Conference Programme

2020-2021 Programme

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Conference programme
Queer Migrations: Transnational Sexualities in Theory and Practice
23 November 2020, ONLINE

The objective of this conference is twofold: firstly, to restore visibility to the queer migrant in cultural, sociological, political, theoretical and methodological debates on globality and migration; and secondly, to challenge the socio-political and racialised narrativization of the queer migrant experience as a journey from the ‘backward’ global South to the ‘progressive’ global North. In so doing, this interdisciplinary conference will itself perform a kind of ‘queering’, rupturing stable, linear and Western conceptions of migration, and rethinking the ways in which queer bodies are perceived, represented and choose to move and travel through space. 

Magic and Ecology: Symposium and Art Exhibition
08 January 2021, ONLINE

'Magic and Ecology': symposium and art exhibition brings together historians, philosophers, and anthropologists of magic with environmental scientists, ecological thinkers, and practitioners of contemporary magical techniques. This symposium and art exhibit examines the ecological thinking in magic, in order to test the hypothesis that magic is not only a misunderstood phenomenon in industrialised society but an experimental technique inviting a politics of invocation and working-with that is much needed toda

15 January 2021, ONLINE

Unlike one popular of idea of magic as the ability to change the world at will, this panel discusses the notion of magic as collaboration with non-human beings and investigates the significance of animism for the critical theory of Anthropocene discourse and practice. Why is ecological thinking today so interested in magic? What does “magic” mean in an environmental context? What practices are being described, and who practices them today? In this opening panel, anthropologist Richard Irvine and magical practitioner, author and artist Lupa introduce us to the relationship between ecology and magic. 

Magic and Ecology: WITCHBODIES
29 January 2021, ONLINE

Western magic historically has been concerned with discerning connections between the human (microcosm) and the world (macrocosm), but modern magical practices digs deeper into these efforts of discernment. Faced with environmental crisis, what can magical techniques teach us about what it means to be a body entangled with other bodies? Lilith Dorsey and Sabrina Scott have both researched and practiced forms of magical entanglement, and in this panel they discuss witchcraft as an art of attuning to the real. 

Magic and Ecology: (W)RITES OF PASSAGE
12 February 2021, ONLINE

How do we write the world and how does language change the shape of our stories? This panel engages the literary as literal spell work and examines contemporary nature writing as rites of passage and techniques for altering the power narratives that stories impart. Zakiya McKenzie and Victoria Whitworth are nature writers whose work challenges conventional ideas of how nature can – and should – be “written”. This panel explores how words are used in order to alter our perception of the objects they name. Can words re-enchant our relationship to the nonhuman? What are the ethics of “environmental” writing? 

Magic and Ecology: APOCALYPTIC CRAFT
26 February 2021, ONLINE

Since the beginning of the modern witchcraft revival in the 1950s, witchcraft has often been understood as counter-magic that challenges the authority of “man” (anthropos) and of human reason. The oppression of human bodies, particularly those of ethnic minorities, remains connected structurally and historically to the oppression of earth and environment; the logic of witch-hunting remains with us and remains at the core of the climate crisis. Peter Grey and Geraldine Hudson are both authors and artists who have explored the political significance of witchcraft in the Anthropocene, and in this panel they discuss their own experiences of apocalyptic witchcraft and its role in in contemporary occulture, art and activism. 

12 March 2021, ONLINE

Plants, animals and organic material have always played a hugely important role in magic. “Geomancy” is an ancient technique of divination used by consulting the earth (geos). This panel explores “landscape magic” and how human interaction with place affects thoughts, emotions and actions. How are these practices employed today and what can be learned from historical examples? Alexander Cummins and Josephine McCarthy are writers and practitioners with several decades of experience exploring the intersection of magical practice with ecology. 

Queering Authoritarianisms: Conflict, Resistance, and Coloniality
22 March 2021, ONLINE

This interdisciplinary conference will bring together scholars and activists working on and campaigning against authoritarianisms and right-wing attacks on democracy through a queer perspective. By queering authoritarianisms, we mean making visible LGBTIQ+ lives and politics which resist authoritarian and undemocratic politics.

Ships in the Proletarian Night: Contemporary Marxist Thought in France and Britain
25 March 2021, ONLINE

Ships in the Proletarian Night, then, has three aims. First, to explore the history of Anglo-French Marxist encounters, enriching our understanding of the history of exchanges between the two traditions. Second, to consider the contemporary state of Marxist thought in France and Britain, dwelling on the recent revivals of socialist thinking and action in each context. Third, to explore the latent possibilities for new encounters in the future, considering how each tradition might enrich the other, casting new light on the pressing questions of the contemporary conjuncture. 

Ships In The Proletarian Night: Revolutionary Desires, Defying Borders
25 March 2021, ONLINE

This panel posits Marxism as a bridge, examining how revolutionary desires have fostered surprising and enduring encounters that cut across pre-established boundaries and walls. Robert Jackson examines Antonio Gramsci’s position at the nodal point between diverse socialist traditions, suggesting that the Gramscian lexicon has offered a lingua franca for Marxist discussion across the globe. Jackqueline Frost explores the development of an anticolonialist proletarian homosexuality, tracing the transnational connection forged between French communist Daniel Guérin, Jamaican novelist Andrew Salkey and Trinidadian theorist C.L.R. James. And, Giulia Champion probes how Marx’s monsters – his image of vampiric capital and were-wolf-like surplus value – have been displaced from their original context and integrated into the postcolonial Francophone world by scholars such as Édouard Glissant and Malcom Ferdinand.

Ships In The Proletarian Night: Prefiguring Populism
25 March 2021, ONLINE

The panel explores the versatile ways in which theory, praxis, and populism have intersected in constructing Marxist thoughts. Each of the papers analyse the past and present interventions, theoretical or otherwise, in altering the political movements and ideological framings of Marxist theory.

Ships In The Proletarian Night: Keynote: Julia Nicholls, Kings College London
25 March 2021, ONLINE
Ships In The Proletarian Night: Literature and Revolution
25 March 2021, ONLINE

In his 1926 essay How Are Verses Made? Vladimir Mayakovsky poses the following question: ‘What basic propositions are indispensable, when one begins poetical work? First thing. The presence of a problem in society, the solution of which is conceivable only in poetical terms. A social command.’ This panel considers a number of solutions conceivable only in poetic terms. It brings together Emma Gomis’ examination of Marguerite Duras as a utopian, euphoric, idealist Marxist, Owen Holland on the importance of the Paris Commune for Gerard Manley Hopkins’ The Wreck of the Deutschland, and Micol Bez on the translation and reception of C. L. R. James in France. This panel thus offers several ways to approach what Mayakovsky calls the ‘social command’ behind works of literature. 

26 March 2021, ONLINE

One unexplored resource for thinking about the nonhuman is Greco-Roman religion and magic. This panel explores the relationship between place, power and bodies in ancient magic. How did specific landscapes embody spiritual beings? What was the role played by plants and animals in enabling the sorcerer to access secret powers? Sophie Lunn-Rockliffe and Esther Eidinow are Classicists with a special interest in the blurry line between nonhuman spirit-world and nonhuman creatures in Greco-Roman magic. 

Ships In The Proletarian Night: Reinterpreting the French Radical Tradition
26 March 2021, ONLINE

This panel looks at configurations of the radical Left and figures in French Marxism and anarchism that have been overshadowed by their contemporaries and subsequent trends, especially, in the Anglophone tradition. Discussing the emergence of anarcho-feminism in the Paris Commune, Lucien Sève’s correspondence with Althusser, and Alexandre Mathéron’s Marxist reading of Spinoza; Lang Wang, Jacob Collins, and Nicholas Habash uncover side-lined voices on the Left. 

Ships In The Proletarian Night: Keynote: Kristin Ross, Professor of Comparative Literature, NYU
26 March 2021, ONLINE
Ships In The Proletarian Night: Capital Today: Super-Exploitation, Profit, and Finance
26 March 2021, ONLINE

The early decades of the twenty-first century have been profoundly shaped by the global financial crisis of 2008 and the recent COVID-19 recession. Yet, behind these crises are trends of global inequality that have, in Thomas Piketty’s sobering analysis in his 2014 book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, re-established is a dynastic ‘patrimonial’ capitalism. The papers in this panel offer other ways to grapple with the present moment. Niamh Mulcahy turns to Althusser’s aleatory materialism in an attempt to shed light on structures of contemporary inequality, Ariane Hanemaayer considers emergent biological forms of exchange, and Andy Higginbottom offers a new way to approach the transformation problem. 

Ships In The Proletarian Night: Currents in British Marxism
26 March 2021, ONLINE

On this panel, twentieth-century British Marxism is the focus. Bringing together both marginalised and canonical figures, the panel puts particular emphasis on the influence of French figures in the British Marxist tradition. Miri Davidson’s paper explores on the influence of French anthropologist Claude Meillassoux on the London-based Selma James and Mariarosa Dalla Costa in the late 1960s and early 1970s, examining how this exchange helped to shape the influential materialist feminist notion of social reproduction. Brendan Harvey recuperates the underread work of Christopher Caudwell, a Marxist cultural critic active in the 1930s whose critique of materialism retains theoretical and political value in the contemporary world. Finally, Vicente Montenegro Bralic reassesses Stuart Hall’s retooling of the British cultural studies project in the 1970s, tracing how Louis Althusser’s philosophy helped Hall articulate the relationship between class, race and colonialism in new ways.

Magic and Ecology: ENTANGLED LIFE
09 April 2021, ONLINE

David Abram’s seminal The Spell of the Sensuous (1997) argued that disdain for magic produced, in the West, a distorted rather than enlightened sense of the non-human world. Merlin Sheldrake’s recent work explores what Abram calls the “more-than-human” quality of nonhuman presences, and together David and Merlin examine what it means to live “humanly” in a more-than-human world of entangled lifeforms.  

Politics and Ethics of Platform Labour: Learning from Lived Experiences
13 April 2021, ONLINE

This conference seeks to explore the politics and ethics of this way of organising labour from the perspective of the lived experience of the workers themselves. We will focus especially on qualitative and ethnographic work on how people feel about their own labour situation, how they build their own networks, what they consider to be the most important aspect of this new way of working, and how it fits with their lives and values. We hope to attract a broad range of activists, social scientists, social theorists and philosophers of platform capitalism to this conversation.

Social Power and Mental Health: Evolving Research Through Lived Experience
19 April 2021, ONLINE

This conference seeks to create dialogue between two forms of expertise. It will bring together people with lived experience of mental health challenges and researchers, with the aim of starting conversations between these two groups of experts. We also recognise that many people belong in both groups.

Houses of Cards? The Rules and Institutions of Housing Illegality in Western Countries
19 April 2021, ONLINE

This symposium aims at investigating different kinds of housing illegality in the West (Europe, Americas and Australasia) from the viewpoint of their interaction with the broader institutional framework in which they are situated. The multifaceted connection of informal practices in the field of housing with different layers of both public (e.g. planning and building laws, practice by street-level bureaucrats) and non-public (e.g. informal rules established by criminal organisations, shared social norms in specific informal environment institutions), and the resulting politics of housing informality are under scrutiny in particular. Additional inputs reflecting on the changing nature of housing illegality and meanings of legal housing at times of global pandemic would be considered.

Kierkegaard in France
05 May 2021, ONLINE

The conference aims to touch upon key figures in the history of Kierkegaard’s reception in France from the 1930s to the present day. This conference is not only an intellectual survey of important moments in French thought but also an intervention in the way we understand the stakes of contemporary French thought, beyond the horizon of Hegel, Nietzsche, Husserl, and Heidegger.

Dressing a Picture: Reimagining the Court Portrait 1500 - 1800
06 May 2021, ONLINE

This conference will meaningfully contribute to the wider scholarly debate on the significance of early modern portraiture as pivotal sources for numerous branches of historical research and not just art history. It will both firmly enable this discussion and bring attention to this burgeoning field of interdisciplinary historical studies.

The Social Life of Care
13 May 2021, ONLINE

The conference will engage with varied methodological and analytical approaches to care through the work of scholars from public health, sociology, geography, anthropology, and economics. These discussions will open up space for reflection on the future of care – both a taking account of the implications of a care-less society and a utopian envisioning of a society built upon the foundations of care.

Tactics and Praxis: Creativity, Pleasure and Ethics in Academic Work
05 July 2021, Rooms SG1 & SG2, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DT

This conference, which develops out of our series of seminar workshops, aims to reinvigorate approaches to academic work in its relation to creativity, ethics and pleasure. It will explore cutting-edge work that brings praxis and research into contact in creative ways.

From Morning Hunt to Beloved Gazelle
15 December 2021, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Sidgwick Site

This conference seeks to rethink the literatures and arts of the Middle East, North Africa, and the Persianate and Turkish lands through the presence of non-human animals situated within their ‘worlds’, whether these be pastoral gardens, constructions of the wild, or the interstices of human habitations.