CFP ASA2020: “Intractable Plastic: Responsibilities in ‘plasticized’ worlds”

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Dear colleagues,

Tridibesh and I are inviting paper proposals for our panel “Intractable
Plastic: Responsibilities in ‘plasticized’ worlds” at the annual conference
of the Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK & Commonwealth
(ASA). The event will be held at the University of St Andrews (Scotland),
24-27 August 2020. The broad conference theme is ‘responsibility’, and our
panel will address the sub-theme of ‘evidence’.

Panel Title: “Intractable Plastic: Responsibilities in ‘plasticized’

Convenors: Patrick O’Hare (University of St Andrews) & Tridibesh Dey
(University of Exeter)


Plastic has steadily, if unevenly, risen up the global political and public
agenda, through campaigns and discourses that often rely on specific (often
visual) registers of environmental contamination and anthropogenic
catastrophe. The days of optimism at plastic’s endless possibilities are
seemingly long gone. Yet we are entangled with the heterogeneous materials
covered by the catch-all term “plastic” as never before. This has given
rise to seemingly utopian desires/interventions to make naturecultures
“plastic-free”, even as the separation of the human (or the “living”) from
the synthetic has become ever-more problematic (deWolff 2017), highlighted
by controversies over micro-plastics and broader assertions that “we are
all contaminated” (Renfrew 2018).

Pathak and Nichter (2019: 309) note a “remarkable lack of anthropological
research on plastics”.  For Dey and Michael (forthcoming), plastics’
heterogeneity, multiplicity, and ubiquity render them hugely problematic –
perhaps even intractable – as objects of study. Yet these very aspects also
render plastics urgent “matters of concern”. This panel invites critical
reflections on both a wider ethico-political economy of responsibility for
plastics and a more nuanced idea of response-ability (in the dual sense of
taking responsibility and being attuned to/skilled in responding to human/
non-human others). Paper themes may include but are not limited to:
everyday engagements, alterations, and interventions with plastics and
cognate materials; (citizen)science debates and controversies around
efficacy, health and harm; disputes over the temporality, durability, and
transience of plastics; anti-plastic campaigns; and the circular/linear
imaginaries that link plastic design, marketing, consumption, use, disposal
and ongoing agencies.
The abstract submission deadline is *15 March 2020 23:59 GMT*. The link to
submit papers is available through the conference website (which contains
more information about the process):

For any questions or clarification, do get in touch with us to discuss:
Patrick O’Hare (, Tridibesh Dey (

We very much look forward to your contributions!

Patrick and Tridibesh

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