ASA11:Vital powers and politics: human interactions with living things

13th-16th September 2011, Prifysgol Cymru y Drindod Dewi Sant / University of Wales Trinity Saint David


It’s our world too! The title of a World Wildlife Fund book of cartoons located humour in the attribution of human peculiarities to non-human animals in order to decentre human perspectives on the occupation of habitats. The aim of this conference is to invite contributors to consider human interactions with other living things from a perspective that does not always put human beings in centre stage. Anthropologists have, from the outset, placed human subsistence and how such living-in-the-world cuts across language, classifications, cognition, knowledge and other phenomena at the core of the discipline. They have produced sophisticated strategies for examining ecologies and biopolitics in ways which interact with other disciplines in the sciences and humanities, including that of Philosophy. Philosophers have addressed the concept of biopower and the Aristotelian notion of the role of a political existence as a characteristically human form of existence that is qualitatively different from that of other living beings.  At this early stage in what has been called the new ‘biological century’, this conference will provide an opportunity to consider anthropological and philosophical frameworks for examining recursive relationships between living organisms in their social and cultural contexts and processes. In particular we ask contributors to consider the constraints or resistances encountered when human beings attempt to dominate other living things and to explore possibilities for other forms of relationship of human beings to non-human kinds. The scope of this conference is designed, inter alia, to encompass human interaction with non-human animals and humans with other domains such as plants and fungi, as well as including forms of interactions such as organ transplantation. The concept of investigating the interactivities of living entities from an anthropological perspective also provides scope for studying processes of growth, life cycles, entropy and death. The challenge is to address the new biopolitical economies of vitality (or morbidity and death) that bring human and non-human species together in changing configurations of collectivities.