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In an age of intensifying anthropogenic activity, conditions of life are being undermined at a planetary scale. Industrial processes are uncoupling life from death, diminishing death’s capacity to channel vitality back to the living.[i] Colonial capitalist logics continue to naturalize the subjection of humans to racialized hierarchies of worth and the exploitation of natural resources for (some) humans’ ends.[ii] Against this backdrop, posthumanist currents, such as the environmental humanities, new feminist materialisms, and multispecies studies, have foregrounded the situated entanglements of humans with plants, animals, microbes, and fungi, whose meaningful lives and deaths are thoroughly, if unevenly, intertwined with our social worlds and across different communities of “we.”[iii] They centre the agentic thrust and processual nature of matter in the co-production of meaning and experience.[iv] In doing so, these approaches productively reframe both human and other-than-human entities as matters of concern and care in an age of eco-social unravelling.[v]


This interdisciplinary symposium contributes to conversations around the life of matter and the matter of life in times of crisis by asking: What happens when we think about worlds and worldings beyond the categories and boundaries of dominant scientific frameworks, including biology and species?[vi] What do alternative epistemologies reveal about the substance, scope, and spectrum of life and non-life?[vii] Alongside matter, what role do immaterial, sacred, ghostly, or otherwise non-secular beings play in the (un)making of power and politics?[viii] What, in sum, might it mean to imagine and engage with worlds beyond bios?


Western philosophical and religious genealogies have traditionally distinguished bios from zoe to refer to bare, animal life on the one hand, stripped of speech, rights, and polis, and intelligent, social life on the other, endowed with communication, voice, and political representation.[ix] This distinction and hierarchy lies at the heart of Western reason and attendant dualisms including body and mind and nature and culture. As Rosi Braidotti puts it, “Zoe is always second best and the idea of life carrying on independently of, even regardless of rational control - is the dubious privilege attributed to the non-humans.”[x] At the same time, a whole range of matter falls in the interstices of this highly contentious division: rocks, water, chemicals, and other stuff deemed “inanimate” or “non-life” within dominant epistemologies.[xi] And yet these entities, too, are subject to human control and experience their own kinds of vulnerability. They invite us to expand and multiply the forms that life can take through an attentiveness to alternative grammars of animacy and cosmopolitical processes that may transcend, transform, or temper our understanding of cognition, intelligence, perception, and sentience as conventional markers of meaningful being.[xii]


In opening the scope of inquiry beyond bios, we do not seek to eschew or elide the value of diverse other-than-human lives or to neglect the violence of racializing assemblages undergirding inter-human differentiations and divisions.[xiii] Nor do we aim to perform presumptions of “novelty” that arise from the erasure of non-dominant ontologies, epistemologies, and genealogies of knowledge and praxis.[xiv] Instead, we hope to bring matter of all kinds to the fore of critiques of the dehumanization of “Man’s human Others” and non-human others.[xv] This includes matter’s relations to human collectives who have historically been treated as extractable geological matter,[xvi] fungible bodies,[xvii] ungovernable waste,[xviii] debilitated beings,[xix] and lives better yet unborn.[xx] It also encompasses matter’s relations to plant, animal, fungal, viral, and microbial entities whose exploitation, extraction, and disciplining are naturalized and abused under dominant political and economic orders.[xxi] In the process, we hope to feed into conversations surrounding possibilities for multi-being justice and beyond-bios solidarities that are anchored in repair, recognition, and respect for an Earth that is shared, and wherein all earths are rare earths.[xxii]


This approach draws attention to beings, relations, matter, and infrastructures that lie outside established taxonomies of bios. It invites us to think beyond the idiom of bios itself in classifying and relating to such beings and matter. It further brings into scope of intellectual and moral purview formations and transformations of beings and matter that transcend individual and collective lifecourses- in death, the afterlife, ruin, and emergence. Together, these strands of thinking invite us to consider: what earthly matter matters?[xxii] How is the world in it and it in the world?[xxiii] What is life when matter can die, heal, or be reborn?[xxiv] How does one story matter and its myriad mutations? What emergent politics of cohabitability and ecologies of obligation might be enabled by collectively imagining more capacious, critical, creative, and caring understandings of, and relations to, matter in flux?[xxv]


Thinking beyond bios brings into the fold the diverse elements that animate and sustain life on Earth – for instance, soil and water, to air, rocks, and fire – which we gloss in this symposium as “eco-materialities.” It encompasses matter and infrastructure produced through human and technological intervention – for instance, plastic, chemicals, waste, dams, and cities – which we gloss as “techno-materialities.” It includes entities who transcend the realm of the material and at times immanent – for instance, spirits, ancestors, ghosts, and monsters – which we gloss as “cosmo-materialities.” It makes space also for the animacy of materialities beyond their lifecourse and associated functionalities – for instance, museum artefacts, ruins, dust, and rubble – which we gloss as “material afterlives.”


We offer these terminologies not as mutually exclusive, exhaustive or fixed taxonomies for apprehending worlds beyond bios, but rather as tentative and fluid structuring devices that invite experimental and provocative catachresis across and beyond laws, lands, and languages.[xxvi] We hope these tentative devices will aid in interrogating, challenging, or circumventing dominant scientific taxonomic frameworks of species, rethinking political forms and processes through a more-than-bios lens, and attending to genealogies of thought and practice obscured by dominant frameworks of meaning. Taking a cue from Latin American environmental justice activists’ call to sentipensar our way through situated realities and representations of unevenly shared worlds[xxvii], we aim to foster decolonial and coalitional see-hear-smell-taste-think-feel in addressing together a question posed over two decades ago by Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan[xxviii] and one that both predates and pulsates through contemporary scholarship on and struggles for, justice in multispecies worlds: what is life?


[i] Deborah B. Rose, ‘Multispecies Knots of Ethical Time’, Environmental Philosophy, 9.1 (2012), 127 – 140; Julie Livingston, Self-Devouring Growth: A Planetary Parable as Told from Southern Africa (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019). [ii] Colonial Racial Capitalism, ed. by Susan Koshy and others (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2022); Joshua Bennett, Being Property Once Myself: Blackness and the End of Man (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2020). [iii] Thom van Dooren, Flight Ways: Life and Loss at the Edge of Extinction (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014); Anna L. Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2015); Stefan Helmreich, Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Microbial Seas (Berkeley, C.A.: University of California Press, 2009); Donna J. Haraway, When Species Meet (Minneapolis, M.N.: University of Minnesota Press, 2008). Pronouns can be slippery as “we” imagine shared futures amidst and against entrenched and exclusionary categories and hierarchies of both race and species. Problematizing who and what counts within variably situated communities of “we” and “us” is part of this project’s aim. Thinking with Marisol de la Cadena’s notion of the “we” as inherently complex, relational, and more-than-human the project seeks to pluralize understandings of being, becoming, and belonging beyond bios while also accounting for the regimes of colonial racial capitalism that continue to position some humans as non-human, sub-human, or not-yet-human before the law. Marisol de la Cadena, ‘An Invitation to Live Together: Making the “Complex We”’, Environmental Humanities, 11.2 (2019), 477–84; Ursula K. Heise, Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species (Chicago, I.L.: University of Chicago Press, 2016). [iv] Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press., 2007); Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2009); Sebastián Ureta, Worlds of Gray and Green: Mineral Extraction as Ecological Practice (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2022). [v] Bruno Latour, ‘Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern’, Critical Inquiry, 30.2 (2004), 225–48; María Puig de la Bellacasa, Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds (Minneapolis, M.N.: University of Minnesota Press, 2017); Posthuman Ecologies: Complexity and Process after Deleuze, ed. by Rosi Braidotti and Simone Bignall (London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2019). [vi] Makere Stewart-Harawira, ‘Returning the Sacred: Indigenous Ontologies in Perilous Times’, in Radical Human Ecology: Intercultural and Indigenous Approaches, ed. by Rose Roberts and Lewis Williams (New York: Taylor & Francis, 2012), pp. 94–109; Kim TallBear, ‘An Indigenous Reflection on Working Beyond the Human/Not Human’, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 21.2–3 (2015), 230–35; Sophie Chao, In the Shadow of the Palms: More-Than-Human Becomings in West Papua (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2022). [vii] Elizabeth A. Povinelli, Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2016); Mel Y. Chen, Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2012); Marisol de la Cadena, Earth Beings: Ecologies of Practice across Andean Worlds (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2015). [viii] Radhika Govindrajan, ‘Spectral Justice’, in The Promise of Multispecies Justice, ed. by Sophie Chao, Karin Bolender, and Eben S. Kirksey (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2022); Felicity A. Schaeffer, Unsettled Borders: The Militarized Science of Surveillance on Sacred Indigenous Land (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2022); Gastón R. Gordillo, ‘The Breath of the Devils: Memories and Places of an Experience of Terror’, American Ethnologist, 29.1 (2002), 33–57. [ix] Miguel Z. Clavería, ‘Convertir La Zoé En Bíos: Democracia, Respresentación y Animales’, Acta Sociológica, 71 (2016), 101–21. [x] Rosi Braidotti, ‘Between the No Longer and the Not Yet: On Bios/Zoe-Ethics’, Filozofski Vestnik, 23.2 (2002), 9–26 (p. 14). [xi] Frédéric Keck, ‘Les Usages Du Biopolitique’, L’Homme, 187–188 (2008), 295–314. [xii] Robin W. Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (Minneapolis, M.N.: Milkweed Press, 2014); Isabelle Stengers, ‘The Cosmopolitical Proposal’, in Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy, ed. by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel (Cambridge, M.A.: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2005), pp. 994 – 1003; Eduardo Kohn, How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human (Berkeley, C.A.: University of California Press, 2013). [xiii] Alexander G. Weheliye, Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2014). [xiv] Zoe Todd, ‘An Indigenous Feminist’s Take on the Ontological Turn: “Ontology” Is Just Another Word for Colonialism’, Academic Freedom and the Contemporary Academy, 29.1 (2016), 4–22; Kyle P. Whyte, ‘Is It Colonial Déjà Vu? Indigenous Peoples and Climate Injustice’, in Humanities for the Environment: Integrating Knowledge, Forging New Constellations of Practice, ed. by Joni Adamson and Michael Davis (New York: Routledge, 2017), pp. 88–105; Christine Winter, Subjects of Intergenerational Justice Indigenous Philosophy, the Environment and Relationships (New York: Routledge, 2022). [xv] Jinthana Haritaworn, ‘Decolonizing the Non/Human’, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 21.2–3 (2015), 210–13 (p. 212); see also Neel Ahuja, ‘Postcolonial Critique in a Multispecies World’, PMLA, 124.2 (2009), 556–63; Zakiyyah I. Jackson, ‘Outer Worlds: The Persistence of Race in Movement “Beyond the Human”’, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 21.2–3 (2015), 215–18; Claire J. Kim, Dangerous Crossings: Race, Species, and Nature in a Multicultural Age (Cambridge, M.A.: Cambridge University Press, 2015). [xvi] Kathryn Yusoff, A Billion Black Anthropocenes Or None (Minneapolis, M.N.: University of Minnesota Press, 2019). [xvii] Tiffany L. King, ‘The Labor of (Re)Reading Plantation Landscapes Fungible(Ly)’, Antipode, 48.4 (2016), 1022–39. [xviii] Ghassan Hage, Is Racism an Environmental Threat? (Malden, M.A.: Polity Press, 2017). [xix] Jasbir K. Puar, The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2017). [xx] Michelle Murphy, The Economization of Life (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2017). [xxi] The Ethics of Captivity, ed. by Lori Gruen (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014); Timothy Pachirat, Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight (New Haven, C.T.: Yale University Press, 2013); Maria Taylor, Injustice (Brisbane, QLD: Independent Ink, 2021). [xxii] Bénédicte Boisseron, Afro-Dog: Blackness and the Animal Question (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018); Danielle Celermajer and others, ‘Justice Through a Multispecies Lens’, Contemporary Political Theory, 19 (2020), 475–512; Sunaura Taylor, Beasts of Burden: Animal and Disability Liberation (New York: The New Press, 2017); Harlan Weaver, Bad Dog: Pit Bull Politics and Multispecies Justice (Washington, DC: University of Washington Press, 2021); Ros Gray and Shela Sheikh, ‘The Wretched Earth: Botanical Conflicts and Artistic Interventions. Introduction’, Third Text, 32.2–3 (2018), 163–75; Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò, Reconsidering Reparations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022). [xxii] Christine Winter and David J. Schlosberg, ‘What Matter Matters as a Matter of Justice’, Environmental Politics, forthcoming 2023. [xxiii] Joseph Dumit, ‘Writing the Implosion: Teaching the World One Thing at a Time’, Cultural Anthropology, 29.2 (2014), 344 – 362. [xxiv] Sandra Wooltorton, Anne Poelina, and Len Collard, ‘River Relationships: For the Love of Rivers’, River Research and Applications, 38.3 (2021), 393–403. [xxv] Stacey Ann Langwick, ‘A Politics of Habitability: Plants, Healing, and Sovereignty in a Toxic World’, Cultural Anthropology, 33.3 (2018), 415–43; Vinciane Despret and Michel Meuret, ‘Cosmoecological Sheep and the Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet’, Environmental Humanities, 8.1 (2016), 24–36. [xxvi] Anna L. Tsing, ‘Catachresis for the Anthropocene: Three Papers on Productive Misplacements’, in More Than Human: AURA’s Openings. AURA Working Papers, Volume 1 (Højbjerg: Aahrus University), pp. 2 – 10. [xxvii] Arturo Escobar, Pluriversal Politics: The Real and the Possible (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2019). [xxviii] Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan, What Is Life? (Berkeley, C.A.: University of California Press, 2000).

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