Conférence Ecological Nostalgias - 14 and 15 June 2017

  • Title : Ecological Nostalgias : Affect, Memory and Creativity in the Anthropocene
  • Scientific proposal

Nostalgia has a pervasive and manifold expression in contemporary societies, manifesting in such diverse domains as marketing, craftsmanship, art, heritage, politics, agriculture and, indeed, environmental management. Despite a memory boom in the social sciences in the 1980s (Berliner 2005), stressing also the emotionality of memory making (White 2006), nostalgia has only recently come to be seen as a fascinating ethnographic object, shedding new light on important anthropological notions such as time, history and memory, or the politics of identities (Angé and Berliner 2014 ; Bissel 2005 ; Boym 2001 ; Piot 2010). In this vein, it has been conceptualised as a particular stance toward the past in a world that is rapidly changing. Acknowledging that, in the anthropocene, environmental dimensions have become prominent drivers in such changes, this conference sets out to contribute to this emergent body of literature by exploring ethnographies of ecological nostalgia. Our interest embraces an array of yearnings for a vanishing ecological order, triggered by environmental changes that can be gradual or abrupt, dramatic or subtle, wide in scope or locally circumscribed.

The contributions will account for instabilities in the contact zones of mutual dependency between human and other-than-human beings in the environment, including their companion species (Haraway 2007 ; see also Tsing 2012). We welcome papers that delve into memories of past ecological orders by collating collective and personal reminiscences with historical and biological data that would further our understanding of how ecological nostalgias unfold between memory and history, the biological and the social, the cognitive and the sensuous. This entails identifying the biological and social conditions that are prone to trigger longings, as well as the mechanisms of cultural transmission at stake in narratives about a vanishing ecological order. However, importantly, this conference also stresses the affective dimension of nostalgia.

In this vein, we want to explore nostalgias as affective intensities that circulate between bodies (human and non-human) and are thus relational in essence (Gregg and Seigworth 2010 : 1). How are these affects influenced by the mode of vitality (Pitrou 2015) endowed to environmental entities ? To what extent do affects differ in nature or intensity when entities in the environment are imbued with a subjectivity of their own ? Documenting these nostalgic encounters, thus calls for considering different ways of relating to the material world seriously (Stengers 2007). When teasing out the biological and social conditions of longings’ blossoming, and their propagation in nature-culture, one could draw on Sara Ahmed (2010) and ask how once happy entities in the environment are turned into ‘affect aliens’ triggering anxious lamentations. In so doing, we will shed new light on how ecological changes are experienced viscerally and how these sensuous perceptions partake in the creation of environmental knowledge and mnemonic processes in a more general sense.

In line with existing studies on nostalgia, we seek to ethnographically explore the performative dimension of nostalgic encounters in nature-culture. What are the new forms of interspecies sociability triggered by laments for an irretrievable ecological past ? Does nostalgia trigger new spaces in which to “learn to be affected” (Latour 2004) by environmental diversity ? When addressing the creative force of ecological nostalgias, this conference also tackles the political and economic dimensions of these particular longings. What are the economic or political effects of yearning for a past ecological order ? Conversely, to what extent can institutions impinge on individual or collective nostalgia ? Are such longing instrumentalised so as to better achieve economic or political ambitions ? Last but not least, we hope this exploration of the practical dimensions of ecological nostalgias in disparate ethnographic settings will help us to delineate environmental values and moralities as they unfold in the anthropocene.

  • Programme

14 June 2017

15.40 Welcome and introduction by Olivia Angé

16.00-16.40 Keynote by Roy Ellen

16.40-17.20 Keynote by Kirsten Hastrup

17.20-17.40 Comments by Laura Rival

17.40-18.00 Discussion

18.00-19.00 Cocktail

15 June 2017

9.15-9.30 Welcome at ULB

Session 1 (Chair: Perig Pitrou) 9.30-10.00 Nils Bubandt 10.00-10.30 Magnus Course 10.30-11.00 Discussion

Coffee break

Session 2 (Chair: Katie Dow) 11.30-12.00 Casey High 12.00-12.30 Olivia Angé 12.30-13.00 Discussion


Session 3 (Chair: Véronique Joiris) 14.00-14.30 Olga Ulturgasheva 14.30-15.00 Richard Irvine 15.00-15.30 Cymene Howe 15.30-16.00 Discussion

Coffee break

Session 4 (Chair: Sasha Newell) 16.30-17.15 General Discussion. 17.15-17.30 Closing remarks by David Berliner


  • When ?

Wednesday the 14 June 2017 from 15.40 till 19.00 and Thursday the 15 June 2017 from 9.15 am till 17.30

  • Where?

ULB - Campus du Solbosch

Institut de Sociologie (building S)

Room Janne - 15th floor

44 avenue Jeanne - 1050 Bruxelles

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