RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2013

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302 Ambiance and Atmospheres: Encountering New Material Frontiers (2)
Affiliation History and Philosophy of Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) Paul Simpson (Keele University, UK)
Peter Adey (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Damien Masson (Cergy Pontoise University, France)
Chair(s) Peter Adey (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Timetable Friday 30 August 2013, Session 3 (14:40 - 16:20)
Room Skempton Building, Lecture Theatre 164
Session abstract Recent work on affect in Anglophone human geography has opened up new material frontiers by theorizing affective atmospheres (Anderson 2009; Bissell 2010; McCormack 2008). In such work we see an adjustment of thinking towards and around the relations between bodies and their environment by considering the ways in which bodies are situated within diffuse, distributed, sensible, and potentially turbulent 'volumes' (Sloterdijk 2011). Such an emphasis on the atmospheric, taken in both its meteorological and felt/affective sense, is in many ways tied to an expanded conception of materiality that draws attention to “the vibrant, constitutive, aleatory, and even immaterial indices” of materiality and materialization (Coole and Frost 2010: 14; Bennett 2010).

However, Anglophone human geographers have not been alone in thinking through these sorts of tensions or in exploring these frontier zones of indeterminacy. Emerging largely independently from this work, Francophone scholars have developed an established body of work considering ‘ambiances’ as the milieu of social life (Augoyard 1995; Masson 2009; Tixier 2001; Thibaud 2003). Having emerged in the fields of Architecture and Urban Studies over the past 50 years, work here has sought to understand the relations of perception in compositions between individuals, collectives, and their environments, and the co-production of a pervasive and immediate felt sense of space that can emerge from this.
In these sessions we seek to bring together scholars interested in both affective atmospheres and ambiances in further thinking through the frontiers these conceptualisation both together and apart open up for geographic research. Papers will be conceptual, methodological, empirical, performative, or any combination of these.
Linked Sessions Ambiance and Atmospheres: Encountering New Material Frontiers (1)
Ambiance and Atmospheres: Encountering New Material Frontiers (3)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2013@rgs.org
Material events: art, activism and spatialities of affect
Michael Buser (University of the West of England, UK)
This paper employs the concept of affective atmospheres (Anderson 2009) as a framework for examining the intersection of arts practice, activism and contested space. The work situates atmospheres in Deleuze and Guattari’s (1987) notion of ‘becoming’ interpreted here as ‘the actualization of the immanent encounter between subjects, entities and forces which are apt mutually to affect and exchange parts of each other in a creative and non-invidious manner’ (Braidotti, 2002: 68).

The research draws upon an action research project which explored human-material relations in a contested urban setting. In this effort, an arts intervention was used to challenge dominant notions of place identity in a so-called ‘derelict’ urban public space (the ‘bearpit’ in Stokes Croft, Bristol) and to draw out alternative ways of thinking through place meaning (e.g., as opposed to identity).

The paper will speak directly to the ‘politics of designing and (re)shaping atmospheres’, outlining our methods for community dialogue, inter-disciplinary collaboration and site intervention. It will further reflect on the ways in which new materialist perspectives – particularly the use of arts and performance (Barrett & Bolt, 2013) and diffractive methodologies (Hultman & Taguchi 2010) – can challenge habitual and anthropocentric ways of seeing and shift understandings of the production of knowledge away from representationalism.
Atmospheric Things
Derek McCormack (University of Oxford, UK)
How might we think through the tension between process and presence as part of the elaboration of an atmospheric sensibility? And how might attention to the qualities of discrete entities allow us to grasp the processes through which atmospheres are generated? The present paper addresses these questions by attending to the properties and capacities of atmospheric things. Atmospheric things are shaped forms appearing as discrete presences that also draw attention to the fields of affective and material relations in which they are generatively immersed. The balloon is an exemplary atmospheric thing, defined as it is by certain properties and capacities while always being enveloped in a turbulent “cloud of solicitations that we’d have to call meteorological” (Serres, 2009: 299). This paper deploys the balloon as both a lure and device though which to consider how atmospheres are actively generated through the presence of things. More specifically, the paper draws together circumstantial balloon stories from three contexts – political events, consumer publics, and aesthetic experiments – in order to speculate about how things participate in the generation of voluminous atmospheric spaces.
Motion capture, movement and apprehending atmospheres
James Ingham (University of Central Lancashire, UK)
Nigel Simpkins (University of Central Lancashire, UK)
Architects and geographers have developed and employed techniques to design and control a landscape which are inherently visual and fixed (Ingham, Clarke. Purvis 1999). There has been consideration of alternative ways of trying to feel, comprehend, consider and study the lived world and at the same time accepting that such approaches and techniques are always problematic. This paper develops such an approach which utilises the technology of motion capture, a technology that is capable of capturing very precise movement in three-dimensional space and is used in a wide range of applications from medical gait analysis to capturing “realistic” human movement for the latest videogames. We have used motion capture to consider and critique the places that we inhabit, highlighting indeterminancy and the fluid relationship of bodies to their environment (Simpkins, 2012). Working with dancers and musicians a performance has been created that allows a consideration and critique of the generation of ambiance. Such an approach provides insights/insounds for architects, interior designers and geographers, allowing them to move from a fixed form consideration of space to a fluid ever-changing apprehension of an emerging atmosphere.
Atmospheres of progress in a data-based school
Matt Finn (Durham University)
This paper reports on the early analysis from a study on education, data and futurity exploring the place of data in contemporary schooling in the UK. Emerging is an account of one of the ways that the future is anticipated and colonised in the data-based school: through the creating, sustaining, contesting and frustration of atmospheres of progress.
I will explore the ways in which actors in the school seek to produce the felt sense of the school as a place of continuous improvement and the fragility – indeed the ambiguity – of these senses where they appear to be partially achieved. It will explore the implications of the attempts by both staff and pupils to control, design, and (re)shape atmospheres in relational-material assemblages in which the production of and contestation around data is critical. Yet this interpersonal sensibility is not set apart from the material elements of the school (as if immaterial), or the lived experiences and socio-economic histories of those persons (as if ahistorical).
This paper seeks to contribute to the session by outlining empirical work which speaks to the methodological difficulties in researching atmospheres and which considers the ways in which an atmosphere becomes sensible as something that could be acted upon in order to realise certain visions of the future.
Towards an ‘ambiance-grounded’ critique?
Damien Masson (Cergy Pontoise University, France)
Rachel Thomas (CNRS, France)
Cities and urban spaces are planned, built and managed through evolving ideologies, which are more or less explicit, borne or applied though. Relationships between these ideologies and their direct and observable effects on city form (e.g. hygienism and street openings), as well as on their policy (e.g. Anti-Social Behaviour Act), can easily be drawn. But what could we say when it comes to the unclear, subtle, atmospherical or ambient? What relationship between urban ideologies and places ambiances can we draw? Said differently, what does it mean to speak about: an atmosphere of security, of appeasement, of wanted segregation (e.g. gated communities) etc., and how can we, theoretically and methodologically, do that?

Before finding answers to such problems, what is meant here by ‘ambiance’?. The Architectural and Urban Ambiances ‘paradigm’ as it has been developed at Cresson laboratory (Augoyard, 1995, 2004; Amphoux, 1998; Amphoux, Chelkoff, Thibaud, 2004)
over the three last decades give mostly sense to the notion of ambiance through ambiances phenomena, which are defined to appear and evolve at the crossing of the built, sensuous and social spaces. Nevertheless, such a phenomenological approach leaves no room to ‘dimensions’ that may have an effect on ambiances without being effectively materialized here and now, such as: culture, identity, historicity, politics etc.

Based on in situ enquiries on 1)‘urban pacification’ in Brazil within the context of the preparation of the Olympic Games, and 2)’surveillance(s)’ in international train stations in England and France, this paper intends to propose leads helping to ground a critique of contemporary urban space and ideologies upon ambiance. Indeed, while trying to put into question the sensory effects of some contemporary moral urban ideologies, it finally appears necessary to find ways of going beyond the boundaries of the architectural and urban ambiances paradigm we use. To sum, opening new passages between disciplines, and notably with the recent theorization of affective atmospheres in Anglophone Human Geography, seems more than needed while trying to think ambiance and politics at the same time.