Wednesday, 28 November 2018


“Being braver and more cowardly than we imagined”: New materialisms, activist practices, and social haunting.

MMU Brooks Building, Room 4.48

Dr Geoff Bright, Manchester Metropolitan University

Reviewing four recent UK AHRC Connected Communities funded projects which have worked with the activists of Unite Community (the community-facing structure of Unite the Union) to explore a ‘social haunting’ (Gordon, 2008) of the UK coalfields (see, this paper will pick up Jane Bennett’s increasingly urgent ‘new materialist’ question: “What…are the implications of a (meta)physics) of vibrant materiality” (Bennett, 2010: 94) for politicised practice?

Each project has operated through a mobile space called the “ghost lab” - the aim of which has been to bring a post-disciplinary/arts/activist lens to affective collectivities as an occulted – ie. hidden in plain sight – aspect of ‘communal being-ness’ (Walkerdine, 2010) in deindustrialised spaces. Informed by the dialogic arts practice of Kester (2004) and the “participatory art-philosophy-political event design” principles of Massumi and Manning (Massumi, 2015, 78) the Ghost Labs have set out to engineer a soft collision of approaches to amplify how contested pasts remain present within the present as an affective modality that, while occluded by dominant apparatuses of power, surfaces to announce an immanent possibility of communal re-imagination and futurity.

The talk will centre on how new materialist perspectives might illuminate such assemblages of affect/imagination as have materialised periodically and significantly as a body of ‘counter-feeling held in common’ at key points during the deindustrialisation of the UK coalfields (the anti-Thatcher bonfires of 2014 being a case in point, the coalfield Brexit vote being another). Thinking in the space between Baradian new materialist ‘ontological reorientations’ and ‘new critical materialisms’ (see Coole and Frost, 2010) I will consider how new materialisms might accommodate the energetic, divergent, relation between the militant anti-capitalist activist practices of Unite Community members and the non-programmatic, small-group, arts-based encounters in the Ghost Labs. The quotation in the title of the paper – “being braver and more cowardly than we imagined” – is one activist’s articulation of what this will require.

Geoff Bright is a Research Fellow in the ESRI at MMU. A former steel and rail worker, he has a background in teaching philosophy and sociology in the trade union, adult, community, and further education sectors. As PI he has completed four AHRC Connected Communities funded projects which use arts-based methods and the idea of a 'social haunting' to re-imagine and help co-produce possible futures for such communities. Actively bringing together what often feels like a double life, he also works in politicised sonic practice as an improvising musician playing saxophones, and as an experimental vocalist.