Alternative Urbanisms: Call for Papers

Do please circulate the Call for Papers below for a session at the Annual Meeting of the AAG next April, in New Orlean, on the theme of Alternative Urbanisms to anyone who might be interested:

Call for Papers

 Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers,

New Orleans, 10th-14th April, 2018.

 

ALTERNATIVE URBANISMS

Organizers: Clive Barnett and Jon Cinnamon (University of Exeter)

Cities are increasingly characterized as important sites of political, economic, cultural and environmental transformation, yet the proliferating attention to ‘the urban’ from policymakers threatens a narrowing of the boundaries of urban imaginaries around certain favored models. This session thus seeks to bring together papers that address one or more aspects of a growing contemporary concern with developing ‘alternative urbanisms’ in theory, policy and practice (e.g. Derickson 2015, Buckley and Strauss 2016, Parnell and Robinson 2012). We conceive of ‘alternative urbanisms’ along three dimensions. Firstly, alternative urbanisms might describe a focus on counter-hegemonic forms of urban living and practice that are alternative in relation to mainstream models and trends. Secondly, it can refer to a focus on how urban spaces are configured as experimental fields for the development of new practices in response to imperatives to restructure and reconfigure economic, social and technological infrastructures. Thirdly, alternative urbanisms might refer to a concern to broaden the scope of intellectual reference points through which urban practices can be conceptualised and investigated methodologically. Across these dimensions, it is agreed that more effort is needed to extend the canon of contemporary urban studies, urban and regional science, planning, and human geography to include insights from the humanities, natural sciences, or engineering, and also to draw on empirical and theoretical resources from beyond the Global North.

We welcome theoretical and empirical papers that push up against the boundaries of urban thought, policy and practice – papers that aim to critique the urban mainstream as well identify new possibilities for understanding and acting on urban challenges. The following is a sample of questions germane to this session, although we welcome papers on all topics that fit the broad scope.

  • What marginalized or emerging theoretical and methodological traditions demand the attention of urban scholars?
  • Why do ‘mainstream’ urban ideas and policies not take root in certain jurisdictions? What localisms prevent the successful uptake of mainstream, globally circulating urbanisms?
  • What epistemological or political work can alternative urbanisms do?
  • What are the temporalities and spatialities of alternative urban thought and practice, and how is this reflected in or distinct from local and global political, economic or cultural hegemonies?

Please send an abstract of no more than 250 words by 13th October to: Clive Barnett (c.barnett@exeter.ac.uk) and Jon Cinnamon (j.cinnamon@exeter.ac.uk). 

References

Barnett, C. and Bridge, G. (2016) The situations of urban inquiry: thinking problematically about the city. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 40, 1186-1204.

Buckley, M. & Strauss, K. (2016) With, against and beyond Lefebvre: Planetary urbanization and epistemic plurality. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 34, 617-636.

Derickson, K. D. (2015) Urban geography I: Locating urban theory in the ‘urban age’. Progress in Human Geography, 39, 647-657.

Parnell, S. & Robinson, J. (2012) (Re)theorizing Cities from the Global South: Looking Beyond Neoliberalism. Urban Geography, 33, 593-617.

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Resilience and Design

Here are details of a Forum on the theme of Resilience and Design, edited by Rob Cowley, in the journal Resilience. As well as an introduction by Rob, it consists of four short essays on ‘urbany’ themes, mainly, by myself, Tania Katzschner, Nathaniel Tkacz, and Filip De Boeck. Here is the list of contents:

Resilience and design: an introduction, Robert Cowley

Planning as design in the Wicked City, Clive Barnett

Design, responsibility and ‘Staying with the Trouble’: rethinking urban conservation in Cape Town, Tania Katzschner

In a world of data signals, resilience is subsumed into a design paradigm, Nathaniel Tkacz

‘The Hole of the World’: designing possibility through topography in Congo’s urban settings, Filip de Boeck

And here is the abstract for the whole collection:

“This forum aims to encourage theorists of resilience to engage more closely with different aspects of design theory and practice. The introduction outlines a series of largely unacknowledged parallels between resilience and design, relating to the valorisation of processes over states, the loss of faith in ‘planning’, the ambivalent status of boundaries and interfaces, and open-ended political possibilities. Four short reflections then follow on various design-related topics: the significance of the ‘wicked problem’ in contemporary urban planning and design, and the urbanisation of responsibility; design’s potential to repoliticise and engender new forms of responsibility; the significance of the digital interface; and the condition of everyday life in the ‘unplanned’ post-colonial city. Readers are invited to build on or refute the explicit and implicit links made between resilience and design in the various forum contributions.”

I have a bunch of free e-copies of the Forum, so let me know if you’d like one!

Almost Ready

So, here is the back-cover blurb for The Priority of Injustice, from the new Winter catalogue from the University of Georgia Press. The book is not published yet, I am sitting here with the proofs at my feet, waiting for an index to be delivered before sending it all back to the publisher one last time (no-one else might read this book, but it seems to be all I’ve been reading for the last two years).

This original and ambitious work looks anew at a series of intellectual debates about the meaning of democracy. Clive Barnett engages with key thinkers in various traditions of democratic theory and demonstrates the importance of a geographical imagination in interpreting contemporary political change.

Debates about radical democracy, Barnett argues, have become trapped around a set of oppositions between deliberative and agonistic theories—contrasting thinkers who promote the possibility of rational agreement and those who seek to unmask the role of power or violence or difference in shaping human affairs. While these debates are often framed in terms of consensus versus contestation, Barnett unpacks the assumptions about space and time that underlie different understandings of the sources of political conflict and shows how these differences reflect deeper philosophical commitments to theories of creative action or revived ontologies of “the political.” Rather than developing ideal theories of democracy or models of proper politics, he argues that attention should turn toward the practices of claims-making through which political movements express experiences of injustice and make demands for recognition, redress, and repair. By rethinking the spatial grammar of discussions of public space, democratic inclusion, and globalization, Barnett develops a conceptual framework for analyzing the crucial roles played by geographical processes in generating and processing contentious politics.”

Public Life in a Provincial Town

After 8 years, the imminent departure from Swindon by the end of the summer now looms on the horizon. This blog has been very much shaped by the experience of living in this non-University town, and while here, living in a very Respectable Street, I’ve written a book, acquired a second child, lost a second parent, been promoted, got a new job, but not quite turned 50.

Swindon, of course, has a certain sort of reputation as ‘a dump’, which is not quite fair, and even if it is, given the representative significance of Swindon in the history of British society, it’s no more of a dump than the rest of the country. Aroundaboutz, of course, in the surrounding countryside populated by plenty of Generals and Majors, there are all sorts of attractions, if you like White Horses and stones circles and if you can survive on a Farmboy’s Wages. And it’s not too far away from the Towers of London, if you fancy a day trip. But that’s still underselling Swindon itself, which has quite a few treasures all of its own. It’s a good place to visit if you like railway museums, odd art deco treasures, or want to trace the origins of the NHS. In the time I have lived here, one can trace the diminution of the public realm under the pressure of austerity, felt in the absence of Sure Start centres, libraries, bus services, and nurseries that were the elements of our daily life when we first moved here. But actually, a life here isn’t just the privatised experience of a New Town Animal in a Furnished Cage. There are things worth getting out and about for. You could even spend half a day on a self-made Diana Dors walking tour, culminating perhaps at Swindon’s very own answer to the Statue of Liberty.

So should you ever find yourself stuck here and in need of entertainment, or indeed if you find yourself Making Plans to pass close by, here is my personal guide to the best 10 things that public life in Swindon offers to you:

1). Top of the list is the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery. A quite extraordinary place, mainly for the art collection (not to the mention the crocodile or the Mummy).

2). Town Gardens. A place for kids to play, the site of the best annual(ish) South Asian festival I’ve ever been to, and a place where sometimes, if you look carefully, you can catch a glimpse of the Mayor of Simpleton wandering around.

3). No public sphere is possible, as old uncle Habermas reminds us, without a thriving commercial life to sustain it. The Swindon Designer Outlet shopping centre might not sound much, but even if you don’t like shopping, go there – it’s in the remaining part of the Great Western railways works, so it’s like walking through a portal into the historical geography of the town.

4). And, still with Habermas, you need coffee shops too – visit Baila, a little slice of cosmopolitanism in Old Town. At nighttime, it might well be true that Life Begins at the Hop, but it should end here, in a Crowded Room full of discerning gin drinkers. By day, it’s a haven for home-workers happy to listen to acid jazz and not-so-obvious Motown.

5). Los Gatos, or just ‘the Spanish’, a small slice of authentic British ex-pat Tapas in Wiltshire, this was the ONLY nice place when we moved here, but now it is like a trusted old friend you know will always be there when other things disappoint. Great coffee.

6). The Arts Centre. Swindon has a proper, big theatre, The Wyvern, which is also worth a visit (especially for Jon Richardson’s ‘returning home’ gigs), but the Arts Centre is another little hidden gem, a place to see Am-Dram performances of The Crucible or watch Mark Thomas or see foreign films or listen to Thea Gilmore.

7). Swindon is a very sporty town, with a disappointing football team embedded in the community in all sorts of commendable ways, Speedway, and best of all, Ice Hockey. Go Wildcats! It’s just like Canada.

8). There are various things to do at Coate Water park, but the best one is to take a ride on the miniature railway – because it’s Swindon, so you have to find a way of riding on a steam train.

9). The Old Town Railway Path. Yes, yes, I know, it turns out that almost everything on the list is related to railways, but if you need a walk, this is great – this is another bit of historical geography, a disused railway cutting that overlooks the ‘The Front Garden’ between Swindon and the M4, now the site of a major new housing development, and gives you a view in the distance of the Science Museum‘s large-object store at Wroughton, and if you like Rock, you can even see some exposed Upper Jurassic geological formations (apparently). Certainly a place to get your Senses Working Overtime.

10). Oh, and then there is the musical heritage – you don’t even have to come here to experience any of this, but all of it makes so much more sense if you’ve lived here. This is Pop.

 

 

John Davey

How said to hear, via Derek Gregory at Geographical Imaginations, of the death of John Davey, long-time editor of a whole series of agenda-setting books, texts, and series in Geography going back more than four decades. I first met John when I was a graduate student, when he could sometimes be found immersed in intense rivalry with David Harvey over the Bar Billiards table in the Bookbinders Arms in Jericho. I remember learning from John just how peculiar, tenuous, but also central commercial publishing was to the growth of new academic fields. Twenty years or so ago, I sent him a proposal for an edited collection on the links between media theory, spatial theory, and theories of democracy – he suggested that it would be better if I wrote it myself, which was a tremendously important confidence booster for me at the time, so I did, coaxed along by him. He had moved to Edinburgh University Press at this stage, where he cultivated for a short time a remarkably strong Geography list, including titles by Harvey, David Smith and Marcus Doel. Another figure from a pivotal geographical generation who is done too soon.

Urban Problems: new paper theorising why ‘the city’ matters

A new paper, entitled The situations of urban inquiry: thinking problematically about the city, co-written by Gary Bridge and myself, is now available in the Early View at the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research (Feel free to let me know if you would like a PDF copy of the piece, if you can’t access the Journal direct). The paper is an intervention in ongoing debates about the objects of urban theory (planetary urbanization, comparative urbanisms, southern urbanisms, all that). We argue that ‘the city’ should be approached ‘problematically’ (not the same as saying that it should be problematized), an argument we expand on by way of an engagement with Foucault’s thoughts on problematization and Dewey’s more sustained treatment of problematic situations. 

Here is abstract: 

“In the context of debates about the epistemological and ontological coherence of concepts of critical urban studies, we argue that urban concepts should be conceptualized problematically. We do so by aligning Michel Foucault’s genealogical work on problematization with John Dewey’s pragmatist understanding of problem formation and responsiveness. This approach brings into view the degree to which debates about urban futures are shaped by a variety of critical perspectives that extend beyond the academy and activism. We elaborate this argument through examples of global urban policy formation and practices of neighbourhood change. Approaching urban concepts problematically suggests a move away from the idea of critique as a form of scholastic correction towards an appreciation of the contested fields of practice in and through which critical understandings of urban problems emerge.”

Democracy for Geographers

The International Encyclopedia of Geography: People, the Earth, Environment and Technology, edited by too many people to mention, published by Wiley in collaboration with the Association of American Geographers, is now available (at £1500 or so – I guess this is one for Libraries). Murray Low and I wrote the entry for Democracy, still one of those concepts that Geographers mention a lot in passing, as a kind of ideal, without necessarily ever making it into a central theme of debate. Maybe.

The Priority of Injustice

screen-shot-2017-03-02-at-14-22-14The publication of my new book, The Priority of Injustice, gets a little closer, a little more real, with the mock-up of the front cover. It’s quite nice, I think. The image is by an artist called Helen Burgess. The book itself is due out later this year, published by the University of Georgia Press, sometime in the Autumn/Fall.