Interrogating vagueness and uncertainty: interdisciplinary approaches

The Interdisciplinary Research Forum at London Met organised a workshop on Interrogating vagueness and uncertainty: interdisciplinary approaches, which took place on 4 May 2023.

This workshop addressed vagueness and uncertainty, which have long been seen as antithetical to the rational, homogeneous and predictable forms of modern governance and subjectivity. It looked at the vague forms of memory, at uncertainty and chaos in historical development, and at heterogeneity of power, and invited the participants to reflect on vagueness, uncertainty and ambivalence as a productive force.

The speakers presented papers that addressed different aspects of vagueness and ambivalence from the perspectives of memory studies, philosophy and sociological criminology.

The session was chaired by Professor Diana Stirbu.

The speakers

Professor Steven Brown, Nottingham Trent University, presented the paper “The Functionality of Ambiguity in Remembering”. He argued against the dichotomy between ‘truth’ and ‘falsity’ in relation to memory. All memories are technically either ‘relatively falsified’ or ‘relatively as-yet-unfalsified’. False memory studies claim to be able explain the production of false memories, but do not offer criterion to effectively differentiate populations of so-called ‘true’ and ‘false’ victims. The narrative of the discovery of the ‘false memories’ themselves is inconsistent and reflects the dominant narratives in post-war psychology. He concluded that experiences are contingent, fragile, tentative things that sit in a web of interdependencies.

Dr Craig Lundy, London Metropolitan University, talked about “Deleuze, Complexity Science and the Rigour of Vagueness”. He referred to Deleuze’s work as an example of how we can think about the meaning and values we assign to vagueness and uncertainty, along with their related terms and supposed opposites – clarity and rigour. Alongside other philosophers, Deleuze described a cosmos of uncertainty and indeterminacy, where these are not a result of incomplete knowledge and the finite capacity of humans, but are integral features of the universe itself. Through engaging with uncertainty and vagueness, we create new knowledge. This is different from modern machine knowledge such as ChatGPT, whose function it is to rearrange combinations of what already exists. AI, he concluded, will never be able to produce genuinely new knowledge.

Professor Simon Hallsworth, University of Surrey, and Professor Svetlana Stephenson, London Metropolitan University, presented a paper, “Carnivals of the Masters: Power, Heterogeneity and Excess". They suggested a reading of carnival which departs from Bakhtin’s influential account as ultimately a performance of resistance and liberation on the part of oppressed masses. They argued that while carnival can be a joyous mass occasion, where a repressed people temporarily experience liberation from pleasureless officialdom, there is, nevertheless a darker, crueler and more violent aspect to carnival. Also, carnivals are not just a part of popular culture. The powerful have their own carnivals, where they also trade in the grotesque and the absurd, laugh with cruelty and suspend the moral order and license behaviours that otherwise violate the laws of the very regime they are supposed to guarantee. They discussed the carnivalesque performances by Trump, Johnson and Putin’s propagandists during the war in Ukraine.   

The event took place at Holloway Campus and was well attended by scholars from London Met and beyond.