Elements Thinking
Maria Puig de la Bellacasa (University of Leicester)
Dimitris Papadopoulos (University of Leicester)
Natasha Myers (York University)
Saturday 3 September, 9:00-10:45, 11:00-12:45 (UTC+0)

Short abstract:

Elements are substance and metaphor, scientific and poetic, natural and manufactured, indivisible and relational. Carbon, Plutonium, Bromine, Air, Water...This panel experiments in thinking with elements and the elementary in chemistry, media, biology, pharmaceuticals, warfare, ecology, toxicology.

Long abstract:

Single-world ontologies are increasingly contested and alter-ontologies proliferate. But elements are back. In the midst of ontological daring, we attempt thinking from the perspective of elements. Elements are omnipresent in science, featured neatly arranged across the Periodic Table of Elements. Biology tells us that life is made possible by four organic building blocks: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. Chemistry and physics see them as the primary constituents of matter, with organic and inorganic worlds ultimately breaking down into Hydrogen, Helium, Iron ... Mineralogists classify some metallic elements -- aluminum, gold, copper -- as "uncombined forms of distinctive structure." But elements are also industrially manufactured - uranium, plutonium, nitrogen -- for warfare, agriculture and pharmaceutics. They are sold as precious commodities and dreaded as excessive toxics. Classical elements in turn refer to comprehensive ontological forces: Earth, Fire, Water, Air (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water energies in Chinese systems). Ecofeminists, ecopoets and neopagans also name the elements to contest their reduction to natural resources for humans. This session plays with elements thinking, to tell stories, experiment and wonder. Starting from an undetermined sense of the word element as substance as much as metaphor can open up what could be at stake (conceptually, ethnographically, ethically, practically) in reactivations of the elementary. What does it mean to think from elementary forces rather than from the meta-relational perspective of systems, networks and ecologies? How does a world look when we think it from its elementals and their composabilities and decompositions?