RGS-IBG 2016 CFP: Parallel Institutions: models and realities, strategies and tactics, islands and archipelagos

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Parallel Institutions: models and realities, strategies and tactics, islands and archipelagos

Session Convenors:
Angela Last (University of Glasgow)
Mireille Roddier (University of Michigan)

Abstract:
Existing and historical examples of parallel institutions represent a wide scope of intentions, scales, and formal organizations, from local commoning practices to the strategically planned duplication of state institutions in sight of a governmental overthrow (Roggero, 2010; Arendt, 1973) What they all share is a dissatisfaction with state institutions’ disenfranchisement of entire sections of population who fall outside of their stewardships. The origins of such alternative models of organization are thereby rooted in either the need to complement or to contest hegemonic institutions, particularly those delegating public services. More than self-help however, parallel institutions are also devised as alternatives, enabling new forms of commoning and experimentation with new imaginaries.

Parallel institutions can serve as means to diverging ends. On one end, they can be devised for eventual incorporation into the dominant system, bearing the risks of paving grounds for developments that will be subsequently recuperated. On the other, they are often inspired by emancipatory perspectives that could lead to autonomous forms of self-governance (Gordon Nembhard, 2014, Nelson, 2013). Accordingly, their relationship to the state varies from subservient and heteronomous to independent or even contentious, as do the responses of the state to such institutions—from embrace to outright violence, affecting the status of their legitimacy.

This session seeks to discuss parallel institutions that reclaim a radical spirit of experimentation in the service of alleviating dependence upon the state—not in the ideological pursuit of less governance, but in order to forestall the normalization of austerity measures. We are interested in both theoretical models and case studies that can expand our public imaginary. We specifically are looking to probe such topics as:

– the temporal evolutionary patterns of parallel institutions, from origin stories to institutionalization or extinction;
– the instrumental use of institutions towards emancipatory autonomy (Castoriadis);
– the spatial reification of parallel institutions, and their relationship to territory, global patterns of enclaves and archipelagos (Davis, 2008; Aureli, 2011), states of imagination (Newman and Clarke), as well as the exclusionary effects of communautarism (Harvey, 97);
– the specificity and influence of scale upon theoretical models, from community to society;
– the use of parallel institutions in political strategy versus as bottom-up tactic;
– the roles of cultural and academic institutions, as well as of artists and academics, in fostering counter-hegemonic activism from within a privileged, most institutionalized position (Mouffe, 2010);
– specific typology studies —both organizationally and spatially— such as the emergence of new schools, health institutions, taken factories, urban communes and rural hackerlands, etc.

References:

Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1973)

Pier Vittorio Aureli, The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2011)

Cornelius Castoriadis, The Imaginary Institution of Society (MIT Press, 1998)

Mike Davis, Daniel Monk, Evil Paradises: Dreamworlds of Neoliberalism (The New Press, 2008)

Jessica Gordon Nembhard, Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice (Penn State University Press, 2014)

David Harvey, “The New Urbanism and the Communitarian Trap,” Harvard Design Magazine (winter / spring 97)

Chantal Mouffe, “The Museum Revisited,” Art Forum (Summer 2010)

Alondra Nelson, Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination (University of Minnesota Press, 2013)

Janet Newman and John Clarke, “States of Imagination,” Soundings (Summer 2014)

Gigi Roggero, “Five Theses on the Common,” Rethinking Marx: A Journal of Economics, Culture & Society (August 2010)

Anne Mariel Zimmermann, “State as Chimera Aid, Parallel Institutions, and State Power,” Comparative Politics (April 2013)

Instructions for Authors:
Please submit a paper proposal (250-300 words) along with a short biography to Angela.Last@glasgow.ac.uk and mroddier@umich.edu by February 14th.

Call For Papers Deadline
14-Feb-2016

Guest talk at the New Centre for Research & Practice

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On Monday, I gave a virtual guest lecture at the New Centre for Research & Practice. It was the first instalment of a seminar on ‘Global Politics of the Anthropocene‘, organised and taught by Carlos Amador. You can still join the remainder of the discussion, either as a ‘student’ (which enables you to join the discussions) or as a silent listener (‘audit’ option). The upcoming Monday events (UK time: 11pm – 1:30 am) include speakers across disciplines, including fellow Scottish academic Zoe Todd (Anthropology, University of Aberdeen).

The paper I had prepared was on Daniel Maximin‘s geopoetics, which focus on undoing hegemonic geopolitical images by utilising the geophysical. The talk also drew attention to the violence of academic knowledge production, including citation practices. Both themes, for me, relate very strongly to Anthropocene discourse, where attention to the colonial/imperialist dimensions of geophysical phenomena, as well as of research practices themselves, has been lacking.

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Image source: New Centre for Research & Practice

RITA Seminar: Imagining Caribbean Future Spaces

Montserrat, The Pompeii of the Caribbean
Courthouse and former Employee, Plymouth, Monserrat. Image: Christopher Pillitz

I am honoured to be speaking on the Future Environmental Spaces panel at the upcoming RITA (Race in the Americas) seminar on Imagining Caribbean Future Spaces. My presentation ‘Apostropher L’Apocalypse’ will discuss French-Caribbean poetic engagements with disasters and politics, and their invaluable contributions to Anthropocene discourse. The seminar is taking place on 31 October at the University of Birmingham and is organised by Patricia Noxolo, Adunni Adams and James Owen Heath. Attendance is free of charge. Speakers include Lisabeth Paravisini-Gebert, Fabienne Viala, Selwyn R. Cudjoe, Maria Cristina Fumagalli, Pat Noxolo, Louise Hardwick and Thomas Glave.

Here are the seminar details:

“[W]e need imaginations that are sensitive to inner-city decay and the lungs of the globe orchestrated into forests and rivers and skies. We need to build afresh through the brokenness of our world….”
— Wilson Harris

This one-day symposium looks at the ways in which the Caribbean and the future are imagined together. How has the future of the Caribbean been imagined and how is it being re-imagined at a time of environmental change and global insecurity? How does the future look when we imagine it in and through the Caribbean – is the Caribbean a space to imagine the future differently?

31 October 2014, 9am – 5.15pm

The University of Birmingham
Room 311
Geography Building
Edgbaston
Birmingham B15 2TT

You can register for the seminar here. The programme can be viewed here.

Carribbean Future Spaces is funded by the Institute for Latin American Studies & the University of Birmingham.

AAG 2015 CFP: Feminist Geophilosophy

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Image: Still from Björk ‘Mutual Core’

Feminist geophilosophy

AAG 2015 CFP, Chicago IL 21st – 25th April 2015

Convenors: Angela Last (University of Glasgow) and Kathryn Yusoff (Queen Mary University of London)
Sponsored by the Cultural Geography Specialty Group (CGSG) of the Association of American Geographers

The current Anthropocenic milieu has given rise to a flurry of geophilosophical musings and “geo” appendages that are responding to the call to push thought further into the earth. Located in a wider field of engagements with matter and inorganic life, Anthropocenic thought must strive to rethink the relation between territory and earth and grapple with the emergence of a geopolitical field that is constituted by the geologic underpinnings of life and power. Planetary thought does not only represent a provocation to philosophy, but also to geography: what does it mean to think (with) the Earth? If geophilosophy claims this as its project, then it needs to negotiate a near infinite number of choices, reminiscent of Bataille’s claim that while philosophy must ‘positively envisage the waste products of intellectual appropriation’, it may not be able to deal with the scale and heterogeneity of what it finds. Here, a feminist reading perhaps sensitises us to the acts of selection that are being performed: what is or can be included, considering the scope? What is, in Barad’s terms ‘excluded from mattering’? What alliances are formed, uncovered or disregarded across the planet and beyond? A tradition of feminist thought also alerts us to the modes of exhaustion and forms of violence that characterize such matterings and their potential to become otherwise.

Considering that geophilosophy is often presented as an almost exclusively male domain despite its many claims to a diverse and inclusive discourse, the provocation of a feminist geophilosophy session offers an opportunity to think about imperative alliances between feminism and geophilosophy. Reminiscent of Graham Harman’s ‘Girls Welcome!!!’ comment about the perceived ‘sausage fest’ of speculative realism, similar arguments could be made regarding geophilosophy’s intellectual scene. In this session we assert the unequivocal importance of feminist perspectives on geophilosophy to address the contours of power, race, sex, speciesm, biology and futurity within the context of the Anthropocene. If, indeed the Anthropocene is to betray its (homo)normative origins in the consecration of “Man”, Anthropocenic thought needs to find new points of departure that examine these spurious origins and problematic invocations to offer alternative strategies for solidarity and modes of existence with/in the earth.

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Image: Still from Ellen Gallagher ‘Nothing is…’

As such, we welcome papers that attend to:

  • Inhuman genealogies and inorganic life
  • Geologic thought/philosophies of geology/geotrauma
  • Feminist geophilosophers
  • Anthropocene and racialization
  • Anthropocene and postcolonial thought/decolonization
  • Anthropocene and feminism
  • Matter and geopower(s)
  • Queer ecologies and geologies
  • Epistemic violence and political ontology
  • Links between feminist geopolitics, feminist science studies and feminist geophilosophy

To be considered for the session, please send your abstract of 250 words or fewer, to: angela.Last@glasgow.ac.uk and k.yusoff@qmul.ac.uk

The deadline for the receipt of abstracts is October 1 2014. Notification of acceptance will be before October 7. All accepted papers will then need to register for the AAG conference at http://www.aag.org/annualmeeting. Accepted papers will be considered for a special issue or edited volume edited by the convenors.

 

Society & Space book review: Alondra Nelson’s ‘Body & Soul’

body&soul_cover

Today, the Society & Space Open Site published my review of Alondra Nelson’sBody and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination’, which I highly recommend to any geographers working on health, racism, ‘active citizenship’ and political activism. I came across the book as part of my research on ‘parallel institutions’, which are alternative institutions founded by disenfranchised publics. I will be exploring the topic more in the future, also as part of my World Social Science Fellowship in global social governance.

The Everyday Battlefield: Hito Steyerl & Juliana Spahr

A few weeks ago, I went to see Hito Steyerl’s exhibition at the Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA) in London. Unfortunately, the exhibition has since ended, but Steyerl’s performances have stayed with me as some kind of lightbeam that flags up disturbing ‘facts of life’. The exhibition showed her films as well as her performance lectures, although the films seemed to take centre stage (they were displayed in a more cinema-like manner). While these films were already very interesting (especially the one about security in the gallery space, entitled ‘Guards’), I found her performance lectures even more striking – in the case of ‘Is the Museum a Battlefield?’, quite literally. The talk, screened back to back with ‘Guards’, traces the intimate connections between the art world and the military-industrial complex. Here is a version of it:

Is the Museum a Battlefield? by Hito Steyerl on Vimeo.

(This is a different version to the one at the gallery, which was a live recording from the 13th Istanbul Biennial whose theme was ‘Mom, am I a barbarian?’)

In the talk, Steyerl keeps on emphasising the mundaneness of atrocities: the battlefields that look unremarkable, the software that is used by weapons manufacturers as well as artists and designers, the military coups that open art and architecture markets, the arms money that circulates through public institutions, the mobile or internet communications of ordinary citizens that are routinely under surveillance. All around her, Steyerl discovers traces of bullets, highlighting their ubiquitous but obscured presences by holding up and even catching invisible ammunition. She finds that, when she shoots her videos, she inadvertently shoots people (including her friend Andrea Wolf), thanks to the technology’s implication in ‘toxic data clouds’ and common manufacturing processes. For Steyerl, bullets fly in circles: if you trace a piece of debris on the battlefield to its origin, you might end up with yourself, picking up said piece of debris. Her talk ends with the question: can we reverse or interrupt this cycle, to prevent more people from getting killed on this ever-present battlefield?

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Still from ‘Is the Museum a Battlefield?’ Source: e-flux

A few days after seeing Steyerl’s exhibition, I encountered the work of Juliana Spahr through a poetry reading and a conference talk in Milwaukee. At the conference, Spahr described her current project with fellow poet Joshua Clover as an attempt to bridge between two poetic trajectories that do not seem to speak one another: environmental and political poetry. This lack of dialogue, for me, also manifests itself in academia, between environmental or ‘new materialist’ theory and political or ‘historical materialist’ theory. In her talk, as well as her poetry, Spahr’s struggle to create bridges emerged as a productive one, through its density and its sense of the depths and levels of our current predicament. Moving between skin cells and war, kisses and labour movements, air composition and species extinction, she thoroughly stripped away barriers through her renderings of mechanisms and relations.

Juliana Spahr – Gender Abolition and Ecotone War

What she also very viscerally rendered present, for me, was the struggle with one’s own implication in both environmental and geopolitical destruction as an artist, academic and ‘ordinary person’. Given the magnitude of her question, I was rather saddened by some of the stereotypical academic responses to her talk, which tended to focus on trivial definitions or mockings of Marxism where, instead, some empathy or brainstorming support in terms of related strategies would have been more appropriate (although any response was arguably more productive than my silence).

Another remarkable thing is that Spahr reads without drama – the whole time that she is seemingly running through her poems, the drama (horror, exhilaration, lightbulb moments) unfolds relentlessly in the listener’s head. The effect, for me, is a sort of energising exhaustion. This tension between the casual, everyday and the drama and obscene violence of the geopolitical stage appears to be central to Juliana Spahr’s poetry in general. Whether she speaks about the Iraq war, the poetry scene, trade unions, bird species or the Anthropocene, Spahr’s emphasis lies on uncovering and grappling with mechanisms that tie us in our homes (or desks or beds) to very big and interconnected problems:

‘In bed, when I stroke down on yours cheeks, I stroke also the carrier battle group ships, the guided missile cruisers, and the guided missile destroyers’ (from This Connection of Everyone with Lungs p. 74).

If one were to generalise the essence of her question, it might run something like: what does it mean to be human and what can we do, as humans, to change our predicament?


Juliana Spahr reading the poem ‘Things’ (from Penn Sound Archive)

The connection between the two artists is their emphasis on the fact that – and how – any of us on this planet are permanently at war: not only are there wars around the world all of the time, but we are involved in them all in some way or another. Moreover, they both state that they are not satisfied with merely highlighting the problem. In their efforts to come up with possible modes of intervention, they do not only seem to address fellow artists, but ‘audiences’ (not just art audience, but especially those who do not see themselves as such). Steyerl is particularly cynical about the role of art as a carrier of resistance. As she put it in her essay ‘Politics of Art: Contemporary Art and the Transition to Post-Democracy’, ‘[i]f contemporary art is the answer, the question is, how can capitalism be made more beautiful?’ (The Wretched of the Screen p. 93) She acerbically diagnoses high art’s predicament as follows:

‘The Global Guggenheim is a cultural refinery for a set of post-democratic oligarchies, as are the countless international biennials tasked with upgrading and re-educating the surplus population. Art thus facilitates the development of a new multi-polar distribution of geopolitical power whose predatory economies are often fuelled by internal oppression, class war from above, and radical shock-and-awe policies. Contemporary art thus not only reflects, but actively intervenes in the transition toward a new post-Cold War world order.’ (p. 94)

According to Steyerl, art shies away from these connections and, instead, matches the ambitions and self-image of the harbingers of ’post-democratic hypercapitalism’ in its advocacy of opportunism, unpredictability, unaccountability, individualism, brilliance etc. Instead, she calls for the disenfranchised publics to reclaim art as a public good, using the repeated storming of the Louvre as an example.

Spahr also criticises the appropriation of ‘public art’. In her opinion, it is too frequently used by governments as a means to justify the continued perpetuation of a cycle of violence. For instance, the commission and display of monuments not only serves to superficially appease, but to actively naturalise violence:

‘At moments, once they [the writers/poets] got sufficiently theorised, they tried to think their way through this by thinking about Antigone and the public need to bury a body. But the minute they thought this, they then realised that Antigone was a figure of resistance against the state, not the state putting up one more piece of art to support its endless and unjustified killing of people of other places as well as its endless and unjust killing of a disproportionate number of its own people and of certain races and classes in the pursuit of endless and unjustified killings of people in other places.’ (from The Transformation, p. 162)

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September 11 memorial ‘Tribute in Light’

The key, for Spahr, despite its problems, seems to be to reappropriate the tools that were, in turn, appropriated in the service of destruction, in her own case language. Steyerl seems to second this strategy with her reappropriation of the audio-visual space.

Further, Spahr finds that artistic interventions frequently preach only to the converted and seems to echo Howard Zinn’s mantra ‘everyone must be involved – there are no experts’ (from ‘Artists in Times of War’, p. 11). By minutely detailing her own struggle as well as that of people around her, she almost creates a manual for possibilities of resistance. Yes, this manual also includes multiple failures and even humorous instances (both Spahr and Steyerl share a dark sense of humour, with Steyerl on the more satirical end), but it shows the struggle at a human scale and the need to recognise and make connections to related struggles.

Here, Spahr’s wrestling with the tension between treating humans as a species (‘this connection of everyone with lungs’) and humans as a society with antagonisms that lead to environmental and political problems adds another dimension to the ‘everyone’. Everyone is already involved through the physical processes that come with being alive, but not everyone is in an equal position in the social mechanisms. In her talk ‘Gender Abolition and Ecotone War’, Spahr extends this critique to authors who argue that all humans are equally affected by environmental changes. Emphasising that environmental changes cannot be seen independently of political changes, she reverses Dipesh Chakrabarty’s argument that ‘unlike in the crises of capitalism, there are no lifeboats here for the rich and the privileged’ into ‘I don’t know where Chakrabarty’s been looking, but the rich are buying life boats right now’.

In grappling with the perceived abyss between the everyday and the geopolitical – the apparent isolation of events such as sleeping, celebrity weddings, sturgeon poaching and full-scale war – Steyerl and Spahr keep returning to the question of the agency of the individual. There is no shortage of desperation in their writing. In one of Spahr’s post September 11 poems, for example, she writes: ‘beloveds, we do not know how to live our lives with any agency outside of our bed’, and repeatedly attempts to tie this emotional and bodily agency to the scale of the planet. Steyerl echoes this loss of agency in her depressing vision destitute (art) labourers dancing to ‘viral Lady Gaga imitation videos’ rather than rousing protest music. Yet both artists stubbornly refuse to give up either the content or their medium of struggle. As Spahr asserts: ‘‘We want to get ourselves out of bed.’ Here are two quotes that, for me, sum up the refusal of the medium despite its obvious taint:

‘If politics is thought of as the Other, happening somewhere else, always belonging to disenfranchised communities in whose name no one can speak, we end up missing what makes art intrinsically political nowadays: its function as a place for labour, conflict, and.. fun – a site of condensation of the contradictions of capital and of extremely entertaining and sometimes devastating misunderstandings between the global and the local.’ (Hito Steyerl, The Wretched of the Screen’ p. 98)

‘With grief, with worry, with desire, with attachment, with anything and everything, they began listing, inventorying, recognising in the hope that a catalogue of vulnerability could begin the process of claiming their being human, claiming the being human of their perverse third Sapphic point, claiming the being human of the space in the palm of their writing hand, in that space that their little and ring fingers made when they held a pen, the space that when they were learning to write in first grade they had been forced to fill with a small cool marble so as to learn the proper way to hold a pencil.’ (Juliana Spahr, The Transformation, p. 214)

At the same time, both artists/authors stress that art practice and poetry are not the only means, and that even armed resistance or defense may need to be considered, given the pervasiveness of militarisation. In this context, Spahr’s and Clover’s insistence on an Ecotone War serves both as a provocation to shock people out of their set ways of thinking about – and responding to – the current crisis (although Spahr also wonders about its usefulness and whether they should hold on to it). By contrast, Steyerl explicit terrorism references in films such as ‘November’ emphasise the question of what counts as terrorism and point to a dependence on circumstances and on who tells the story. Who is terrorising whom in the various ‘wars on terror’ around the world? Although she does not call for people to become terrorists (in her worldview they more or less already are), she seems to ask for a re-evaluation of terrorism and a potential rewriting of violent histories. She does not do this naively, showing the disturbing aspects of terrorism such as martyrisation and other forms of glorification of violence, and the loss of usefulness of violence.

November – Trailer by Hito Steyerl on Vimeo.

What I appreciate about both artists is their challenging provocations, both in the kinds of questions they ask and in the means they offer as pathways to action. In setting examples that clearly state the double-edgedness of all interventions, they leave us with uncomfortable tools, but with tools nonetheless.