Chemical substances - plastics, metals, pollutants, and pharmaceuticals - play a pervasive role in our everyday life. Nonetheless, social researchers have paid relatively little attention to chemicals and their remarkable cultural, political and bodily presence. While geographers and anthropologists have long been concerned with the rapid and escalating global circulation of information and capital, and are increasingly interested in the agency of organisms and the biopolitics of disease, the study of chemicals appears to be of marginal significance to the social sciences and humanities.
Drawing inspiration and examples from the writings of novelists, geochemists, historians and philosophers of science, as well as his own ethnographic research in the US and the Caucasus, Andrew Barry interrogates the apparent invisibility of chemicals in the social sciences and humanities, including geography. He considers how measures of the distribution and behaviour of molecules, elements and isotopes – from CO2 to Lithium – have entered into social life, and why an interest in chemistry is relevant for all those interested in contemporary geopolitics. His lecture calls for the formation of a new field of interdisciplinary inquiry: chemical geography.
Lecturer: Professor Andrew Barry, Head of Department, UCL Geography
Inaugural lectures are an opportunity for recently-promoted professors to exhibit to the wider UCL community, and the public outside UCL, a flavour of their intellectual activity and research. Each lecture is followed by a drinks reception, to which all attendees are warmly invited.