Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


IAS Turbulence: Chemical

06 June 2019–07 June 2019, 3:30 pm–4:00 pm


A workshop organised by the Institute of Advanced Studies & the Department of Geography at UCL.

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to







Véra Ehrenstein


Pearson Building, UCL
United Kingdom

Organisers: Andrew Barry (Geography, UCL); Véra Ehrenstein (IAS, UCL); Angeliki Balayannis (Geography, University of Exeter); and Emma Garnett (School of Population Health and Environmental Sciences, King’s College London).

Speakers: Emma Cardwell (University of Glasgow); Deborah Dixon (University of Glasgow); Peter Forman (Lancaster University); Jennifer Gabrys (University of Cambridge); Christelle Gramaglia (IRSTEA); Jonas Köppel (The Graduate Institute Geneva); Nathalie Jas (INRA); Brice Laurent (Mines ParisTech); Javier Lezaun (University of Oxford); Alice Mah (University of Warwick); Astrid Schrader (University of Exeter); Agnès Villette (independent researcher); and Claire Waterton (Lancaster University).


Chemistry and chemical transformations have irrevocably changed the fabric of life on Earth. From the chaotic behaviour of molecules, to the worrying effects of ocean acidification, to the multiplication of social protests against cases of pollution, thinking through the chemical appears particularly suitable to enquire into the turbulences that characterize our current times.

Yet the study of chemistry and chemicals appears to be marginal to the disciplines of Geography, Anthropology, History and Sociology. The marginality of chemistry and chemicals is both conceptual and empirical. On the one hand, conceptual debate in the social sciences has been dominated by either a focus on language or, in recent years, on biology and life. On the other hand, with the exception of important research on toxicity and on environmental justice, historical and empirical research on the role of chemicals in culture and society has been remarkably limited.

In the last few years, however, anthropologists, historians, sociologists and geographers have started to enquire into the history of chemistry (Bensaude-Vincent and Stengers, 1996) and chemistry in history (Roberts, 2016). These authors have made the case for practicing ‘chemo-ethnography’ (Shapiro and Kirksey, 2017) and interrogating chemical theories such as thermodynamics (Stengers, 2010; 2011), and notions such as ‘residue’ (Boudia et al., 2018; Hecht, 2018a) and ‘chemical space’ (Barry, 2005). There is also growing interest in the significance of chemical pollution in the Anthropocene debate (Hecht, 2018b; Hird, 2017), the conduct of political action in a ‘toxic world’ (Liboiron, Tironi and Cavillo, 2018; Boudia and Jas, 2015), and the measurement of chemical concentrations, in air (Gabrys, Pritchard and Barratt, 2016; Garnett, 2017), forests, oceans, and bodies – human and otherwise (Shapiro, 2015).

In this context, the workshop will bring together a group of senior and early career academics interested in chemistry, chemicals, and chemical environments to consider ‘the chemical’ in ways that are materially situated and conceptually risky. Speakers will engage with the industrial production and use of chemicals (pharmaceuticals, plastics, fertilisers, electronics, petrol, dyes etc.), the monitoring and regulation of their circulation and disposal, and the conceptual significance of chemicals in the social sciences and humanities. Thinking with and through the chemical will allow us to unsettle many divides, between the artificial and the natural, the geological and the biological, the micro and the macro, the body and its environment, order and disorder.

Please find the programme here.

All welcome. Please note that there may be photography and/or audio recording at some events and that admission is on a first come first served basis. Please follow this FAQ link for more information.