Notes: Affective Ecologies

Affective Ecologies

I thought I might start off with some questions that might spark some conversations. These are some provocations that I was left with after the talks:


1. Taking from Michelle’s opening provocation: what are our romantic attachments to these two concepts and what kind of work do we want them to do?


2. How do we conceive of human/non-human relationships otherwise than in a functionalist mode (neo-darwinian species survival)? In what ways can we hold on to functionalism? What does this ‘thinking the non-human otherwise’ mean for affect?


3. Martina’s talk offered a form/method that performed affect. In what ways could a move away from the functionalist academic form affect our own work praxis?




Michelle: romantic tendencies for thinking ecologies, as something that can bring together to human/non-human: not questions but “what people want out of the concept of ecologies”



Ways in thinking ecology today, telling stories, interesting conflation of terms: affect and ecology in and through one another: human and non-human affect in the ecological mode.

How we think of affect in teh dominant mode of ecological thinking. what does ecology become when we think from affect.


Chemical ecology: ways in which organisms synthesize and release volatile chemicals and pheremones to communicate: behavioural ecology. Extending models of animal beh. into the plant world. Chem ecologists: how to plants communicate with other plants and microbes, etc. Involved in sex, digestions, warding off predators, etc.


Beh ecology & chemical ecology: grounded in neo-darwinism, which calibrates these questions to species survival. One such relation: orchids & pollinating bees.


Orchids attract their pollinators with volatile plumes that mimic bee sex pheremones, bees inadverdantly pollinate the flowers. “Orchid pollination by sexual swindle”: Orchids are frauds. Insects are dupes. Organismal behaviour is rationalized according to an economic logic. Reproductive output is maximized. Mimicry must not be too effective so that polinator pops would not decline: resists coevolution. Focus is on the orchid, orchid is rendered passive. Orchids are mechanical actants. Economic cost: surplus value is survival. The selfish genome. Populations not of organisms. Economization and efficiency are the norms. No ppleasure, play or improvisation. That there is so much that these kidsn of ecologsists cannot see.


A creative reappropriation in order to imagine ecology otherwise that the economization of life. Shift the grounds upon which affect and ecology are being theorized. Detterr and reterr affect and ecology. Foucault: pucsh past the self evidences of worldly order. Michelle Murphy: topology: surface and logics that shape the order of things: recursive origami of biopolitics. What is the topological space where ontologies are theorized. Could the functionalist ecology be otherwise? Ex: fight or flight. The idea that affect is functional gives us that emotions only make us better machines. Massumi, Ahmed, Stewart. Ahmed: emotions involve subjects and objects but do not reside within them: affective economy: emotions work as a kind of capital. “Affective Economies” (119, 120). Affect is a circulation between objects. This is good to think a distributed affect, what if we shifted this again to conceive of affect as more of an ontology.


In an economy the agents are people, nonhumans are reduced to use-value and fetish objects. Ecology opens up the study of affect to non-humans. Living beings being moved by one another that are not meant for us. Functionalism is the most violent form of anthropomorphism. Ecology thinking that allows to be attuned to the ways in which animals live together in a way  where affects are not always positive. the play of improvisation. radically resists clamping down on just so stories. plants and animals are involving themselves in one another’s lives. mimetic relations between plants animals. Mimesis becomes a effect, not a function.



Slides about research: sheepish ecologies. The pictures and text are not necessarily related. Standing and tramping sheep, first person description of being amid sheep, white clouds of sheep. New sheep bodies, boundaries are unclear. The collective body of sheep. sheepish hierarchies. What ties these bodies together? Flock management scheme for experimental animals, the other famous research site.


Mountain sheep: place where different sheep ontologies are produced. Before being used they need to give birth two years, which changes their bodies. Which will be food? Which will produce knowledge? She came to this site by accident. Searching for papers for a medical history paper. Stable did not look like a stable but looked like a hospital.


Sheep emotion: mild interest, anxious.

Martina affect of strangeness, comparison to alice in wonderland; mixture of farm, clinic and lab. undertstanding the ethnographic moment: how to make the stable historically visible? how was its historical fabric stitched together.


Sheep emerged as research animals in 1967. They are omnipresent and local, cheap and easy, more akin to humans than dogs. Transfer of results is much easier. Sheep are uninterested in us, they are flock animals. No emotional attachment. Knowing sheep as livestock, does mean we know them as testing animals: new set of practices. Emotional distance did not work, one needed to know more about sheep, new relation nt based on affectice distance. How sheep are standing is part of the experimental process.


De-flocking training, teaching sheep to live on their own. They grow old, they won;t die by out thirst for knowledge.


Desiring machines: a piece of sheepish knowledge


Images: of sheep boxes, equipment, instruments, dogs running, sheep bone x-rays, etc.



Affective Ecologies and Suicidal Microbes


programmed cell death in relation to affective ecologies: similar to Natasha, critique of functionalism.


Microbes are important to human health. Interested in different kinds of microbes: marine algae (protists & bacteria) Phytoplankton. Both plants and animals, they can change their metabolism and mode of reproduction. Harmful Algal Blooms: agriculture runoffsm they thrive of nitrates and phosphates, not much is known about their lifecycle. But scientists suggest that they commit mass-suicide. suicide is supposed to be an intentional act that requires a mind. This makes no evolutionary sense. What is the function?


Lynn Marguilis: critique of neo-darwinism, many organisms do nto age and die, programmed death happens indepedently of the environment. Many phytoplankton species do undergo controlled cell death.


Research into the mechanism of death: not longer fulfilling an ecologicla promise. They don;t necessarily contribute to our carbon balance if they do not sink to the bottom of the ocean.


Cell death is essential to our survival.


Apoptosis: normal cell death from acute pathological cell death. activated by stimulus or the removal of stimulus. also called programmed cell-death. Distinguished from necrois.


Cells die “for a purpose”, some cells sacrifice themselves for the greater good of the organism. Thus can be understood in neo-darwnian functionalist frame. Organism as a bounded temporally and spatially bounded system. Challenge: unicellular cell death programme.


Multicellular, death is external to the system with unicellular systems the program is instrindic and the aim is to stop existing.


Not all unicellular organisms respond the same way the environmentla stimulus, younger cells must first be sensitized to a stimulus before death is possible. External conditioning factor that must be already internalized by the cell. Sensitization engenders an affectivity in the cell. This is difficult to understand if one accords an apriori acocunt of the bounded individual.


They do not have intentionality, nor are their actions determined by a programme but through an on-going conversation with their environment. Trans-individuation. Microbial makes more sense when one considers death not a limit, but following Derrida, as a shared vulnerability between all forms of life.


Affectivity is consituted by alterity always already in cell death. Rethinking of purposes. Ongoing research has become possible bc how marine bac come to die has come to matter for a global economy. Does not want to give up purpose and function entirely but how do we think about it if it is no longer a teleology. Motivation without a teleology.


Shio: The Stir

A daunting task.

Michell invitation: improvisionally address them.

Common theme: how to communicate with non-human beings? how we conceptualize shared space with non-humans or is it our imagination that we share? what does this space look like from other non-human povs?

-Time: when we think that we communicate, we must have some kind of temporality. How do we think abotu shared (or not shared) space and time?

-Relationship between economy and ecology: critique of functionality and economic understanding of ecology.

-Transdisciplinary understainding of this relationship: Martina, agricultural relation to experiment and resource management. Function of elements and practices in these ecologies has been challenged using affect as a lens.

-Natasha: affective relaitonship between orchids and insects and the scientists who try and understand this relation, uses affect to disrupt.

-Martina: a shared human sheep space. how do they communicate in this shared space?

-Astrid: maybe it is the limitation of the scientist in communication? what is the affective inetraction going on?

-In teh recent understanding of global eco there has been as shift in ecology. There has been a move to affective economy, which can be a new way to exploit the affective aspect of labour, potential of disrupting this affective economic relation.

-Larger q: whatever the space/time we conceptualize, what is communication?  hidden important agenda when thinking through ecology as it means the relation between various species. What about non-verbal communication. What can attention to other forms of communication show us?



Joan: trouble the notion of function: function is often used to trouble the neo-darwinian narrative, they look at developmental constraints… so involvement when you have a plant, is different than algae, on teh border of ehat is considered an organism, insect/plant involvement is different, when you have involvement in each other’s becoming how do you understand this when there is barely an invididual compared to other involvements where there are individuals and individuals are not risk. Involvement at the borderzone of life and the environment?


N: what about ecology that holds us to think against individually?


J: but the hsitorical problem, of sustaining the self through involvement? paying attention to the degenerative effects of the environemnts?


A: How is stability possible without function? This notion is different than the one that N. wants to get rid of.


Roberta: affect is something that does not imply (delete?) an individual but locates it in relation to the environment. An open-notion that thinks the individual as smething that it is immersed in the environment and collaborates with it. This relation is no longer one-dimensional as in western fnctionalism. no longer tied to a specific goal. elimating the notion of outcomes, shifting our thinking to process. What is the intention? what is going on? we always think by goals.


Michelle: what brings affect and ecology together, is affect is even more slippery than ecology, teh questions we have been asking of eco we need to ask of affect: one of things people want from affect is responsiveness. recursive responsiveness. What do ppl want from affect? Attention to reponsiveness.


N: Last salon carlotta offered a resistance to this understanding to our desire for responsiveness, she talked about withholding. A concept of affect includes this reluctance to respond. what kind of agency is involved in withholding.


Q: Where is the site of this affective event? because it is slipperty. Do we locate this in our bodies? I am worried about calling it an event. That assumes an end and does not allow a rebounding. Not that this your word but it is an affect word.


A: The question of time pops up in relaiton to events. FHow do we get the grounds of this withholding, communication happens in time; how this engagement reconstitutes time; time becomes an effect of an engagement,


Q: So event is not a cool way to talk about this but there is a site where this must occur. We have to locate it somewhere.


Gregg Mitman: I found myself pondering the different affective spaces that come into being as a result of these different ecological worlds being built and that the boundaries of the system being created alters that affective space. Astrid’s carbon cycle, across deep time they become a carbon source. Natasha, if we extend that space, this communication is being used by the military. Martina: where sheep are ripped out of one ecological world of the flock aand then shoved into the lab, this really changes the affective space. What are the relationship between these different ecological spaces, assemblages and the politics we want to do in these spaces.


N: Attention to storytelling.


Q: For all: How to use affect, how to apply it to my own work: what is the difference bewteen affect and agency?


Q: I would really separate them in a really fundamental way, agency is at its best when its slippery, because we want it to do something for us. Maybe there is conflation between intention and function? And sometimes it is conflated with emotion, and this is where the agency comes in, or with anthromorphism. Do cells, sheep like listening to the radio? As soon as we make it about agency and indidiv it stops working.


A: reponse-ability. affectivity. Not clear about response-ability as a form of non-human agency. Intention and function: big concern. Question of scale, ecology is both an object of study and a mode of inquiry. this is also space for response-ability.


Q: agency as the ability to act, being conscious. some thoughts on affect, if you think of it as a measure, as the degree of responsiveness it can be a way to read to non-verbal communication. a move away from rationality. Native cosmologies, etc. Individuality and ecology do not need to be in a dichotomous relationship.


Martina: this talk comes out of a struggle with my own affective relations, pictures not just as illustrations, yes there is agency, sheep can’t speak, but how to show both, how to bring the sheep into the room. How to bring this into a two-dimensional paper. Change the relationship between the text and the pictures, to mix media. I couldnt listen to animals, it was the radio I heard when I entered the stable. Audio landscape. How to deal with these different media?


Q: In dealing with affect, understanding of sensuality, not only as responsivity, when you are talking about something other than human, we need a sensual space, eco is home, a living space. a living space that retains the other than human.


Q: thinkign affect and ending up around sensation, i can use literally and tactilely.


Q: Line between affect and phenomenology, the individual and the subject, pre-individuated affective relation


Michelle: worry: the thing that worries me, the way that it is taken up as a answer to metaphysics, how is thinking reponsivity get us out hegemonies? what about the macro-economy, there are words we use that already have hegemonic purchase (eg: stimulate) this is hte worry but i also the temptation, like ecological thinking, it asks to always stay in the middle. suspicious of this escapism.


q: social as driver of all things, you cant suddenly say but what about politics?


n: crucial q: it is precisely affect that is most readily capitalized on, but in this hopeful mode, anything that can be turned into machine can be captured. taken up by capital. machines, can always be swept up by capital. the kinds of capiture that happens is based on production. possibility of a non-mechanized life sciences, it can only ever be a supplement. thinking alongside, working athwart.


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