The Insurrection Interviews podcast is part of Magic and Ecology, a year-long series of talks and online events where we invite researchers thinking about magic in relation to ecology, and practitioners working with magic to transform modes of earth-living in order to enable collaborative thinking across disciplines and practices. In this episode your host Simone Kotva talks geopolitics, mysticism and volcanology with Dr Adam Bobbette.
Adam Bobbette completed his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge and is currently a research fellow at the University of New South Wales, Sydney. His first book, At Earth’s Edge: Political Geology in Java, which is due to appear next year, uncovers the influence of Javanese mysticism on the emergence of the modern scientific discipline of volcanology. At the centre of the book is Mt. Merapi: an active, populous volcano, where Adam undertook an ethnography and comparative cultural history of shamans and volcanologists. Adam compares their technologies and practices of forecasting, institutions, and networks, and the ways that telling stories of the volcano and its future are ways of defining what it means to be human.
Adam’s work challenges the reader to reassess the boundaries we often draw between scientific and mystical forms of knowledge, but also to discover that the two are implicated in one another and impossible to disentangle. He writes:
The differences between mystics and scientists were often not as stark as sometimes either of them imagined them to be. Reading a seismograph was often as mystical as spirit possession. Scientists understood Merapi as if it was speaking to them. What brought them together was their shared pursuit of finding ways to mediate, to speak for and with, the volcano, and to do so in ways that negotiated, buffered, and complemented each other.
Adam brings a political perspective to the question of magic, placing it in the context of urgent environmental and social concerns. He shows how both high tech science and folk magic are techniques for “conjuring the unseen” and mediating what is invisible so that it becomes visible. Adam’s work is a really wonderful case study of concepts that too often are invoked out of context or merely as metaphors.
MAGIC AND ECOLOGY is hosted by CRASSH the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Cambridge, and co-convened by Hjördis Becker-Lindenthal, Sophie Lunn-Rockliffe and Simone Kotva.