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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Sustaining Humanness: Affirmative Critique

24th June 2009, 10:00 to 17:00, Derman Christopherson Room, Room 407, Calman Learning Centre,

This is the third workshop of a series of Abjection, Bare Life and Dehumanisation workshops.

Organised by Dr Ben Anderson and Professor Andrea Noble

Co-sponsored by: Institute of Advanced Study (Durham University) and the Social/Spatial Theory Research cluster (Department of Geography).

Keynote Presentations: Professor William Connolly (John Hopkins University) and Professor Jane Bennett (John Hopkins University)

Over the last few years, the extant habits of critical thought have been extensively questioned, contested and reworked by a number of critical, left-orientated, radical thinkers (Gibson-Graham 2006). Sharing a wager that more is needed than moralistic judgment to motivate action, together with a diagnosis of the politically dehabilitating effects of certain forms of critique, a range of work has experimented with techniques, sensibilities, and concepts that aim to care for and create better futures. Critique becomes affirmative - no longer an exercise in debunking or fault finding, in which the critic is separate from the process judged, but a means of cultivating ‘turning points' through which new possibilities or potentialities may be witnessed, invented, and acted on (here we remember the use of the term ‘critical' in medicine to designate a point of danger, a suspension between life and death). These experiments are too various to name here, but they include work on the layering of affect into thinking and attempts to cultivate affects such as enchantment, generosity, care and hope (Bennett 2001; Connolly 2002); reparative ways of being political that queer the paranoid structures of ‘strong theory' (Sedgwick 2003); and a sensitivity to a politics of possibility in relation to diverse economic practices (Gibson-Graham 2006). All share a wager that more is needed than a practice of judgement based on separation and exposure, a commitment to a restless experimentation with other techniques of thinking and acting, and a reorientation of the direction of critical knowledge toward surprising futures. As such, they connect up with a revival of interest across the social sciences in immanent or iconoclastic forms of utopianism that aim to imagine and enact better futures, without reducing the future to a calculable blueprint of a perfect society or polis (Anderson 2006; Kraftl 2007).