Planetary Outsides: Cosmopolitan Imagination and the Colonisation of the Earth

Talk by Martin Savransky.

How, on a planet rendered forever unstable and unsafe, might we go on imagining what it might mean to live with those with whom we can imagine sharing the earth under our feet and what it might take to live alongside those with whom we cannot? While social and political thinkers today call (yet again) for renewed forms of cosmopolitan solidarity and a cosmopolitics of relations to compose a good common world for a planetary age, in this talk Martin Savransky raises some inconvenient questions concerning the co-implications of the cosmopolitan imagination and the colonisation of the earth. Lured by the promise of perpetual peace, the modern cosmopolitan tradition has often laid out a programme for perpetual war. Wagering that learning to live tenaciously in terrains of historic and planetary upheaval may require more collective improvisation than normative regulation, more fragmentary experimentation than world-administration, he attends to aspects of the history and social ecology of quilombo (or marronage), the practices of fugitive slaves across the Americas, as speculative infrastructures of dissensual coexistence on unstable terrain. Quilombo does not, he argues, provide a model for the reorganisation of global or planetary life. But, in their refusal to be content with what the modern world deemed proper to the colonised and the enslaved, in their insistent embrace of unruly sociality, of the tumultuous improvisation of social life out-on-the-outside, quilombos might activate the imagination in a world that cares not whether most live or die. On an earth out of joint with itself, they might teach us something about what it might take to go on making social life otherwise in the absence of a common world. If they evoke a planetary cosmopolitics, it is one without cosmos, without polis.

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Martin Savransky is Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he convenes the MA Ecology, Culture & Society. His work combines philosophy and the social sciences, postcolonial thought and the environmental humanities, to activate fugitive and speculative methodologies of life on unstable ecological terrain. He is the author of Around the Day in Eighty Worlds: Politics of the Pluriverse (Duke University Press, 2021) and The Adventure of Relevance: An Ethics of Social Inquiry (with a foreword by Isabelle Stengers; Palgrave, 2016), and the co-editor of After Progress (Sage, 2022) and of Speculative Research: The Lure of Possible Futures (Routledge, 2017). He has published essays in forums such as Theory, Culture & Society, Social Text, The Sociological Review, and SubStance: A Review of Literary and Cultural Criticism.

He is currently working on a new book length project (tentatively) titled The Murmurs of the Outside: Planetary Improvisation and Improper Life.