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Bellies, Bodies, "Policey": Embodied Environments Between Catastrophes and Control


10.09.2014 – 12.09.2014

Conveners: Ulrike Plath (Tallinn University) and Mati Laur (University of Tartu)

Sponsors: The Institutes of History at Tallinn and Tartu University and the Estonian Centre for Environmental History (KAJAK). In cooperation with the Rachel Carson Center, Munich (RCC).

Keynote: Verena Winiwarter, "'The body moves, though slowly, towards desire': Sensitive and Toxic Bodies in Environmental History"

Program (PDF, 82 KB)

"Environmental history goes through the belly," Donald Worster once said, but not only that. The balance between the human bodies, their basic functions and needs (including spiritual), and the well-being of other life forms is a central issue of societal and environmental resilience. As such, it has always been an object of regulation and control on one hand, or a measure of catastrophes on the other. Bodies have always been both: physical realities and metaphors, objects of desire and of control. They produce and consume, devour and get consumed, feel and think but also exert calculated control over other human and nonhuman organisms. The failure to manage the needs of societies and environments results in catastrophes, the consequences of which are measured first and foremost through and by bodies. 

In our joint conference we are linking different approaches toward the topic within and beyond the discipline of history:
1. Bodies as sources of

  1. food, energy, economy: producing and devouring bodies, bodies as work force, work force as a contested resource. Dead bodies as a source of waste or raw material;
  2. power (politics, demography, war): how politics manipulates human and animal bodies as resource in warfare; political regimes and rhetorics about organisms, reproduction and health;
  3. knowledge: methodological aspects of archaeology, medicine, anthropology, demography and other disciplines that use bodies as a source material.

2. Vulnerable bodies between resilience and catastrophes:

  1. endangered bodies: humans and animals in the face of famine, frost, heat, pathogens, crop failure, war and climatic change;
  2. balancing bodies: factors of resilience, striking a balance between the needs of the body, soul and environment in changing circumstances;
  3. dissemination of new knowledge, technologies and organisms (species) to increase resilience.

3. Controlling the bodies:

  1. police ordinances concerning food, clothing, work power, health and sexuality: regulations concerning public health, the spread of diseases, surrogates and food additives; bodies as objects belonging to the state;
  2. religious regulations: taboos, education, social disciplining;
  3. medical regulations: how health and diseases were defined?
  4. individual systems of controlling the body: internalization or resistance against regulations.

In the first days of the conference in Tallinn we will discuss general and methodological questions, while we will continue in Tartu with a focus on the early modern Baltic Sea region. Discussing the impact of police ordinances and environmental phenomena, we aim to bring new aspects to the master narratives of different social phenomena (e.g., famine, serfdom, social disciplining, etc.).

10–11 September 2014

Location: Institute of History, Rüütli 6, Tallinn

12 September 2014

Location: Johannes Esto Maja, Näituse 3, Tartu