Experience & Abstraction: A Study of Speculative Knowledge Production in Reconceptualising Our Relation to The World

Phillips, James. 2024. Experience & Abstraction: A Study of Speculative Knowledge Production in Reconceptualising Our Relation to The World. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

The central claim of this thesis is that a method of knowledge production grounded on experience is required to think the profound alteration of, and resulting alienation from, our relation to the world created by catastrophic climate change. The demand by waves of environmentalism to resituate humanity at large within nature—both physically and theoretically—is echoed in contemporary calls by the Anthropocene discourses and the environmental humanities. This thesis questions whether this can be achieved by using the same methods of knowledge production and theoretical tools that have directly or indirectly produced this current situation. Through a critique of the historical formation of this fundamentally modern position, from decolonial, process philosophical, and pragmatist perspectives, this thesis sets out a strategy to construct knowledge based on, and to enrich, experience.

Responding to various attempts by the environmental humanities to conceptually overcome the sense of alienation that characterises “our relation to the world”, as Bruno Latour dubs it, this thesis argues that a critique of the frameworks and methods of knowledge production of the West is required before new concepts can be constructed to reconfigure and overcome this sense of alienation. Although such critiques do exist, the contribution of this thesis is approaching this problematic from the perspective of experience. To do so, the work of Sylvia Wynter and Alfred North Whitehead is used to develop a critique of abstraction that makes clear the ways in which experience has been expunged in favour of an “objective” perspective of reality itself. The thesis then goes on to sketch out a method of knowledge production that would reestablish experience as both its foundation and outcome, arguing for the value of a particular understanding of figuration and speculation for this task. To further explore and test this argument, the thesis ultimately turns to the speculative fiction of Amos Tutuola and N. K. Jemisin in order to propose speculative figures through which “our relation to the world” can be reconceptualised. The core problematic with which this thesis engages is the critique of knowledge production and the speculative, constructive intensification and enrichment of experience that is missing in many contemporary discursive attempts to characterise and overcome the alienation that results from the “profound mutation in our relation to the world”.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):



Experience, Abstraction, Metaphysics, Speculation, Fiction, Sylvia Wynter, Alfred North Whitehead

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


31 January 2024

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

09 Feb 2024 13:06

Last Modified:

09 Feb 2024 13:12



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