A Non-Representational Historical Geography? Archives, Affects and Atmospheres

Stephen Legg (University of Nottingham) and Ivan Marković (University of Nottingham)

Over the last 20 years ‘Non-Representational Theory’ (NRT) has emerged from within, and transformed, human geography. While not all sub-disciplines of human geography have embraced NRT, few have not been shaped by the questions it has posed. Nigel Thrift, the main architect of the theory’s emergence, identified it against many of the chief tendencies of the ‘cultural turn’ to representational analysis in the 1980-90s (Thrift 2000). NRT came to emphasise, as one ‘interested sceptic’ has put it: the practical and processual fluidity of things; meaning emerging through action; relationality; habitual interactions with the world; the possibility of surprising emergences; and an all-inclusive materiality (Cresswell 2012).  Beyond the bounds of a nameable ‘theory’ this body of work has inspired a much broader attunement towards that which ‘words cannot capture, that texts cannot convey’ (Nash 2000), including work on: more-than-human encounters; atmospheric, emotional and sensory experiences; and affects which blur the boundaries between body, language and text.

At the time that NRT was emerging within (mostly British) academia, historical geography was continuing to work through the cultural turn. Many of the analytical questions and philosophical developments within NRT have been taken up by (cultural-)historical geography, including studies of past performances, sensory environments, political affects, atmospheres, and automobilities. Yet questions persist over the recoverability of non-representational matter and performances from representational archives, of the language in which NRT communicates, of the political implications of NRT thinking, and the methodologies with which historical geographers might put NRT in to practice. This session will pursue these questions.

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