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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

IAS Fellow's Seminar - Nonconscious Cognition and Material Processes

16th March 2015, 13:00 to 14:00, IAS Seminar Room, Palace Green, Professor Katherine Hayles (Duke University)

Nonconscious Cognition and Material Processes

Veronica Strang, in "Fluid Consistencies: Material Relationality in Human Engagements with Water," like many of the "new materialists," emphasizes the agential properties of water in relation to human complex systems and ecologies. Strang argues that water has consistent "properties" that remain much the same across human cultures and times. By contrast, Professor Kate Hayles argues that water (or any other material substance) has an infinite number of "properties" that reveal themselves through interactions with other entities. Water, for example, may appear very similar across human cultures, but at the same time would appear very differently to a salmon, a heron, a bridge, and a coral reef. To avoid confusion, Professor Hayles calls the repertoire of (potentially infinite) characteristics of a substance its physical attributes, and the way these characteristics are revealed through interactions its material characteristics. Materiality, in this view, is inherently relational.

Clarifying these matters allows distinctions to be made between entities with cognitive capabilities (which she calls actors), and noncognitive entities or physical processes such as glaciers, tornadoes, and woodrot (which she calls agents). Both actors and agents have agential powers, but actors have additional capabilities that agents do not. 

Fellows' seminars take place on Monday lunchtimes in the seminar room at Cosin's Hall.

Places are limited and so any academic colleagues interested in attending a seminar should contact the Institute in advance to reserve a place.

The aim of these seminars is to develop new thinking on the big issues that are of current concern/interest for the Fellows . Each Fellow is asked to present a core idea that informs their current work, or a problem that they are tackling, that could benefit from cross-disciplinary thinking. These seminars are informal and designed to encourage discussion.

Contact enquiries.ias@durham, for more information about this event.