Lively matter, critical inertia? Reflections on the neo-vitalist turn in geography.

Authors: Sandra Jasper*, University of Cambridge
Topics: Cultural Geography
Keywords: new materialisms, neo-vitalism, affect, agency, historiography
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Napoleon, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 41st Floor


Geographical literature has recently adopted a neo-vitalist approach to the understanding of nature, agency, and human subjectivity. This turn towards neo-vitalism can be seen as a part of a wider discussion interlinked with affective geographies, calls for attending to lively matter, and expanded conceptions of agency. Key neo-vitalist thinkers invoked in such literatures include late 19th century and early 20th century experimental scientists and philosophers, including Henri Bergson, Hans Driesch, and Jakob Johann von Uexküll, amongst others. Such debates are largely disconnected from more critical perspectives on nature and science, such as contemporary critiques of the politics, economics, and ethics of the life sciences under late-capitalism. This paper explores the current wave of neo-vitalism and calls for a ‘new materialism’ in geography. It maps out the potentially problematic ethical and political consequences that come with a contemporary recourse to vitalist ontologies by drawing on insights from the history of science, German critical intellectual traditions, and contemporary feminist theory.

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