“Plastic Sweat Metal Skin”: Body Ecologies and Visceral Geographies

In Janelle Monae’s 2010 hit Many Moons, a surreal, futuristic android auction descends into a litany of personal and social ills. Tumbling from the mouth of Monae’s android alter ego Cindi Mayweather, “Plastic sweat, metal skin / Metallic tears, mannequin” grounds this lyrical moment in an embodiment of organic and inorganic life that disrupts and is itself subject to disruption. Plastic sweat is a visceral reminder of the manifestations of labor for beings whose humanity is subject to negotiation and denial, compelling the broader questions: What is sweat? How does it manifest? But also, what sweats and on what scale? 


Physiologically, sweat is a regulatory response wherein liquid exudes through the pores of the body due to environmental, physical, social, and affective stressors. It often manifests in discomfort, yet functions as a tool of adaptation. However, as Monae and other thinkers, creators, and performers demonstrate, sweat is a more complicated embodied experience. The process and product of sweat exists at multiple registers and scales, informed by environmental, bodily and social encounters. A turn to sweat compels an exploration of materialities and immaterialities of body-worlds, opening up a broader discussion around queer, posthuman, inhuman, and ecological forms of fugitive materialisms. 


We frame this exploration of sweat as a feminist geographic encounter with the intersection of embodiment, labor, health and affect. This session is imagined as an engagement with sweat geographies (e.g., Waitt 2013) that deploys the analytics of body ecologies, Black geographies, feminist political ecologies, and queer geographies. Through this discussion, we hope to more fully work through problematics like the one posed by Monae. The unknown and unseen geographies in which inorganic sweat manifests are brought to light in her imaginative space of alterity. Her work thus exemplifies the overarching aim of engaging sweat and its spatialities: to take it seriously as both an object of analysis and an analytical frame to better understand the experiences of the body and the multiscalar forces that make the body ‘sweat’, while expanding sweat beyond its bio- and anthropo-centric frame. 


To that end, paper themes and discussions may include but are not limited to: 


• Bodies in crisis; bodies in pleasure 

• Queer porosity 

• Mapping or un-mapping the body 

• Landscapes and body-scapes 

• Posthuman or inhuman viscerality 

• Affect and the biomedical body 

• Eco-Disability, Eco-Crip 

• Decomposition and decay 

• Abject and toxic materiality 

• Visceral geographies 

• Uneven geographies of climate change 


Please send your abstracts to Christian Keeve (keeve@wisc.edu), Kela Caldwell (kecaldwell@wisc.edu), and Erin Clancy (eclancy2@wisc.edu) by November 29th.

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