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Technological Natures: Materialities, mobilities, politics

Research in the Technological Natures research cluster is developing new understandings of society, politics and publics through examining how nominally ‘natural’ processes and events come to be articulated through the matter and meaning of collective life. Among the central questions to which we are pursuing answers include: how do the material properties of physical processes and events (e.g. floods, resource exploration, and atmospheric change) participate in the fabrication of distinctive kinds of publics and politics? What roles do non-human things (e.g. animals, devices, objects) play in shaping and transforming collective life? And how do bodily and affective processes participate in the emergence of shared matters of political and ethical concern?

In pursuing answers to such urgent questions, our work is distinguished by a two-fold commitment to: (a) developing novel conceptual resources, grounded in empirical research, for understanding the practices, devices, and techniques through which the natures of the worlds we inhabit are technologically articulated and; (b) contributing substantively to the re-imagining of politics, publics, and policies adequate to the complexity of these articulations. These commitments are informed by a distinctive disciplinary perspective – geography – which has long sought to unsettle any neat distinction between the natural and the technological. At the same time, the cluster also draws together staff expertise in anthropology, philosophy, and science and technology studies in order to pursue forms of inventive ethnographic research that employ rigorous experiment as a way of composing new sites of collaboration and participation.

The research activities of the cluster are grouped around three interlinked matters of conceptual and empirical concern:

Materialities: Our work here centres on how the ‘matter’ of different spaces of collective life is imagined, fabricated, and transformed. Underpinned by a shared commitment to rethink materialities in terms of process, relations, and events, research here focuses on how material flows connect the spaces of bodies with matters of environmental concern; on the forms of political and public space generated by controversies about the provenance, ownership, and behaviour of materials; and on the technologies and techniques through which materials are rendered explicit and governable as resources.
Mobilities: Our work here centres on understanding how the organization and experience of movement and mobility shape contemporary lived worlds. Notably, the cluster embraces the Transport Studies Unit, the work of which investigates how geographies of mobility take shape through assemblages of technologies, practices, and institutions. Equally, cluster members are making important contributions to understandings of the affective and experiential spaces generated by the creative movement of bodies at a range of sites.
Politics: Our work here centres on reformulating political spaces based upon a radical reframing of who and what counts as a participant in the shaping of political life. Research in this area focuses on the politics of technology and knowledge controversies; on rethinking sites and spaces of decision-making as matters of individual and governmental concern; and on the creative politics of technologies of lived abstraction that can be traced through practices as diverse as cartography, choreography, and flood modelling.

The development of these agendas is informed by recent and on-going fieldwork by cluster members in a number of geographical areas and regions, including China, the Arctic, the Caucasus, South Asia, South America, and Western Europe and the UK. In addition, the agendas and ethos of the cluster have been enhanced through the development of connections with researchers and scholars of international significance across the natural and social sciences, the humanities, and the performing arts.

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