New Earth Thinking?

Investigations of the Geo across the Social Sciences

Dr Richard Powell
University of Oxford

The Research Idea

A resurgent interest in the geo has emerged as a central concern across human geography, critical international relations and social theory. At the same time, the geosciences are increasingly the focus of significant input of capital and expertise across the world. This has resulted in a suite of important research into the sociopolitical constitution of the geo, or earth, across a number of disciplines. Some of this work has been inspired by work on biopolitics to articulate envisaged energies and materialities of planet Earth. Other work has begun to recover interests in the ‘Geo’ from late nineteenth century geographical, anthropological and political thought, and examined their legacies for modern processes of discipline-formation. This has questioned the political consequences of earth-thinking. Further work has sought to investigate the socio-political provenance of issues such as climate change and the extraction of natural resources, and their imbrication within scientific controversies. Taken together, these competing discourses indicate a moment in which thinking about the Geo is undertaking rapid transformation in ways not seen since, at least, the late nineteenth century. However, for a variety of reasons, these scholarly communities are rarely in dialogue. This proposal is for an intensive, interdisciplinary, residential workshop that will bring together leading figures and emerging voices to interrogate these issues. Attendees have been identified across the relevant disciplines, together with a number of possible alternates. It is envisaged that the workshop will be held in Cambridge in late summer 2016 (although the exact dates will be subject to the availability of all the participants). The workshop will be held under the auspices of ISRF, and will use this to transform conventional thinking about the Geo/Earth across the social sciences. Some of the ideas behind the workshop developed from comments made by a former ISRF fellow (Audra Mitchell) after a presentation by a current ISRF fellow (Powell) at the ISRF Workshop in Edinburgh, June 2015. The proposal is thus ideally suited to the ISRF, as it has developed from conversations inspired by the ISRF.


The group will convene, and spend the initial day in discussion about the format and aims of the workshop. During Day 2, the group will then be allocated time to read all the other participants papers and to prepare comments on each of them. The following two days will involve presentations by each participant, with respondent comments and ample time for discussion of each paper. Following this, there will be further group discussion on Day 5 about emergent themes and ideas. A jointlywritten ‘position paper’ will be drafted by the group during Days 6 and 7 (see below). It is envisaged that the entire event will last around 7 days.


It is envisaged that the discussions at the workshop will lead to a number of outcomes. These will include:

  1. A jointly-written paper by all the participants. This will take the form of a ‘manifesto-style’ argument, and will be drafted during the workshop. This will be offered to one of the main journals in this interdisciplinary field, such as Environment and Planning D: Society and Space or Public Culture, immediately after the end of the event.
  2. A major edited book will be published with a major North American university press with interests in this area, such as Chicago, Princeton or Duke. This will be edited by the PI, and will include contributions from each of the participants. This will involve versions of the papers presented at the original workshop. It is suggested that authors would be given three months from the end of the workshop to finalise their papers.
  3. Further applications for research funding, based on networks and conversations during the workshop will be developed.
  4. Further publications will be inspired by the discussions by all the participants for their respective disciplinary audiences, as well as for major, interdisciplinary venues.
  • Dr Christian Abrahamsson University of Oslo
  • Professor Lucian Ashworth Memorial University of Newfoundland
  • Professor Andrew Barry University College London
  • Dr Kärg Kama University of Oxford
  • Dr Ian Klinke University of Oxford
  • Professor Audra Mitchell Wilfrid Laurier University
  • Professor David Murphy Anderson University
  • Brice Perombelon University of Oxford