Vectors of latent potential: material traces' unpredictable futures
Paul Wenzel Geissler (University of Oslo)
Caitlin DeSilvey (University of Exeter)
Penny Harvey (Manchester)
Examination Schools Room 11
Start time:
19 September, 2018 at 16:15
Session slots:

Short abstract:

Traces of human inhabitation and industry hold latent potential to affect future human and non-human life. Residual matters can alter life or destroy it, with a potency that is itself emergent and unpredictable. How can anthropology and neighbouring humanities attend to these dormant materialities?

Long abstract:

Most remainders of human effort and occupancy consist not of discernible ruins, memorials and heritage features - those elements framed by historical narrative and legible meaning - but of amorphous, unbounded sediment and seepage: rubble, waste, dust, liquids, gases. Rarely, these materials settle as inert ground matter; rather, such traces carry (maybe increasingly) unforeseeable potency - lively or lethal, sometimes both - fomenting destruction, mutation or adaptation, or sometimes (unexpected and uncontrolled) growth. In the anthropocene, anthropogenic residues shape long-term multispecies futures, beyond our control, or imagination. This panel invites papers on the latent potentials of material remains to affect future life, and effect unanticipated transformations. Papers might consider matters as diverse as: dissolving waste deposits or sources of lasting radiation; carcinogenic evaporation and seepage of industrial heritage; toxicants accumulated and amplified across trophic levels; heavy metals or pathogen spores released from melting Arctic landscapes by climate change; purposely bred or genetically modified plants or seeds moved into new habitats; hormone disrupters or micro-plastics in the food chain; antibiotics and antibiotic resistant life-forms; as well as living landscapes and ecosystems that carry the impact of past human creativity, action and extraction, or conflict and violence, into unpredictable futures; or substances and material collections that promise to engender new lifeforms and adaptations, such as artificial seed banks; archives of blood, DNA or cell lines; genomic and other stored or discarded data. In short, any material remains that not only tie layered pasts to the present, but extend their potency further, into more or less predictable futures.