Internal launch

The Future of Critique: Critical Social Science in an Era of ‘Planetary Emergencies’, WUR, 21 October 2016

Centre for Space, Place, and Society (CSPS), Wageningen University (WUR)

1st Call for Papers, WUR Internal Launch Seminar

21 October 2016

10:00 – 17:00

Seminar theme:

The Future of Critique: Critical Social Science in an Era of ‘Planetary Emergencies’

The Centre for Space, Place, and Society (CSPS) is a joint initiative among three chair groups – Cultural Geography (GEO), Rural Sociology of Development (RSO) and Sociology of Development and Change (SDC) – at Wageningen University (WUR).  As an internal ‘soft’ launch of this initiative we would like to organize a day-long seminar exploring critical perspectives on issues of place, space and society. All faculty members and PhD candidates of GEO, RSO and SDC are invited to present (parts of) their work and engage in a collegial, constructive discussion about socio-spatial thinking. The papers may have a theoretical, empirical and/or methodological orientation. They should address (at least tangentially) the seminar’s organizing theme outlined below:

Acknowledgement of the enormity of the many socio-environmental, agricultural, food, health and related ‘planetary emergencies’ confronting us today has provoked a growing chorus of calls for urgent action. In the face of such urgency, it seems that there is less and less (obvious) time for pause and reflection. Moreover, both from within and directed at the social sciences, there are many who argue that it is time to dispense with or move beyond critique. From Latour’s 2004 question ‘has critique run out of steam?’ to more recent commentary, it may seem that the value of critique and critical thinking is no longer obvious, even in many social sciences. Instead, we are told, we must focus our attention on identifying and formulating constructive alternatives and/or solutions to the planetary emergencies currently haunting us.

This is, obviously, a trend with major consequences. It goes against many centuries of academic tradition, and occurs in a political-economic context where it seems that critique is more important than ever. Wageningen University has not been immune to this trend. To the contrary: researchers in Wageningen quite explicitly say that it is the task of academics to be ‘constructive’ rather than critical.

At the same time, many are critical of the trend to discard with critique. In the face of calls to move beyond they have suggested that the demand for ’constructive’ ’alternatives’ can itself be a coercive means of stifling dissent, as can assertions that urgency demands immediate action.

It seems therefore that a critical debate on the role of critique is of the utmost importance, especially in Wageningen University. If the point (of social science research particularly) is indeed ‘to change it’, does critique continue to play a role in this change? How do we understand ‘critique’ and what have been some major trends in the thinking about critique within the social and the life sciences? What is the contribution of spatial thinking to the development of critique and the possibility of constructive engagements? How do these understandings of critique link to the current construction of ‘planetary emergencies’? And how might a renewed appreciation for critique be reconciled with growing demands for constructive engagement with the urgent?

These are urgent and critical questions that we want to address at the internal WUR launch of the CSPS on 21 October 2016. This ‘soft’ launch will provide the platform for a larger, ‘external’ launch of the CSPS in July 2017, when the Centre will organize its first big international conference.

From amongst the staff and PhDs of the three CSPS chair groups, we invite proposals for (15-minute) presentations to address these and related questions in relation to your own ongoing research. If interested, please send a title and 250 word abstract with keywords to britt.broekhaus@wur.nl by 15 September 2016. All efforts will be made to accommodate all interested participants.

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