Planetary Social Thought: Spiritual Aeromobility and the Global Phosphorus Crisis

Speaker:  Professor Nigel Clark, Lancaster University

Abstract: Anthropologist Katerina Teaiwa tells of a group of dancers from the tiny Pacific island of Banaba visiting New Zealand in the 1970s who watched an agricultural topdressing plane spreading superphosphate – and realized that this was the body and spirit of their homeland being dispersed.  Is it possible, I ask, to do justice to the indigenous people of phosphate colonies – who literally experienced the end of their world – while also heeding warnings by Earth system scientists about passing over thresholds in the global phosphorus cycle?  This talk draws on work with Bron Szerszynski that involves theorizing social life through a dynamic, multi-state planet. Weaving together Teaiwa’s take on the trans-Pacific mobilization of her people’s ancestral spirit with a reading of the topdressing plane as an other-worlding earth-entity, I offer some possible connections between the diverse ways we inhabit the Earth and the multiplicity inherent in the Earth system itself.  

Bio: Professor Nigel Clark is Chair of Social Sustainability and Human Geography at the Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, UK. He is completing a book (with Bron Szerszynski) entitled Planetary Social Thought (Polity). He is the author of Inhuman Nature: Sociable Life on a Dynamic Planet (2011) and co-editor of Atlas: Geography, Architecture and Change in an Interdependent World (2012), Material Geographies (2008) and Extending Hospitality (2009).  He has edited (with Kathryn Yusoff) the special issue of Theory, Culture & Society on `Geosocial Formations and the Anthropocene’ (2017).  Current research interests include pyrotechnology, planetary capitalism, the politics of strata, and speculative geophysical thought around the idea of the Anthropocene.