The Slow Emergencies Workshop will be held in Adelaide between 2-4 July 2016.

Confirmed speakers include:

  1. Kevin Grove (Florida International University)
  2. Salvatore Engel-Di Mauro (New Platz SUNY)
  3. Paul Brown (UNSW/Nuclear Futures Project)
  4. Matthew Kearnes (UNSW)
  5. Lauren Rickards (RMIT)
  6. Kirsty Douglas

Modern categories of emergency generally focus on “bounded events” that explode out of the assumed substrate of normal day-to-day life, triggering efforts to extinguish them as quickly as they appear. This homeostatic and ‘spectacularized’ understanding informs how many scholars think about emergencies in the Anthropocene in two ways. On the one hand, there is an ongoing fascination with sudden and dramatic changes: from the daily post-natural disasters that fill the media to tipping points, regimes shifts and the general sense that we have fallen outside the bounds of a “safe operating space for humanity”. As Adey et al., (2015) discuss, fuelling this focus on the volatility of existence is the complexity ontology of Anthropocene science,  creating for some the sense that life is inherently unpredictable and chaotic. On the other hand, the “Anthropocene turn” has encouraged scholars to pay attention to the smooth background against which fluctuations are apparent: the longue durée of environmental change and the prolonged continuities of our geological existence.

But as political ecologists such as Malm and Hornborg (2014) have pointed out, the idea that we all exist in a “safe operating space” and that the Anthropocene is a future risk is insensible for the growing proportion of the world’s humans and nonhumans for which it is already a living disaster. To attend to this lived experience of disaster we need to refocus on those phenomena that have arguably fallen between the cracks of recent scholarship: the attenuated, ambiguous, normalised emergencies of “intermediate scale”. Whether agricultural drought, pollution events, local species extinctions, HIV, armed conflict or homelessness, such emergencies often lose their status as emergencies on account of their duration, even as their very continuation deepens not lessens their impacts. As emergencies-come-crises solidify into dense mats of problems they fade from sight partly on account of the lack of ethical and political responses they engender. In such circumstances ‘staying put’, ‘hanging on’ and ‘getting by’ characterise the resilience of those involved more than perky  “bouncing” or self-conscious “adaptation” (DeVerteuil, 2015). But once again such achievements fail to attract critical attention, being misunderstood as mere passivity.

In this workshop we will  explore how we might engage with these ‘slow’, ‘intermediate’ or ‘banal’ emergencies that characterize life for many in the Anthropocene. What is at stake, we think, is the possibility of destabilizing the spacings and timings that enable events to ‘count’ as emergencies, or quiet survival to count as a legitimate response, in liberal polities. If Anthropocene thinking extends the category of emergency to the limitless horizon of climatic change and the specific, spectacular event of the regime shift, then paying attention to slow-onset, chronic  emergencies – and the way publics are already coping with these difficulties – may inaugurate a different ethical and political understandings of the relation between humans and environment in the Anthropocene.


Situated in Adelaide, the Slow Emergencies workshop will explore this theme by focusing on two specific but interconnected slow emergencies – the ongoing legacies of  British nuclear testing in South Australia and recent debates concerning Uranium mining and deep geological storage of nuclear waste; and the implications of climate change, drought and desertification for South Australian rural communities. Related via the topics of soil and imperialism, presentations and discussion on these nuclear and rural emergencies will cast a new light on not only the Australian situation, but on how new pressures are colliding with and remaking old ones, pushing the resultant emergencies back into the past as well as out into the future

More information and background on these case studies is available here.


The workshop is supported by the Governing Emergencies Leverhulme Trust International Network, the School of Humanities and Languages, UNSW, the Hazards, Risks, Disasters Study Group of the Institute of Australian Geographers and the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT.

For enquiries about the workshop please contact Matthew Kearnes(@mbkearnes) or Lauren Rickards (@LaurenARickards)




2 July to 4 July, 1pm to 4pm