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Accepted Contribution:

Mak[ing] dreams that drive change: hope, biodesign, and prefigurative material  
Katherine Pfeiffer (UCL)

Short abstract:

This paper considers how biodesigners in London are able to maintain hope in the face of negative future trajectories. It explains this through a new concept—‘prefigurative materials’—which collapse the ends-and-means of 'better' bio-future creation.

Long abstract:

As often noted in writings on the Anthropocene, optimistic future possibilities rapidly appear foreclosed. This paper considers how a community of makers bypass negative future trajectories with their work. Drawing on a 19-month ethnographic project with biodesigners in London, I suggest that emerging biomaterials like mycelium leathers or bacteria cellulose films enable radical hope by enfolding ‘better’ futures into the present.

I theorize that biomaterials work in prefigurative ways. Prefigurative politics, as Graeber writes, involves "making one’s means as far as possible identical with one’s ends, creating social relations and decision-making processes that at least approximate those that might exist in the kind of society we’d like to bring about” (2014: 85). In the context of biodesign, making one’s means—the making of things through biology—identical with one’s ends—a bio-benign future—is more literal than Graeber's prefiguration. Biologically derived, benign, decomposable, and regenerative materials serve their purpose through their very constitution, only allowing for certain ‘good’ outcomes within the environment.

I argue that the concept of ‘prefigurative materials’ brings new clarity to a way in which optimism within the Anthropocene might be materially fostered. Yet, it also points to the limits of such imaginaries. Counter to Graeber’s framing, prefigurative biomaterials do not require user behaviors to accomplish their aims as they bypass the need for coalition building or social agreement. Thus ambiguity remains over social changes or the impacts on humans within ‘better’ bio-worlds, and one is left to question who (or what) is a ‘better’ bio-future for?

Combined Format Open Panel P189
The ends of hope: post-optimistic futures worth working towards
  Session 1 Friday 19 July, 2024, -