POLLEN22 CfP: Natures out of place? Spaces, ecologies and materialities of the ‘Weird’


The Fourth Biennial Conference of the Political Ecology Network
28‐30 June 2022
Durban, South Africa


Session conveners:
Amber Huff (Institute for Development Studies, University of Sussex)
Adrian Nel (Discipline of Geography, University of Kwazulu‐Natal)


Bringing political ecology’s long‐standing concerns with the politics of human‐nature relations into dialogue
with insights from cultural and critical geography, cultural anthropology, the environmental humanities,
geocriticism and genre fiction, this session responds to calls for a departure from primarily reactive analysis
and critique, to develop new, experimental, proactive, playful and speculative approaches in political ecology
(Harris, 2021; Braun, 2015). We ask: what is the potential of ‘the Weird’ and adjacent notions like the eerie,
the uncanny, and the haunted (VanderMeer and VanderMeer, 2011; Fisher, 2016; Fisher, 2012) for
developing grounded and radically ‘alternative epistemic entryways’ that can help us assess, historicize,
recast and subvert dominant framings and ‘anthropocene’ politics of ecology, crisis, control and enclosure
(Hosbey and Roane, 2021), whilst at the same time working for more convivial relations and abundant
futures (Büscher and Fletcher, 2019; DeVore et al., 2019; Collard et al., 2015)?


Background to the session


Colonialism, imperialism, globalization and neoliberalism have reworked socio‐natural relationships in ways
that disrupt and transform material landscapes and warp the ways that people sense and experience them.
For example, Braun et al. (2015) describe the Bakken Oil Fields of North Dakota as a place, ‘where surface
and depth, past and present, inside and outside, are folded together, producing new subjectivities, new
economies, new natures’. Tsing (2015) describes such ‘global landscapes’ as eerie, strewn with the ruins left
behind by extraction, haunted not only by the ghosts of alienated human and non‐human people and
natures, but also forms of power and imagined futures, ‘dreamworlds of progress’ (Tsing et al., 2017: 2).

At the same time, the rise of the world‐flattening discourses of the anthropocene and the ‘post‐natural
environmentalism’ of the planetary set, ‘crisis’ (or at least the ‘crisis’ that matters) seems to have become
disembedded from experience, from its material and social situations, origins and contradictions (Collard et
al., 2015). This process of abstraction does the work to extend and entrench a perceptual boundary between
society and a separate, passive and external nature, rendered virtually unlocatable by high technology, that
either becomes a backdrop to human activity and desire or as dominion to be endlessly parsed, produced
and priced (Sullivan, 2010; Woelfle‐Erskine and Cole, 2015). Disrupting accustomed ways of perceiving time,
space, boundary and scale, this creates perceptual slippages between the concrete and the virtual (Huff,
2021); the actor, the action and the acted‐upon (Ulstein, 2019); certainty and the unknowable. In short, ‘the
world has become weird’ (Tabas, 2015: 16).


In visual art, film and fiction, ‘The Weird’ is distinguished by an uncanny aesthetic, a sensation of
disorientation or imminence that passes from the subject (often a first‐person narrator or storyteller) to the
reader, and that hinges on the experience of two or more different worlds – in an ontological sense – existing
in superposition or becoming entangled in the same or contiguous space. These worlds are often traversed
via some indistinct portal, gateway or breach, revealed through a process of research, subtle noticing or
unveiling (Fisher, 2016; Regan, 2020). The Weird doesn’t stand alone as a genre, but works through slippage
into, most often, adjacent genres of fantasy, horror and science fiction. In the so‐called ‘weird tale’, the
monsters and aliens are not from another planet: they are invaders from another reality system, experienced
through encounters that unsettle ordinary perceptions of time, space, ecology, causality, or agency (Fisher,
2016). This is exemplified in works like Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Jeff VanderMeer’s
Southern Reach Trilogy and Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy, but likewise stories from oral and written
traditions from around the world explore weird, uncanny and realms existing in or alongside our everyday
perceptions.

Materialities of the Weird are transgressive, often expressed in imaginative ecologies and biologies that
challenge binary thinking and biological essentialisms, and which play on and with scientific taxonomies and
commonsense ‘differences’ or boundaries between biological taxa, states of matter, human and ‘other’, the
‘here’, there and elsewhere, and between the anthropogenic and the ‘natural’ (Fisher, 2016; Regan, 2020).
The effect of this is to de‐center the subject and unsettle modes of perception by which one would normally
distinguish between the ‘human’ world and non‐human nature; the earthly and the other, the ‘real’ and the
hallucinatory.


Resonant with and certainly influential to Haraway’s conceptualization of ‘tentacular thinking’, the Weird
exemplifies a way of thinking and telling that abolishes the ‘rational’ and makes ‘…human exceptionalism
and bounded individualism, those old saws of Western philosophy and political economics, become
unthinkable,’ opening space for both deep critique and an expanded sense of what the material cosmos
might contain (Haraway 2016: 30; Fischer, 2018: 2; VanderMeer and VanderMeer, 2011: 29). encountering
the Weird can be horrific, a source of fear and avoidance. But it can also be a source of re‐enchantment,
fascination or of giving‐over and embracing the inevitability of transformation in a changed and changing
world. As Jeff and Ann VanderMeer (2011) contend, with the ‘abolition of the rational, can also come the
strangely beautiful’.


Call for papers

We invite papers and presentations that explore and develop these themes as they intersect with traditional
and emerging concerns in political and other ecologies that are sensitive to history, relationality and power.
We welcome proposals for contributions based on empirical studies, explorations and encounters in and of
the ‘weird’ spaces, ecologies, materialities and intimacies of the lived ‘anthropocene’, from Global South,
North and ‘beyond’. We are also open to methodological contributions that explore affective and embodied
practices of learning and telling about, from and with ‘weird ecologies’. What pathways, alternatives and
possible futures become visible if we ‘Weird’ the way we see and talk about crises and struggles for possible
futures?


If you want to present a paper in our session, please send your abstract in a Word attachment to
A.Huff@ids.ac.uk and Nela@ukzn.ac.za no later than December 5th, 2021. The abstract should be max 250
words (excluding title and author info) and should include affiliation (if applicable) and contact information
for all co‐authors. We will submit our final proposal for a paper session, including selected presentations, via
the POLLEN portal on December 10, 2021.

References

Braun B (2015) From critique to experiment? Rethinking political ecology for the Anthropocene. The
Routledge handbook of political ecology. Routledge, pp.124‐136.

Braun B, Coleman M, Thomas M, et al. (2015) Grounding the Anthropocene: sites, subjects, struggles in the
Bakken oil fields. Reportno. Report Number|, Date. Place Published|: Institution|.

Büscher B and Fletcher R (2019) Towards convivial conservation. Conservation & Society 17(3): 283‐296.

Collard R‐C, Dempsey J and Sundberg J (2015) A manifesto for abundant futures. Annals of the Association of
American Geographers 105(2): 322‐330.

DeVore J, Hirsch E and Paulson S (2019) Conserving human and other nature: A curious case of convivial
conservation from Brazil. Anthropologie et Sociétés 43(1): np.

Fisher M (2012) What is hauntology? Film Quarterly 66(1): 16‐24.

Fisher M (2016) The weird and the eerie. London: Repeater Books.

Fredriksen A (2021) Haunting, ruination and encounter in the ordinary Anthropocene: storying the return
Florida’s wild flamingos. Cultural Geographies. 14744740211003650.

Harris DM (2021) Storying climate knowledge: Notes on experimental political ecology. Geoforum 126: 331-339.

Hosbey J and Roane JT (2021) Black Ecologies Initiative. https://ihr.asu.edu/initiatives/black‐ecologies
(accessed 20 October).

Huff A (2021) Frictitious commodities: Virtuality, virtue and value in the carbon economy of repair.
Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space. 25148486211015056.Regan M (2020) Strange trees:
the aesthetics of ecology in Weird Fiction. In: Matthiasregan.org: Poetics, politics, popular culture.
Available at: https://matthiasregan.org/tag/weird‐ecology/.

Sullivan S (2010) ‘Ecosystem Service Commodities’‐a new imperial ecology? Implications for animist
immanent ecologies, with Deleuze and Guattari. New Formations 69(69): 111‐128.

Tabas B (2015) Dark places: Ecology, place, and the metaphysics of horror fiction. Miranda. Revue
pluridisciplinaire du monde anglophone/Multidisciplinary peer‐reviewed journal on the English‐
speaking world.(11).

Tsing AL (2015) The mushroom at the end of the world: on the possibility of life in capitalist ruins. Princeton
University Press.

Tsing AL, Bubandt N, Gan E, et al. (2017) Arts of living on a damaged planet: Ghosts and monsters of the
Anthropocene. U of Minnesota Press.

Ulstein G (2019) ‘Age of Lovecraft’?—Anthropocene Monsters in (New) Weird Narrative. NORDLIT‐Tidsskrift
i litteratur og kultur 42.

VanderMeer A and VanderMeer J (2011) The weird: A compendium of strange and dark stories. Tor Books.

Woelfle‐Erskine C and Cole J (2015) Transfiguring the Anthropocene: Stochastic reimaginings of human‐
beaver worlds. Transgender Studies Quarterly 2(2): 297‐316.

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