Mutable Matter


New article in EPD on geography & matter


Image: ‘Crowd, Isolated on White’ (Leontura/Getty Images)

This morning, my latest article on geography and matter was published by Environment & Planning D: Society and Space. There are two kinds of discomforts that I am processing in this article: the lack of dialogue on the role of matter between followers of historical and new materialism, and my conflicted relationship with the work of Hannah Arendt. I had the feeling that the two problems were related, so I went ahead to see where it took me, starting with channelling the many animated conversation that I have had with people at workshops and conferences. I ended up somewhere different than expected, but with one thing I was right: it had to do with the way we make cuts between the material and supposedly non-material world. The result is called ‘Re-reading Worldliness: Hannah Arendt and the Question of Matter‘. If you do not have access to the journal, please send me an email. It is also available for free on the journal website until 12 September.

Abstract

Both new and historical materialisms have attracted a reputation for leading to ‘bad politics’. Historical materialisms have been accused of reducing too much to material relations and their production, whereas new materialisms have been accused of avoiding politics completely. This article reads the critique directed at materialisms against Hannah Arendt’s exceptional distrust of matter. Focusing on her concept of ‘worldliness’, it grapples with the question ‘why do we need an attention to matter in the first place?’ The attempted re-reading takes place through a feminist and postcolonial lens that draws out the contributions and failures of Arendt’s (anti)materialist framework in its banishing of matter from politics. Arendt’s focus on the prevention of dehumanisation further serves as a means to discuss materialism’s risk in negotiating the tension between deindividuation and dehumanisation.


‘Is it a race thing or a lady thing?’ – the new Ghostbusters and the Academy

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Image: A female theorist dealing with another load of crap

When I first saw the announcement and trailer for the new Ghostbusters film, I thought I would hate it. Promoted as a film that would get girls interested in science, it seemed to reflect the usual blindness of institutional feminism to race and class. As the script itself puts it: ‘three scientists – plus Patty’. After the academic qualifications of Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) were written back out of the script of the 1984 film – no one knew he was actually a black superscientist – you would hope that the new film would be different, but it is not. On the other hand, it is not the trainwreck that I expected it to be – on the contrary.

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Image: ‘Guilty as charged!’

Many reviewers have complained that the ‘flipping’ of Ghostbusters is shallow and has failed to introduce a women’s perspective. I think the opposite is the case. In fact, the failure to recognise the female perspective is indicative of the ubiquitous white male blindness to processes of exclusion routinely faced by women and other ‘minorities’. Like the Ghostbusters’ assistant Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), white men are often oblivious to why the world works for them and why their gender or race isn’t an issue. This is especially obvious in this article in which a white male reviewer criticises the film for being apolitical and failing to produce an analysis of its time. In my view, the new Ghostbusters seems more political by going deeper into the mechanics and political embeddedness of academic exclusion than its predecessors.

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Image: ‘Let me in!’

As schemes from STEMnet science ambassadors to Athena Swan illustrate, there is a problem not only with recruiting women into science, but with retaining them. The higher you go up the career ladder, the less women you will encounter (in some science subjects, female students even outnumber male students, but this is not reflected in the faculty). It is the same story (but worse) for BME (black, minority ethnic) scholars, and there are also class and other biases. Even if you perform well in academia, the same factors that should have excluded you in the first instance, are likely to still work against you. This is brilliantly illustrated through the Ghostbusters characters.

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Image: Erin is denied tenure by the dean at Columbia

First we see Erin (Kirsten Wiig), a theoretical physicist whose tenure is delayed by increasingly ridiculous requirements that no male colleague would have to perform. Another reference, another grant, another book – something is always missing, while male colleagues with less impressive achievements effortlessly move past. We see how Erin is aware of this, anxious to meet these criteria down to her appearance, and also angry at having to perform a disproportional amount of ‘ass-kissing’. What I also like about the Erin vignette is the attention to knowledge policing: what gets validated by Western academia and what doesn’t. Academia rewards particular standards, particular modes of thinking and producing. You need to be similar to others, to cite the canon, to orient your research towards the current funding. The film even shows how the refusal of other knowledges and experiences has shaped Erin’s private life. After her encounter with a ghost as a child, she was subjected to lengthy psychotherapy for rectification.

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Image: Patty tries to convince three white women that they have something in common

Patty (Leslie Jones) represents an extension of this theme by race and class. She is obviously very educated, but self-educated. US academia would have excluded her on the grounds of lack of funds and lack of appropriate background, most probably including schooling in non-prestigious institutions. If the film had been set in 1980s UK, she might have been an Open University student, but these sorts of opportunities have ceased to exist. Bored with her job and excited about expanding the boundaries of her knowledge, Patty decides to join the outcast women, with whom she feels a connection. The three white scientists at first do not feel or see a connection – Patty has to beg and bribe the group with her ‘benefits’ – but it gradually dawns on them that they have something in common. When she finally joins the team, Patty again takes to self-education. The scientists initially do not even consider that she might be interested in science – she is their equipment provider, ‘muscle’ and ‘native guide’ (not even historian) – but Patty observes, listens and starts to get active in the lab and in the field.

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Image: Abby has to realise that the margins are increasingly hard to find

In the old Ghostbusters film academia was the subject of critique for being oversaturated with time, space, funding and equipment. The new Ghostbusters film performs a reversal by its portrayal of the privatised, neoliberal academy: the university is now the space where you have to apply for funding, and you will only receive it if you can demonstrate ‘results’. If you want to do something long-term, creative and out of the ordinary, you have to stay out of sight and hide in the margins. This is shown through Abby’s (Melissa McCarthy) character who does exactly that, although she does underestimate how much the margins are increasingly being closed down. When her institution is taken over by a crude cookie-cutter corporate type, the women and their research are immediately kicked out. Abby’s original plan was to save Erin from mainstream academia and show her the beauty of the margins, but they are now even further than initially anticipated. As even the most dubious institutions aim to get in with the top achievers, the margins have to move outside of any institution. You essentially have to sacrifice your career and expose yourself to the risk of your own enterprise.

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Image: Holtzmann: all bets (and safety lights) are off

Unlike Abby, Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) seems more clued up about the constantly moving margins. She is very socially observant and knows where boundaries are, why they are there and why they need crossing. She appears to be in a constant state of adaptation, which includes making do with equipment pieced together from dumpsters and generally making full use of the freedom not to have to conform. While Holtzmann certainly delivers, her work would be considered too extreme in a university context, as it disregards protocols on any level from health and safety guidelines to outward representation. With an attitude like ‘we nearly got killed – it was awesome!’, any institution would be in constant fear of litigation and of threats to its reputation. Holtzmann is not a dutiful workaholic loner, but a fun-loving, thrill-seeking boundary-pusher. Like Abby and Erin, however, Holtzmann has a PhD, which means that, at one point, she must have managed to pass through the university system. We later meet her mentor, Dr Rebecca Gorin (Sigourney Weaver), of whom we don’t know if she was her formal or informal supervisor. This also mirrors a frequent academic pattern of how some mavericks – and black or female academics – survive. They have someone who ‘gets’ them and has their back.

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Image: This is not the solution

Overall, the four women each have developed a different coping mechanisms for being at odds with the system: self-education (Patty), self-experimentation (Holtzmann), refuge in margins (Abby) and self-censorship to fit into the mainstream (Erin). Their antagonist, Rowan (Neil Casey), has had similar experiences with the system, but his coping strategy is revenge. The women understand the source of his pain and madness, but they also understand that total obliteration is not benefitting anyone and even validates the authority and prestige of the system. While prestige through validation is seductive, one also ends up reproducing the problem instead of remaining open to alternatives, including more supportive forms of co-operation. Perhaps the Ghostbusters are also more used to facing default devaluation because of their gender, and have learnt not to individualise the issue. This awareness, of course, does not render them immune to the desire to be known. When Erin is about to make a deadly mistake solely to refute another white male expert who tries to discredit her, Abby sharply reminds her ‘who cares??’ Erin succumbs anyway, and almost ends up putting everyone in jail for an inexplicable murder – there is no win situation.

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Image: Now on Amazon – ghostwritten

In a twisted way, the situation mirrors the title of Erin’s and Abby’s book: the four women continue to be haunted by the ghosts of white male supremacy and ‘official culture’ literally and figuratively, whether it’s male antagonists, debunkers, saboteurs, or supposed male allies like Kevin (the latter ending up bonding with ‘debunker’ Heist over his hat). This is rendered very literal in the film’s takedown of the freshly supercharged Rowan, when he resists the women’s efforts of putting him away into the netherworld by clinging onto two skyscrapers: ‘Let’s loosen his grip’ (on Abby’s command, the Ghostbusters open fire on his crotch, not his hands) Patty: ‘That’s where you wanted us to shoot, right?’.

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Image: Patriarchy comes to haunt the Ghostbusters wherever they go

In a less obvious manner, the film reflects arguments that have been made about the status of the margins made by people such as bell hooks and Moten & Harney. The latter offer an extensive manual for dealing with academia and wider power structures in their publication ‘the undercommons’ (link to pdf): how to use spaces where you are not supposed to be. As in ‘the undercommons’, the female Ghostbusters represent “the subversive intellectual [who] came under false pretenses, with bad documents, out of love. Her labor is as necessary as it is unwelcome. The university needs what she bears but cannot bear what she brings”. Indeed, the film shows constant attempts at repressing the efforts of the Ghostbusters from official side, even though they show ‘results’ – better results. Yet solutions are not officially allowed to come out of the margins, as much as they are inofficially needed. The illusion that the current system works must be maintained at all costs: ‘the mayor thanks you, privately, but don’t tell anyone!’

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Image: Another gatekeeper says no

In conclusion, you could say that Ghostbusters represents science accurately: not just in the ‘techno-babble’, but also in its institutional make-up. If the makers of the film think that it will attract more girls into science, they might be right. The female scientists are not only nerdy, but clever, funny and cool. Whether young women – or other ‘marginal’ thinkers – will be able to enter academia and advance within it, is a different story. Under current institutional conditions, present exclusions and hierarchies are sharpening rather than loosening up. The film seems to be aware that, for these women to succeed in mainstream science, conditions would need to be very different. Even when the Ghostbusters are finally acknowledged and generously rewarded, they choose to claim and maintain their own place. The message might be very much akin to Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s strategy of the undercommons: if you do your research out of love, take what you can from the system and run.


Open Letter Condemning the Purge of Academic Institutions in Turkey

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This important petition just came through. The situation in Turkey is extremely disconcerting, and I am worried about my friends, colleagues and any other people who are negatively affected by the post-coup developments. If any other actions can be taken from outside Turkey, I will post these updates here.

Current petition text (you can sign the petition here):

As academics and administrators affiliated with colleges and universities around the world, we the undersigned strongly condemn the recent attacks on academic freedom by President Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP).

On July 19, over 15,000 teachers and staff have been removed from their jobs, and Turkey’s Higher Education Board (YÖK) called upon the deans of all private and state universities to resign, in the wake of the attempted coup d’état on July 15 by a faction within the military. [Update: the government has instituted a travel ban on all academics (July 20)] The coup attempt is being cynically used to justify the appointment of party loyalists to those positions, which will politicize academic institutions and undermine both institutional independence and academic freedom throughout Turkey.

In solidarity with our colleagues in Turkey and in the defense of academic freedom, we therefore call upon President Erdoğan to reverse course and to respect the independence of academic institutions and the academic freedom of their faculty and students. We will support this call with the public and private means available to us.


Missing the point: On negotiating realities in (reviewing) ‘We need to talk about Kevin’

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I am currently working off my ‘to watch’ list that has accumulated during term time. Once again, I am surprised by the kind of films that captivate me. They are often the once that are quite low on my list, either because of their subject matter or uninspiring trailers. ‘We need to talk about Kevin’ is one of those films. It has been lurking on my list for many months and, suddenly, out of a whim, I decided to watch it – and was blown away. [caution: spoiler alert!]

‘We need to talk about Kevin’ is centred around a violent boy who ends up committing a massacre at his school. The film follows the boy’s mother, Eva (played by Tilda Swinton), through her present and past life, from just before Kevin’s birth until his move to an adult prison facility. The film can be described as a drama, psychological thriller, horror or even dark comedy. You can watch the trailer here.

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Kevin is born – soon Eva will seek solace in building site noise

Already while watching the film, I started taking notes and searching for film reviews. I wanted to know if anyone else ‘got’ what I saw in the film. I was both shocked and affirmed in my suspicions that I could not find any discussion of ‘it’. In fact, the film was critiqued in many predictable ways for missing the point. Reviewers have criticised the film for lacking emotional depth, explanatory power, coherence and realism; for portraying Kevin as implausibly demonic; and for being a shallow product of upper middle-class imagination that is unable to deal with social complexities. Other targets include hatred of bohemian lifestyles, demonisation of motherhood and unnecessary abstraction. There is only one review (by Travis Wagner) that I found that came close to my own reading of the film. It focuses on the portrayal of violence in the film:

“In fact, one could make the argument that Ramsay’s film draws greater concern to the family structure of contemporary America as a place of latent violence. The silences and back room dealings that happen within even the seemingly happiest and well-to-do families only lays in wait for something tragic. Life, according to the world of We Need To Talk About Kevin, is usually shitty and there is no explanation as to why, yet it is pointless to dwell on the past no matter how dismal the present may be, simply put, there is no going back to a time before.”

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Kevin’s parents waiting for his sister at hospital after household chemicals ‘accident’

I would like to take this argument a little further: the violence in the film results not just from life’s pointlessness and from a specifically American context, but from a jarring of realities. The problem with most of the reviews is that their writers critique the film from within their reality, what they believe to be ‘common sense’. For instance, they critique that the film fails to engage with the underlying causes of school shootings, which for one author are “the endless wars and talk of war, the social polarization, the worship of money, greed and selfishness, the brutalization and cheap misanthropy of popular culture and everyday life, the repudiation of the idea of social progress, the severe demoralization of a section of the youth, and all the rest”. This listing illustrates the writer’s assumption that if all of society’s problems were fixed, there is no reason or condition for violence.

This perspective remains completely oblivious to the possibility that, even if social inequality and greed are erased, human life might still seem unbearably absurd, if you have the curse or blessing of a slightly detached view. The film emphasises this possibility and the resulting jarring realities. It becomes gradually evident that the film is really told from Kevin’s perspective, not from Eva’s. What we see through Kevin’s eyes are freakish attempts at social formation, starting with the constant eliciting and measuring of achievements, and later expectations of etiquette and performance of prescribed relationships. Normal expectations become absurd: what and who do these demands serve?

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The young Kevin refusing appropriate development

To Kevin, what other people consider normality not only feels numbing, but ridiculous. People feel unreal in how they act, in their struggle to uphold this normality. People think their life has a point, but it doesn’t. This realisation seems to be the main reason for Kevin’s disregard for life. Perhaps this is mixed with a resentment of being born, being thoughtlessly condemned to a pointless existence. In light of this interpretation, Kevin’s strange and shocking behaviour as a child and teenager can be read as instinctive attempts to force his mother into abandoning her reality, to see how he sees the world. We see how Eva struggles against this taunting reality and with his constant confrontation. Sometimes, this struggle takes on comical forms, the comedy emerging out of the oddity of ‘normality’ as much as out of encounters with Kevin’s ‘alternative reality’ – or even Eva’s imagined freedom of pre-Kevin reality.

The parallel realities are reflected in the film’s aesthetics and cuts. While many reviewers have critiqued the theatrical element, it precisely reflects Kevin’s view of the world. In a sense, Kevin creates an augmented reality in his deliberate play with what is ‘normal’. It is a performance within the performance of others that interferes with it, but also affirms it. Kevin knows how people are going to react, what people going to do – he confirms and plays a stereotype in their reality. A loner who takes revenge on the popular kids, who suffers from a refusal of white male entitlement, who strives for a ‘red carpet’ moment. In his reality, he ridicules theirs – the clinging to a comforting illusion, even when the most violent interruption cuts through it. Most people remain unaware of what and how they are performing, and if the do, they do not wish to be reminded of it. Kevin knows that this reality will stay intact as a system, but maybe not for everyone whom he affects with his actions.

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Teenage Kevin surrenders to the police

For me, a key moment takes place when Eva spots the yellow locks on the gymnasium doors after arriving at the school. She had witnessed the arrival of the locks at her home, having taken on the delivery for her son. At this point she has confirmation that her son is not one of the potential victims, but the perpetrator: he is the one who is holding people hostage and killing them. With the fire brigade’s breaking of the main lock, Eva’s reality, too, is being broken, with the final rupture taking place after she returns home to find her husband and daughter in the garden, also murdered by her son. Perversely, from this moment onwards, she is forced to begin to see what he sees: to what lengths people will go to protect their reality and force others to participate in it: the necessity of a scapegoat, of clearly defined good and evil, of manicured appearances.

This gradual approaching of realities is hinted at during the final scene, where Eva visits her son in prison. The encounter takes place just before Kevin is to be ‘upgraded’ to the adult prison, after two years in a young offenders institution. After the usual awkward conversation, Eva finally confronts Kevin and asks him why he killed all these people. At first, Kevin graces her with his usual look – as if his mother would never understand him from the position of her reality. But then he seems to realise that she now lives in a different reality that is closer to his: for Eva, life around her has also become absurd and twisted. Kevin’s reality, too, is likely to have changed after being exposed to the alternate reality of the prison – a space that is often regarded as the dark condition for keeping ‘normality’ intact. This exposure beyond his experience of ‘normality’ might interfere with his ability to keep up his pattern. It could explain why Kevin, in the end, answers with something like: ‘I used to know why I did it, but now I’m not sure anymore.’ Before Eva leaves, Kevin gets up as if he opens himself for a hug – an unusual gesture that Eva responds to forcefully. Perhaps they can finally meet in the same reality.

The film ends with Eva walking towards the prison doors that open towards a white wall. On moving closer to the wall, the camera gives the impression of light. A pessimistic reading could view the light as an illusion of clarity – that the achievement of supposed clarity is just one further layer of illusion in a never-ending series of (self)deception. With a more positive inclination, this ending can be interpreted as an almost literal enlightenment – an invitation to finally begin a process of sense-making that is based on a clearer assessment of reality and a loss of fear from the horror of life. While the light may be brutal, at least it liberates from social prison.

Further, the hint of Kevin’s fragility at the end of the film could be read as a realisation that Kevin’s choice of how to deal with what he perceived as a ‘fake reality’ is not the only possibility. Nor is the reality that he loathed the only one out there. Here, the film seems to suggest that it is perhaps an even scarier or daunting challenge to find an alternative way of contesting hegemonic realities. Such a search will inevitably lead to existential questions and demand seemingly impossible levels of imagination. Perhaps it is not surprising that people shy away and choose self-projection and violence instead. In this sense, the film is as much a metaphor as an analysis of mass violence.


New Materialism & Decoloniality Workshop, 7-8 July, Duisburg

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Next week, I will hopefully be attending (and speaking) at the New Materialism & Decoloniality Workshop at Duisburg University. I have to say ‘hopefully’, because the Home Office has still not returned my passport and other documents that I had to send off a few weeks ago for the first part of my citizenship application (fingers crossed that I get them back in time – any advice about alternative travel documents appreciated).

Organised by Olivia Rutazibwa and Pol Bargués-Pedreny of the Käte Hamburger Kolleg/Centre for Global Cooperation Research, the workshop seeks to bring the two theoretical directions into dialogue with one another. There will be three rounds of discussions in which two people present readings, followed by two discussants who engage with the presentations. The three themes are: 1) The Roots of the Argument. Deconstructions: Nature, Culture and Critique. 2) The Argument. Reconstructions: Infrastructures, Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Cosmologies. 3) Thinking ahead with the Argument. Implementations and Implications: Ethics, Ecology and Geopolitics. The three sessions will be followed by a round table. Speakers include:  Anna Agathangelou, Kai Koddenbrock, Mark Jackson, Lisa Tilley, Jessica Schmidt, Vanessa Pupavac and Ovidiu Tichindeleanu.

The dialogues will be preceded by an evening of dialogues and performances on the topic “Climate on the Rise, People on the Move. Understanding Today’s Global Challenges Differently”. Here, Rolando Vazquez (Utrecht University) and Doerthe Rosenow (Oxford Brookes University) “will explore our relation to the earth, vulnerability and what it means to be human in an increasingly uncanny world”.

Attendance is welcome and free. Please e-mail events@gcr21.uni-due.de .


Echoes of Cologne Forum Now Online

People from Syria hold placards reading 'We respect the values of German society' and 'We are all Cologne' during a rally outside the main railway station in Cologne, Germany, January 16, 2016, where the vast majority of dozens of New Year Eve assaults on women took place. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay - RTX22NN4

People from Syria hold placards reading ‘We respect the values of German society’ and ‘We are all Cologne’ during a rally outside the main railway station in Cologne, Germany, January 16, 2016, where the vast majority of dozens of New Year Eve assaults on women took place. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay – RTX22NN4

The forum on the Cologne sexual assaults that I curated has now been posted on the Society & Space website. It also carries a resonance with the UK’s EU referendum that saw some references to Cologne. The forum will be published as a series, with more contributions appearing in weekly instalments (new entries welcome!). Many thanks to all the contributors and to those who helped recruit them, especially during hectic term time.

 


Feminist Review CFP “Environment”

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The following call might be of interest to readers:

*********************

Themed issue on ‘Environment’ 

Feminism has a long and complex relationship to ‘nature’ and ‘the environment’. From critiques of the gendered nature/ culture binary to ecofeminism, feminists have alternatively rejected and celebrated women’s supposedly closer relationship to the natural world. Feminism has also long engaged critically with conventional definitions of humanism and ‘the human’, especially as derived from the exclusionist and violent definitions of the European Enlightenment.

These activist and critical histories have been revised and revisited in recent years as part of a growing preoccupation in the social sciences and humanities with the environment as subject, as well as object, of study. Growing consciousness of human-induced climate change, with its vastly unequal impact on different human populations as well as the planet as a whole, adds special urgency to these concerns. Whether as part of the post-humanist critique of the humanities, the ‘animal turn’, or the ‘new materialism’, feminists and other scholar-activists are increasingly reconceptualising definitions of, and boundaries between, the human and other-than-human world.

Feminist Review invites academic articles and creative interventions for a special issue on ‘Environment’. Possible topics of consideration include:

-genealogies of feminist environmentalism, within and beyond ecofeminism
-gender, race, class and ‘intersectional environmentalism’
-postcolonialism and environmental justice
-feminist contributions to debates and interventions around climate change
-gendered histories of the environment
-memory, mourning and environmental destruction
-queer ecologies
-religious and spiritual dimensions of feminist engagement with ecology
-post-humanist approaches to environmental studies
-gendering ecocriticism
-material feminisms
-kinship across species
-feminist, queer and anti-racist interventions in animal studies
-feminist perspectives on planetary futures

Issue editors: Yasmin Gunaratnam, Carrie Hamilton and Ioana Szeman

If you would like to discuss your ideas for this issue please contact the editors at y.gunaratnam@gold.ac.uk, c.hamilton@roehampton.ac.uk and i.szeman@roehampton.ac.uk.

Full articles or Open Space pieces to be submitted by 2 January 2017.

Manuscripts should be submitted through Feminist Review’s online submission system and in FR house style. See http:// http://www.palgrave-journals.com/fr/author_instructions.html.


RACE Awards & Teaching Workshop now open for registration

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Image: Ellen Gallagher IGBT (2008)

Two exciting things are happening at the RACE (Race, Culture & Equality) Working group.

1) Two of our members, Margaret Byron (our chair) and Parvati Raghuram (committee member) are receiving awards from the RGS-IBG on 6 June. Margaret is receiving the Taylor & Francis Award for the promotion of diversity in the teaching of human geography, and Parvati is receiving the Murchinson Award for furthering geographical understandings of mobility.

2) Our RACE teaching workshop has been confirmed by the RGS-IBG conference organisers. It will take place on the Tuesday of the conference and will be free to attend (no conference registration needed!). The workshop is divided into two themes: Race in the Curriculum and Challenging Exclusionary Spaces. We hope to see you there! You can register for the workshop on our Eventbrite page.


CFP ISA 2017 Material and the Colonial Question

The following call for papers for the International Studies Association 2017 conference might be of interest to readers:

“Please consider this call for papers on the theme of ‘Material and the Colonial Question’ for ISA 2017 (Feb 22-25) in Baltimore. The ISA deadline for submissions is June 1st, so please send expressions of interest as soon as possible and full 200 word abstracts by May 20th to lisa.tilley@warwick.ac.uk. Many thanks!

Lisa Tilley, Olivia Rutazibwa, and Ajay Parasram.

Material and the Colonial Question

Divided cities, degraded resource frontiers, poisoned urban water supplies, violent commodity routes, oil pipelines, concrete settlements on colonised lands, toxic air, and contaminated biospheres – all of these may be understood as material substantiations of historically determined power relations in the present. A methodological shift to place material at the centre of analysis reveals the ways in which matter is implicated in politics and also provides a new means of expanding our debates around the colonial question.

This panel draws together papers which centre on the material realities of unequal political environments and thus adjust and enhance theorising both of the material and the (post)colonial. Panel contributions variously consider how material arrangements constitute subject/object, human/thing colonial power relations. These will also uncover means of overcoming the separation between the material and the representational in decolonial and postcolonial work by tracing lineages of Indigenous thought, or by recovering material questions from the work of anticolonial thinkers including Frantz Fanon.

Papers included range from a reading of the sociogenic material of the (post)colonial city through the work of Fanon and Sylvia Wynter, to an examination of the materialities of Black Power.

Panel contributors may relate to one or more of the following research questions:

In what ways is material politically implicated in the colonial present?
How are colonial social relations materialised in physical space?
What are the possibilities for engagement between posthumanism and post-/de-colonial thought?
What are the political implications of physiological changes in relation to material environments?
How does matter mediate political life?
How are material exclusions from the figure of the human produced?
How are dehumanising spaces such as refugee camps and urban ‘slums’ produced politically?
How can existing postcolonial and decolonial theory enhance new materialisms theorising?

References:
Abourahme, Nasser (2014) Assembling and Spilling-Over: Towards an ‘Ethnography of Cement’ in a Palestinian Refugee Camp. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.
Jackson, Mark (Ed.) (Forthcoming) Postcolonialism, Posthumanism, and Political Ontology. Routledge.
Mitchell, Timothy (2011) Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil. Verso.
Todd, Zoe (2016) An Indigenous Feminist’s Take on the Ontological Turn: ‘Ontology’ is Just Another Word for Colonialism. Journal of Historical Sociology.”


“Five Propositions” out on GeoCritique

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Image source: GeoCritique

The newly redesigned GeoCritique has just published the five propositions that Anja Kanngieser and I delivered as a critique at the Anthropocene themed RGS-IBG 2015 conference in Exeter, UK. The propositions also represent an experiment in positioning ourselves not just in relation to Anthropocene discourse, but in terms of geography, race, gender etc. This is an on-going writing experiment, and we welcome critique.