CISP Online

Blog of the Centre for Invention & Social Process, Goldsmiths

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

February 25, 2019
by Emily Nicholls

The Dangers of Participation: Speaking For the Social in Large-Scale Engineering Projects

2019 Penny Harvery ALPenny Harvey, University of Manchester

The Annual Department of Sociology Lecture, hosted by the Centre for Invention & Social Process.

14th March 2019 17.30-19.00

Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre, Whitehead Building, Goldsmiths, University of London



The lecture offers a critical analysis of the ways in which ‘the social’ is elicited as an interlocutor in projects that seek to deploy technical means to achieve social transformation. The discussion focuses on the staging of an experimental ‘hybrid forum’ that was designed to demonstrate a method to professionals engaged in the design and delivery of large-scale engineering projects. The method cuts across established ways in which such professionals would routinely look for support from social sciences who might otherwise be expected to speak for the social through the techniques of aggregation or abstraction that form the bedrock of quantitative approaches. The hybrid forum by contrast seeks to elicit a complex and dynamic social field, to identify controversies, contradictions and ambiguities. The method is a collaborative process in which the social gradually emerges as a potentially fragile entity rather than a stable form that could be represented and/or spoken for. Beyond the experiment the hybrid forum offers a possibility for participants to reflect on how to configure ‘the social’ as an active participant in projects for social transformation. The chapter will also reflect on the relationship between the hybrid forum and more conventional ethnographic methods where researchers do not attempt to speak for the social but seek rather to extend their understanding of human sociality as a dynamic and intrinsically relational process.

February 12, 2019
by Emily Nicholls

Launching the CISP Salon: Vexations and Diplomacy in the Ecologies of Care

Visiting Research Fellow, Dr Jade Henry shares her reflections from the first CISP Salon of the 2018-2019 series, ‘Ecologies of Care.

In December, a group of doctoral and early career researchers met to launch the 2018-2019 CISP Salon. The theme for this year’s Salon, “Ecologies of Care”, is a reference to Stengers’ invitation to deploy “ecologies of practice” as a “tool for thinking” about the contested practices of technoscience (2005). We will be thinking particularly about practices in science and technology which aspire to care. As Puig de la Bellacasa notes, scientific projects and technology solutions are regularly put forth in response to calls for care in our fragile and troubled world, even as these practices create and reinforce power asymmetries that produce injustice (2011). We therefore adopt Stengers’ idea of ecologies of practice as a way of analysing some of these fraught politics of care in a selection of readings this year.

Care is considered vital to the continuation of livable worlds and is of longstanding interest to feminist thinkers, but Murphy cautions us against conflating care with affection, positive feeling or political goods (2015). In her paper, she argues instead for a vexation of care to unsettle “the ways positive feelings, sympathy, and other forms of attachment can work with and through the grain of hegemonic structures, rather than against them” (p. 731). She traces how the self-help protocols embraced by feminist health advocates and researchers in North America are entangled in uneasy racist and colonial legacies.  Compellingly, Murphy directs her criticism at those she cares for, calling upon fellow researchers and activists in feminist technoscience to situate their emancipatory work as part of larger cultural, economic and historical formations. In doing so, she offers her critique as a form of “caring work” that is “not in search of a properly corrected feminist science studies” (p. 722), but as “contributing to, and not simply working against, a better politics of care” (p. 719).

Murphy’s empirical vexations of care resonate with Stengers’ philosophical treatment of diplomacy and its role within ecologies of practice (2005). Stengers suggests that if science is comprised of diverse sets of knowledge-making practices each comprising its own unique habitat, then the task for “thinkers” is to understand how such habitats relate within larger, flourishing ecologies of practices. Here, the “thinker’s task” is not to emancipate by revealing the Truth, nor is it about finding common ground. Instead, the role of “the thinker” is to attend closely to practices as “they diverge” (p. 192). In situations of controversy, where “attachments” or values causing a habitat to think, feel and act are imposed as universal obligations for all habitats, the “thinker” becomes a “diplomat” (p. 194).  “Diplomacy,” writes Stengers, “does not refer to good will, togetherness, a common language or an intersubjective understanding”, but is a pragmatic problem requiring the enactment of new proposition –  a new articulation or construction where “a contradiction (either/or) has been turned into a contrast (and/and)” (p. 193). Like Murphy’s vexations of care, diplomacy requires both an attunement to difference, as well as the generation of new, if modest, spaces that can articulate and sustain the co-existence of such divergence.

Reading Stengers’ philosophical paper does not necessarily evoke what Haraway calls “the trouble” in science and technology scholarship and activism (2010). True to its title, Murphy’s work is more passionate and unsettling because it is directed at cherished feminist knowledge practices. Her paper raises painful complicities, uneasy alliances and distinctions between knowledge-making practices with similar aspirations of care. These vexations of care provoked careful discussion amongst us concerning the differences between queer theory, postcolonial studies and the various waves and strands of feminism. Gathered face to face around an oval table on the 12th floor of Warmington Tower, we were appreciative of the opportunity to work slowly together to disentangle and comprehend the charged and entangled divergences that have troubled the wider ecology of academia in recent times.  Returning to Stengers, we are reminded of the value of a Salon, the importance of the humble academic reading group as an enactment of diplomacy, an intimate space that nurtures “stammering” (p. 195) rather than certitude, a gathering where scholars are responsible for “paying attention as best you can, to be as discerning as possible, as discriminating as you can be about a particular situation” (p. 188).

jades blog post

Photo Credit: Nicole Harrington


Haraway D (2010) When species meet: Staying with the trouble. Environment and Planning D:
Society and Space 28(1): 53–55.

Murphy, Michelle (2015) “Unsettling Care: Troubling Transnational Itineraries of Care in Feminist Health Practices.” Social Studies of Science 45 (5): 717–37.

Stengers, Isabelle (2005) “Introductory notes on an ecology of practices” Cultural Studies Review. 11(1). P. 184-196.