A series of recent interventions within geography have sought to refocus attention on matter and materiality (Whatmore 2006; Anderson and Tolia-Kelly 2004). For Sarah Whatmore these materialist returns have led geographers back to ‘the most enduring of geographical concerns – the vital connections between the geo (earth) and the bio (life)’ (2006, 601, emphasis original). For Whatmore (1999), the current division of geographical labour into the study of nature (earth surface processes and landforms) and culture (society and space) has seemingly failed to capture the liveliness and agency of non-human living beings. Geographical science results in a deadening of the world and its liveliness, for it separates out humans and agency (which seems to be an exclusively human capacity) from the more mechanistic explanations which characterise accounts of geomorphological, hydrological and atmospheric processes. Yet in the current scientific climate it is becoming increasing hard to hold human life apart from materiality and to deny agency to all forms of life except humans. The futility of such an exercise is exemplified by current debates over the inability of humans to effectively govern and control the activities of agencies such as Avian Influenza (see Hinchliffe and Bingham 2008), Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (Hinchliffe 2001), Bovine Tuberculosis (Enticott 2006) and Foot and Mouth disease (Law and Mol 2006). These disease agents – and the governance practices, regulations and technologies which humans employ to try and evade or destroy them – blur the boundaries between human agencies, other forms of life and the material world. Consequently, the life sciences have been put forward as a key place where geographers might begin to re-map the relationships between nature, society, life and matter (Castree 1999; Whatmore 1999; Spencer and Whatmore 2001; Bridge et al. 2003; Greenhough and Roe 2006). In order to do so, Spencer and Whatmore (2001, 140) suggest that rather than separating out human and material worlds we should instead be
developing geographical approaches that are better attuned to the ways in which we (as human agents) intervene in and are shaped by the life worlds of others.