P35
It's elemental: anthropologies of fundamental things

Convenors:
Dominic Boyer (Rice University)
Cymene Howe (Rice University)
Chair:
Timothy Neale (Deakin University)
Start time:
Session slots:
0

Short abstract:

For a variety of reasons, anthropologists and others have been recently drawn to rethink the 'elemental' basis of our lives and surrounds. This panel will explore the value (and limits) of thinking about the social worlds of elemental or fundamental 'things'.

Long abstract:

Extractive landscapes running short on resources. More-than-human cultures slipping out of their established climatic envelopes. Explorations into, and experiments with, the core components of our bodily chemistry. For a variety of reasons, humanities scholars, social scientists, and others have been recently drawn to rethink the 'elemental' basis of our lives and surrounds. Against critical impulses that foreground the emergent, anthropologists and others are starting to ask: "what is elemental to this moment?" We count (roughly) three senses of the elemental. In the first sense, elements are discrete chemical entities, like those named and schematised in the Periodic Table of Elements which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. In the second sense, the elemental names the environmental milieu, or material substrate, in which we are irrevocably embedded, in which different forms of life are immersed, enveloped, and take shape. The third sense of the elemental is the ontological one, the philosophical correlate of the first. Here, the elemental is not a material resource or background, but is a claim about the conditions-of-possibility of being and matter themselves. For an elemental philosophy, there are forces or forms of matter from which every other material is derived. At once, the elemental situates us, embeds us, and is beyond us. This panel seeks contributions that explore the value (and limits) of thinking about the social worlds of elemental or fundamental 'things'. This may involve focusing on a particular chemical, substance, process, spirit, mineral, plant, climate, body, commodity, or other elemental entity.