Heather Davis - Plastic Geologies: The Problem of Universality

Thursday 9 June

10:00 - 12:00

NIBIO Svanhovd

The Canadian researcher and writer Heather Davis kicks off the third Journey with a lecture on plastic geologies. She researches the ethology of plastics and its links to petrocapitalism, and in this lecture will address the notion that plastic constitutes a new geological layer. She will discuss how the reproducibility of plastic belies ecology, and turns to indigenous knowledge for its ethics of reciprocal and radical relationality that is not limited to humans. Abstract Using the figure of the plastiglomerate – a new form of rock that is made from melted plastic, which adheres to other debris – I address the question of plastic’s archives and how it is constituting a new geological layer. Scientists are currently considering the accumulation of plastic as a potential ‘golden spike’ for the Anthropocene. Plastic is an especially useful indicator, as almost all the plastic that has ever been created since 1907 is still somewhere on the planet. Thus there is a clear division, in the geologic record, between the dates before plastic and after plastic. Situated within broader conversations on the Anthropocene, plastic’s indelible geochemical footprint poses the problem of the universal. In other words, there is no local to plastic. When we point out the synthetic or ‘artificial’ nature of something, what we are pointing to is the way in which that thing develops, emerges or is created irrespective of its surrounding environment. Plastic is not of this Earth in the sense that specific sites on the Earth carry traces, memories of the creatures and the activities that have taken place on them. By drawing upon indigenous relational ethics and epistemologies, I argue that the reproducibility of plastic belies the ecological orientation of the Earth. I argue that this problem of the universal, one that is taken up in the proposed time of the Anthropocene, is the very logic of petrocapitalism, and insist instead upon a re-evaluation of the terms of containment, subject and object in light of feminist and indigenous knowledge. I turn to indigenous knowledge in particular because of the insistence upon an ethics of reciprocal and radical relationality that is not limited to humans, but extends to plants, animals and the land.

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