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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

The Experience of Emergence Workshop

28th October 2014, 16:00 to 18:00, Seminar Room, Institute of Advanced Study, Palace Green, Dr Chris Lawless and Dr Andrew Baldwin (Durham University)

Abstract and full details to follow.

Speakers are:

Chris Lawless - Understanding the sociomaterial boundary qualities of livelihood resilience to climate change: Toward more systematic social analysis

Andrew Baldwin - Race and resilience: climate change and migration in critical perspective

Chris Lawless abstract:

This paper focuses on the status of resilience as a candidate ‘boundary object’ for facilitating communication and interaction on climate change livelihoods between actors possessing differing social standpoints and worldviews. I suggest that resilience possesses two differing properties. While resilience can be regarded as a boundary object, resilience may also come about through the emergence of boundary objects and related entities. In considering various forms of ‘boundary work’, the paper addresses limitations among current literature which have approached climate change issues using boundary studies. A series of structural factors are introduced, namely power, reflexivity, institutions and scale, which make a series of potential variables and themes visible. These can assist in moving boundary studies beyond narrow and localized empirical foci. The framework advanced works toward a resource to facilitate the design of boundary studies of climate change which are more systematic, scalable and comparable. 

Andrew Baldwin abstract:

Resilience is by now a firmly-established theme in debates about climate change. Here, the question of resilience is almost always posed normatively as 'how can resilience be improved to ensure long-term human survival under conditions of climate change.' As such, resilience holds considerable promise for how we might approach an multifaceted phenomenon like climate change. The argument advanced here however is the concept of resilience
inaugurates a new conceptualisation of 'race' and that, as such, we need to remain alert to the way in which new forms of social differentiation and exclusion unfold as a consequence of normative discussions about resilience. The paper theorises race as a term of reference in resilience discourse through the empirical example of climate change and migration discourse.


In the sciences the concept of emergence has recently become a central focus of interest. Originally developed by natural philosophers (Lewes, Broad) in the context of evolutionary theory, it connotes paradoxical ‘downward’ causation in an autopoietic system. So-called resultant effects derive traceably – ‘upwardly’ – from the interaction of the parts of the system, generate a quantitative difference, are by definition predictable. Autopoietic systems by contrast generate emergent effects which manifest themselves quasi-irrationally as something more than the sum of the traceable interaction of the system’s constituent parts. They generate a qualitative difference, are by definition unpredictable. As such, ‘downward’ causation is often claimed to ‘explain’ adaptation and evolution in both organic and social systems (Maturana and Luhmann): the reorganisation and restabilisation of a perturbed system under new terms. Examples are the spontaneous behaviour of flocks of birds and shoals of fish under threat; the saltationist evolution of species (Eldredge and Gould); perhaps also the emergence of consciousness from the brain. 

In the last ten years emergence has also, increasingly, been seen as an explicatory factor in the humanities and social sciences. Emergence has variously been suggested to provide a model for the becoming of the soul in post-Darwinian Christian theology; for explaining the unstable behaviour of stock markets; for describing bewildering epochal shifts in aesthetic style. This project offers a programme of interdisciplinary research which will explore the patterns of emergence in humanities and social sciences, and so, in a scholarly environment dominated by scientism and positivism, make a positive contribution to the two cultures debate. The experience of emergence – something to be explored phenomenologically and in communicative media – is argued to be a contact zone of indeterminacy between human and natural science epistemologies. 

This programme offers a series of lectures and workshops by internationally distinguished colleagues from Durham and abroad, addressing the extent to which the experience of emergence contributes to interdisciplinary expansion of cognitive horizons, inter alia 

  • technical evolution and the emergence of social change
  • aesthetic communication and agency in systems theory
  • the relations of cognitive psychology and literature
  • the emergent experience of wonder and wellbeing
  • the ontology of emergence
  • the emergence and after-effects of social crisis
  • the experience of risk and adventure as catalysing the emergence of new cognitive horizons. 

The project team will explore these issues with the support of IAS Fellow Professor Katherine Hayles (Duke University). The IAS is also supporting a programme of fortnightly inter-departmental seminars and a conference, which will culminate in the publication of an edited volume. 

For more information contact Professor Nicholas Saul ( 

Contact for more information about this event.