workshop on functionalism in philosophy with Ray Brassier, Reza Negarestani and Daniel Sacilitto. Reza and Ray write: “This workshop will try to unravel the metaphysical, epistemic, and engineering aspects of functionalism by developing themes from the work of philosophers including William Bechtel, Robert Brandom, Wilfrid Sellars, and William Wimsatt.” Its the first time Reza and Ray will be speaking together in NY since they spoke together at the event I organized last summer with Jenny Jaskey at Miguel Abreu gallery. Its not an area I know much about but which I keen to learn more about given that these ideas play an influence role in the philosophical underpinnings of Reza and Ray’s work and in the discussions around accelerationism thought more broadly.

Later in the week I’ll be speaking at the ‘After 400 ppm: Science, Politics, and Social Natures in the Anthropocene’ conference at Rutger’s University in New Jersey. I’m excited to take part in this event as I don’t know many of the other speakers, so it should be a good opportunity to meet some interesting new people with shared concerns. Sarah Whatmore of Oxford University is the keynotes speaker on Thursday and it will be good to see her talk – her work on non-human geographies had a big influence on me some years ago, as did Political Matter, the book so co-edited some years ago with Bruce Braun. I’ve included the abstract of my paper below, which will be a version of the short text, ‘Notes on Politics After the Anthropocene’ I published recently in Progress in Human Geography.

 Politics After the Anthropocene?

 The Anthropocene is not a problem for which there can be a solution. Rather it names an emergent set of geo-social conditions that already fundamentally structure the horizon of human existence. It is thus not a new factor that can be accommodated within existing conceptual frameworks, but rather signals a profound shift in relations between social and earth systems that puts these very frameworks in question. The Anthropocene is therefore not simply a disputed designation in geological periodization but a philosophical event that has powerful reverberations in the field of political thought. In contrast to ‘the global,’ which suggests a relatively flat, anthropocentric conception of the earth focused on social relations on the earth’s surface, ‘the planetary’ points to a more complex, volumic, stratified understanding of an earth constituted through dynamic geo-social entanglements. Accordingly, the Anthropocene creates opportunities to develop forms of thought in which the planet itself is a key player in the drama of human politics rather than simply its stage. This paper seeks to examine some of the challenges this rendering of the Anthropocene might present to political thought, and what forms of politics might be adequate to face them? It focuses on three broad areas: the relationship between the scale and form of politics; the subject of the Anthropocene; and the relationship between technology and politics. In so doing it seeks to examine how the messy geo-social entanglements of the Anthropocene may question existing understanding of the political whilst opening new terrains for political struggle. 

Recent Publications: Schmitt and Space & Politics and the Anthropocene

horzon lassoo

Quick update on two papers that I recently had published in Progress in Human Geography.

The first, The Question of Space in Carl Schmitt, co-authored with Claudio Minca, provides the first overview of the role of space and spatial concepts throughout Schmitt’s work. This prefigures some of the work that we will expand in our forthcoming book On Schmitt and Space (Routledge), and some of the material I will be developing in forthcoming papers around Schmitt’s ‘geophilosophy’ and his eschatological theories of spatial history. I have included the abstract below:

In this paper we present an analysis of the German legal and political theorist Carl Schmitt as a spatial thinker whose work contains many elements relevant to the concerns of political geography. In examining his fundamental concern with how to ground modern political order without theological foundation, we identify a conceptual matrix between space, political order and conflict that underpins his thought. Charting the development of his spatial theory across his work, we focus on two key spatial moments from immediately before and after the Second World War: first, his theory of Großraum (‘greater space’) order as a reformulation of global order after the eclipse of the state and its complicated entanglements with Nazi spatial thinking and expansionism in eastern Europe; second, his notion of nomos, developed after the war to embrace both a geo-elemental spatial ontology and an account of the rise and fall of Eurocentric global order. We conclude by noting Schmitt’s failure to move beyond an understanding of order grounded on spatial division and his increasing retreat into eschatological fantasy as global spatio-political relations became increasingly more complex in the late 20th century.

The second, is a short piece ‘Notes on Politics After the Anthropocene’ that appeared as part of a forum, After the Anthropocene: Politics and geographic inquiry for a new epoch, edited by Harlan Morehouse and Elizabeth Johnson. The forum also includes work by Simon Dalby, Jessi Lehman and Sara Nelson, Stephanie Wakefield and Kathryn Yusoff, emerging from the Critical Climate Change conference at the University of Minneapolis (organized by Jessi and Sara) last April and the series of sessions around the Anthropocene that Elizabeth and Harlan organized at the American Association of Geographers in L.A. immediately afterwards. This is my first published work on the political dimensions of the Anthropocene – the over-arching concern that has been driving much of my work after the Schmitt project –  hence I’m very excited to see it come out, especially in such good company.

Review Forum on Ben Woodard’s On an Ungrounded Earth

review forum on Ben Woodard’s ‘On an Ungrounded Earth: Towards a New Geophilosophy‘ (Punctum 2013) that I put together with Kai Bosworth (University of Minnesota) and Harlan Morehouse (University of Minnesota/University of Vermont) has been published on the Society and Space open site.


It includes a short review by each – Harlan‘s, Kai‘s, and my own piece, Undermining the Ends of the Earth – and a generous response from Ben, as well as another review by Jordan Skinner published alongside the forum. The reviews and response raise a number of interesting concerns around geophilosophy, political ecology, nihilism, and the political importance of aesthetics, geology, nihilism and ontology. The forum aimed to contribute to emerging discussions around the relationship between ‘speculative realism’ and geographic thought more broadly, something I hope to explore further in a number of upcoming conferences.

Steve Fuller on the Future of Politics: Left & Right or Green & Black?

It has been a quite a while since I have posted something on here. I’ve been buried deep in other projects but hope to make more frequent forays if time allows.
I thought this recent article by Steve Fuller was worth mentioning. Right and Left are Fading – the Future is Black and Green, as it reflects a number of questions I have been concerned with for some time, particularly the role how we might conceive of a politics with an orientation to the future and how the question of a specifically Left politics relates to the relationship between ecology and technology.
When anyone talks about moving beyond Left and Right our suspicions should be raised, given that its usually an ideological rouse by the Right to drag the centre of debate ever further towards itself. Indeed, the eclipse of old Left/Right distinctions have frequently been celebrated since the end of the Cold War, most often as part of an argument lauding the strengthening of the liberal centre. This has arguable been the ideological sugar frosting used to present the massive rise of inequality during the same period, both in the ‘Western’ democratic metropoles and across the globe (see for example), as the flowering of democratic, or at least consumer freedom.


That said there is always some kind of enjoyment in reading schematic accounts of long-term shifts in the axes of ideology like the one Fuller presents in this article. More importantly however this type of analysis can help to think again about where our own political orientation lies. In other words, disagreeing with how these ideological shifts are framed or being unable to chart our position within this new ideological cartography can allow for a productive return to fundamental questions. For example, whilst I found Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann’s most-read 2012 article ‘Climate Leviathan’ highly schematic it served as a useful prompt to examine some crucial questions around climate and the role of the state in Left political thought whilst also bringing me back to questions of hegemony that I had drifted from in the preceding years ( a conceptual cocktail that primed me to receive Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams recent #Accelerate: Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics).

In his article Fuller argues that the axes of political division are shifting away from formations defined by Left and Right and gravitating towards a new meta-distinction between ‘Black’ and ‘Green’. He characterizes the latter as earth-hugging, communitarian environmentalists that seek to protect human future by sticking close to ‘nature’ (including supposedly natural ,social hierarchies), whereas the former are committed to the possibility of human and environmental transformation through social and technical progress with an eye to the possibilities for cosmic expansion of the human realm yet an emphasis on individual freedom. Hence, both ‘Black’ and ‘Green’ contain within them distinct elements of what were once identified with Right and Left positions as traditionally conceived; crudely speaking, ‘Black’ politics resonating with the Left’s traditional belief in the possibility and benefit of socio-technical progress and the Right’s emphasis on libertarian freedoms, whilst ‘Green’ politics resonates with the Left’s emphasis on the need for communitarian benefit to accompany any change and the Right’s belief in the security provided by traditional and ‘natural’ forms of order.

We could of course ask, given the cross pollination of the ‘Black’ and the ‘Green’ with different aspects of the Left and the Right, exactly which Left and which Right Fuller has in mind here. Indeed, following his account of the political traditions that ‘Green’ and ‘Black’ draw upon it would appear that the difference between the Left and the Right may be less stable, and the internal character of each less coherent, than his thesis presumes. In fact much of what he identifies as ‘Green’ and ‘Black’ simply points to existing tensions within Left and Right, that are better understood as ends of the political spectrum, or constellations of sometimes conflictual tendencies, rather than as solid ‘blocks’ or ‘wings’.

These qualifications shouldn’t mean that thinking through the implications of Fuller’s terms is a totally redundant exercise. Rather, it is worth considering whether the new ideological formations he characterizes as ‘Black’ and ‘Green’ might be useful in considering possible future orientations for Left, and indeed Right, political thought. Indeed, by foregrounding the fundamental relationship that any future political thought, whether Right or Left, must have to environmental concerns, technology and the question of the human place on the planet/in the cosmos (and by definition then the question of the human as such), Fuller pushes us toward some burning questions that stand outside the frame of much mainstream political discourse. It is tempting perhaps to even read the terms against each other with ‘Black’ and ‘Green’ naming tendencies within Left and Right rather than replacing them so that we might have a ‘Green’ Left and a ‘Green’ Right and a ‘Black’ Left and a ‘Black’ Right. Although this might lead down the path of an ultimately unproductive ideological hopscotch between the Left/Right and ‘Black’/’Green axes it is worth using Fuller’s provocation as a launch pad for further discussion.

From Eschatology to the Anthropocene: RGS-IBG Conference 2013

I’m gearing up for the annual Royal Geographical Society-IBG conference in London later in the week. I have found the conference to be very uneven in the past but am really looking forward to it this year. It looks like the discipline is in a really healthy place at the minute with lots of theoretically informed engagements coming into fruition and others just opening.

It will be a very busy conference for me as I am taking part in four panels, two of which I set up and two of which I will present papers on.


First up is a panel discussion I organized around the theme of Thinking the Anthropocene with Kathryn Yussof, Nigel Clark, Angela Last and Jan Zalasiewicz. I have written about Kathryn and Nigel here before and am really looking forward to hearing Angela’s new thoughts (she runs the great blog, Mutable Matter: I particularly like that she manages to be both genuinely interdisciplinary and rigorous and her work takes in geography, philosophy, political theory and contemporary art – a range of concerns that very much match the intersection of my own). It will also be pleasure to welcome Jan who is a truly amazing speaker and something like the ‘public face’ of the anthropocene. It is great to have the perspective of an ‘actual geologist’ on board too, especially one so intellectually open to engaging with a wide range of perspectives and with political and philosophical questions. In a rather incredible piece of conference scheduling (!!!) this session sadly clashes with Bruce Braun’s keynote lecture for Antipode (more details of the talk and a special virtual issue of Antipode on ecological politics can be found here). The Antipode talk is usually a highlight of the conference and its particularly unfortunate that there is a schedule clash with Bruce’s talk not only as I will miss it but because he is a major voice in the broad field of social-nature that those of us involved in the Anthropocene panel locate the concerns we are addressing.

Both the anthropocene panel and Bruce’s talk will relate closely to the two sessions on Geo-Social Formations: Capitalism and the Earth that Kathryn, Nigel and Arun Saldanha have organized that morning, the second of which I will chair. I would like to have given a paper but was too heavily committed already to do so. The panels look great, building on the conference discussions earlier in the year at Minneapolis and Los Angeles I spoke about here before (and of course on the great work Kathryn and Nigel have long been doing) but this time bringing the broader debates around the anthropocene towards a critique of capital. I am particularly looking forward to Stuart Elden’s paper on ‘terracide’. I have followed Stuart’s work on the ‘Geo’ and the ‘World’ with great interest but have not had the chance to hear this work in person before. I am sure the dark shadow of Reza Negarestani will hang over proceedings for me.

Third is a panel on the theme of Eschatology and World Politics that I co-organized with Ross Adams (UCL, Bartlett School of Architecture / London Consortium) which takes its jumping off point from Carl Schmitt’s ideas on political theology and secularization but seeks to engage with the ways in which eschatological philosophies of history relate to conceptions of world politics (the ‘world’ here being understood as a spatial concept in a variety of registers). I will be presenting some of my recent work on Schmitt’s spatial histories, similar to what I aired at this years AAG in Los Angeles with a slight different focus and hopefully with time to push more on the question of a planetary politics that Schmitt raises. I am looking forward to Ross’ paper as he is developing some fascinating work on the history of urbanism as a specific way of thinking spatial politics and the city as a particular form of governmental apparatus that draws on Schmitt, Foucault and Koselleck in interesting ways. We are delighted to be hosting Mika Luoma-aho, a really interesting International Relations thinker based in Finland who wrote a great book on God and International Relations: Christian Theology and World Politics recently drawing heavily on Schmitt’s thought. I am looking forward to probing Mika about the strange nexus of Left Schmitt scholars that seems to have coalesced in Finland, including Mikas Ojakangas and Sergei Prozorov, whose work I greatly appreciate (I have theories about Finland’s frontier with Russia – where a very different reading of Schmitt and space circulates amongst the far Right geopoliticians of ‘Eurasianism’). Also taking part is Gerry Aiken from Durham who I have not met before but will present what looks to be great work on climate change and apocalyptic thought (roughly where I end up in my own presentation).

Lastly I will take part in a panel on Abstractions organized by Alex Loftus on Friday morning. I am not too sure what to expect from this panel yet but Alex is a great guy and I enjoyed working with him when we were both at Royal Holloway’s Geography Department. His work on ecological politics is great and I am particularly impressed by his persistent engagement with Antonio Gramsci as well as his deep interest in the political dimensions and potentials of contemporary art. I am also really looking forward to Harriet Hawkins’ paper on abstract art here (Harriet is another former colleague from Royal Holloway whose work is in Geography but spans engagements with art and some very interesting work on materiality). My own paper will be rather general in scope laying out some broad schematic reflections on the relationship between geographic thought and contemporary philosophy and relating this to my interest in geo-social relations on the one hand and the difficulties involved in the ‘realist’ tradition of political thought’s supposed commitment to the ‘concrete’ on the other. It is a bit of an experiment but I am glad that Alex invited me to take part so that I might be pushed to formalize some these thoughts more and attempt to bridge the connection between various strands of my research that I feel relate to each other but am often too happy to leave nestled beside each other rather than systematically interrogate. This panel will hopefully provide a step in the right direction here.

I am also looking forward to catching up with friends and colleagues from the UK and the US, including many of those I had the pleasure to meet earlier this year in Minneapolis and Los Angeles and older colleagues like David Featherstone and Alan Ingram (Alan served as one of my PhD examiners and he will be presenting some of the work related to his project on art and geopolitics at the conference which I look forward to greatly). It is always a pleasure to catch up with people at conferences and hear about other people’s work, both in papers and in the bar afterwards, and they can serve as really useful forums for putting wind in the sails of individual projects and building collective momentum around shared endeavours. I think this will be one of those occasions. I will give some sort of report when the dust has settled.

CFP, AAG 2014: Geophilosophy and the Geo-Social

Elizabeth Johnson, Harlan Morehouse and myself are putting together some sessions at the 2014 AAG around the relationship between Geophilosophy and Geography, and particularly what we are calling the Geo-Social.

Please circulate the below CFP to anyone you think may be interested.
Many thanks

Geophilosophy and the Geo-Social

AAG 2014

Call for Panels/Papers

Elizabeth Johnson,

Harlan Morehouse, University of Minnesota

Rory Rowan, Wageningen University

There is a growing consensus that in the 21st century the planet is no longer the concern of geologists and climate scientists alone, but that philosophical and social thought must also increasingly engage with planetary concerns. Emergent literatures across the social sciences and humanities are struggling to generate new conceptual frameworks and research strategies to adequately account for the complex knots that bind social, geological, biological and technological forces together, as well as the catastrophic potentials that reside within them (see, for example: Braun and Whatmore 2010; Clark 2010; Ellsworth et al 2012; Saldanha 2013; Yusoff 2013; and the special issue of the Oxford Literary Review, 2012). At the recent RGS-IBG conference in London, Nigel Clark, Arun Saldanha and Kathryn Yusoff characterized this messy tangle of anthropogenic and nonhuman forces as the ‘Geo-Social.’ In many ways, this ‘Geo-Social’ can be considered the foundation of geographic scholarship. However, as many begin to examine the links between social history and geologic change in the context of Climate Change and the advent of the Anthropocene, the ‘Geo-Social’ invites a radical reassessment of fundamental conceptual frameworks across a number of registers – from the epistemological and ontological to the political and ethical – and a re-articulation of Geography’s relation to other disciplines. But just as these issues strain traditional disciplinary boundaries and standard methodological frameworks, they open the possibility for new forms of collaborative research stretching across the natural and social sciences and the humanities, and involving both empirically based work and speculative thought.

The massive transformations in human-planet relations also raise fundamental philosophical questions and invite re-evaluations of the complexity of concrete Geo-Social entanglements: How, for example, do planetary conditions affect our philosophical frameworks and how do we frame the Earth philosophically? Thus, in addition to examining the Geo-Social, we aim to examine Geophilosophy as a form of thought specifically committed to exploring the relationship between philosophy and the Earth. Geophilosophy has a rich heritage in modern Continental Philosophy arguably reaching from Kant and Nietzsche through Deleuze and Guattari to contemporary thinkers like Elizabeth Grosz (2008), Reza Negarestani (2011), John Protevi (2013), Michel Serres (2012) and Ben Woodard (2012). We aim to place Geography at the forefront of this debate in the belief that its critical traditions and recent efforts in rethinking human-nonhuman relations can provide crucial insights that deepen philosophical traction on the world whilst locating disciplinary concerns at the cutting edge of wider theoretical debates. We particularly seek to engage with recent attempts in Geography to re-interrogate the ‘geo’ as a way to engage with planetary questions without re-inscribing the economic and political over-determinations of ‘globalization.’

These sessions seek to advance conversations begun at the “Anthropocene” sessions at the 2013 AAG in Los Angeles and the 2013 RGS-IBG by further exploring the philosophical and empirical implications of the Geo-Social. We specifically seek papers that address any of the following concerns, among possible others:

· What modes of thought are best suited to understanding the matrix of human and non-human forces that make up the Geo-Social today? What are the political stakes of rethinking how we conceive of Geo-Social relations?

· How might Climate Change and the advent of the Anthropocene affect the ways in which we conceive of the Earth, and what new philosophical possibilities might be opened by these developments?

· What new perspectives can Geography bring to the philosophical traditions of Geophilosophy – from Kant to Negarestani – and how might it bear on its future trajectories?

· What questions and forms of knowledge production – imagined, emergent, or well established – are needed in the face of an emerging ecological catastrophe?

· Do 21st century environmental conditions call for new forms of experimental research and praxis-based approaches that bridge the physical and social sciences? How might we develop modes of examination that refuse the distinction ‘physical or social’ without reinforcing the neoliberal university’s call for ‘transdisciplinarity’?

· What is the relationship between existing Geo-Social formations and histories of capitalism? Beyond the privatization/neoliberalization of non-human life through carbon markets and ecosystem services, around what forms of value might post-capitalist Geo-Social formations organize?

Please send inquiries / abstracts of no more than 250 words to by October 5th 2013.


Braun. B. and Whatmore, S., editors. (2010). Political Matter: Technoscience, Democracy, and Public Life. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Chakrabarty, D. (2009). The Climate of History: Four Theses. Critical Inquiry, 39. 197-222.

Clark, N. (2011). Inhuman nature sociable life on a dynamic planet. Los Angeles: SAGE.

Clark, N., Saldanha, A., and Yusoff, K. editors. (forthcoming 2014). Capitalism and the Earth. Brooklyn, NY: Punctum Books.

Ellsworth E., Kruse, J., and Beatty. editors (2012). Making the Geologic Now: Repsonses to Material Conditions of Contemporary Life. Brooklyn, NY: Punctum Books.

Grosz, E. (2008). Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth. New York: Columbia University Press.

Negarestani, R. (2011). Globe of Revolution: An Afterthought on Geophilosophical Realism. Identities, 17, 25-54.

Protevi, J. (2013). Life, War, Earth: Deleuze and the Sciences. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Saldanha, A. (2013). Some Principles of Geocommunism. Retrieved from:

Serres, M. (2012). Biogea. Minneapolis, MN: Univocal.

Woodward, B. (2013). On an Ungrounded Earth: Towards a New Geophilosophy. Brooklyn, NY: Punctum Books.

Yusoff, K. (2013). Insensible Worlds: Postrelational Ethics, Indeterminacy and the (K)nots of relating. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 31(2), 208–226. doi:10.1068/d17411

Yusoff, K. editor. (2013). 400ppm: Exit Holocene, Enter Anthropocene. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. Retrieved from


Read an interesting review of Peter Sloterdijk’s work here today. I was discussing the phenomena of ‘panic rooms’ with a friend recently and the following quote from Bubbles seemed to resonate with the (pathological) spatialized immunitary logic they exhibit:


“To oppose the cosmic frost infiltrating the human sphere through the open windows of the Enlightenment, modern humanity makes use of a deliberate greenhouse effect: it attempts to balance out its shellessness in space, following the shattering of the celestial domes, through an artificial civilizatory world. This is the final horizon of Euro-American technological titanism.”

Keith Ansell-Pearson also had a recent review of Sloterdijk’s You Must Change Your Life here. I have not had a chance to read this latest book yet but am interested to find out more about his concept of “anthropotechnics” and his discussion about engineering human existence for the future.

Sloterdijk is a tricky thinker: he undoubtedly has a mastery of Western philosophy, literature and culture – and indeed of Eastern thought (although I am not sure if some time spent in India makes this anything more than a token gesture) – and is a master rhetorician, packing more new ideas onto a page than many venerable types manage to squeeze out of a lifetime. But the conceptual super-abundance always threatens to drown his overall point and the teaming cornucopia of new ideas he presents but never finishes frequently raises the suspicion that he is an arch-sophist, gratuitously gorging on his own erudition. Although he seems to lean to the Right it is not quite clear how. His occasional polemics never quite amount to ‘outbursts’, taking the form of rather watery Nietzschian critiques of the Left (whether Marxism or the social-welfare state) or a brazen but somewhat ironic embrace of neoliberal dogmas. He seem motivated by little more than a desire to ruffle the feathers of liberals and leftists with controversial discourses, which in itself is no bad thing (I have often joked that he is something like a Right wing Zizek, the ever protean gadfly of the academic Left). But beyond the rhetorical showmanship and distracting maze of tangents that characterize Sloterdijk’s work and his problematic politics he does have a admirable passion for engaging with Big Ideas that move far beyond the scope of most contemporary Continental philosophy and dare to risk constructive, propositional thought rather than simply elaborating critical stances.

Perhaps a worthy philosophical antagonistic who might bring conceptual struggle on to new terrain, or just a prose performer worth glossing while in the bath to pick up ideas you can run with, but in a different direction? ‘Anthropotechnics’ might be one such idea – perhaps the necessary framework for thinking a human future in the ‘Anthropocene’.

Sloterdijk’s work is of particular interest in so far as his analysis focuses on the shifting relationship between spatiality, epistemology and ontology, or rather the shifting spatial technologies through which humans attempt to align themselves with changing existential conditions. Indeed, he has joked that his three volume Spheres was an attempt to write Being and Space and sequel to Heidegger’s Being and Time which correct its flaws. Whilst Sloterdijk’s analysis of the changing spatialities of human existence is filtered through simultaneously exhilarating and deadening conceptual excess that he brings to bear on any subject, his attempt to think being spatiality are worthy of consideration, especially given that he does not assume a fixed ahistorical relation between these terms but seeks to feel out the shifting modes of their mutual constitution through material processes and epistemological changes – a project he appears to extend in to speculative stabs at envisioning the future in You Must Change Your Life. The significance of Sloterdijk as a spatial thinker has already been recognized by a number of geographers not least of which Stuart Elden, but also Pete Adey, Oliver Belcher, Eduardo Mendieta, Pepe Romanillos and Nigel Thrift amongst others. There is doubtless more work to be done in teasing out how some of Sloterdijk’s ideas may find application in geography and related fields and how the many suggestive conceptual nuggets he leaves undeveloped might be carried further.