RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2012

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103 Geography and Post-Phenomenology
Affiliation History and Philosophy of Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) James Ash (Northumbria University, UK)
Paul Simpson (Plymouth University, UK)
Chair(s) Paul Simpson (Plymouth University, UK)
Timetable Wednesday 04 July 2012, Session 1 (09:00 - 10:40)
Room Appleton Tower - Room 2.14
Session abstract Geographers for some time now have been interested in phenomenology – the school of thought which, described most simply, can be defined as an approach which “tries to give a direct description of our experience as it is, without taking account of its psychological origin and the causal explanations which the scientist, the historian or the sociologist may be able to provide” (Merleau-Ponty 2002: vii). Most evidently, this interest could be seen in the humanistic geographies of the 1970s and early 80s. However, recently there has been something of a (re)turn to phenomenology in geography under the development of what has been called a ‘post-phenomenology’. As the title suggests, there is something distinct about this emerging engagement with phenomenology. This distinction comes in that this work has re-read phenomenological texts and ideas, often through the lens of post-structural writers such as Deleuze, Derrida and Levinas, and, in so doing, has aimed to “extend the boundaries of the phenomenological focus upon the experiencing subject” (Lea 2009). As such, this engagement with phenomenology has been less embracing of phenomenological ideas than the previous engagements mentioned above, but also, more specifically, there has been a move away from the assumption of a subject which exists prior to experience towards an examination of the ways in which the subject comes to be in or through experience. While humanist geographies were interested in the experiencing subject and how felt experience is both constitutive of, and constituted by, place (Lea 2009), now post-phenomenological geographies are interested in the trans-human and thus the decentring of the experiencing subject. This re-figures experience in terms of an experiencing ‘with’ the world rather than an experiencing ‘of’ the world (Wylie 2006).

This session aim to bring together geographers interested in such critical engagements with phenomenology so as to consolidate this developing area and set agendas for its future development and pursuit.
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2012@rgs.org
Geography and Post-phenomenology
James Ash (Northumbria University, UK)
Paul Simpson (Plymouth University, UK)
By way of an introduction to the session’s papers we will outline a series of key concerns present in geography’s recent (re)engagement with phenomenological ideas. In particular, and speaking to the concerns of the papers that follow, we will critically discuss understandings of subjectivity, intersubjectivity, embodiment, experience, materiality, and relationality that are of significance to post-phenomenological investigation. In doing so, the paper will suggest agendas for the further development of a post-phenomenological geography.
De-centred phenomenology and contemporary geographies
David Crouch (University of Derby, UK)
Post-phenomenology and post-phenomenological geographies may over-suggest the irrelevance or erasure of phenomenology. In this paper I consider instead the re-working of phenomenological thinking in geography in ways that it is no longer privileged but engaged in a broader understanding of embodied practice, performativity in a relational way with space, materialities and the wider character of the ‘other-than-human’. The argument is engaged in particular through Deleuze’s work on space and spacing: contingency, relationality and in the consideration of time as spacetimes. The idea of contexts is critically examined in terms of the fluidity of contexts and how the phenomenology of embodied practice and performativities become contexts. The potential for creativity in the merging character of the components of performativity and phenomenological encounter is considered.
Self-reference and structural coupling: New phenomenological thinking in social theory (and geography)
Roland Lippuner (University of Jena, Germany)
Traditional phenomenology is undoubtedly one of the most influential strands of thought in social theory: Phenomenology in the line of Husserl and Schutz has inspired social constructionist approaches like the “sociology of knowledge” of Berger/Luckmann (1966) or ethnomethodology (Goffman, Garfinkel, Sacks); critical engagement with the works of Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and Sartre provides the basis for the development of theories of practice (Bourdieu, Schatzki). There has been much discussion about the phenomenological foundation of these approaches (see already Giddens 1976). A less known but also very close relation between phenomenology and social theory can be found in Luhmann’s theory of social systems – an approach for which geographers (in the German debate) recently have show increasing interest (see for example Goeke 2007, Lippuner 2007 and 2010, Redepenning 2006, Pott 2007).

Following Husserl who argued that consciousness (Bewusstsein) is the result of a reflexive recognition of ongoing cognitive operations and therefore needs a self-referential organisation of the operational process of cognition, Luhmann argues that social systems too are self-referentially organised. Like Husserl, Luhmann highlights the selectivity of self-referential operations but replaces the dualistic scheme of subject and world by the idea of a differentiation of different types of systems (social, psychic, neurological and organic systems). Each system has to be thought of as a recursive network of specific operations. Social systems consist of communications that draw on previous communications and lead to further communications. Like psychic systems (consciousness in phenomenological terms), they have to be regarded as operationally closed. Operationally closed systems only reproduce their specific type of operations and cannot proceed with operations of other systems. Therefore, operationally closed systems are independent insofar as they, at every moment of their reproduction, proceed with operations according to their “own logic”; they are, however, totally dependent on their environment and on contributions from other systems in their environment because of their operational closure: communication, for example, presupposes, among other things, perception and functioning organic systems; but social systems can not perceive or reproduce organic functions – cognitive and organic functions must be provided by other systems.

Systems theory conceptualises this existential dependency of operationally autonomous systems as a structural coupling – a notion from evolutionary Biology (Maturana) that describes how (organic) systems cope with structures of their environment if they do not maintain operational contact with their environment (and therefore cannot exchange operations with other systems). It is from this viewpoint, that we can ask anew and more precisely about the emergence of communication (interactions, organisations, networks and societies), considering its Eigenlogik (autonomy) as well as the adaptation to the environment (dependency). While the focus of Luhmann’s work at this point is on the coupling between social systems and psychic systems (i.e. on the coupling of communication and consciousness/knowledge through language), I would like to extend it on the role of (the design of) material objects, the senses (voice and speech rather than language), bodily techniques and technology (the infrastructure of communication). Broadening the perspective of systems theory in such a way leads to questions that are currently discussed in the field of “new phenomenology” as modes of bodily and aesthetic experience (see for example Waldenfels 2009 and 2010): How do material objects and individual experiences affect the reproduction of communication? How exactly can adaptation to material conditions be conceptualised under the assumption of structural couplings? The focus of RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2012 Geography and Post-phenomenology these considerations from a systems theory perspective lies not on the experiencing (human) subject, but on (material) objects and their capability to attract cognitive attention. It also means to ask how environmental structures shape the course of communication and how they irritate the self-referential reproduction of social systems.

In my paper, I argue that systems theory after Luhmann basically is a specific form of “new phenomenology”. I therefore want to show, in a first step, how systems theory draws on assumptions of traditional phenomenology (Husserl) to build up a conceptional framework for dealing with “the social” as a recursive network of communication. It should be clarified, how the dualistic model of subject and world is replaced by a differentiation of self-referential, autopoietic systems. In a second step, I want to elaborate on specific examples how this theory conceptualises the “being in the world” of such systems. This is particularly interesting for a geography that explicitly asks “What is the social?” – a question that implicitly lies at the heart of all analysis of the relations between society and environment.
Ecosophy, Space and Corporeity: The Emergent Subject in Bateson and Guattari
Robert Shaw (Durham University, UK)
The relationship between the work of Gregory Bateson and Felix Guattari – in both Guattari’s single authored work and his collaborations with Giles Deleuze – has gone underexplored, despite the multitude of terms and concepts that migrate from Bateson to Guattari: the double bind, the ecosophical, plateaus of intensity and the rhizome being amongst them. In particular, I argue that to understand the subject in Guattari, that is, the emergent subject who is a ‘terminal point’ for a multiplicity of vectors of subjectification, we need to understand the epistemology of the self that Bateson develops in his work. Furthermore, I argue that the contribution that Bateson’s work brings to the subject in Guattari is to make it geographical, by emphasising the ways in which self emerges from the spatial relations between multiple objects. Together, Bateson and Guattari provide one of the strongest arguments for geographically constituted subjectivity, which itself is a key aspect of the ‘post-‘ in post-phenomenology.

In this paper, then, I will begin by exploring Bateson’s arguments against the ‘pathological epistemology’ which results in the identification of the subject as residing solely in the bounded body. I will then move to look at the work of Guattari through this understanding of Bateson’s geographical subject, with a particular focus on Guattari’s lecture Space and Corporeity. Here, Guattari’s comments on the particular spatiality of the urban subject will be considered, with thought turning towards the extent to which (urban) geography has met the challenge which Guattari sets of exploring how subjects emerge from the ever-more complex geographies of the contemporary city.
Sensuous Materialism: Exploring the Sensory Experience of Things from and of a Battlefield Past
J.J. Zhang (Durham University)
This paper seeks to destabilise the often perceived banality of the material world around us, while at the same time decentre the human as experiencing subject. More specifically, it tells stories about the post-war material culture of a former military outpost in Taiwan. These stories look at touristic things from and of Kinmen’s battlefield past and explore how, through affective communication, they interact with the senses and shape people’s consciousness of cross-strait relations. Issues to be explored include the reincarnation of defunct military tunnels and expended artillery shells, and the creative inventions of battlefield-themed food and beverages. As such, the paper endeavours to discuss the liveliness of these touristic things as they interact with local people and tourists – through the visual, olfactory, tactile, auditory and gustatory senses – in order to elicit the nuances of what I call a critical sensuous materialism. Discussions show that far from dead or non-living, these things are full of life and energy in their ability to animate the object-human relationship, and “perform actions, produce effects, and alter situations” (Bennett, 2004: 355). It is hoped that forays into the making, buying and giving of touristic things and how their commemorative materialities interact with and shape people’s consciousness of past histories, present happenings and future dreams can help us gain a more nuanced understanding of the coping strategies of a post-conflict society.