TCS GeoSocial Formations Special Issue is out


Photo: Bron Szerszynski

The Theory, Culture & Society special issue on GeoSocial Formations is finally out! Please email me, if you don’t have access and would like to read it.

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Gabo Guzzo – The Geological Turn @ Banner Repeater Project Space


Image Source:Gabo Guzzo

More on the geologic(al) turn: Gabo Guzzo, artist in residence at the Banner Repeater reading room/project space at Hackney Downs Station, is taking on the Anthropocene during his residency between 24 May – 10 June 2012.
According to Super/Collider, Guzzo is ‘a London-based Italian artist and economist’. He ‘will present a diagram in relation to this epoch. using this diagram he will explore the effect we have had on the earth by fostering collaborative conversations and responses to his offering’. If I understand it correctly, you can pop in before the opening night on 31 May for discussions. The opening night will take place from 5-9pm. From 7pm, there will be a debate on the ‘Anthropocene’ between chemist Paul Crutzen (known for popularising the idea of the Anthropocene), artist Rasheed Araeen, geologist Jan Zalaseiwicz and art historian/critic TJ Demos.

Political Geology & (In)determinate Subjects Workshops @ Lancaster University

For people who liked the Terra Infirma workshop and/or the Geologic Turn symposium, here are two days of presentations and discussions at Lancaster University:

Political Geology: Stratigraphies of Power 21 June 2012, 11am – 5pm

(In)determinate Subjects: Indeterminacy & Justice 22 June 2012, 10am – 6pm

The events are described as follows:

Political Geology: Stratigraphies of Power

‘With what language can we describe the politics of the Earth? ‘Geopolitics’ should be the name of that language; yet the geopolitical lexicon is strangely lacking in any reference to the Earth System, to its structures and resistances, its deep time and its sudden upheavals. In recent decades, social and political theory has undertaken a number of biological turns, giving rise for example to political ecology, ecological economics and theories of biopolitics. But, despite Deleuze and Guattari’s exploration of ‘geophilosophy’, there has been no comparable geological turn – no concerted inquiry into the ways that the geophysical, as much as the biological, conditions what politics is and can be. However, debates about the Anthropocene seem to mark a growing recognition of humankind as a geological force. At the same time, unregenerate seismic, volcanic, atmospheric and other geomorphological forces attest to the limits of the human, yet also propel and incite human agency.

This workshop will explore the possibilities for a political vocabulary that can articulate the geophysical dimensions of politics and the political dimensions of the geophysical.’

Speakers will include:

Nigel Clark (Open University), Deborah Dixon (Aberystwyth University), Stuart Elden (Durham University), Myra Hird (Queen’s University, Canada), Arun Saldanha (University of Minnesota), Bronislaw Szerszynski (Lancaster University) and Kathryn Yusoff (Lancaster University).

Cost for attending (including lunch): £20; £10 for students or Lancaster staff.
This workshop is organised by the Centre for the Study of Environmental Change and the Lancaster Environment Centre. To book a place, or for more information, go to
http://bit.ly/politicalgeology or contact Bronislaw Szerszynski (bron@lancaster.ac.uk).

(In)determinate Subjects: Indeterminacy & Justice

‘Increasing attention has been given to exploring how to account for entities that are both between time and between natures, such as subject/objects, forms of biotic, technoscientific and inhuman life. This conversation will ask: In what ways can indeterminate entities be observed within (and in excess of) the material/practical conditions of their emergence? How do these conditions create different kinds of responsibility(and new vocabularies which trouble and expand the contours of ‘responsibility’) which we may not have yet anticipated? How can we imagine alternative forms of accounting which apprehend ontological and temporal conditions of precarity and justice? By exploring these and further questions we hope the conversation will help us explore alternative forms of experimentality and human – inhuman configurations which may take new account of indeterminacy and move us towards a more enduring postrelational politics.’

Speakers include: Myra Hird (Queens), Rebecca Ellis (Lancaster University), Claire Waterton (Lancaster University), Nigel Clark (Open University), Natasha Myers (York University) Elizabeth Barron (Harvard University), Filippo Bertoni (University of Amsterdam), Hayder Al-Mohammad (University of Southampton), Arun Saldanha (University of Minnesota), Kathryn Yusoff (Lancaster University) with Celia Roberts (Lancaster University), Maureen McNeil (Lancaster University), and Lucy Suchman (Lancaster University).

To reserve a place contact k.yusoff@lancaster.ac.uk

TCAUP symposia online: ‘The Geologic Turn’ and ‘Curating Race, Curating Space’

While I’m still working on the next post (and attending the Atlas book launch!), here are the links to presentations from two interesting symposia, hosted and kindly put online by the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning (TCAUP). I witnessed the introductory lecture to the ‘Geologic Turn’ symposium (organised by Etienne Turpin), but unfortunately missed the second half as well as the ‘Curating Race, Curating Space’ event (organised by Milton S F Curry).

Here are the videos in order, by symposium:

The Geologic Turn

Etienne Turpin (Introduction)
Stan Allen ‘Landform Building: Architecture’s New Terrain’ (Keynote)

IMMANENT HISTORIES
Seth Denizen
Jane Hutton
Amy C. Kulper
Discussion with Meredith Miller

MAKING THE GEOLOGIC NOW
Jamie Kruse and Elizabeth Ellsworth (smudge studio)
Discussion with Rosalyne Sheih

HARD AND SOFT EVIDENCE
D. Graham Burnett
Edward Eigen
Paulo Tavares
Discussion with Rania Ghosn

Curating Race, Curating Space

Milton S F Curry (Introduction)

THEORIZING RACE AND SPACE
Madhu Dubey ‘Racial Geographies of Cyber-Futurism’
Darell W. Fields ‘The Black Architecture Project: Artifacts and Community’
Tobias Wofford‘Framing Culture/Displaying Race: Traditional and Contemporary Art in the First World Festival of Negro Arts’
Discussion with Peter Gilgen and Matthew Biro

REPRESENTATIONAL PRACTICES
Hansy Better ‘Sites of In-Betweenness’
Amanda Williams
Discussion with Joan Kee and Teman Evans

SITES OF DISCOURSE
Liz Ogbu ‘Design for Social Impact: Linking platforms of advocacy and practice’
Andres Lepik ‘Changing the Paradigms: Social engagement in architecture and the role of exhibitions’
Olympia Kazi
Discussion with Keith Mitnick

Final Discussion with Robert Fishman and Session Moderators

While you’re at it, you should also catch Antoine Picon’s lecture ‘What Can we Learn from Construction? Architecture, Technology and Culture’.

How on Earth does one have an Earth in politics? … and other themes from the Terra Infirma workshop


Image: ‘Sumision’ by Santiago Sierra

It is one week after the Terra Infirma workshop, and I am still processing the discussions. Others who attended seem to be, too, as I am still getting e-mails with ideas and questions. In this blog post, I will try to outline a few themes that came up during the day, and especially the remaining questions. An outline of the day can be found on Nicola Triscott’s blog.

The intention behind the workshop was to bring together different people who are using the word ‘geopolitics’ in ways that challenge the ‘commonsensical’ notion of the term, according to which the Earth either becomes a mere stage set for a narrative of ‘heroic men’ or a physicality at the service of discrimination against particular population groups. As Joanne Sharp pointed out at the beginning of her presentation, geopolitics is also identified with the task of ‘mapping troublespots’ and of working towards a ‘terra firma’ – stable ground. So, on the 27 January 2012, a group of geographers, scientists, artists, architects, policy researchers and others met up in an effort to ‘destabilise’ and, in particular, to ask: ‘what does the ‘geo’ in geopolitics’ actually do?

The first destabilising agents were identified as the kinds of things that are excluded from the dominant interpretation of geopolitics. In the introduction to the workshop, I grouped these exclusions into three strands: the exclusion of physical earth forces and phenomena in politics, of ‘marginal’ voices and of particular practices. Biopolitics, which gives a particular image of how physical and political life are intertwined, constituted a second point of departure. The relation with biopolitics raises questions what a corresponding geopolitics might do and whether it is perhaps already in existence, for instance, if one considers the managing of issues such as climate change or natural resources. Here, the concern was how to avoid or counteract social Darwinist links between the ‘bio’ and the ‘geo’ and the political, and instead take on the problematic, as Andrew Barry put it, of the ‘nagging interference between the natural and the social’, which is present in geography and, one could argue, in geopolitics.

Climate change/Anthropocene

Climate change – and especially the concept of the ‘Anthropocene’ – featured prominently in the workshop as motivation for rethinking politics. Explorations of this theme began with references to geographer Simon Dalby and his critique of geopolitics. Dalby, in turn, was criticised for not challenging geopolitics enough, by maintaining a focusing on ‘horizontal connections’. Proposed alternatives included ‘vertical’ or ‘temporal’ thinking (‘when do I belong?’), as in Irit Rogoff’s sense of ‘terra infirma’. For some speakers and participants, ‘terra infirma’ also implied that not an ‘anchoring in the Earth’ was needed, but an ‘unanchoring’; not ‘grounding’, but a focus on the dynamism of our planet. Against this background, geopolitics morphed into a concern about choices and limits: ‘what we can or can’t do differently’ on/with our planet. Related contributions focused on ‘stratigraphic anxieties’ – the fear of becoming ‘just another geological stratum’, highlighted the asymmetry of the agency of Earth forces and humans (in both ways) and called for attention to a ‘non-vitalist materiality’. An example of the latter involved humanity’s continuing ‘becoming with’ minerals/fossil fuels, adding a further dimension to our struggle with fossil fuel dependence.

Questions in this context addressed the usefulness of attending to non-human agency (particularly the ‘non-vital’) in politics, the impact of fusing of the represented and the representing subject in the naming of the ‘Anthropocene,’ and the danger of using the term politics in connection with the physicality of the Earth. The example of geo-engineering raised further concerns, such as the use of military language around ‘pre-emptive’ efforts to make climate change happen on particular human terms. As a technology, which seems to be most intimately tied up with the planet’s physical and political fate, it invited discussions about the effects of its different modes of application on human identity (as ‘makers of climate’). Here, questions around the responsibilities of governance and ethics of experimental trials were raised, as well as questions around access, creation and levels of control. Questions that did not get answered (directly at least), due to time constraints, included:

  • Given the problematic genealogy of the term ‘geopolitics’ – with its tradition of physical features determining politics – and the normal hesitancy around using the term, why would you want to use it in connection with geology, geography, human origin stories etc? Are the dangers that this kind of connection gets abused for ‘crude’ determinist politics not too great, especially, as geography has often been portrayed as an ‘aid to statecraft’ (e.g. Mackinder)?
  • In what ways is climate change instrumentalised differently as a ‘threat’ by governments etc, for instance, compared to the War on Terror? Is its potential for provoking a rethinking of global politics suppressed or redirected in certain ways?
    (Note: in a post-workshop discussion on this topic, it was suggested that what we may be seeing is an uncanny mobility and flexibility of neoliberal experiments in filling the space opened by climatic/geological events – an example being the reorganisation of the school system after Hurricane Katrina e.g. criticised by Naomi Klein as disaster apartheid).

Feminist theory

A meeting ground between the different approaches to ‘geopolitics’ seemed to be found in feminist theory, and particularly in its attention to corporeality. According to my notes, the most often named theorist in the workshop overall (both by speakers and other participants) was Judith Butler. Her work was regarded as inviting an engagement with subjects within networks of power and as highlighting problematic connections between bio- and geopolitics. A further benefit of feminist theory was seen in attention to the margins (e.g. the work of bell hooks) and in highlighting the tension between the need to ‘embed practices of the everyday’ and ‘not losing the bigger picture’. Examples cited included the ‘bodily challenge’ to systems of geopolitical violence (e.g. setting oneself on fire) and the embodiment of this violence in particular ‘villains’, and the attention to the ‘bio’ and the ‘geo’ in the work of Elizabeth Grosz.

Post-colonial theory

Post-colonial theory and its notion of the ‘subaltern’ was mentioned as a source of challenge to traditional geopolitics’ language of ‘inside/outside’, and as a lens which flagged up already existing conflations of the ‘bio’ and the ‘geo’ (e.g. how bodies are marked, controlled to ‘stay in place’; Orientalism etc). This particular theme further emphasised the link between bio- and geopolitics and depoliticisation: how (real or perceived) physical ‘misery’, ‘crisis’ or ‘geographical disadvantage’ is utilised to justify intervention and place the ‘physical’ issue above politics. The rhetoric of ‘doing whatever is necessary to remedy the situation’, and doing away with the usual political conventions, was shown to render people as politically inactive, as almost ‘already dead’ (‘homo sacer’ status). This post-political stance, and its systemic and anonymous nature of violence/denying agency, was seen as being on the increase ‘throughout global capitalist relations’.

Space vs Earth

The discussion also brought up challenges to the ‘spatial logic’ of traditional geopolitics. One challenge was described as emerging from post-structuralist critique, but was seen as insufficient, leading to a situation of ‘critique from everywhere and nowhere’. Another was presented as a disciplinary issue: that geography should ‘forget space’ and instead focus on the problem of the ‘geo’ as both a physical and social phenomenon. This provocation arose from a dissatisfaction with the status of the earth as either ‘determining’ or ‘constructed’ – and neither position appearing convincing or useful. An additional dissatisfaction seemed to arise from the separation of the ‘geo’ into ‘above ground’ (geography) and ‘below ground’ (geology). The question summing up this discussion was phrased as follows: ‘Can one think of forms of experimental research which engage with the ‘geo’? It was argued that while there has been, for instance, artistic experimentation with the sciences, there has been little experimentation with geography/geology/earth sciences.

Experimentation

Experimentation represented a theme in its own right, with the need or desire to experiment being implicit or explicit in most contributions. Questions around what responsible experimentation in geopolitics might look like, whether there are alternatives to experiments, and what logics of experimentation are already followed guided this discussion. The scale of the ‘geo’ figured as a strong attribute and the effect it has on blurring boundaries between subject and object of experimentation. Examples included the naming of geological ages, geo-engineering and post-geopolitical-event ‘social engineering’, such as state strategies following the 9/11 attacks. The interplay of ‘geo’ and ‘social’ events or engineering was identified as a distinct concern (e.g. the above mentioned neo-liberal experiments following geological events). In addition, participants pointed towards a lack of experimentation with concepts such as ‘energy’ which seem to elude the concerns with materiality and discourse. The opposite of mobility, stability, was also attended to, especially the need for making the outcomes of particular experiments durable, perhaps even moving towards something like a ‘wider geo-social contract’ involving ‘gift economies’, ‘denizens’ and other new constructs. Such proposals prompted questions of how such visions relate to the abstractions of more traditional critical geopolitics – which tend to feature states, territories, citizens – and what languages and concepts the different alternatives to geopolitics might want to exchange for productive ends?

Multiplicity of visions

Finally, it was proposed that a multiplicity of perspectives might be the most helpful strategy to challenge the dominant practices and discourse of geopolitics. Multiplicity also showed up in discussions of particular alternative visions, which highlighted the issue of visibility and representation. Questions that remained in this area included:
How, why and for whom should such visions gain a bigger presence? And in what kinds of spaces and to what kinds of audiences? How do these visions address how people ‘care’ and ‘respond’ in different ways about how they are represented?

SUMMARY OF PRESENTATIONS

Session 1 – Theoretical Provocations
Nigel Clark – ‘When am I?’ Geopolitics and Stratigraphic Uncertainty’
Kathryn Yusoff – ‘Geologic Life or how to get up with dead things
Joanne Sharp – ‘Displacing geopolitics: imagined geographies from the margins’

Session 2 – Methods & Materials
Nelly Ben Hayoun, Carina Fearnley, Austin Houldsworth – ‘The Other Volcano’
Angela Last – ‘Public visions across scales – The Mutable Matter project’
Bron Szerszynski – ‘Making Climates’

Session 3 – Embedding Experimental Geopolitics
Andrew Barry – ’Geopolitical fieldwork’
Alan Ingram – ‘Contested visibilities: geopolitics and contemporary art’