Shifting Natures

Organized by
Federica Buongiorno, Alberica Bazzoni, Xenia Chiaramonte

14 – 15 March 2024
ICI Berlin
In English

The very concept of nature has been the subject of thorough critique for quite a while. From a Western deconstructive perspective, nature is a signifier standing for naive immediacy or reactionary normativity. Poststructuralist and queer paradigms have shifted from an idea of nature as a being and of the natural as a given to a conception of them as effects of discursive, performative practices. These critiques marked a turning point in the centuries-long debate on the concept of nature, pluralizing and de-essentializing it — hence, shifting natures.

While these advancements are paramount, such a deconstructive frame has also meant overemphasizing the discursive element at the expense of the materiality of power relations and embodied experiences. As Stacy Alaimo argues, ‘one of the most unfortunate legacies of poststructuralist and postmodern feminism has been the accelerated “flight from nature” fueled by rigid commitments to social constructionism.’ Within the semantic constellation of nature, which terms and concepts facilitate a connection with the material dimension, without replicating essentialist, normative, ultimately reactionary positions? What can be the epistemological, political, and affective investment in retrieving references to nature, after its deconstruction? The symposium Shifting Natures addresses these questions in three interlocked areas: Environment; Artificial Intelligence; and Gender.

Environment: What is the relationship between the environment and nature within the field of environmental studies? If the concept of nature has frequently been associated with notions of dominance and exploitation as specific manifestations of contemporary capitalism, is there a clash between old and new materialist approaches? How can the law, which has long grappled with its relationship with nature, contribute to this debate? Can legal techniques make room for human-nonhuman collectives?

Artificial Intelligence: Unlike humans, machines and AI have traditionally been envisaged as non-natural entities. At the same time, the dominant metaphor in AI is that of simulation of and analogy with the human, which continues to occupy the position of supervision and command. Increasingly, humans tend to extend parts of cognition and corporeality onto external digital supports and, correspondingly, to incorporate artificial components, hybridizing and de-naturalizing themselves. What does it mean to be human in the age of cyborgs and the blurring of boundaries between humans and machines? What does AI teach us about our projections, rationalizations, and desires for dominance?

Gender: Queer-feminist critiques have unmasked the socially constructed features of categories of sex, gender, and sexuality, while technological developments have increasingly transformed sexuality and reproduction. At the same time, how do we make sense of differences in bodies, experiences, identifications, and desires? Can the experiences of trans people recast affective attachments to denaturalized yet powerful identities? How does the recognition of intersex people contribute to the deconstruction of the sex binary from a perspective that is not primarily discursive? What — if any — can be the political and affective value of desired identifications framed as ‘natural’?

Deadline: Abstracts of 200 words for 15 minutes contributions addressing the question of Shifting Natures in one the three sections – Environment, AI, or Gender – should be sent to the organizers by 28 January 2024. Letters of acceptance will be sent out by 11 February 2024. Proposals by early-career scholars are particularly welcome.

Alberica Bazzoni:
Federica Buongiorno:
Xenia Chiaramonte:

Funding: Participants with limited funding to attend the symposium can apply to receive a small lump sum towards travel and accommodation costs.

KV Shifting Natures

Image Credit © Claudia Peppel

Posted on 20 December 2023