‘River-Stone-Ceremony’; Towards a Material Poet(h)ics of Nonhuman-human Witnessing

Burns, Laura. 2021. ‘River-Stone-Ceremony’; Towards a Material Poet(h)ics of Nonhuman-human Witnessing. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This practice-based PhD situates itself within the current global environmental crisis,
considering a reorientation to land from queer feminist and decolonial perspectives. The project
evolves around a series of visions which took place in July 2015, at the River Wyre in Pendle,
Lancashire, the location of the infamous 1612 witch-hunts. The visions, as a central theory of
the thesis, are engaged through relational embodied practices and performances to explore a
mode of animacy emanating with and from the nonhuman and human ancestors. The thesis
addresses ways of including the nonhuman ancestors (specifically river, stone) within the
political, moving through and beyond biosemiotics, materialist approaches and politics of
recognition, re-orienting to land as pedagogy and the emergence of a grounded ethics.

The project works with Elizabeth Povinelli’s articulation of geontopower, to question
how collaborative processes of human-nonhuman witnessing might produce an emergent
ethics necessary in the context of late liberal, colonial-capitalism’s production of racial, gender,
environmental and epistemological violence. Central to this investigation is the role of voice
and language and its entangled animacy with land and the nonhuman, explored through critical
thinking around the visions, settler-colonial dynamics, and site-specific research. The figure of
the stone-womxn, a collective of human-nonhuman existents experienced through the visions,
calls for an immaterial and spiritual labour which prioritises the generative potential of
dissolution rather than (re)-production, representation, accumulation or inevitability of bringing
the immaterial into materiality.

The first phase of practice (2015-2017) is punctuated by choreographic work for stage,
one-on-one durational performance and site-specific performance. The second phase
(2018-2019) emerges an ongoing collaborative practice with the river stones I term the
unearthings, and a series of land ceremonies at the river during summer 2019 held under the
project name Ceremony House.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):



ecology; decolonisation; anthropocene; performance; site-specific; somatic; witch-craft

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



31 May 2021

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

21 Jul 2021 10:49

Last Modified:

07 Sep 2022 17:19



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