Elements – a new book series
Over the past decade, studies of culture have crystallized around the elements, as scholars have endeavored to think with material substances. The classical elements of earth, water, air, and fire for example, have inspired several recent books, including Jussi Parikka’s A Geology of Media (2015), Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s Stone (2015), and Thinking with Water, edited by Cecilia Chen, Janine MacLeod, and Astrida Neimanis. Nigel Clark and Kathryn Yusoff drawing together histories of fire, cultural theories of the sun, and pyrotechnics, have proposed that a “generalized study of combustion” is key to understanding human energetic exchanges. More broadly, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Lowell Duckert recently published a collection driven by all the classical elements, assembling elemental criticism as an explicitly ecological project: Elemental Ecocriticism: Thinking with Earth, Air, Water, and Fire. Other forms of matter, from ice to plastics, are forming new centers for emerging environmentally-oriented conversations. And we expect that more scholars will undertake projects focusing on the chemical elements of contemporary science, as carbon, rare earth minerals, and polymetallic sulfides—entangled in climate change, ocean acidification, terrestrial mining and deep sea mining—become the focus of scientific, ethical, and political concerns.
Book series tend to be bound by geographic areas, disciplinary focus, a shared set of theoretical questions, and objects of study. The Elements series would include texts with a commitment to examining social and cultural processes in relation to particular forms of matter, regardless of disciplinary approach. We imagine that the series will include historical texts that explicate discourses and knowledge about the elements, ethnographies that track how the elements are socially engaged and culturally constituted, studies of scientific knowledge of the elements, and works that think through the representation and material role of the elements in the production of art, texts and technologies. Regardless of their site, we welcome texts in which the elements, whether as part of the waves of the ocean or the circulations of the atmosphere, are not a neutral background, but lively forces that shape culture, politics, and communication. We are interested in manuscripts that track the elements in their classical sense, that follow particular scientific elements, molecules, and materials, or that offer inventive sites for rethinking what constitutes the elemental.
The elemental approach has reached the point where researchers have begun to offer philosophies and paradigms for its analysis, including David Macauley’s Elemental Philosophy: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water as Environmental Ideas (2010), Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Lowell Duckert’s edited collection, Elemental Ecocritcism: Thinking with Earth, Air, Water, and Fire (2015), and John Durham Peters’ The Marvelous Clouds: Towards a Philosophy of ElementalMedia (2015). These works offer a number of strategic reasons to adopt the elemental as a framework for ecological analysis, rather than concepts such as “environment” or “nature.” Macauley writes, for example, that understanding the elements does not entail “referring back to ‘Nature’ itself as an entirely stable sphere of meaning—a repository of the ontologically pregiven—so much as gesturing forward (sideward and wayward) to the possibility of discovering a more fluid, open and unfolding philosophical framework and ecological field.” Although many of the elemental works mentioned above have been motivated by a need to better understand the ecological crisis, many others do not fit within existing ecocritical and environmental frameworks. And similarly, just as many of these works are informed by work in the new materialism, not all operate under this rubric.
As is true of the elements themselves, the books we witness engaging them, and which we would feature in this series, are not always neatly constrained in a particular field such as geography, history, anthropology, literary criticism or philosophy, nor within areas such as digital media or new materialism, even as their study has profound implications for all of these fields. In assembling diverse inquiries into particular forms of matter, we hope that the series will be a meeting ground for work on earth, water, air, chemicals, minerals, fuels, plastics, and other such substances as they circulate and interact with and as part of environmental, technological, cultural and political formations. Our interest is not in creating a set of definitions for what the elemental might be, but to open a space for such innovative work at Duke University Press. Duke’s strengths in theory, cultural analysis, environmental studies, and science studies, and the fact that the Press has already published many works emerging around this topic, make it an ideal location for these exchanges.
In order to maintain a distinctive focus on the Elemental, we are not soliciting projects that lack sustained attention to substances and materialities. While the books in the series will all be theoretically informed—and some may be primarily theoretical—all of the projects should still engage, in a serious and sustained way, with the elements—broadly conceived.
Each book in the Elements series will go through the standard submission process of Duke University Press and will be approved by the series editors. For consideration in this series, please email proposals, sample, chapters, or completed manuscripts to Nicole Starosielski and Stacy Alaimo: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Proposals may also be sent directly to Courtney Berger at Duke UP: firstname.lastname@example.org; see also https://www.dukeupress.edu/Authors/
[1}Nigel Clark and Kathryn Yusoff, “Combustion and Society: A Fire-Centred History of Energy Use,” Theory, Culture & Society 31 no. 5 (September 2014): 203-226; See also: Kerry Ryan Chance, “Where there is Fire, there is Politics”: Ungovernability and Material Life in Urban South Africa,” Cultural Anthropology 30, no. 3 (2015): 394-423; Nigel Clark, “Fiery Arts: Pyrotechnology and the Political Aesthetics of the Anthropocene,” GeoHumanities 1, no. 2 (2015): 266-284.
 Jennifer Gabrys, Gay Hawkins, and Mike Michael, eds. Accumulation: The Material Politics of Plastic (New York: Routledge, 2013).
 David Macaley, Elemental Philosophy: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water as Environmental Ideas (Albany: SUNY Press, 2010), 4.