A name that keeps popping up recently in unexpected places is that of French geographer Elisée Reclus (1830-1905). The inspiring talks during the first ‘Cage Rattling’ events at King’s Place represent one such example. Dedicated to the politics of and around John Cage and his music, the presentations ranged from examples of alternative forms of governance to the question of how geography could be used as a tool for positive change. In this context, Reclus was named as one of the trailblazers for the on-going wresting away of geography from its colonial past.
As for information on Reclus, videos or books in English appear to be pretty much non-existent (a few can be found in this online archive). For French speakers, a recent biography, published by neurobiologist Jean Didier Vincent, is probably a good place to start, if you don’t want to jump straight into Reclus’ original literature. Encyclopedic entries tell us that Reclus was anarchist (linked with Peter Kropotkin), vegetarian and anti-marriage, received the greatest honours for a geographer in France (the gold medal of the French geographical society) while being banned from the country and teaching in Belgium. He is also named as an inspiration for the social ecology movement.
The latest appearance of Reclus’ name came with a Call for Papers for this year’s RGS-IBG conference. Again, it is less Reclus’ work that is the focus, but neglected aspects of the history of geography – specifically the period between the two World Wars.
Currently, one of the most ‘radical’ people of the interwar period that I can think of is Simone Weil, who was not a geographer, although she engaged with issues such as colonialism, oppression and power. Sceptical of all existing and envisioned available political and social movements of her time after intensive/disastrous periods of ‘fieldwork’ in related environments – she worked in a factory, as an anarchist militia soldier and famously told Trotsky off when he was staying at her parents’ home – she experimented with alternatives, dying in the process. Here is a lecture by Wes Cecil on her work:
For anyone wishing to contribute to the (re)construction of radical interwar geography, please follow Alexander Vasudevan’s call:
Radical Geography in the Interwar Period: Disciplinary Trajectories and Hidden Histories
Sponsored by Historical Geography Research Group
Organiser: Dr. Alex Vasudevan
(School of Geography, University of Nottingham)
This session builds on a brief note published in the journal Area in 1975 by the geographer David Stoddart on the disciplinary origins of “relevant” geography. For Stoddart, a “tradition of social relevance” can, in fact, be traced back to the end of the 19th century and the work of Élisée Reclus and Peter Kropotkin whose commitment to geographical knowledge was shaped by the radical political imperatives of anarchism (188). According to Stoddart, the emergence of a radical geography in the late 1960s represented, if anything, the latest moment in the history of a “socially relevant geography” and that the very idea of “relevance” should delineate a new field of historical enquiry (190). Geographical scholarship has undoubtedly examined, in this respect, the importance of anarchism to the development of the discipline (Springer et al., 2012; see also Breitbart, 1975, 1978; Peet, 1975; Springer, 2011). The significance of the late 1960s and early 1970s to the emergence of a genuinely critical geography has, in turn, been extensively mapped (for just a few examples, see Akatiff, 2012; Barnes and Heynen, 2011; Peet, 1978; Watts, 2001). And yet, at the same time, the history of radical geography remains underdeveloped especially in the period between the late 19th century and the 1960s. This session seeks to address this historical blind spot. It places specific emphasis on the interwar period (1919-1939) as a significant moment through which a radical geographical imagination was indeed produced and practiced across a range of sites and institutions.
This session invites papers that address the diverse forms of radical geographical thought and practice produced during the 1920s and 1930s. While the session engages with the development of geography as an academic discipline, it is also animated by a concern for the hidden histories through which radical political terrains and possibilities are opened up and actively assembled (see Featherstone, 2012). The session will thus focus on papers that explore:
– Academic geography, national traditions and radical politics
– Subaltern geographies and the production of transnational political cultures
– The making of radical geographical practices: from material culture to alternative mapping
– The geographies of solidarity from the Russian Revolution to the Spanish Civil War
– Alternative archives, ‘small stories’ and the doing of geography
– Radical infrastructures, spatial practices and ‘world-making’
Abstracts of no more than 250 words should be sent to Alexander Vasudevan (email@example.com ) by February 4th, 2013.
Barnes, T. and Heynen, N. “A Classic in Human Geography: William Bunge’s (1971) Fitzgerald: Geography of a Revolution.” Progress in Human Geography 35 (2011), pp. 712-715.
Breitbart, M. “Impressions of an Anarchist Landscape.” Antipode 7 (1975), pp. 44-49.
Breitbart, M. “Introduction.” Antipode 10 (1978), pp. 1-5.
Featherstone, D. Solidarity: Hidden Histories and Geographies of Internationalism. London: Zed Books, 2012.
Peet, R. “For Kropotkin.” Antipode 7 (1975), pp. 42-43.
Peet, R. (ed). Radical Geography: Alternative Viewpoints on Contemporary Social Issues. London: Methuen & Co., 1978.
Springer, S. “Public Space as Emancipation: Meditations on Anarchism, Radical Democracy, Neoliberalism, and Violence.” Antipode 43: 525-562.
Springer, S. et al. “Reanimating Anarchist Geographies: A New Burst of Colour.” Antipode 44 (2012), pp. 1591-1604.
Stoddart, D. “Kropotkin, Reclus and ‘Relevant’ Geography.” Area 7 (1975), pp. 188-190.
Watts, M. “1968 and all that…” Progress in Human Geography 25 (2001), pp. 157-188.