Future-forming interdisciplinary research

Subsurface Futures


Monday 17 June – Tuesday 18 June

On 17-18 June 2019, come and think about the Earth’s subsurface in a public lecture and interdisciplinary workshop with Karen Pinkus, Cornell University, supported by Lancaster’s Institute for Social Futures.


Monday 17 June, 16.00-17.30

Down there: thinking the subsurface of a warming planet

A public lecture with Karen Pinkus (Cornell University)

Management School Lecture Theatre 4, Lancaster University


We have a vexed relation with the Earth’s subsurface: We take from it, of course, and we also ask it serve a redemptive function, to provide space for the burial of the waste that we produce, including perhaps excess carbon dioxide. We try to master it in our attempts to control geophysical processes. We write narratives about it, from epics of heroic male voyages in search of knowledge to utopian fictions of collective life. This talk explores various epistemological permutations of the subsurface – how we think we know it, and what we think we know – to open up possibilities beyond the formulae of either extractive exploitation (‘drill, baby, drill’) or naive ecologism (‘leave it in the ground’).


Karen Pinkus is Professor of Romance Studies and Comparative Literature at Cornell University where she is also editor of the journal diacritics. She is author of numerous publications in Italian studies, environmental humanities, film and literary theory. Her most recent book, Fuel (Minnesota 2016), is a speculative dictionary of fuels, real and imagined, historical and futuristic, hopeless and utopian, drawing on literature, film, and scientific treatises.  She is currently completing a new book, Down There: The Subsurface in the Time of Climate Change, which considers cultural fantasies about the subsurface as a place of extraction and burial in the time of massive climate disruption caused by anthropogenic activity on the surface.


All welcome.



Tuesday 18 June, 10.00-16.30

Subsurface futures: an interdisciplinary workshop

Charles Carter A19, Lancaster University


What role might the Earth’s subsurface play in near and distant futures?  The underground has long been engaged with materially for its resources, but also as a site of imagination and speculation.  Traversal of the subsurface intensified radically in modernity, as what Lewis Mumford described as the modern ‘fever’ of extraction released the accumulated energy and resources of the Earth’s deep past, powering the dynamism of industrial capitalism. Recently there has been an unprecedented turn to the subsurface for its storage or ‘disposal’ capacities – for example for short-term gas storage, carbon capture and storage, and geologic nuclear waste ‘disposal’.  Such intensifying interaction with the substrata – and related escalation of subsurface controversies – is taking place at a time when climate change and threats to other Earth systems are prompting a broader societal re-consideration of Earth processes, most conspicuously in the rapid uptake of the Anthropocene thesis.


This workshop will explore the different ways in which societies engage with, perceive and conceptualise the underground.  In a workshop format, we will bring together scholars and practitioners from the physical and social sciences, humanities and arts, including guest scholar Karen Pinkus (Cornell), to share their own work and ways of thinking about the subsurface.  Participants will seek to develop a new interdisciplinary research agenda for thinking about the past, present and future of the subsurface


This workshop is organised by Bronislaw Szerszynski (Sociology), Alexandra Gormally and Nigel Clark (LEC) and supported by Lancaster’s Institute for Social Futures. Refreshments and lunch will be provided.


Places in the Tuesday workshop are limited – please contact Bronislaw Szerszynski (bron@lancaster.ac.uk) if you are interested in attending.

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