The Marett Memorial Lecture 2022: Thinking 'in time' about the deep future - nuclear waste and the possibilities of ethnography

Marett Memorial Lecture 2022

Fitzhugh Auditorium, Cohen Quadrangle, Exeter College, Walton Street, Oxford

Friday 29 April, 5pm
Followed by a drinks reception at 6pm

The lecture will also be livestreamed:

Thinking 'in time' about the deep future - nuclear waste and the possibilities of ethnography

Professor Penny Harvey (University of Manchester)

In a recent conversation about planetary futures, Bruno Latour and Isabelle Stengers (Latour et. al. 2018) discuss the value of thinking 'in time' as opposed to assuming the temporality of 'catastrophe'. To be 'in time' is to be in a position of possibility for thought in the face of an urgent challenge. To be 'in time' is also to be somewhere in particular, with the possibilities that pertain to that time and space. In this regard, Stengers forcefully argues that it is of central importance to attend to how people notice things. What do people notice, and how do different ways of noticing join up - or not? Scientific and other modes of expert knowledge-making are specific ways of noticing, but not the only ways. Anthropologists are well placed to think 'in time'. Ethnographic ways of noticing involve an analytical attention to the conceptual repertoires of others, through a focus on relational dynamics, habitual modes of connection and disconnection, and the preconditions and disruptive consequences of specific events. In this lecture I present some of the key intellectual challenges posed by the urgent need to dispose of nuclear waste in ways that will protect both current and future human and other-than-human lives.  Amongst these challenges is the difficulty of thinking 'in time' about processes that exceed the human scale. To think 'in time' about the deep future entails an imaginative attempt to make the inconceivable accessible to thought. The ethnography of nuclear waste requires attention to how artists, philosophers, scientists and practical thinkers of all kinds notice things, and to how these different ways of noticing join up - or not.