june 2018

22jun13:0513:35Simon Peres: How to Make Water Inhabitable? Towards an Ontology Beyond Flow13:05 - 13:35 B: Studio 1

Event Details

In this paper, I identify two fallacies that tend to underlie philosophical and anthropological accounts ofwater.Thefirstistheconceptionofwateraspure, untainted flow and changefulness, instinctively opposed to the immobility and inertia of land. It is manifested in the disproportionate attention given to highly idealized figures such as rivers and oceans, while mud, ambient moisture, and other ‘impure’, ambiguous forms (what David Gissen called ‘subnature’) are left out. The second fallacy is that of localism, which consists in artificially isolating bodies of water from each other, neglecting their participation in wider systems such as biogeochemical cycles. Those two misconceptions, despite their coexistence, are profundly at odds with each other: how can water be so free-flowing if it is condemned to firmly remain within the boundaries of clean-cut entities?

This results in a picture of the world that is uninhabitable, i.e. ontologically closed-off, making it impossible to understand how living beings engage with matter and make it their dwelling. I look for possible ways of escaping this dead end, considering in particular architect Lars Spuybroek’s concepts of abstraction and sympathy. Together and in the context of his ‘gothic ontology’, they provide a remarkable account of how different materials can interweave, resonate together and pattern themselves after each other. In applying them to water, I aim to reopen the question of what it means to live in a liquid environment.



After studying philosophy in Paris, I am now pursuing an MRes in Social Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen. In trying to find a middle ground between the two disciplines in the form of an empirical phenomenology, I got especially interested in the question of dwelling. My aim is to develop an account that encompasses plant growth and climatic phenomenas as well as human and non-human architecture, effectively overcoming the remnants of the opposition between nature and culture.


(Friday) 13:05 - 13:35


B: Studio 1

Dartington Hall, Totnes, Devon TQ9 6EN