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Agents and Agency: A KLI Reading Group
2022 Writing-up Fellows
2022-12-12 12:00 - 2023-03-31 12:00
Vienna (see below for details)
Organized by 2022 Writing-up Fellows

This reading group is loosely but seriously centered around agency.

We look at texts that either use the term or can be read with agency as a lens. The focus includes but is not limited to ideas in social anthropology and the philosophy of biology, and we aim at attaining interdisciplinary insights on the matter. The group is led by the Writing Up fellows, but we will happily welcome anyone who is interested (even if your participation is sporadic or spontaneous).

First session: Dec 12, 2022, phil cafe

In the first session, which will take place at phil, a bar/cafe/bookshop at Gumpendorfer Str. 10 in Vienna, at 16:30 on December 12th. We will read a short article by human ecologist and social anthropologist Alf Hornborg (11.5 pages) and an even shorter piece by social anthropologist Tim Ingold (6.5 pages), in which they challenge the late Bruno Latour’s broad notion of agency (the Actor–Network Theory, or ANT).

Second session: Feb 17, 2023, phil cafe

In the second session, which will also take place at Cafe Phil, this time at 15:00 on February 17th, we will read two texts. The first paper is a very short Nature article by the Nobel Prize laureate Paul Crutzen, who is one of the originators of the term "Anthropocene." In short, this notion means that humanity has become a geological agent and that this marks the beginning of a new geological epoch, meaning the end of the Holocene (which has lasted since the end of the Pleistocene or Ice Age). While the terms "agent" and "agency" are not used in this article, it sparked an intense and still ongoing discussion across the sciences and humanities on what it means that humanity has become a geological agent. Some (ecomodernists) argued that this was good, since we now just need to take control over nature and govern it wisely; others (like neo-marxists) pointed out that humanity is a uniform agent and that it is rather the capitalist system that is causing the ecological crisis (they thus term it the "Capitalocene." A plethora of "-cenes" have been coined since, like the Technocene and the Cthulucene (Donna Haraway). To contrast this global and rather gloomy outlook, the second piece concerns agency in relation to socioecological transformation and focuses on a case study.
Please focus on whatever you find interesting in these pieces, but please keep "agency" in mind: what kind of agency is involved? Is it agency? Does it relate to the discussion we had at our last meeting? etc.
Article 1: Paul Crutzen - "Geology of Mankind"
Article 2: Lakshmi et al. - "Promoting agency for social-ecological transformation"
Third session: Mar 17, 2023, das cafe
We are delighted to invite you to the third session of the “Agents and Agency” KLI reading group, which will take place on April 17th at 15:00 at "das Café” (Burggasse 10). As always, we aim to provide different perspectives on the concept of agency writ large, and this time we will discuss two papers that challenge conventional approaches to ‘biological agency’ and plant behavior.
The first paper, "Bridging the explanatory gaps: What can we learn from a biological agency perspective?" by Sonia sultan , Armin P. Moczek, and Denis Walsh, offers an innovative approach to the study of phenotype determination, inheritance, and the origin of novel traits. The authors propose that expanding research foci to take into account ‘biological agency’ can help to address some explanatory gaps left by prevailing gene-focused approaches. They characterize what agency and biological agents are, emphasizing that agency is an empirical property connoting neither intention nor consciousness, and discuss how incorporating agency an help bridge the explanatory gaps left by conventional approaches.
The second paper, "History and epistemology of plant behaviour: a pluralistic view?" by Quentin Hiernaux, explores the plurality of approaches to construe ‘plant behavior.’ The author argues in favor of a pluralistic stance to plant activities, understandable from the classical perspective of physiological mechanisms and that of the biology of behavior involving choices and decisions in relation to the environment. He proposes a synthesis of the question of plant behavior by selected elements of the history of botany, showing that the current opposition between so-called ‘reductionist physiology’ on the one hand, and the biology of behavior involving sensitivity and choices in plant activity (i.e. agency) on the other hand, has been built up throughout the history of botany.
We look forward to discussing these exciting papers with you and hope to see you all there.