Living Ethics -seminar at University of Lapland 13.-14.9 2017


There is a publication available to download for free from this seminar, edited by Veera Kinnunen and Anu Valtonen. The editors state that: We hope that the collection of accounts of ethics in this publication invites you to pose open and radical questions about the messiness of living and thinking together on Earth – and beyond. During the past two years, the University of Lapland has, with the help of ESF funding, run a HaiLa-project, which seeks to internationalise and develop doctoral education in Lapland. We have been able to organise doctoral courses taught by highly-recognised scholars representing different fields and seminars like the one we are referring to here. This has enabled a series of corporeal encounters between established academics, PhD students, and lecturers across the globe. This collection of texts is the fruit of these encounters.

Small notes from some of the seminars Keynote -speeches:

Maria Puig de la Bellacasa: Obliged by soils – Ethics of Breakdown

De la Bellacasa begun the presentation asking “a transnational question”: What is the relationship between humans and soil?

De la Bellacasa stated that soil has been neglected in many ways. She  is trying to contribute to the betterment of these ecologies that have been affected.

One way to think about these relationships is through care: it is necessary for every human being, but it is not being valued. Care is at the same time precarious labor and practice, affective and aesthetic and ethico-political. Care is never neutral, it is based on relations of gender and power, that’s why it is always political. Feminist politics of care can become disruptive to status quo. Care is contingent: it is morally obliged but also materially necessary. You can choose not to care morally but day-to-day mundane caring is a necessity. How could we re-think care because it is ontologically wired. (Does that mean that it’s meanings and practices can be changed?)

Ecological neglect has many dire consequences. Soil has become only a resource and her work is focused to find another ways to re-connect with it. Affections toward soil are disrupting these relations. We are ethically obliged by soil.


Soil is hidden infrastructure, we have used soil but not thought of it as living worlds which is habituated by many creatures. Visibility = Knowledge = Better care.
Multispecies community is making the soil, creating it all the time. How could we see the soil without digging it up?

Artists can show the soil to us. Then we can ask the question what is made visible and from what standpoint?

The idea about Anthropocene is a colonial notion of taking all the plurality of the planet into one word. Natural world still has power over us, that’s one reason why it is problematic to talk about the Anthropocene. It makes the responds of care to soil invisible. Human-Nature relations has to be re-thought.


How does the soil food web work? Humans are a part of it. We are members of that web, teeming with life also. Capitalism sells scarcity, soil projects are trying to create an abundance. Our bodies are our soils. To know the soil you need to be close to it. Soil is matter that is broken down. If there is plastic in it, we have to make science work with us, not only nature. How to break down plastics that is present in the soil and everywhere?

GAY HAWKINS: ETHICAL BLINDNESS – Plastics, disposability and the art of NOT caring

Plastics is a material that has a bad reputation, still every one of us has close relations to it. We have a shared future with plastics. How could we live well together with it? Can we make an ethics of plastic?

Plastic has become thought of as a disposable material, even though it is in most cases actually very durable. In most of the campaigns etc. it is the consumer who should change her habits regarding plastics. The ethical behaviour is awaited by the consumer’s behalf.

When we buy, for example, a take-away coffee, the lid is already been categorized as rubbish. It is not that the consumer first consumes the object and then throws it away and that’s thrash, but it is already been excepted to be disposed of before it is even used. Waste, disposal objects, plastics and consumer items implicitly fold together. Dispose-ability is already present in that item and many others. It is anticipated to be wasted.
The assumption is that when campaigns tell the horrific truth about the amounts of plastics that goes to rubbish, we will change our ways, but even though the information about waste is something that everyone knows, nothing is happening. The responsibility lies in the consumers hands, but plastics is not just an ethical object waiting to be judged, it has agency of it’s own. This is when we look at ethics as an interface and relational activity.

Plastics is a material that governs us. 40-50 % of all the plastics made is used in food packaging. (Jeffrey Meikle: American Plastic 1995). The rise of plastics in the 1950’s was a turning point that changed the food relations completely. Governing here is used in the Foucaldian sense: The small changes in rules and norms make us self-govern through objects. New objects and materials shape our conduct. Self-service and supermarkets were possible only because of plastic packaging, which also provoked disposability. Freedom of choice and consumerism were only possible by the freedom to waste.
Modern Packaging (1957): Packages are made to be thrown away, consumers has to have nonchalant relation to these containers. They started to appear as rubbish from the beginning. This created a consumer with no worries. Importance was put in accessibility, convenience and temporality.
It was an attempt to turn plastic into political. “Just like Marxist conception of class materialism loses its meaning when it is separated from its relations of struggle”. I. Stagers: Wondering about materialism.

It was not about individual consumers, but a collective event of figuring out how not to be governed by plastics. Plastic is not something we can get away from. Plastic industry is much like Big Tobacco, it has economic power to resist control. We should look at the sites and moments when our relations with plastics are changed. There is bad governance behind the industry’s ability to not take responsibility. We have to think about how we could see plastics as non-disposable material and give the idea of purity in nature because we have to live with plastics in the future.

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