‘Rational Enthusiasm’

What a great concept! I am writing a paper that I hope will set an agenda for attending to ENTHUSIASM within human geography (and beyond). This paper is the culmination of 11 years as a geographer, from being an undergrad to postdoc. As the President of the AAG said in his address in 1985:

Don’t let anybody chill your enthusiasm for the world. You will meet many people, of course, who will tell you in all sorts of ways – through words or body-language or just a raised eyebrow – that it is not chic to be enthusiastic about anything – certainly nothing so banal as an academic subject like geography. It is much more fashionable among such folk to be a bit superior, a bit cynical, a bit bored by it all. (Lewis 1985:475 in (Beyond description. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 75: 465-78))

I agree, as human geographers, we mustn’t lose sight of what excites us about the subject. This excitement, and perhaps confidence in that excitement, is the subject of Matthew Kearnes and Brian Wynne’s paper “On Nanotechnology and Ambivalence: The Politics of Enthusiasm” in NanoEthics, vol 1, issue 2. I came across this work when I was searching recently for literature on ‘risk’. It was an unexpected pleasure to see ‘enthusiasm’ feature as a concept that might just help explain ambivalence and engage publics. The authors write:

… public engagement, consultation and deliberation is positioned as providing mechanisms for direct and authentic discourse between ‘the public’ and institutions of political power. … Here we examine the ways in which ‘the public’ is constructed in recent articulations of public engagement concerning nanotechnology – particularly the in-built assumption of public ambivalence and scepticism toward new technologies in general. Whilst the recent proliferation of public engagement activities is premised on the need to address this ambivalence through direct engagement, we re-interpret ambivalence as an engaged – rather than passive – mode of relating to technological determinism. Whilst the move toward forms of direct public engagement might be regarded as symptomatic of the emergence of affective mode of governance we interpret public ambivalence as a nested set of enthusiasms and anxieties. Accordingly we suggest that public engagement might be re-thought, utilising ambivalence as a creative resource, rather than as the problem. (Kearnes and Wynne 2007, 133-134)

This work ties in with another paper I am working on with Dr Tara Woodyer at the University of Exeter. I collaborated with her on a series of sessions at the RGS-IBG in 2007 on ‘Enchanting Geographies’. It was a real delight to see the vibrancy of the discipline then and we hope to take this forward in our forthcoming review, which discusses how enchantment (and our respective interests in play and enthusiasm) can be brought to bear on sensual and material geographies. The discipline can thank Jane Bennett for really opening up this discusssion, but I also think we were heading this way on our own – towards a more vibrant, lived, embodied and altogether more pleasurable geography.

This conversation is ongoing.

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