Events Schedule: Westminster Materialisms Study Group

Here are this semester’s dates for events (co-)organised by the Centre for the Study of Democracy’s Materialisms Study Group at the University of Westminster. All events are free and open to all so please feel free to forward to interested parties.


Thursday 21 January (today) (Materialisms Reading Group)

6.30 Westminster Forum, Philip Cunliffe (University of Kent) will be introducing Alexander Wendt’s Quantum Mind and Social Science: Unifying Physical and Social Ontology


Friday 5 February (conference)

Design After Planning: Examining the Shift from Epistemology to Topology (co-sponsored by Centre for the Study of Democracy and Faculty of Architecture & the Built Environment)

10.00 – 18:15, University of Westminster, London

Confirmed keynote speakers:  Filip de Boeck (KU Leuven), Nathaniel Tkacz (University of Warwick) & Erik Swyngedouw (University of Manchester)

This one-day interdisciplinary conference will explore the possibility of going beyond the limitations of liberal-modernist policy-making and urban planning, and the implications of doing so, if we start thinking of governance at different scales as a process of design.

The question of how different types of ‘planning’ should deal with uncertainty has taken on fresh importance. On the one hand, existential threats such as climate change, overpopulation, and new forms of global conflict expand the temporal and spatial horizons of our sense of responsibility as never before. On the other, the world is constructed increasingly as emergent, complex and non-linear; the ‘wicked’ problems it throws up are not amenable to modernist, top-down solutions. The intelligence required to tackle contemporary problems is understood to be dispersed and enacted, rather than a pre-given object to be gathered by the state. In Mol’s (2002) formulation, epistemological questions (‘how can we be sure?’) are increasingly usurped by pragmatic ones (‘how can we live with doubt?’).

In this embrace of uncertainty, concerns over the limitations of representational ‘modelling’ are being dislodged by an ideal of unmediated, dynamic problem-resolution whereby the ‘topologies’ of complex reality continually reveal themselves. In practical terms, this has entailed a shift towards iterative processes of dispersed governance; policy makers no longer attempt to impose order on a chaotic outside, but rather attempt to ‘see’ through the emergent systems themselves. Thus, goals are no longer determined from the centre so much as coproduced in specific locations with the aid of the internet of things and the citizen as sensor; top-down planning of the built environment has given way to localised, discursive decision-making alongside an embrace of informality; the residual modernism of sustainable development is increasingly inflected with ‘resilience’.

If the broad project here is to work with emerging, complex systems, rather than against or in spite of them, might it then be productive to conceptualise the role of governing and city-making in terms of ‘design’ rather than planning?  If so, is there value in retheorising design so as more explicitly to capture contemporary interactive logics of emergent causality and agency?  Or, alternatively, does linear planning have a newly important role to play? Might it function as a type of normative resistance to the ‘market logic’ with which these new forms of governance are perhaps aligned?

As well as three keynote speakers, we have three panels on:

• embracing uncertainty
• algorithmic governance
• new topologies of ‘planning’

The event is free of charge and open to all.  Please book tickets via Eventbrite (further information here


Friday 12 February (workshop)

Indigeneity and the Promise of Inclusion (co-sponsored by the University of Lapland and the Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster)

Convenors; Marjo Lindroth and Heidi Sinevaara-Niskanen (University of Lapland), David Chandler (University of Westminster)
Time: 1.00-5.00pm; Date: Friday 12 February 2016; Venue: Westminster Forum, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Westminster, 32-38 Wells Street, London, W1T 3UW (5 mins from Oxford Circus tube)

It seems that political power is being redistributed and exercised in new ways. There is probably no better example than the recent transformation in the international standing of indigenous peoples. Both national and international politics boast of significant legal and institutional advances in the inclusion of marginalised groups and in the recognition of their rights. This workshop seeks to explore what underlies the alleged progress in indigenous issues and whether this has marked a significant change in the ways in which indigenous subjectivity is perceived. What drives this newfound concern for the enduring indigenous subject? How do conceptions of indigeniety link to discourses of resilience, adaptation and vulnerability, especially in relation to ecological threats and possibilities? What are the links between claims to push forward the status and rights of indigenous peoples, and the interpellation of indigeneity in terms of adaptation, endurance and persistence? What are the implications of these discourses for the subjectivities, understandings and practices of indigeneity?

Workshop programme:

1.00 welcome

1.15 – 2.45 paper presentation and discussion
Marjo Lindroth and Heidi Sinevaara-Niskanen (University of Lapland) – ‘Indigeneity in Waiting: Elusive Rights and the Power of Hope’

3.15 – 5.00 roundtable discussion on Indigeneity and the Promise of Inclusion
Mark Jackson, School of Geographical Sciences (University of Bristol) – ‘Indigeneity and Commitment Beyond Postcolonial Critique’
David Chandler (University of Westminster) – ‘From “Indigenous Culture” to “Indigenous ‘Knowledge”’
Shela Sheikh (Goldsmiths, University of London) – ‘Biocolonialism and the Paradoxes of Access to Knowledge’
Adam Barker and Emma Battell Lowman (University of Leicester) – ‘Always in Relationship: Working with Indigenous communities and against settler colonialism’.

5.00-6.00 wine reception


Thursday 25 February (Materialisms Reading Group)

6.30 Westminster Forum, Paulina Tambakaki (University of Westminster) will be introducing Chapter 1 ‘Introduction: Rhizome’ of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus


Tuesday 1 March (workshop)

Digital Imaginaries of Rule: Big Data, Posthumanism and Algorithmic Regulation

12.00-3.00 Westminster Forum, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Westminster, 32-38 Wells Street, London, W1T 3UW

This is an informal workshop to explore the nature of digital imaginaries of rule. We essentially want to explore and refine the questions to ask of the fast moving discussions of technology and politics. We are interested in questions such as: If Big Data is the answer, what is the question? Are Big Data and the Internet of Things just technical fads, an empty ‘solutionism’ driven by tech corporate capitalists? What is the importance of datafication and why does it claim to reveal the previously unseen? Is Deleuze the theorist of the digital imaginary and if so how? What’s at stake in the claim that correlations between data are more important than causal relations? Does the rise of sensors, machine learning and algorithmic regulation herald a posthuman world? What is the power of algorithms? Does Big Data indicate the emergence of new approaches to epistemology and ontology?

Confirmed presentations:
Mark Duffield (University of Bristol) ‘Algorithmic Governmentality and the Closure of the Commons’
Philip Hammond (London South Bank University)  ”Smart citizenship” and the elusive subject of algorithmic governmentally’
Vanessa Pupavac (University of Nottingham) ‘”There is no mathematic but only mathematics.” Spengler’s Decline of the West and Faustian Work’

The workshop will be followed at 4.00pm by the Departmental seminar by Mark Duffield, ‘Exploring Global Connectivity’.


Friday 4 March (workshop)

What is new in new materialism?: Marxisms, new materialisms and the nature/culture divide (co-sponsored by the Conference for Socialist Economists (CSE) South Group workshop and the Centre for the Study of Democracy)

12.00-5.30, Westminster Forum, Department of Politics and International Relations, Westminster University, London.

Confirmed speakers: Felicity Colman, Nicholas Kiersey, Phoebe Moore, Daniela Tepe–Belfrage, Paul Rekret

In response to a perceived prioritization of ‘mind over matter or culture over nature’ in the humanities and cultural studies, contemporary philosophers Braidotti and DeLanda separately named a shift in research that brings attention to the body or corporeal and explores immanence over transcendence in ontology as new materialism (or neo-materialism) in the 1990s. Since then, feminist, poststructuralist, historical materialist, science and technology, geography and critical realist researchers have begun to explore what it means to move away from the confines of discourse analysis and research that is limited to analysis of the cognitive, introducing research on human subjectivity as embodied, denying quantification of the affective field, rethinking categories of agency and causality and taking seriously questions around what it means to be human. New materialism is a critical ontological position that transcends thought traditions and advances studies that transgress mind-body dualism from the side of the mind and rejects research that eliminates possibilities for lived experiences except as efficient, rational, managed subjects.

The workshop What is new in new materialism?: Marxisms, new materialisms and the nature/culture divide serves partly as an introduction to new materialism and partly as a space to critique and develop nascent work in this emerging area. We will ask, what is the difference between immanent, transcendental approaches and materialist ontology? Where do historical materialists stand on questions of nature and culture? What new questions of the human can we pose and what is the promise of the posthuman? Is this arena one where Marxist and poststructuralist agendas harmonise? What is the difference between mechanical materialism, historical materialism and new materialism? And, what is at stake in the connection between the human and materialism?


Thursday 31 March (Materialisms Reading Group)

6.30 Westminster Forum, Michiel van Ingen (University of Westminster) will be introducing Kate Soper’s What is Nature: Culture, Politics and the Non-Human


For further details of the Materialisms Study Group events or to be put on the Materialisms Reading Group mailing list please contact David Chandler at

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