CISP Online

Blog of the Centre for Invention & Social Process, Goldsmiths

May 10, 2019
by Emily Nicholls

Serres and Foundations

CISP talk by Professor Turo-Kimmo Lehtonen (Sociology, Tampere University)

30th May 4.30-6.30 pm

Richard Hoggart Building room 137a, Goldsmiths, University of London

While Michel Serres’ work has become relatively well-known among social theoreticians in recent years, his explicit thematization of the foundations of human collectives has gained surprisingly little attention. This article claims that Serres’ approach to the theme of foundations can be clarified by scrutinizing the way in which he poses and answers the following three questions: How are we together? What and whom do we exclude from our togetherness and how? Who are we today? Instead of starting with a ready-made order, be it on the scale and form of individuals or society, Serres pushes social research to take up the challenge of examining the point at which order is about to emerge out of noise and chaos, but where the outcome of the process remains uncertain. Especially relevant to the discussion are Serres’ books Rome, Statues and Geometry, all three of which bear the subtitle Book of Foundations.

May 10, 2019
by Emily Nicholls

Reflections From the Third CISP Salon: Human-Animal Relations

On 9th April, CISP Salon members met to discuss texts by Giraud & Hollin (2016) and Despret & Meuret (2016) in order to reflect on care in the context of human-animal relations. Below, Dr. Fay Dennis shares her thoughts on the session.

So far in the series, care has proved a productive and lively concept to think with that has taken us from historical forms of injustice and the possibilities of another science to the ethics of gay partying and queer politics, and this week, to human-animal relations. For me, one thing that has become clearer in light of these most recent discussions is the extent to which care – as a practice of knowing and doing – is always already politically, socially and materially entangled. Care has a past and an inherited politics that makes some ways of being and knowing more possible than others. For this session, there is an assumed and powerful hierarchy between humans and animals that is difficult to shift.

Following care as a reciprocal act of maintenance in more-than-human worlds (Puig de la Bellacasa, 2017), and taking up the articles by Giraud and Hollin (2016) on laboratory beagles and Despret and Meuret (2016) on sheep herding, we ask: How can we care for animals if they are instrumental in our scientific experiments (in the case of beagle handling) or food production (in the case of sheep herding)? Without this reciprocity, can this kind of reliance ever be care, which raises the questions again of what care is. Both papers, in different ways, attempt to move beyond the problematization of care as an ethical practice in opposition to its instrumentalization. So then, we ask: Can care be instrumentalised and ethically-materially productive?

For Giraud and Hollin, this relationship is at the very heart of the problem with care – ‘in certain contexts care is precisely what enables the instrumentalization of life, in being used to gain knowledge about entities that can be exploited for the purpose of control’ (pg. 31). Although posed negatively, an instrumentalized care that is also ethical seems oddly more possible in Giraud and Hollin’s case of the beagle-experimenters than in Despret and Meuret’s case of the sheep-herders. One might imagine a more caring beagle laboratory under a mantra in which the dogs are better exercised, fed, socialized etc., but could the same kind of care be applied to Despret and Meuret’s sheep-herders?

Care, in Despret and Meuret’s case, is a mode of intervention where both human and animal have learnt from, and, crucially, I would say (echoing Bryan Lim’s thoughts on ‘being invested’ from the last session), are interested in, learning from each other. So, could the kind of care that Despret and Meuret are identifying as a becoming-together or ‘composition’ of humans and animals ever exist if those sheep were brought back into their sheds? We think not.

Perhaps because I am a daughter of a sheep farmer (before sheep, in this region of the UK, became too expensive to rear), I find this particularly compelling as I have witnessed these human-animal attachments and losses to selves and community in these detachments from livestock. Despret and Meuret write in a way to aid these compositions. Like the shepherds, they take on first person language in becoming with the sheep. This difference in writing style provoked heated debates on whether we can ascribe intention to animals, how to talk/write about animals without projecting human qualities, how to think and feel with animals without assuming a hierarchy of sentient beings (e.g. would we feel so bad for the beagles if they were mice or ants or mosquitos?).

Towards the end of the session, we looked again at the different modes of care being paid attention to and tried to imagine what the care in the sheep-herding would look like if extended to the beagle-handling – Would we let the beagles go free? Could they survive? Is there such a thing as freedom from human contact? With this, we reflected on notions of responsibility, non-intervention as intervention, and how ‘needs’ become enacted in practice.

Entangled historically (as the beagles’ cages disturbingly reminded us) and enacted in the moment (through attuning or ‘tinkering’), both papers helped us to imagine care as a navigational tool for moving through inequitable worlds. This is what Anna Tsing calls the ‘arts of living on a damaged planet’, which is exactly what the next Salon hopes to explore further through embodied art and film.


CISP Salon Readings:

  • Giraud, E., & Hollin, G. (2016). Care, Laboratory Beagles and Affective Utopia. Theory, Culture & Society, 33(4), 27–49.
  • Despret, V., & Meuret, M. (2016). Cosmoecological Sheep and the Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet. Environmental Humanities, 8(1), 24–36.

April 8, 2019
by Emily Nicholls

Reflections From the Second CISP Salon (2018-2019)

On 26th February, CISP Salon members met to discuss texts by Kane Race and Karen Barad in order to reflect on what it might mean to queer care in our own practices as scholars of science and technology. Following the session, participants were invited to share an element of the discussion that they had found particularly interesting or provocative. Below, Bryan Lim and Adam Christianson share their thoughts on the session:


Bryan Lim:

The CISP salon asked us to reflect on Kane Race’s empirical account of “queer chemistry” and Barad’s invitation to take seriously the experimental nature of the world we inhabit, in the context of thinking through care critically. Reading both papers together, I cannot help but wonder about how care is never a given, which consequently generated a litany of questions which I am still mulling over. Can I care, or do I even know how to care, when I want to care? In caring for something, what changes does it undergo in the process and if so, might care end up inflicting harm on an (always) transformed subject? To this end, I am inspired to conceive of care as a gamble, an extension of one’s hand to other(s) in the hope that they might reach back. Relatedly, if care is a selective mode of attention, where certain assemblages are valorised and cherished, and others are inevitably excluded and ignored altogether, how might we address the violence, exclusion and neglect that acts of care enact, while still recognising the vital role it plays in maintaining the fabric of our social and biological existence? The CISP salon was a platform for the exploring of how our practices are always already intimately knotted together with different circumscriptions of which in/non/human lives will flourish/wither, acting as a lure through which we are reminded of the need to always contend with larger questions of how we might all live better.


Adam Christianson:

To understand enacting care, we have been thinking through the notion of haptics, or touch as a way of relating. Hapticity refers to all ways through which we touch and are touched. Puig de la Bellacasa and Barad, for example, see the haptic ways of thinking as a highly productive fashion conducive to reading multi-critter environments; useful for understanding the ways embodied persons explore rich and variegated spaces. Also working on the topic of hapticity, Mel Chen argues that practices of queer care are nested in how we read internality, harm and how we then position that amalgam toward the rest of our environment. For those of us interested in questions of drug use, intimacy and emerging questions of biopolitics this way of thinking helps us understand the ambivalences of drug use.

Kane Race brings this ambivalence to light in his chapter on ‘gay chemistry.’ Gay spaces are well known loci of drug use. In this environment touch, intimacy and chemicals are exposed clearly for us to examine how care is enacted. In this case it is unclear how to think about touch; what is a bad, a good or a caring touch? Race draws our attention to the, ‘Jeeze was I drunk last night’ phenomenon. Though by no means exclusive to gay men, Race notes early 20th century Western gay men would use alcohol to feign ‘blacking out’ and forgetting about the intimate experimentation of the night before. Though perhaps a necessity at the time, this practice effectively erased the reality of those experiences, despite both men remembering the deed in its entirety. This process allowed men to attend to their sexual experimentation without facing the new reality that sobriety would undoubtedly force upon them. The lasting effects of this phenomenon have fascinating implications for how gay men understand consent and drug use, which are ill-fitted to hegemonic notions of consent, care and sexual assault.


CISP Salon Readings:

  • Race, Kane. 2018. “Queer chemistry: Gay partying and collective innovations in care.” In K. Race. The gay science: Intimate experiments with the problem of HIV. London: Routledge.
  • Barad, Karen. 2015. “Transmaterialities: Trans*/matter/realities and queer political imaginings.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 21(2-3): 387–422.

April 4, 2019
by Emily Nicholls

Witness Seminars on HIV Histories

Disentangling European HIV/AIDS Policies: Activism, Citizenship and Health (EUROPACH) is a Humanities in the European Research Area (HERA) funded study, which explores the ways in which the history of HIV is mobilised in policy and activism in Germany, UK, Poland, Turkey and at a European level. The UK research is based in CISP and, below, Emily Jay Nicholls introduces the witness seminars she and Marsha Rosengarten convened as part of the project.

Between November 2017 and June 2018, Marsha Rosengarten and I convened a series of ‘witness seminars’ on various topics relating to the history of HIV. The series was part of our work as the UK-based researchers on Disentangling European HIV/AIDS Policies: Activism, Citizenship and Health (EUROPACH) and included seminars on the topics of: Antiretroviral Drugs up to and Including the Proposition of Treatment as Prevention (TasP) and Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), The Criminalisation of HIV Transmission, HIV Prevention and Health Promotion and Women and HIV. In all, 33 people participated in these witness seminars, including people living with HIV, clinicians, academics, activists and those involved in the civil society response.

The witness seminar as a method can be described as something between a focus group and an oral history. It is a forum in which key actors who were involved in a particular event are brought together to tell its history collectively. The details of how witness seminars are organised can vary between researchers, but the seminars we convened lasted for approximately two hours and – although a list of proposed topics of discussion was circulated beforehand – tended to follow what was salient to those participating. Following the seminars, the audio recordings were transcribed, the resulting texts were tidied up and footnotes were added where appropriate. The documents were then circulated to participants who were invited to redact, edit or elaborate on their contributions. What resulted were four rich, provocative and often moving texts on different elements of HIV histories. Although they all had a different tone and feel, one of the things that united them, and what was of particular value, was a sense that we were often being told much more than what had happened. Rather, we learned the texture of it: what it felt like, what was happening behind the scenes, the strategies that were employed.

The edited transcripts of the witness seminars are now available here on the CISP blog, as well as the EUROPACH website. They are reflective of the enormous generosity of those who agreed to participate and share their thoughts and experiences. We hope that they will help in acknowledging the importance and ongoing challenges of the epidemic and prove to be a useful resource for those interested in histories of HIV, both now and in the future.

If you have any thoughts on the witness seminars you would like to share, please e-mail me at e.nicholls[at]

March 12, 2019
by Emily Nicholls

London Conference in Critical Thought

From the LCCT Collective: 

We are delighted that the 8th annual London Conference in Critical Thought (LCCT) will be hosted and supported this year by the Centre for Invention and Social Process (CISP) in the Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London.

The LCCT is a free, inter-institutional, interdisciplinary conference in critical thought that takes place annually in different institutions across London. LCCT follows a non-hierarchical, decentralised model of organisation that undoes conventional academic distinctions between plenary lectures and break-out sessions, aiming instead to create opportunities for intellectual critical exchange regardless of participants’ disciplinary field, institutional affiliation, or seniority. LCCT has no overarching or predetermined theme. The conference’s intellectual content and academic tone are set anew each year, stemming from thematic streams that are conceived, proposed and curated by a group of stream organisers.

We are thrilled that so many of the themes this year align with CISP’s interdisciplinary interests in science, technology, design and the arts, and how they connect with questions of life, duration, the body, environment, ethics, and politics. The streams for #LCCT2019 are:

  • Art MANIFESTOS: The future of an evolving form
  • Automating inequality: AI, smart devices and the reproduction of the social
  • The Cold War Then and Now: Theories and legacies
  • Culture/Politics of trauma
  • Difference, evolution and biology
  • Gendered technologies, gender as technology
  • Immanence, conflict and institution: Within and beyond Italian Theory
  • Multiplying Citizenship: Beyond the subject of rights
  • Radical Ventriloquism: Acts of speaking through and speaking for
  • Rethinking new materialisms: Ethics, politics and aesthetics
  • Thinking critically with care

The call for papers is still open, until 25th March. For more details on how to summit a paper, please visit: LCCT 2019 Call for Papers