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Collapse: interdisciplinary forum

UCL Urban Laboratory staff and students are participating in the next UCL Arts and Humanities Faculty Institute of Graduate Studies Friday Forum on


Friday 11 May 2012, 10.00am to 5.30pm
Arts and Humanities Common Room, Foster Court G24

Our response to collapse is informed by centuries of artefacts and their interpretations, but also by urgency and vital needs.

Incidences of massive devastation – catastrophic events, experiences of slow but relentless decay – threaten our physical habitat and our comforting ideological constructions, and force us to re-interpret cultural conventions in the light of an uncomfortable, or even menacing present.

The sight of ruins, wreckage and rubble can trigger nostalgic fantasies, but more often it prompts a sense of dismay: the idea of a broken world, strewn with the residues of our past, calling for the hard (and disheartening) labour of salvaging, reorganizing, demolishing, and scrapping.

But the experience of collapse can also be liberating. Our passion for structure and rules, paradoxically, draws us towards situations and sites where we cannot apply them. Collapse, then, offers a tantalizing encounter with disorder: the experience of a lack of pattern, which may heighten our awareness of the system we inhabit.

In contemporary cultural history, cyclical theories of social growth and collapse play a marginal role and are frequently associated with discredited, essentialist views of race, nation, civilization. But this suspicion of cyclical models is not shared by other disciplines. In geography, sociology and ecology, long-term dynamic social processes are commonly understood in terms of political-demographic or environmental cycles.

Popular science writers often appeal to a widespread fascination with collapse, apocalypse, catastrophe, and political theory, too, has witnessed a shift away from linear theories of history, and towards models that highlight not only the clash but also the rise and fall of civilizations.

This study day will investigate the reasons for our fascination with collapse, decline, ruins, the fall of civilizations.

We intend to consider the representation of these topics in modern and contemporary narratives and cultural artifacts, and will discuss how collapse is defined and measured in different disciplines.

How do ideas of collapse travel from art, literature and popular culture to civil engineering, architectural design, urban planning? Do they have an influence on scientific research?

Moreover, do current responses to fragmentation and decline reflect earlier cultural forms (e.g. elegy, religious eschatology)? How are psychoanalytic models relevant to our understanding of collapsing habitats?

Finally, do experiences with mortality and the expectation of individual death constitute a paradigm?

For proposals of contributions, or further information, please contact Florian Mussgnug (SELCS): f.mussgnug@ucl.ac.uk<mailto:f.mussgnug@ucl.ac.uk>

10.00: Opening and welcome
Mary Fulbrook (SELCS) and
Florian Mussgnug (SELCS)

10.05-11.20: Session One: Places of Collapse
chaired by Joy Sleeman (Slade)
Hilary Powell (Bartlett): “Structures of Enchantment”
Jane Madsen (Bartlett): “The Space of Collapse: A Two Part Terrain”
Matthew Beaumont (English): “The Deserted City in the 18th Century”
Florian Mussgnug (SELCS): “Scaling Down Catastrophe”

11.20-11.45: Tea / coffee break

11.45-12.45: Session Two: Collapse in Literature and Film
chaired by Federica Mazzara (SELCS)
Susanne Kord (SELCS): “Guilt Trips: A New Theory of Horror Movies”
Matilde Nardelli (Film Studies): “Deserts, Ends and Beginnings”
Jonathan Davies (English): “The untimely architecture of war in J.G. Ballard”
Alexandra Hills (SELCS): "Collapsing the boundary between human and animal”

12.45 - 1.30: Sandwich lunch - provided by FIGS

1.30 - 2.30: Session Three: Collapse and the Capital
chaired by Matthew Beaumont (English)
Sharon Morris (Slade); “From Gospel Oak"
Ben Campkin (Urban Laboratory / Bartlett): “Sink estate spectacle in south-east London"
Louis Moreno (Urban Laboratory / Geography): “Concretising collapse: the urbanisation of creative destruction”
Hayley Newman (Slade): “Being Common”

2.30 - 3.30: Session Four: Meanings of Collapse
chaired by Florian Mussgnug (SELCS)
Lesley Caldwell (SELCS / Psychoanalysis Unit): “Breakdown”
Dana Ariel (Slade): “Unlearning”
Marianna Simnett (Slade): “Faint”

3.30 - 3.50: Tea/coffee break

3.50 - 4.50: Session Five: Working with Wreckage
chaired by Sharon Morris (Slade)
Richard Taws (History of Art) “The Afterlife of Money”
Fiona Curran (Slade): “Paradise Lost? Contemporary Design and The Corruption of Nature”
Bob Lumley (SELCS): “war horse, warhorse: collapse of, in archival film”

4.50 - 5.10: General discussion
chaired by Joy Sleeman (Slade)

5.10 - 6.00: Drinks reception

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Last updated: 21st April 2020