Covid-19, “European Science” and the Plague

Image: Plague doctor from Jean-Jacques Manget, Traité de la peste (1721) You can find out more about this ‘hazmat suit’ prototype here.

Note: this blog post has been republished over at Discover Society.

I am writing this post from my room in South London, where I am currently in self-isolation. I have to think about how, about a month earlier, I gave a lecture to our Geography first years about the plague. To a room full of novice human and physical geographers, I said: “I know I am always banging on about the plague, but plague outbreaks have been really important events in history that continue to have repercussions for many things today – from legal rights to the way we do science.” I usually get some weird looks, especially when I start talking about things such as Byzantine refugees, witches, and other perhaps unusual entities in Geography. It is very likely, however, that this lecture will resonate quite differently from next year onwards. It is not that Covid-19 is like the plague – the plague is not even a virus, it is caused by bacteria. However, comparative social measures were adopted, and reinforced during these earlier outbreaks. From the current situation, we can see what even a comparably small outbreak of an infectious disease can do to society at various scales. I want to put this less as a scholarly task than as a helpful resonance that may build an affective connection not just to the past, but across today’s geographical regions.

Although I’m not an expert on the plague, it is often mentioned in work relating to my lectures, whether it’s in discussion of climate data or of class struggle in Europe. For this reason, I have been reading about it from different perspectives. This weekend, I was delighted when a friend and science scholar (thanks, Uli!) recommended a podcast on German radio that featured a historian of infectious diseases, Katharina Wolff (she also participated in another useful broad/podcast). What I enjoyed in particular was how Wolff moved between the scale of society and that of the individual. In particular, she stressed that ‘an epidemic something that one does’ (‘Seuche ist etwas, das man tut’). We are not powerless during an epidemic, and there is quite a lot one can do – especially by not doing a lot of things. As my local MP, A&E doctor Rosena Allin-Khan, has also emphasised in her messages: anyone can take action, regardless of government inaction, and that action should primarily be to withdraw from physical social life as much as possible. Here is a great video by US doctor Emily Porter that explains why this is helpful:

At the same time, Wolff made an argument about the lasting social consequences of an epidemic. On one occasion, Wolff phrased this along the lines of (I put this as a summarised translation): ‘illnesses affect the individual, epidemics affect societies – every epidemic or pandemic leaves traces in social life, from legal changes to cultural practices’. As mentioned earlier, this does not only include laws that regulate behaviour during epidemics – it also includes gestures, new kinds of cultural events and forms of solidarity. I really liked Wolff’s building of resonances across time, especially through the reading of old decrees from a Munich municipal archive. Although written in the Middle Ages, such instructions sound surprisingly modern. Further, she explained how, in the Middle Ages, many cities were visited by the plague every 10-12 years. Because of this, legal and social measures had to be put in place that would help with the response at the onset of the next wave. Over time, these measures have, of course, eroded, so now we are lacking these habitual practices and are experiencing them as an exceptional intervention.

A large part of the podcast was about these measures, and how people should critically evaluate them. Since epidemics function as a catalyst, they can be a force of good or evil. We are seeing this right now in public discussions of mobile phone tracing or pub closures. People are asking: how long are we okay with such measures, and are the necessary at all? Another discussion that relates to the loss of habitual practices is the perception of many people in the West that epidemics are a problem for everyone else in the world, but not them. In the podcast, this “geographic exceptionalism” was particularly emphasised by cultural anthropologist Hansjörg Dilger. That large numbers of people are dying in Europe and America comes to many as a shock. Despite the lack of trust in struggling healthcare systems, people are expecting them to still cope with the latest biological mutations. Since they are not, people are looking for analogies that may them help with the sudden shift in world view. These include making links with a Europe (or places nearby) that experienced similar events in the past. Tellingly, books such as Pale Rider by Laura Spinney and The Plague by Albert Camus are sold out in many online bookshops (the #coronavirussyllabus project may be of additional help).

Image result for pale rider book

In my lecture last month, the focus on the plague and other epidemics allowed me to (I hope!) build exactly this connection to events that may seem distant, but have on-going repercussions. Now we find these analogies in the mainstream press. For example, the current re-evaluation of whose work is indispensable echoes post-plague advances in worker’s rights, even if these may have been only temporary. There are concerns about the effect on women, LGBTIQ+ people and minority groups given the experiences during the plague. Women and queer people may no longer be burnt as witches, and minorities such as Jews may no longer be officially persecuted, but different communities will be affected differently (see the violence against “Chinese looking” people, or special warnings going out to multi-generational Muslim households here in the UK). In some ways there are even direct parallels, in that queer people are still getting blamed and persecuted in some societies whenever there is a crisis, across the ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ world.

There are also parallels regarding from a physical geography perspective. As physical geographers are painfully aware, past large-scale losses of human life through epidemics (e.g. the Orbis spike) have resulted in carbon being taken out of the atmosphere. This is an argument that is currently, and very insensitively, advanced by some climate activists. A more benign version focuses on the lack of airplane, ground traffic and industry pollution. Further, climate fluctuations itself are linked to disease. For example, some scientists and historians have argued that the consequences of climatic events such as the Little Ice Age (brilliantly illustrated in the animation below) may have made people more susceptible to disease. In the present, environmental destruction, more than climate change, has been blamed for the outbreak of new epidemics. The climate is mainly seen as a compounding factor, especially when combined with environmental mismanagement, on-going consequences of colonialism and capitalism, and other natural and political disasters.

One thing that I especially emphasise is the loss of oral and written knowledge during the plague, which is perhaps more difficult to imagine today (unless we stop being able to maintain the internet or our libraries). Perhaps the experience of quarantine may help students understand – I hope in the most benign way – that people who had no internet or phones were somewhat more cut off from each other. Like today, cities tended to be the focus of both knowledge production and outbreaks – they are densely populated and experience a lot of through-traffic. During an upheaval such as an epidemic, intellectual life eventually gets put on hold. As a mild analogy, lecturers may still be giving online seminars this week, but when things get worse, they may be busy volunteering for food banks, hospitals, or neighbourhood organisations. The same goes for the students. Indeed, some university VCs have encouraged such pursuits for both staff and students. In the worst case scenario, people get sick to varying degrees. Now scale this up to imagine the conditions during the plague(s), not just with schools, monasteries and institutions closing, but also with the fragility of print media. The first major plague wave was before the advent of book printing, with select hand copied manuscripts that may also have had to serve as fuel during quarantines, or became destroyed in riots.

But it is also important to not just focus on the immediate disaster, but also the future that is simultaneously being ‘incubated’. Here, we may have some useful parallels again. Many authors in the UK media currently write hopeful pieces about the relaxation of both austerity measures and immigration rules. The NHS is deliberately underfunded to artificially prime it for privatisation – people are hopeful, that this changes, along with the punishing living and working conditions of precarious, but essential workers. In a related argument, migration scholars have called for a lifting of the ‘skilled worker’ earnings cap that ignores how much the current UK economy relies on ‘inferior’, so-called ‘unskilled’ work. Indeed, what eventually helped Europe recover was in part an influx of Byzantine refugees after the Ottoman takeover of Constantinople. While the emphasis here has been on the ‘skilled workers’, it is nevertheless an interesting analogy.

Byzantine refugees are credited for bringing some of the lost knowledge back, and not just ‘European’ knowledge (the Greeks and Romans were never just European anyway, given their geographical distribution), but also Middle Eastern and Indian texts (there is an interesting story map about this here). This event was key in reconnecting scholars geographically. A painting that illustrates this is The School of Athens by Raphael (1509-11). Although not every person in this painting has been clearly identified, there is certainty that it includes Muslim polymath Averroes/Ibn Rushd and Iranian spiritual leader Zoroaster. Likewise, Dante’s Divine Comedy also features three Muslim philosophers: Averroes, Avicenna and Saladin. An articled called The grandfather of the European Enlightenment was Muslim in fact argues that Averroes was a key influence not only on the European Renaissance, but also the European Enlightenment. There are many more sources that confirm that European intellectual movements were not just European, but influenced by cross-cultural developments (check out Jim Al-Khalili‘s Science and Islam on BBC Player). If we look at our basic scientific measuring devices such as the compass (Chinese), calendar (Egyptian), clock time (Babylonian) and our numeral system (Hindu-Arabic), this should be evident. “European science” is not an entity that can be so easily isolated.

Image: The School of Athens – Painting by Raphael (Wikipedia)

Knowledge contracts and expands throughout history, because of events such as epidemics, wars, and migration. This is easy enough to understand, but it usually feels a lot more abstract. While I was not hoping for a crisis to make this connection more real, we are currently in the midst of one, and this spatio-temporal resonance may actually become more and more needed. Not only do past events highlight the need for a different way of teaching European science and history, but studying connections can also provide emotional support. What we are dealing with right now is not (just) a scary state of exception, but something that keeps recurring – not just in ‘other’ parts of the world, but right here. As difficult as this may be, given the ubiquitous narrative about ‘Fortress Europe’ in more than one sense, I really hope that this connection rises to the surface not just in terms of disease control, but also in terms of shared knowledge and culture. This is something to which we can all contribute, in much the same way that we can contribute to keeping people physically healthy.


#UCUstrike zine 2019

I’m one and a half years into my first lectureship, and already on my second UCU strike. Towards the end of the last strike, we talked about making a student facing strike zine, so I’ve set out to make one. Hopefully there will be more to follow. Many thanks to my colleagues and students for edits, and many thanks to Gail Davies for additional resource links. You can download the zine here.

More soon! x



Notes from the “Political Ecologies of the Far Right” Conference

This weekend, I attended the “Political Ecologies of the Far Right” conference at Lund University. I was very excited to be in Sweden for the first time (I visited both Lund and Malmö), and to meet people who were working on the increasingly explicit fascist tendencies all over the world. One of my reasons for attending was a concern about the increasing normalisation of far right narratives in the UK, especially in creative circles that considered themselves on the left. Ecology features largely in many creative projects, and with the current environmental and political crisis, people have turned to some quite disconcerting ideas. This is also evident in conversations with colleagues and PhD student who I have met at conferences, and who seem not to notice that some of the materials which they are enthusiastically embracing, contain some rather problematic statements and theoretical lineages. This was also what I presented on.

Given my concern, the conference was interesting in its occasional replication of this pattern. Teaching on a module on histories and philosophies of Geography especially (with my colleague Matt Tillotson), it was in fact quite worrying how many speakers seemed to divorce their topic from their theory. By this I mean: 1) basing their analyses on theories that are normally associated with environmental determinism and fascism (e.g. Heidegger, Conrad, Schmitt, Malthus, Parenti), without commenting on this type of theory as a basis, and 2) grotesquely emptying out concepts such as intersectionality of their political remit (e.g. by ignoring race, gender etc). This could not be put down to the lack of experience of the speakers – they were relatively senior academics. Colleagues who attended other sessions also reported on the replication of issues such as male presenters’ longing for a heteronormative fantasy land (along the lines of “women – be nicer to men, or else men will turn to fascism”).

Overall, the conference was quite an interesting mix. It was very obviously lovingly organised by a committee made up of different groups. We were warned that things might not run as smoothly, because they did not expect this many people to work on the topic, and to be able to come. Although there were some organisational hiccups, I did not experience these as unpleasant. The conference dinner and after-party at Smälands, the ‘misfit’ fraternity of Lund University was a great way of getting a sense of the local university and activist landscape. We admired that they even had their own branded beer! There was also a permanent Antifa stall that had free stickers, Swedish confectionery and, most importantly, Club Mate bottles. One thing I am not so sure about is the integration of a large number of Skype presentations. More than half of the Skype speakers did not show up, so entire sessions had to be cancelled or moved, and sometimes there was just one in-person speaker on the panel, making conversation between panellists impossible. I know that many speakers chose Skype presentations due to environmental impact, but it did severely hinder communication. Having said that, I really enjoyed a virtual performance lecture by Jade Montserrat on Blackness and British rural spaces.

Image: still from Jade Montserrat’s performance lecture “Hyper-belongings: A sense of place”

There were several parallel streams outside of the keynotes. This makes it difficult to describe an overall picture of the discourse, as I can only report back on the sessions that I attended. What I took away from the conference was, first of all, a great diversity of approaches and opinions, in terms of what people understand as anti-fascism (people were much clearer on what constitutes fascism). People had clashing opinions on race and environmentalism; on how some seemingly disparate groups overlap, and over which concerns; or on who should do what kind of labour and with whom. I have tried to summaries these issues at the end of the post.

Mathias Wåg presenting on the Swedish far right

Despite the disagreements – at least in most cases – quite a few presenters and audience members continued discussions afterwards – sometimes the next day or the day after, after some thinking and cooling off. It felt like people learned a lot from each other, including myself: about their blind spots, about something they had not been familiar with, or about other peoples distress that they had not taken into consideration. In fact, there were many moments were people discovered shocking facts about institutions, people, theories or businesses they had come to perceive as neutral or beneficial.

“I cover up Nazi propaganda”

I will now try to pull together some themes that I picked up at the conference. You may also want to check out the #pefr2019 hashtag on Twitter for spontaneous reflections and a greater diversity of voices.

1) Appropriations of left and even decolonial terminology by the far right. Not only does environmentalism have both left and right wing roots, but its present is also shaped by these influences. There are neo-Nazi organic farmers, vegans and conservation activists, as well as anti-capitalism activists. Journalist and activist Mathias Wåg specifically singled out the appropriation of the term ‘activist’ by the far right. In a different presentation, Kai Bosworth argued that left and right are united by a ‘Romantic anti-capitalism’. In addition, the far right continues to make claims to White indigeneity, and even makes alliances with some indigenous leaders – or at least communicates with them about tactics. Here also a special note to senior (male and female) academics: do not use arguments about the ‘coloniality’ or ‘heteronormativity’ of gender and sexual relations to hit on precariously employed or unemployed junior academics/PhD students.

2) Anti-fascism, environmentalism and race: Following on from the point above, presenters pointed out how far right environmentalism isn’t an aberration, but continues existing White environmentalist ideals. This was especially apparent in former colonies such as NZ and the US where progressive interventions were resisted that would have endangered the colonial feel (e.g. through vegetation) of a place, or would have opened environmentalism to people of colour. There was heated debate around extinction rebellion: do accusations of Whiteness help UK environmentalism do some much needed work, or do these accusations obscure the work of environmentalists of colour?

3) The normalisation of fascism: This was a very significant concern. From many presentation it was evident how far right thinking is evident in anything from corporate social responsibility to UN Sustainable Development Goals. Presenters marked on its uncanny relationship with neoliberalism and its language. As much as public institutions were seen as under attack, they were often also seen as key culprits of using and communication far right ideas (e.g. hostile environment, Prevent in the UK; banning of protests or anti-fascist organisations in US). In addition, there were concerns about creatives and academics and their lack of criticality regarding fascist and colonial rhethoric (the Dark Mountain manifesto was named as an example several times, as were recent films such as Arcadia).

4) Fascism and capitalism intersections: In addition to the above issues around state institutions, the reliance of capitalism on the nation state was also noted, and the use of myth to keep up with treats to both the nation and capitalism. The ideology of capitalism itself was linked to fascist Social Darwinist ideas, including the reliance on war and inequality as a means to strengthen its hold. Again, due to capitalism’s normalisation and pervasiveness, it is difficult to attack. Further, several presenters showed financial links between fascist groups, and wealthy individual and corporate donors. Another thing that was mentioned was the fact that fascism can be both capitalist and anti-capitalist at the same time, whether genuinely or disingenuously so.

5) The Global nature of fascism: people presented case studies from all over the world, whether it was the UK, Brazil, Romania, Hungary, Poland, Germany, India, Pakistan, US, Sweden, Denmark, Estonia China etc. Everywhere, the far right is growing stronger. While presenters also gave hopeful examples or counter-action, the sheer statistics felt rather apocalyptic. Again, links to capitalism were made, and its ways of protecting itself. People also wondered how fascists were interlinked internationally.

6) How to organise: here, it was important that there was a large contingent of activists present, including break out meetings with activist groups. The obvious resources were labour activism (even the UCU strikes were mentioned), but other resources, especially directed at academics, were mentioned. Anti-fascist activist and journalist Mathias Wåg, for example, called for academics to work more closely with journalists – sharing data as well as ways to communicate better to a larger audience.

Apparently, there will be a follow-up conference in about two years time. Keep an eye out for updates!

“Decolonise STEM” symposium notes (also: please don’t deport my colleague!)

A few weeks ago, I attended a Decolonise STEM symposium at UCL (videos available on their website soon, minus the Q&As). It was a great event, passionately and sensitively put together by a collective of concerned undergraduate and postgraduate scientists. It was useful both in terms of practical guidance, but also in terms of understanding the political and philosophical issues that continue to lead to problems in science teaching and research. The impact of these issues was made painfully apparent by the threat of deportation that one of the speakers, Furaha Asani (University of Leicester), received a couple of days after her presentation. Since then, she has made a video about her situation, has also spoken to the press, and has protested the framing of her situation by the press. She is currently looked after by the UCU and some legal support.

There are a number of interrelated issues that participants brought up in their presentations. (Unfortunately, I have lost my notes, but I will try to reconstruct the debates from memory, and rectify errors once the talks are up on the website.) The biggest issue was the self-professed objectivity of science that does not allow any space for racism, sexism, ableism etc. This strongly contrasted with the speakers’ data – Nuzhat Tabassum offered some depressing statistics about the non-existent “pipeline” from student to staff – as well as their experiences of both overt racism and microaggressions, whether it was BME researchers being asked what they were doing in the sciences, or BME researchers being excluded from teams (much of science is team based work). Most of the speakers were women who were struggling with a double penalty in the supposedly neutral science world. Sometimes class and disability added to the representational burden. Archaeologist Alex Fitzpatrick, for example, was told that she would normally be a research object – why would she want to do archaeology?

The perception of neutrality became replicated with field sites. Whether these were outer space or on-goingly colonised territories, field sites were regarded as neutral and naturally open to White scientists’ research. At least two of the speakers also commented on the naming of sites and objects, whether these were indigenous Australian lands or objects in space such as the hugely inappropriate Ultima Thule (see presentation by Divya M. Persaud). Scientists who used the indigenous names or critiqued racist descriptions were either ‘corrected’ or regarded as unnecessarily difficult. The violence done through both racist naming and indigenous erasure was regarded as ‘non-rational’ and emotional.

Further, speakers and participants felt that science lecturers regarded science as a European rather than a global project, with ran across fields from computer science through to archaeology. White people go out and do stuff/teach to others, while the rest of the world receives. No mention, for example, of the Middle East effectively saving Europe’s ass after the disastrous Middle Ages. No mention of Black scientists whose work was taken over but not recognised by others, or who were barred from obtaining university degrees. The fact that racialised people are seen as receivers was further emphasised by Arianne Shahvisi who pointed to the intensely racist landscape of the NHS, both in terms of staff and patient treatment under an on-going ‘hostile environment’ – which, for her, is as old as the NHS in 1948.

Image: Slides from Furaha Asani’s presentation at Decolonise STEM

A key question was also how to do science with ‘decolonial’ ethics in mind. After all, as Christine Yao emphasised in her keynote (citing Tuck and Yang), decolonisation should not just remain a metaphor. Andrea Jimenez, for example, lamented that it is really difficult to do ethical research in a university landscape that demands certain kinds of ‘products’ from the researcher. Furaha Asani provided practical guidance on how to be a good ally (as audience, support, as aggressor willing to unlearn) and how to check your privilege and responsibility. Syed Mustafa Ali provided some very detailed guidance for “decolonial computing”. He, first of all, discussed the coloniality of computing, both in terms of its history and  present power inequalities (you can find his presentation here). He pointed to the impulses that led to the creation of computing, e.g. it was tied up with war efforts while many countries were still fighting to decolonise. He showed how computing is still used for surveillance of racialised Others, how developing countries may be forced to host more data centres, and how programming languages are shaped by racism (and sexism). Decolonial computing, for him, would be computing from the margin, that does not just accept/use existing ways of programming, but contests it. In addition, Ali recommended the following:

“Practitioners and researchers adopting a decolonial computing perspective are required, at a minimum, to do the following: Firstly, consider their geo-political and body-political orientation when designing, building, researching or theorizing about computing phenomena; and secondly, embrace the ‘decolonial option’ as an ethics, attempting to think through what it might mean to design and build computing systems with and for those situated at the peripheries of the world system, informed by the epistemologies located at such sites, with a view to undermining the asymmetry of local-global power relationships and effecting the ‘decentering’ of Eurocentric / West-centric universals.” (Ali, 2016)

What can geographers (human AND physical) take away from this? Some recommendations:

  • Don’t pretend nothing is happening. Science has never been neutral.
  • Historically and geographically contextualise your subject, especially when it includes history of science. For example, I include an overview of European science in relation to science around the world (e.g. the Renaissance-Middle East relation, BBC Science and Islam as an example).
  • Don’t use the argument that ‘science has always been international’ as an excuse to not make changes to your teaching and teaching materials
  • Cite beyond the people you know, and look at what’s going on in your field as much as you can
  • Educate yourself about the struggles your colleagues and students might be going through, and support them in non-patronising ways.
  • Question scientific framing and related history/geography e.g. taxonomy, naming, purpose, competition
  • Question privileges of access, whether this is in terms of field sites, jobs or funding
  • Look at the ethics of research and relations with research partners: what are the power inequalities in this project? Can you do something to change this (change funder, change your research partner’s status/deal)
  • Look at publishing ethics: is the author hierarchy fair? How can colleagues from less well resourced countries be supported in an unequal publishing world?
  • Most importantly: do listen and unlearn as much as you can from how you were taught, but don’t demand intellectual and emotional labour from others to make your curriculum less White-centric. Go to relevant events – they are taking place all over the country. It’s literally your job!

More points to follow. There will also be at least one “Decolonise STEM” themed session on physical geography at the next RGS-IBG conference in London. The conference theme is “borders”, and it is led by Professor Uma Kothari. Stay tuned!

CFP: Political Ecologies of the Far Right, Lund University

Call for Contributions

Lund University, 15-17 November 2019

An interdisciplinary academic-activist conference organized by the Human Ecology Division at Lund University in collaboration with CEFORCED at Chalmers University

Far-right political parties, ideologies and social movements are increasingly exercising influence across the world. At the same time, ecological issues, such as climate change, deforestation, land use change, biodiversity loss, and toxic waste are intensifying in their urgency. What happens when the two phenomena meet? How, when and why do they intersect? How are party and non-party sectors of the far right mobilizing ecological issues and discourses to their advantage, whether through championing or rejecting environmentalist claims? What are the ecological underpinnings of far-right politics today? This understudied topic forms the basis of this interdisciplinary conference on the political ecologies of the far right.

From Trump and Bolsonaro to the Sweden Democrats and AfD, a radical anti-environmentalism is most often championed by the contemporary far right. This stance resonates with a conspiratorial suspicion of the state, science, elites, globalism, and supposed processes of moral, cultural and social decay. This is most clearly pronounced in climate change denialism and defense of fossil fuels, which have undergone a global resurgence in recent years. But the same position is also articulated in, for example, anti-vegetarianism or opposition to renewables. How can we understand the causes of far right rejection of environmentalism and environmental concerns where it occurs? What broader ideologies, interests, psychologies, histories, narratives and perceptions does it reflect? What might the implications be for ecological futures if far-right parties continue to amass power? How can the climate justice and other environmental movements and anti-racist, anti-fascist activism converge and collaborate?

On the other hand, it is an inconvenient truth that there is a long-standing shadowy legacy of genealogical connections between environmental concern and far-right thought, from links between conservation and eugenics in the early national parks movement in the US, to dark green currents within Nazism. Hostility to immigration informed by Malthusian thinking and regressive forms of patriotic localism have often surfaced in Western environmentalism. Today, the mainstream environmental movement is more usually aligned with leftist, progressive policies, yet the conservative streak that always lies dormant in overly romanticized conceptions of landscape and nature, or fears about over-population, lie ripe for mobilization in new unholy alliances between green and xenophobic, nativist ideologies. In what forms does this nexus appear around the world today and with what possible consequences? What frames, linkages and concerns are central to eco-right narratives? How can environmental thinking ward off the specter of green nationalism?

How to apply:

The conference aims to bring together not only scholars working at the interface of political ecology and far right studies but also activists from environmental, anti-fascist and anti-racist organizations and movements. We believe there is still much work to do to bring together these often separate strands of scholar and activist work together, and much opportunity for collaboration, mutual learning, and networking. This conference aims to hold a space for such engagement.

Scholars: We welcome contributions from all disciplines (geography, anthropology, sociology, history, literature, political science, cultural studies, sustainability studies, STS, philosophy, art history, media studies, communication studies, et cetera). Apart from individual papers, we also welcome suggestions for panels and workshops.

Activists: At least one day of the conference (Sunday – TBC) will focus on activist practices, with an emphasis on sharing and developing ideas and synergies between green and anti-fascist thinking and working, and on ways to collectively prevent a scenario of ‘ecological crisis meets fascist populism’. We invite activist groups and individuals to submit proposals for workshops, discussions, and presentations.

In line with recent calls for radical emissions reductions at Swedish universities, we encourage prospective participants to consider other travel options than aviation if possible. We are also open to presentations via video link.

Submission of abstracts: Please send abstracts (max. 350 words) to by Thursday 16th May. There are a limited number of travel bursaries available (we will prefer non-aviation means where possible) for those who are most in need of support. Please indicate in your application whether you would like to be considered.

Possible topics include but are not limited to:

  • climate denialism/climate change, fossil fuels and the far right
  • anti-environmentalism of far right
  • linking environmental, anti-fascist, anti-racist activism and social movements
  • ‘cultural marxism’, conspiracy theories and the environment
  • gender, sexuality, the far right and environment (eco, hegemonic or industrial masculinities, anti-feminism, normative heterosexuality, patriarchy)
  • renewable energy, vegan/vegetarianism, animal rights, agriculture, toxic waste, land use change, biodiversity extinction, pollution etc and the far right
  • environmental science, epistemology and the far right
  • racism, xenophobia, nature, conservation, ecology, wilderness and far right
  • whiteness as/and ‘endangered’ species
  • scenarios of a far-right ecological future
  • religion, ecology and the far right
  • populism, authoritarianism, neoliberalism, alt-right, far right
  • greenwashing, industry links, capital and funding for the far right and links with environmental issues
  • far right narratives on development, progress, and futures and their ecological conceptualization
  • environmental history of green ideas in far right politics
  • dark green histories and genealogies of environmentalism
  • infiltrations of and unhappy alliances between the contemporary far right and environmentalists
  • ecofascism, bio-nazism, green nationalism
  • psychologies, affects, emotions, private lives of the ecologies of the far right
  • historical legacies of ecologically unequal exchange and racial capitalism

Upcoming Conferences: PressEd & BSA Theory Workshop

This April, I will be participating in two conferences. The first one is a twitter conference on blogging called PressEd (18 April 2019), co-organised by Pat Lockley from the Global Social Theory team. I am rather excited about participating in this unusual format, as I teach a module on research communication at Leicester Geography. One of the options for students is to write a twitter thread, and indeed the papers for this conference are written as a series of 15 tweets – even the abstract was submitted as a single tweet. As I keep telling my students, a good twitter thread is harder to write than they think, as they tend to very quickly find out. This also means that I need to stick to my own teachings, as my students will be keeping me on my toes…

Here is the abstract, helpfully condensed by the conference organisers into the title ‘A useful ‘waste of time’ – blogging and the pursuit of ‘excellence’: “Academics keep saying that blogs are ‘an amazing resource’ for research & teaching, but also ‘a waste of time’ as they don’t count as impact or REF publication. This way, they embody tensions of the neoliberal university, but can they do more?” I will live tweet this paper on 18 April from 20:50. Obviously it will be there from then onwards. You can check out the full schedule here, and also tailor it to your respective time zone.

This explains any strange tweets…

The second conference is the British Sociological Association (BSA) Conference (24-26 April 2019, Glasgow Caledonian University). I have never been, but since it’s in Glasgow and has a theory workshop, I couldn’t say no. I am hoping to co-organise a workshop on the theory and race for the RACE Working Group, so this will be an invaluable experience. Also, due to the support of academics such as Gurminder Bhambra and Claire Blencowe, I am (literally) a card carrying honorary sociologist, so I would like to get a better sense of similarities and differences. The workshop, organised by Gurminder Bhambra, asks “how could we do theory differently and what sort of different theory would we need to participate effectively in the conversations around decolonising knowledge?” Participants include Nasar Meer, James Trafford, Sarah Victoria Burton and Lisa Kalayji. I will be presenting on “Teaching anti-racist materialisms”, an issue that again relates to my teaching practice, but is also based on material from the theory book that I’m currently writing. Here is the abstract:

“This paper asks what it means to teach an anti-racist materialism. The paper will look at both historical/dialectical materialism and new materialism. Due to its ‘levelling’ movement, materialism is generally associated with anti-elitism and anti-anthropocentrism. However, materialist history is also entangled with racist scientific and even occult histories, as, for instance, authors such as Donna V. Jones have argued. In this paper, I would like to take a closer look at the materialist histories that do not tend to get taught, and how not teaching them leaves many of our supposedly progressive theorisations with tacit racist elements. The paper argues that, instead of singling out racist theorists such as Heidegger etc and distancing us from them, we should look at all theory as having a racist heritage that still remains underexamined.”


CFP: Resistance in the Master’s House: Researching race in troubling times

Reposted from the Race, Culture & Equality Working Group list. This is a very important call for researchers in any field:

Call for Papers for Session at RGS-IBG Conference, London, 27th-30th August 2019

Resistance in the Master’s House: Researching race in troubling times

Session Convenors: Shereen Fernandez (QMUL) & Azeezat Johnson (QMUL)

Sponsored by: Race, Culture and Equality Working Group (RACE)

The proposed session works from Audre Lorde’s (1984) warning against using the Master’s tools to dismantle the Master’s house (i.e. the evolving implicit and explicit logics of white supremacy). This is an opportunity for us to confront our role as academics in the reproduction of white supremacy: how does anti-racist scholarship and activism occur alongside and/or in spite of the white supremacist logics that sustains the Master’s house? This is particularly important to address at the RGS-IBG conference given the expense of participating in these spaces of knowledge dissemination, thus controlling who can (literally) afford to participate in the development of academic scholarship. We explore these questions in light of our neo- and re-colonising contexts (Esson et al. 2017), as well as the intertwined histories of coloniality, white supremacy and the discipline of Geography (McKittrick 2006; Noxolo, Raghuram, and Madge 2008; Yusoff 2018). This interrogation of our role in academia is used to re-imagine racial justice in these troubling and uncertain times.

Please send abstracts (max. 300 words) to Shereen Fernandez ( and Azeezat Johnson ( by Monday 4th February.

We invite abstracts that relate (but are not limited to) the following questions:

  • How do we move beyond self-flagellating statements about reflexivity and positionality, and towards challenging power structures and racial inequality within and beyond the academy?
  • How do we organise effectively as academics given the urgency of these systems of oppression? What are some practical methods of activism that we as academics can take up across different local, national and regional contexts?
  • How do we resist the depoliticization of tools that critique the functioning of white supremacy? What can be done to re-engage with the explicitly political rationale of decolonisation, postcolonialism and intersectionality?
  • Where does/can racial justice take place? How do we account for shifting constructions of race across different temporal and regional contexts?
  • What are the benefits and limitations of social media and ‘private’ communication for activists and scholars working on racial justice?
  • How do we perpetuate legislation and border controls within the academy (e.g. through the Prevent Duty or immigration checks), and how does this impact work on racial justice?

We are particularly keen to engage with scholars located outside of the “Global North” and under-represented groups within the “Global North”. We encourage scholars within and beyond Geography to apply.


Esson, James, Patricia Noxolo, Richard Baxter, Patricia Daley, and Margaret Byron. 2017. ‘The 2017 RGS-IBG chair’s theme: decolonising geographical knowledges, or reproducing coloniality?’, Area, 49: 384-88.

Lorde, Audre. 1984. Sister Outsider: essays and speeches (The Crossing Press: California).

McKittrick, Katherine. 2006. Demonic grounds: Black women and the cartographies of struggle (University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis).

Noxolo, Patricia, Parvati Raghuram, and Clare Madge. 2008. ‘‘Geography is Pregnant’ and ‘Geography’s Milk is Flowing’: Metaphors for a Postcolonial Discipline?’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 26: 146-68.

Yusoff, Kathryn. 2018. A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None (University of Minnesota Press: Minnesota).


Please also take a look at this related publication: The Fire Now: anti-racist scholarship in times of explicit racial violence