Absence. Materiality, embodiment, resistance

I am co-organising a session at the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference, 1-3 September 2010 in London, sponsored by the Social and Cultural Geography Research Group (SCGRG) Update: and the Political Geography Research Group (PolGRG)

Organizers: Lars Frers – University of Oslo, Lars Meier – Institute for Employment Research, Nürnberg and me

Absence. Materiality, embodiment, resistance

What is missing, for whom and why? How does that, which is absent, relate to the things and people that are present? In this session we whish to engage with the intersections of the material and emotional qualities of absence, focussing on the fact that absence is all but a void, manifesting itself in concrete places, people and things; that it is embodied and enacted.

To feel something’s absence, it needs to be part of a temporal pattern, it has to be a part of what is expected; something that used to be present. A factory is shut down, workers gone, and with them the sounds and smells of work. Yet all of these sensual experiences may be evoked by a whiff of a machine’s scent, by a familiar chink or a rusty tool laying around. Exploring the materiality of absence, we want to improve the understanding of how remembrances of things past and people gone are realized in things and people present. Establishing absence may also be part or result of power-related negotiations. As legal residuals of border regulation, irregular migrants are absent in a jurisdiction; off the grid, uncountable and unable to complain if abused or exploited. Yet, their presence is unquestionable. Although being able to exercise that presence may be a long term goal, absence – from conspicuous places, from view and immigration officer’s radars, can be a situational tactic necessary for their survival. However, managing absence, controlling the traces and the materialities that might make the absent present can also be a long-term strategy. Research into climate change can be understood as work trying to overcome the resistance of the material by digging up traces that show that something is there even it may usually be absent.

The absence-presence ambivalence can be worked in various ways; a presence suggesting the absent, the seemingly absent becoming present in flesh and blood, or as a merely suggested, ghostlike presence.

Possible session topics:

  • Remembrances: Emotions, memory and the materiality of absence
  • Contestations of what and who is absent/present
  • Practices and the managing of absence

In the session, we want to discuss different characteristics of absence and their interrelations. To achieve this we will focus on concrete experiences and examples of absence and we welcome presentations that display the sensual and material qualities of absence.

Please submit an abstract of no more than 300 words for a 20 minute presentation (including title, presenter’s name and affiliation) before 31st January 2010 to lars.frers[at]fu-berlin.delarsmx[at]gmx.de and/or erika.sigvardsdotter[at]kultgeog.uu.se

1 Response to “Absence. Materiality, embodiment, resistance”


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