Relating to resistances, curating antagonisms
A conversation between Dehlia Hannah and Manuel Tironi
As a way to generate further reflections on the ideas proposed in de Laet’s and Szerszynski’s chapters, but also seeking to avoid formats that might summarise or resolve the questions the chapters pose, we invited Dehlia Hannah and Manuel Tironi to have an open conversation about the chapters, in relation to the introduction to the book. We recorded the conversation, and then transcribed it verbatim. Afterwards we asked each scholar to edit the conversations, and only then did we lightly edit them ourselves – this in order to try to keep the stylistic effect of a conversational format, an exchange of ideas and a non-linear narrative. In so doing, rather than an ending, we hoped to provide readers with further open directions in which to think.
In the following conversation, Manuel Tironi and Dehlia Hannah discuss the potential value of the tabapot figure not only as an aid to academic experimentation, but also as a generative heuristic that might do work in, and learn from, real political struggles taking place in different parts of the world. The idea of ‘limits’, as presented in the introduction, is extended by thinking about situated political resistances as establishing limits through refusal, thus creating new possibilities for collaboration, and new possibilities to craft collectives that are always transforming themselves. The conversation also dwells on the potential of interdisciplinarity, a key trope in the Anthropocence literature, and the allies forged through knowledge, as well as the limits of this. Implicitly inspired by the chapters of this section and the ways the chapters portray collectives through engagements with dogs and speculation with planets, Manuel and Dehlia further explore how environmental alterities allows us to think about the composition of a world which is always transforming, and so demands continuous coordination and critical discussion between antagonistic positions.
Manuel: I just want to start with a disclaimer for this conversation. I’m not sure if you know that for the last month (October 2019) we have had a huge social mobilisation against neoliberalism, and against what has happened over the last decades here in Chile. It has been a very intense moment for a lot of us. For me, particularly, it has been a truly shocking moment in which I have been rethinking a lot of things in my own intellectual practice, and in my own affective economy as well – it has had a lot of affective reverberations for me. I feel like what is asked of me now is not to speak. I don’t know if that makes sense, but this compulsion to constantly be articulate and vocal and intelligent, having one idea after the other, this dramaturgy of being opinionated, that whole epistemology of thought, has been quite destabilised these few weeks – for me at least. So, I’m very sorry if I’m not very articulate, I will probably play the role of the follower in this conversation.
Cristóbal: Thanks for this, Manuel. This is a space for experimentation, and we welcome the things you have to say, as well as the things you want to keep silent about. Even if I am in the Netherlands, I have also been thinking about why we do what we do, why we think the way we think, why we write academic papers, and for whom. It is interesting, maybe, to allow yourself, Manuel (and also myself)1, to speak from another place when engaging in this kind of conversation, because the concern of the book is also, in a sense, about ‘crisis’, or how to think in situations like the ones we are going through in Chile, which represents the collapse, and a radical crisis of the wider neoliberal, ontological, project we both grew up in.
Dehlia: I would like to know more about what is going on in Chile, but I should also start off with the disclaimer of being a bit withdrawn from my own usual subjects of interest: I am a philosopher of science and art. That is my background, and my work over the last few years has focused on the cultural imagination of climate change – how this is manifested in the visual arts and in a broader space that takes up, sometimes tacitly or experientially, both scientific knowledge that circulates through media, and also changing perceptual experiences of our environments. The latter experiences differ quite radically, depending on where we are and who we are, and what background knowledge we bring. So, my approach to these Anthropocene topics is always fundamentally aesthetic and partially motivated by the perspectives that I have encountered through the arts and in the course of my research.
There is a lot to say. I have just had a baby, and it has really changed my relationship to my subject matter. Last autumn, when I was pregnant, I attended a conference of psychologists and psychoanalysts, in London, on the topic of psychoanalysis and climate change. It was certainly the most personal and involved conference that I have ever attended concerning climate change. I have been to quite a few in an academic context, but at this conference there were tears, there was anger, there were children running around, and there was guilt. Not just abstract academic guilt, but actual antagonism between the participants, which I found somewhat incredible. At the time, there was a lot of talk about what climate change means to you, personally, and I was still at an academic remove. After having a child, things have suddenly changed: I often find myself staring into my son’s eyes and thinking ‘shall I talk to you, or shall I go back to working on my book about this future that I am trying to improve in some way?’ In the broader political scope of things, my attention has been focused on the crisis in Hong Kong (because that’s where my partner is from), but these political crises are certainly very entangled with environmental crises and, of course, financial crises. So, I wonder if this feeling of withdrawal from the topic – since it happens to be a point of departure that we share – is actually quite interesting, in the spirit, as you suggest in the introduction, of a turn away from a holistic perspective offered by modernist aspirations, or this totalising idea of the Anthropocene. What becomes of this when we ourselves, as scholars, are fractured into our very particular relationships to the topic and our investments in it? I think this is a good place to start, even though it is uncomfortable.
C: In the other two conversations that we have had there was a tendency to divide our discussion into two parts: a first part concerned with the concept of environmental alterities, what it does and how it does what it does, and on the other hand, a discussion about politics. And today, in this conversation, this division appears as a very strange one, as an awkward divide, no?
M: It’s great that you’ve mentioned the issue of politics Cristóbal, because that was actually one of the key questions that your absolutely brilliant introduction provoked in me. I don’t think it is necessary to say how good the introduction is – although I have to say that it connected in so many ways with my own reflections, my own adventures into these partial connections, or into these tensions between relationality and what you call ‘limits’, which are crucial in my own work. You assembled that discussion so beautifully. But it was also interesting because in your third alterity, what you called the ‘tabapot’, you mentioned the issue of experimentation: How can we create, invent, experiment, in such a way that we don’t oppose different framings, so that we don’t enact an agonistic struggle between different positions but, rather, try to allow for a generative tension? So I wonder what experiments or experimental practices might bring forward this generative conversation between different, diverse, but connected bodies or sensibilities. And I actually thought, why shouldn’t we think about this politically? Or at least consider whether this question of experimentation has a political dimension as well – if we should go to politics, actual politics as deployed in specific territories, to find these clues. Not only in ethnographic accounts, but actually in real practices. Can we find some clues, some inspiration, in actual struggles, in actual political commitments that you can see in diverse territories? Everywhere, not only in Chile or in Hong Kong, but in England or in Brazil, or elsewhere. Your introduction got me thinking about agro-ecological movements around seeds, for example, and indigenous struggles against extractivism, and even feminist movements in specific territories – how they can expand our imagination to invent experiments or experimental moments, and to think about this generative tension between relationality and limits. Actually, I started thinking that, from a political perspective, maybe the tension is not between relationality and limits, but between relationality and resistances, right? I mean the actual practice of un-doing, of resisting, of saying no. Geology might be thought as a resistance in itself; sometimes the Earth is not friendly to ‘us’, I mean, that is one kind of limit. But there is also a political limit, when a community or a collective just says ‘no, no more’, or ‘I won’t do this’, or ‘I’m going to resist, no matter how important collaboration is, no matter how important consensus is, no matter how important making connections and relations is, I won’t accept this’. I think that that moment is really interesting; it is another form of limit, that is not geological, but which is so important in thinking about environmental alterities.
D: For me, what was most interesting – also as a framing device for the chapters – was the proposition that it is not a contest between limits and heterogeneity, or relationality, but rather, the idea that the tension generated between the two ends up doing interesting work around the concept of the Anthropocene. Some of the topics that were raised in connection with that dialectic I have encountered before. Too often, I feel frustrated with efforts to resolve the tension in one direction or in the other, maybe beginning with the question of whether the Anthropocene is ultimately a turn away from the human, of the rendering of the human geological, eliding any kind of human particularity and political difference in favour of a flattening of the idea of our species’ activity into a kind of geological force. Or, conversely, whether it’s the height of anthropocentrism and the extension of the human and human logics to every part of the world. I think such a tension has been playing out; it has been very generative for science and technology studies, for the humanities and also for the arts. It does a lot of work, but I was quite taken by the idea that it is in some way irresolvable. You mentioned [in the introduction] something about a kind of undoing of the modern which then becomes an end in itself, posing for us the question of what comes after after-nature. The question that this left me with, and I think it is quite a challenging one, is where does this search for experimental or alternative modalities – ways of turning away from a dominant epistemological, political logic that got us into this situation in the first place – take us? And how do we move beyond the idea of experimentation as an end in itself? What is so pressing in moments like these, refreshing actually, is talking about this in the context of real struggles. We could talk about them in the abstract, as experiments in political transformation and new struggles for sovereignty, but they are very real. They are not experiments in the laboratory or in the art gallery. They are organic experiments in contexts where the stakes are extremely high, and they are not experimentation for its own sake at all. From a step removed, experimentation can generate so many different options and varieties of outcome that are welcome – but the experiments that count politically are often not at all looking for a variety of outcomes. They are looking for a very concrete outcome, and looking for it fast and furious, and there is an enormous amount at stake in getting the experiment right. I mean, how do we move past this attachment – as scholars, but also politically – to what sometimes seems like an endless search for new possibilities in the hope that we will find a kind of exemplary mode of living, or a model for how else we might live on the damaged planet, so to speak?
M: I actually have a question related to that for Antonia and Cristóbal. It is a very concrete question, and it is genuine. Why did you choose the tabapot figure to think about this third option – which I love – in which tensions are not resolved, but enter into a generative interaction between what are supposed to be opposed solutions? I’m interested how you got into the figure of the tabapot.
A: Hmmm, this means we [the editors] are going to have to appear more in the conversation…!
C: A way to answer this is with another question, or a request. We needed a figure in order to get rid of this reification of binaries and non-voluntary declaration of a sort of anti-collaboration in debates, that we saw as strongly connected with the potentiality to collaborate, right? Scholars engaged in a misleading debate. The tabapot was a figure that we came up with in order to think through that. So, maybe you can think about figures that are useful in your own work? Dehlia, you said that figures can be an invitation to think beyond experimentation, ways of living, or a world we want to create together. What kind of figures are available in your own work, in the intersection between arts and philosophy of science? Or which figures, Manuel, in your work, can maybe render better the idea that resistance is a generative movement?
D: I might offer that we return to ecological disasters, or what once went by the name of natural disasters. They have certainly been important figures for me, and I wonder if they have also been for you, Manuel? By way of an aside, I also want to say that it is quite in keeping with the spirit of this topic that we would entrap and entangle you, Antonia and Cristóbal, into this conversation a little, against your prescription. It is hard to toggle between a fresh conversation and a kind of meta conversation, and all of us STS scholars are just too acutely aware of this to put it aside! So, if we have entangled you in the web a bit, it is probably partly your own fault for articulating so clearly in your own text how and why we should embrace this kind of imbrication and entanglement. So, this could be a figure; or we could also turn back to disasters because I am curious about what kind of issues you have been working on, Manuel, and if you think of them as figures perhaps in this way for producing changes or swerves, or ways of reorganising your thought.
M: It’s a great question I think, both Cristóbal’s and yours, Dehlia. So, other figures… The question in itself is interesting, beyond the answer, right? How can we figure, how can we represent, how can we even create an aesthetics around the question, without necessarily having to answer it? So, for example, in the last couple of years I have been working in the highlands in the Salar de Atacama, in the Atacama salt flats, and I think that there are concrete objects that in themselves can concentrate the tension the introduction tries to foreground. I’m not being very innovative here, but I think that, for example, water in itself is a thing that entails this tension between relationality or heterogeneity on one hand, and the limits and the withdrawnness of matter, of earthly matter, on the other. So, at the same time, water is something that is ecologically related with everything, especially from an ancestral perspective but also from a scientific perspective. All these hydrogeological studies on aquifers in the salt flats, for example, show precisely this kind of flourishing relationality of underground water. But at the same time, they show how this water is completely indifferent and sovereign, materially independent. I guess that when you really look carefully at these objects or things that are implied in environmental crises or natural disasters, they show precisely their tabapot condition, this conversation in tension, a relation in divergence. In the case of my fieldwork, it is really interesting how this is something put forward and discussed and recognised, not only by Indigenous knowledge but also by scientific knowledge, Western scientific knowledge.
D: It is worth tracking the way that the Anthropocene, as you so eloquently explained in your introduction, collapses these kinds of antagonistic discourses. There is certainly a critical perspective you can take on it, but it is arguably a place in which the sciences have collapsed or internalised so many of what we have been taking to be the critiques of human physical activities, as well as a kind of epistemological perspective of the sciences. Within the discourse of the stratigraphic society and the debate concerning the Anthropocene, it becomes very clear that things which have seemed obvious to STS scholars for a long time seem to be new for geologists. The Anthropocene as a geological epoch maps onto a discursive space and a particular historical moment – in the history of science as much as a moment in the history of the planet. The Anthropocene becomes a kind of supervening figure through which we might seek to have these conversations on a very broad scale – despite the fact that it is the generalising, overly broad aspirations of concepts that are often the problem. I wonder if it is the figure of the Anthropocene, and the problematic figure of the Anthropos itself, that crystallises this problem, because all of these tensions and heterogeneous manifestations are part and parcel of what the Anthropocene discourse is about: where is the Anthropocene, what is the Anthropocene, who is and who has been Anthropos, what should the Anthropocene become? Even within the scope of the International Stratigraphic Union – one of the most arcane geophysical corners of the sciences for a very long time – all of a sudden, they are grappling (in a way) with the very same kinds of questions as come up in discussions that we have been having within a very theoretical space. Even the question of where and when the Anthropocene began, which seems to be at least a plausibly physicalist question –you know, let’s find a rock somewhere, or part of the ground that would reflect our inscription the most clearly – becomes a very political decision because it’s clear that whatever kind of scientific choices are made, they will be moments in political history. This is as clear from a scientific perspective as it is from a critical STS perspective. The inextricability of the criticism of the Anthropocene from its own internal discourses seems exemplary of the problematic that this book sets forth. I would offer this for our conversation: is the Anthropocene itself, or perhaps Anthropos, not the kind of figure that is becoming the one that we are looking to replace or refine in all of these appeals to other ways of thinking, other ways of being, living not in but with the world, or even with other planets?
M: I wanted to ask you, Dehlia. You are involved in that kind of hybrid space between STS and the arts. Because something that is really interesting in the introduction piece is how interdisciplinarity has emerged as a kind of… I wouldn’t say the solution, but one avenue of exploration of what the Anthropocene, in all its complexities, is. Interdisciplinarity has become a very tempting way of thinking through the complexities and violences involved in the Anthropocene concept – through, and against, its homogenising and globalising gesture, of its figuration as an overarching and abstracted force. And in the introduction, I sensed a healthy pinch of irony around interdisciplinarity, I could sense a critique there, right? Of interdisciplinarity as the new epistemic lexicon or consensus to talk about the Anthropocene. So, Dehlia, I wonder how that has affected your own practice in that kind of hybrid space in which you are – this use and abuse of the interdisciplinarity grammar, how have you taken that?
D: As you rightly point out, interdisciplinarity has become in some contexts another hopeful area, if not a panacea. We look towards interdisciplinarity or collaboration to invite a relaxing of the old strictures and dusty old conventions of our own disciplines, which is to say, an openness to something other, to experimentation, to self-criticism of one discipline, as opposed to presupposing its own stability in relation to the other disciplines. But to a philosopher, I mean within philosophy, the discipline in which I was trained, philosophy is the queen of the sciences. A philosopher, very classically of course, aspires not so much to be on an equal footing with the other sciences, or the other fields, but to be in a supervening position – to comprehend them all. Of course, this is a grandiose aspiration. But I still think that there is something important in the perspective which philosophy brings to interdisciplinary conversations. My work has been very interdisciplinary: even as a grad student in philosophy I was very much involved in STS and going to STS conferences, and reading illicit magazines, you know, books by Bruno Latour, Michel Foucault and Donna Haraway, hidden away in the dark in the library toilets so other philosophers wouldn’t see, and so on. I have come to realise that entering into an interdisciplinary space as a philosopher is very different than it is for every other discipline. One of my inspirations for what interdisciplinarity could look like comes from an early twentieth century philosopher of science, Otto Neurath, who was part of a leftist movement within what later became a very different kind of a philosophical project, namely, the radical origins of philosophy of science in its effort to produce an Encyclopedia of the Unity of Science.2 At some point, this became the philosophical project that was the primary object of STS’s consternation, namely this idea of a kind of grand unified project of knowledge of the sciences, in which everyone can talk to each other in the language of physics and there would be no political or social or even linguistic particularity that would compromise the status of that knowledge project. In its earlier manifestation, the unity of science project was much more practical and political. Neurath offered the example of a forest fire. Why do you need the unity of science? Well, think about it: what sort of sciences would be needed to deal with a forest fire? Neurath says it is obvious, if you take any kind of event like that, or practical thing in the world, then of course you need someone to assess how fast the leaves will burn. But you also need a sociologist to think about how to convince people to evacuate, rather than stay and watch their homes. And where will we get the water to put out the fire, etc.? So, coordinated action becomes the driver of coordinated knowledge production and the ability to speak across specialties, which later philosophers thought they could achieve by reducing everything to logic. But another way of taking that project forward would be to say that it is a kind of interdisciplinarity and ability to communicate across disciplines, sharing each other’s assumptions, sharing each other’s rhythms and habits of practice. These disciplines can even be subspecialties within the physical sciences themselves, which can have a very difficult time communicating with one another. I think this example is still very resonant today, because if we think about the Anthropocene and its myriad disastrous large or small causes, proximal or distant, by this or that set of historical factors, the Anthropocene forces us into an interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary kind of project – less by showing that there’s no conceptual underpinning of the nature/culture distinction, than by creating problems that are very practical, inextricably scientific, environmental, political, social, economic, etc. – and we’re forced to have these conversations if we are going to make any kind of meaningful progress. Of course, progress is very difficult to come by, certainly on a grand scale, but even in very local problems it is hard to achieve that kind of coordinated action and coordinated understanding. So I think interdisciplinarity, for me, comes about in the way that an event, a disaster or a set of needs forces people into conversation. I could say more about projects that have been developed in the sciences, but I will stop here… and open the talking space.
A: I’m going pick up on that too and ask Dehlia, and maybe Manuel can dive in: within a space where certain kinds of relations are prompted into being because of limits given by an event of some sort, what is the limit of a compromise? So, when it comes to this kind of conversation, what are the methods? I’m hoping with this question to lead into some discussion of the chapters themselves. How do you make the decisions about who to include, who not to include? I think that one interesting thing raised by some of the Anthropocene discussions I know of, is that they imply that some sciences are good, but some aren’t good; you don’t make relations with some, but you do with others. So, there is a sort of impetus from the world to create these interdisciplinary relational configurations, but there is also agency on your part in how you respond to that. And that is the question that we had in mind in bringing these two chapters together, which was that Latourian problem: how do you compose the ‘common world’? I guess Manuel you could also talk about what is happening in Chile, because that’s one way of thinking the question there as well: who become your allies? Who becomes your enemies? How do you negotiate that space in response to environmental and political upheaval? And if you can slip into any kind of reflections on the chapters themselves that would be really good.
M: That’s a fascinating and complex question, which has also been quite present in my own work: how to treat the sciences, right? What is our engagement, how do we get involved? It’s interesting how we are quite critical of the Anthropocene because of all the many reasons that we have talked about. But we are also quite ready to accept what science says about climate change, for example. Nobody is a climate denier, precisely because we accept what science has to say. So, we have quite an epistemologically ambivalent relation with the sciences, and maybe that’s fine, maybe that’s another tabapot figure right there. There is a very interesting genealogy of critical thought, which for example is where I think Donna Haraway comes from, that takes science as a backdrop to think about the real, even if that real is heterogeneous and always flourishing and always becoming. It is quite interesting to think, for example, that many really good thinkers – Haraway as I said, but also Whitehead or even Latour – take the sciences to be that which elicits the fundamental logics of reality; a mode of talking, a mode of representing and a mode of understanding the fundamental actuality of reality. And I’m thinking about these compromises and alliances that you were talking about, Antonia, at play in my own work. And it’s a very tricky question. I don’t want to make the classical STS gesture, but I think that these alliances are defined and implemented in practice, during and within fieldwork. I don’t think there is one solution of how to deal with the sciences, how to manage your commitments with scientific collaborators and how to deal with what is outside and what is inside, which sciences are your ally, which sciences you’re going to allow to say something legitimate about the real and which sciences you’re going to deny that possibility to because they are colonial, for example. That’s an exercise that is quite pragmatic and that you have to deal with in practice, I think. In Chile right now, for example, there is an issue with economics and with the mode of reasoning and the mode of rendering reality visible by economics, which is in a huge crisis, and not only in general terms but also particularly as regards environmental conflicts. The ideas of ‘natural resources’ or ‘ecosystem services’, abundant in liberal policy making, are in complete crisis right now. So, maybe it’s time to resist economics. I am not denying economists the right to speak about the environment, but maybe in some specific situations, economics, or at least neoclassical economics, should keep quiet or should try to rehearse another political and epistemic position in the conversation with communities and collectives. In my own work I realise that geology, for example, has a very positive-realist way of understanding the earth, at times actually extremely colonial – given, among other things, that in Chile geology is a natural ally of the mining industry. Nonetheless, at the same time, working with geologists and geophysicists, I have seen in their practices truly inspiring ways of doing and thinking about the Earth that, I’m convinced, should be accounted for in our own discussions in the humanities and social sciences about the Anthropocene. Geologists rehearse a very interesting affective engagement with rocks, and magma, and volcanos and glaciers. So, while we are trying in the social sciences precisely to articulate these kinds of engagements, we deny what geologists say and do because they are immediately categorised as ‘other’, as being on the side of the Western/colonial sciences that have brought us into the situation that we are facing now.
D: I want to pick up on two points that you raised. First, I would point out that there is a sense in which the natural sciences or the physical sciences are posited as a kind of figurable alterity for STS, and I think maybe coming from a philosophical background this is less so in my discipline. For this reason, I don’t assume that objective antagonism quite as much. But I think it’s important that you raise the recognition that, within geology, and I would say within all the scientific fields I’ve looked at, there is this element of affective attunement of emotional connection, intuitive or aesthetic perception of the object of study. It is very central to epistemology, perhaps in a way that is underappreciated in a particular kind of characterisation of science, but in my experience, based on my background as a lab scientist, among scientists themselves this doesn’t go into the articles, but it is absolutely present in their fieldwork. I was actually interviewing a glaciologist only yesterday, and he took out his violin and started playing some music that he plays when he thinks about the glaciers that he is working on. He was talking about the colours of the ice and… I mean, it was really very surprising to get that from a scientist. You expect it from an artist. But although I think that’s certainly part of the epistemology, part of probably individual personalities, it doesn’t necessarily add up to some kind of broader political or ethical relation.
So, I think that’s something important to flag: that’s also part of the heterogeneity of the epistemological attitudes of the sciences, as it were: you can have all sorts of appealing or seemingly warm or fuzzier, intuitive or varied ways of knowing, but they don’t necessarily coalesce into a better programme for living. And we have to be careful of that when we go in search of other ways of knowing and being and other exemplars – different historical moments and varieties of practice in the present. It is interesting and problematic, because it suggests that the lines are not so easy to draw between a kind of oppositional attitude and ones that would be more promising. I mean that epistemologies do not necessarily drive us towards a better ethical or political relation to our objects of study. But to come back to the chapters… As we were talking, I was reminded of Marianne de Laet’s discussion of the pack walk with her dogs, puzzling a bit about how to connect talking about dogs with Bronislaw Szerszynski talking about planets and how alterities are articulated, or manifested or worked out between figures – I wouldn’t even say subjects or objects because it is precisely the point of both of these chapters that the boundaries of phenomena are constituted, they’re lived out. Of course, this problem is a point of departure for the book, but it makes more sense when we think about these particular examples and how they can be articulated and distinguished from one another. Or, in an example closer to home, how to take a bunch of dogs for a walk? Who am I in a pack if I go out for a walk with my dogs? I consider it quite important that de Laet makes an objection early on in the essay to critics of anthropomorphism and those who would say she is critical of people, who say: ‘well if you are going to have a dog, then you have to be the pack leader’, like there is one way of running a multispecies social space that we share with animals.
At the same time, she is critical of people who want to reject anthropomorphism and overtly states that to think that we could escape an anthropomorphic perspective or even some kind of hierarchical power relation is really a pipe dream. This is a promising way of thinking about the collective, one that also takes us out of unfulfillable, unrealistic dreams of a harmonious collectivity in which all participants are equal and where there is always room for another chair at the table – because in the moment, in the situation, there is a kind of directionality, or a kind of value, or practical priority to what kind of collectivity is going to be able to function, what kind of pack can go for a walk, and how one needs to be in the pack in order to get to the park and then back home. I think it is the seemingly familiar quality of this example that makes it so useful.
So, if we think of the collection of interdisciplinary scholars or practitioners or emergency response crews as a kind of pack that needs to coordinate, it becomes very obvious that there is no standardised model that would allow us to distribute agency and distribute responsibility evenly, or even in the same way from one instance to the next. This is not to say that it is always going to work. Not every experiment will work and not every configuration of a pack will be successful in achieving certain kinds of goals. But it is that tension and that attunement and that ability to negotiate the tension that allows the pack to be functional. I wonder if this is also a suggestive analogy for ourselves as a pack of interdisciplinary scholars – I mean, I don’t know, I feel I am pulling the leash here… (laughs)...maybe stopping to sniff a tree or something … and actually in the interdisciplinary projects that I orchestrate I usually use the term ‘curate’ – I really value, and even try to build in, some antagonisms between people who wouldn’t usually talk to each other. Because I think, as in your volume, that it is in that space of tension and that kind of live negotiation that there are interesting results. It is productive, it is useful to see, basically, how far we can walk within that tension.
M: I think that there is this question about how to properly invite the non-human to a more extended collective without imposing human categories of what a collective is, or even what ‘human’ means – and I think this is a key question. How can we really recognise and invite others – radical others – without illuminating the world with our logics and our grammars and our humanity? But I think that what is interesting, following Isabelle Stengers, is the question itself; I think that that’s beautifully put in your introduction. The key here is not to solve anything, but how can we invite the radically other, how can we invite the non-human in a way that is sensible to the political gesture at stake, to the divergence at the basis of the invitation? What is interesting here is the generative capacities of the question, both in itself and in the further questions that this question provokes when you take it seriously.
D: May I offer a way of concluding? I think this question is beautifully posed. It is true that the power of the question itself is really the force of this book. But I also think there is a certain irony in the very last part of this book, which is about planets and our ability to think of them in a way that captures their own way of differentiating themselves, according to their own logic. The question, for me, is why and how far should we try to escape our human – all-too-human and all-too-historically-specific – ways of thinking and being? How far should we go in trying to escape that? Because, as this discussion of planetarity suggests, there are so many ways of being and some of them are of immediate relevance and interest, and are perhaps very usefully corrective, and some of them are our own failings; and then there so many ways of being that could be comprehended, in some cases very much through the lens of one science or mode of reasoning or another. Do we really have to think of planets as the collective? I’m not sure. Are they very interesting to think of as their own collectivity? Is their own collectivity and their own differentiation, or subjectification, instructive for our own? Absolutely. But there is a certain irony in actually pushing the discussion that far, because if we think of the contexts of this discussion, of animals, and people, and our efforts to extend the collective, and we put it into that planetary scale, we kind of return ourselves exactly to the problematic of the Anthropocene, just a few little fleas dancing on the edge of one of these swirling masses of gases in the solar system, and it really pushes the question about how far our affinities, and epistemologies, and kind of forms of kinship and political affiliation really need to stretch. I think it’s important to be responsible for the way that we open the door, but also the way we make circumstantial ways of setting the limits. And again, this tension between limits and heterogeneity that’s central to the book, is present in the question of what sorts of heterogeneous communities we should be striving to be able to comprehend. So, I would just say, thank you for crystalising the productivity of that question; it has been quite interesting to think through.
Just to finish, I think that the context of these political crises or protests is hugely important. I think I lose sight of it when I focus on local politics, but it’s often said that the proliferation of contemporary political crisis and the rise of the extremist right is a kind of supplemental effect of a broader environmental crisis. If we are wondering how people are aware of climate change… well maybe as a kind of generalised anxiety and self-protectiveness that leads to antagonism and the eruption of political crisis. So, I think that as a context for the book it is quite important to highlight these, in some ways related but in other ways very disjunctive, political discussions and protests in Hong Kong, Chile, and elsewhere that are happening at the moment.