The Politics of Matter and the Matter of Politics


Kristina Lyons

Wednesday 3:30-6:30 PM

Occupy protestors in the U.S. argued that “Nature is the 99%”; the U.S.-Colombia War on Drugs combats la mata que mata [the plant that kills]; anti-mining protestors block extraction on the basis that mountains have the right to live; New Zealand legislation grants a river “legal personality.”

“That’s the stuff of politics” is a commonly heard phrase that often denotes nothing more than the shady dealings between elected officials, overheated rhetoric, party affiliations, and the negotiations of power between human actors that we may imagine constitutes political life in representational liberal democracies. However, this course follows the proposal to take the “stuff” of politics seriously (Braun and Whatmore 2010) – not as a shorthand phrase for political activity, but to consider instead the constitutive nature of material elements and nonhuman processes and beings in social and political life.  In other words, the way that things of every imaginable kind – what we may be accustomed to thinking of as objects, matter, nature, technology, and bodies – help constitute the dense fabric of relations comprising the worlds in which we live. This course asks: What happens to environmental politics – indeed to the political as a category – if we begin to take this matter seriously? How do notions like political ecology and political economy change when we consider nonhumans as constitutive of how we come to define and practice the political itself? What happens to our understandings of the ‘human’, and diverse struggles over rights, racism, and social justice if we question a modern divide between ‘nature’ and ‘culture’?

Spring 2019