The 2021 Edvard Westermarck Memorial Lecture will be held by professor Penny Harvey from the University of Manchester.

Thursday Oc. 14th, 17.00 (Helsinki time)


The lecture is organized by the Finnish Anthropological Society and it is open to the public. See the Facebook event for this lecture here.


Geology as Unconforming Infrastructure: engineering the containment of fissile matter

In the UK a search has begun for a suitable site for the disposal of high-level radioactive waste. Current government policy judges suitability in terms of two key criteria, namely appropriate geology and the willingness of a community to host a geological disposal facility. This process of volunteerism rests on the notion that ‘a community’ might make an active choice to help solve what is posed as a societal problem of inter-generational and environmental care that stretches into the deep future. In this lecture I focus on the conceptual challenges of thinking through the unconformities of geological and human agency.

Finding a way into the underground involves the navigation of complex relational terrain. Engineering solutions focus on achieving a permanent separation of radioactive matter from wider eco-systems through the alignment of multiple barriers, some engineered, some natural. However, this process of creating a waste infrastructure that embraces both systemic flow and fixed boundaries can only be approached via the unstable pathways of moral reasoning, the navigation of uncertainty, and the shifting scales of time and of agency.  As anthropologists are challenged to re-imagine the scope of relational worlds in the anthropocene, and to follow calls to address geological relations in non-extractive mode, the engineered burial of fissile matter poses some specific questions about how to foster and limit human entanglements with non-organic matter.

Penny Harvey is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester. She also held the position of Professor II at the University of Oslo (2012-2019) and previously at the University of Bergen, and was recently elected to the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. She has carried out ethnographic research in Peru, Spain and the UK and published widely on issues of politics and power; language and communicative practice; technology, infrastructure, and engineering expertise; materiality; and contemporary practices of modern statecraft. She is currently engaged in a long-term ethnographic project on ‘Nuclear Life’ in the U.K. Her publications include Roads: An Anthropology of Infrastructure and Expertise (with H. Knox), Cornell University Press, 2015; Infrastructures and Social Complexity (edited with C. B. Jensen and A. Morita), Routledge 2016; and Anthropos and the Material: Anthropological Reflections on Emerging Political Formations (edited with C. Krohn-Hansen and K. Nustad) Duke University Press 2019. Visit Penny Harvey’s personal website for more information.

Funded by the Finnish Cultural Foundation

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