Making Emptiness: The Politics of Empty Objects in a Full World

Organizers: Gebby Keny (Rice) and Seung Hee Cho (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology)

What happens when spaces and bodies previously understood as empty (i.e. of human presence, effect, or relation) suddenly become full of substance? Who has the authority to assign designations of emptiness, and who has the means to fill these enacted gaps? Conceiving particular human and nonhuman bodies as void of intelligence or spirit continues to be a justification for violence. Desires to govern resources enact particular sites as less-inhabited, under-utilized, and lacking value. As a political depiction of deficiency, emptiness sustains the risky promises of frontiers — from Mars, to the Arctic, low-income housing districts, and faraway islands. Narratives of emptiness open such spaces for human, and often explicitly, state expansion.

At a historical moment when the planet is increasingly conceived as a finite material substance in need of sustainable governance (i.e. full), designations of emptiness take on new significance. This panel invites papers that investigate figurations of “emptiness” across various socio-material domains and the effects of such figurations for stakeholders and political projects of various kinds. The session discusses political constructions of emptiness and envisioned futures, with research topics including, but not limited to, ecology, infrastructure, science and engineering, and urban design. While we are interested in papers that detail state efforts to empty and fill socio-material worlds, we also invite other approaches.

For those interested in this panel, please send a 250-word abstract and a title to the organizers, and, by March 31.