But we all should…
Books I Didn’t Read During Lockdown: II
But I shoulda…
Books I Didn’t Read During Lockdown: I
But you should…
Challenges and New Debates in Political Geography: Perspectives from Brazil
If you’re interested, and if you read Portuguese, here is news of a new collection of essays exploring challenges and new debates in contemporary political geography, edited by Brazilian geographers Daniel de Azevedo, Iná Elias de Castro and Rafael Winter Ribeiro. The book is based on a series of online seminars organised by CONGEO, the Brazilian Conference on Political Geography, Geopolitics, and Territory Management organised, held in 2020. I have a chapter in the book, translated from the English-language version of the paper I presented in December 2020. The collection has an interesting shape – it consists of contributions by geographers from not just Brazil, but also Portugal, Spain, France, the USA and UK, and the book is organised around the idea of distinctive linguistic traditions (French, Spanish, English, Portuguese, etc). It’s an experiment in convening a cosmopolitanism conversation with non-Anglo anchor points. You can watch some of those involved discuss the new book here: youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fzbzro8F0no
My own chapter (‘Deslocando as geografias da justice’) rehearses the basic argument of The Priority of Injustice, and the argument’s relevance in GeographyLand. I’m not sure, of course, quite how that argument sounds in Portuguese, mediated as it is by my own rather clunky prose style, but translation is a constructive act (one that is indicative of the fact that difference – and all its attendant misunderstandings – is a condition of communication and sharing, not an impediment). So I do hope new things emerge from the process.
The Wicked City
The published version of ‘The wicked city: Genealogies of interdisciplinary hubris in urban thought’ is now available online at Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. (Let me know, and I’ll happily send the PDF – here is the pre-publication draft). The paper explores the revival of interest in the concept of wicked problems over the last couple of decades, and how this intersects with the breakout of ‘metrophilia’ (i.e. the widespread interest in the idea that cities and urban practices of all sorts are the key to ‘solving’ all sorts of global problems). Methodologically, the paper is another exercise in the empirical analysis of social thought – more specifically, it works through the idea of tracking ‘ascriptions of responsibility’ as a way of taking problematizations as an object of analysis. This kind of analysis is developed on the understanding that rather than taking it for granted that everyone is talking about ‘cities’ these days because loads of people – more of them, and a greater proportion of them – live in ‘cities’, it might be worthwhile cultivating a kind of ‘epistemic surprise’, as Foucault had it, when faced with the proliferation of ‘true discourse’ about urban life in the twenty-first century: “a true thing’s reality is never the factual reason why the truth of this thing is said in a discourse.” (It’s best too not to reduce the appearance of such a thing in discourse to some version of ‘ideology’).
My discussion of the wicked problems idea in this paper is specifically focused on its relation to what I refer to as ‘urban thought’, but this is just one part of a wider trend of renewed interest in this concept. A recent PhD by Anke Gruendel locates renewed interest in the emergence of governmental rationalities indebted to design-thinking – and includes a fascinating discussion of how the intellectual debates in the 1960s out of which the wicked problems idea was developed included discussions between Horst Rittel, the originator of the idea, and Jürgen Habermas: Anke’s account demonstrates the degree to which the idea of wicked problems is centrally implicated with core questions of critical democratic theory.
On Wicked Problems
Here is the pre-production version of a paper just accepted for publication in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, entitled ‘The wicked city: Genealogies of interdisciplinary hubris in urban thought’. (You can access a PDF of the final draft here).
The paper is one, probably the last, output from ‘The Urbanization of Responsibility‘ project, supported by a Leverhulme Fellowship back in 2014-2016, but which lasted longer than the funding, as these things do of course. (If someone gave me another fellowship, I might have the time to sculpt the various urban-focussed things that have come out of that project into a coherent looking book. Probably won’t happen).
Here’s the abstract to this latest piece:
“Across multiple academic disciplines and fields of policy, cities are now ascribed wide-ranging task responsibility for addressing a wide range of global issues. This paper elaborates a genealogical mode of analysis for understanding the ascription of causal and practical responsibility to urban processes. This analysis is developed through a case study of the revival of interest in the concept of wicked problems. The paper pinpoints aspects of the original account of wicked problems that are crucial to appreciating the significance now played by this concept in discourses of metrophilia. The focus is on the specific sense of ‘wickedness’ outlined in this original account. The career of the wicked problems idea is reconstructed, with an emphasis on different views of expertise and how these are related to the changing status of the city in recent accounts of wicked problems. The paper identifies differences and similarities between the two prevalent ways in which the invocation of the concept of wicked problems is used to ascribe responsibility for shaping urban futures – a ‘taming’ perspective and a ‘sharing’ perspective. In concluding, it is argued that the career of the idea of wicked problems brings into view the constitutive link between generalised ascriptions of task responsibility to urban processes and a set of chronic concerns about the ambivalence of urban expertise.”
Following up on my post about home-movie footage of Kenneth Kuanda (and others), if you’re really interested, I have now uploaded the clips to YouTube (who knew?!) – links added to the original post, and available here:
Capturing Kenneth Kuanda: in the (post)colonial archive
The death of the former Zambian President Kenneth Kuanda, one of the last of the generation of leaders of African independence movements, reminded me that I’m actually in possession of some real-live archive footage of Kuanda from the very high point of postcolonial promise. Almost a decade ago now, I spent a summer going through the strange remains that one’s parents leave behind when they pass away. I wrote about aspects of this then, reflecting on how I learnt things about the time they spent in Cyprus, Rhodesia and Zambia in the late 1950s and early 1960s, before I was born, when my father was in the RAF, the Royal Rhodesian Air Force, and the Zambian Air Force. All this material was a kind of archive of their relationship, of my pre-history, and the imbrication of both with late settler colonialism.
This material included a set of old home movies, cine film reels, that I had converted to DVD at the time. It was weird and wonderful and a little sad watching them back in 2012, seeing one’s parents as you’d never experienced them – grainy pictures of days out, of ‘overseas’ places, of newly born sisters (baby versions of older sisters). Clips of trains, and of planes, of course.
And, in amongst these scenes of ordinariness, are two or three scenes of colonial and postcolonial geopolitics. Scenes captured by my father from the sidelines.
There’s footage of a scene in which a dignitary is arriving, getting off a plane, a woman it turns out, who inspects a line of RAF men, and then drives off in a limousine, before flying away again. There’s a Royal Standard in the shot, a half of the flag is white – oh look, it’s the Queen Mother! She liked Rhodesia, in the good old days. This footage in particular, because of the quality of the film, the hand held shots, and the sunshine, has a weird resonance with the Zapruder film – it just doesn’t have that particular denouement.
The real joy of first watching these films though came from two other clips, which I remember watching in amazement when I first saw them. There is about 3 minutes or so of a meeting, with lots of drumming, traditional dress, men in military uniform – no idea where this is (‘in the bush’ I guess my father would have said), but you had to fly there, which is why my father is there (every so often, as he pans the camera, he catches the plane or another Air Force officer in the shot). And yes, it turns out, the guest of honour at this event whatever it was, is Kuanda – the footage is a bit underexposed in parts, but it’s definitely him (the white handkerchief is the give away). This must be from 1964, or 1965, maybe early 1966 perhaps. As with all of this footage, the familial bits as well, it leaves me with so many questions, but no way of finding out the answers.
The other bit of footage is even better – shorter, less than half a minute, preceded by scenes of soldiers parading at an airport, then, abruptly, two African men walk across the screen side by side, up to a podium. It’s Kuanda, and a slightly shorter man, in a green Mao-suit, with a receding hairline – that’s Julius Nyerere! The footage then cuts to a shot of a BOAC VC10 approaching to land and then… it cuts to another scene of domesticity and play.
Who are those two about to greet? Not the Queen Mum, not by then. Who knows. I don’t. My father never actually mentioned that he spent a couple of years flying Kenneth Kuanda around a newly independent Zambia, taking part as a close observer in these rituals of postcolonial nation-building, as a precondition of returning to the UK in 1966.
Book Launch: Housing in the Margins
I’m slowly catching-up with things I’ve missed over the last weird year-or-so, including the publication of books by people I used to know…
Below are details of an online launch event (tomorrow!) for a new book by Hannah Hilbrandt, Housing in the Margins: Negotiating Urban Formalities in Berlin’s Allotment Gardens. The event is organised by The Urban Salon. Amongst other things, the book works over debates about ‘Theory from the South’ and associated themes by making use of ideas developed in relation to informality in fields of ‘development studies’ and non-western contexts and seeing how they help make sense of things going on in Berlin.
Online Book Launch and panel discussion
Informality and housing precarity: Urban perspectives across North-South
5pm UK time Wed 16 June
For the zoom link and registration please visit: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/informality-and-housing-precarity-urban-perspectives-across-north-south-tickets-157588733143.
The Urban Salon is delighted to host a panel discussion together with the Center for Metropolitan Studies, TU Berlin on the occasion of the launch of a new book from Hanna Hilbrandt (University of Zurich), Housing in the Margins: Negotiating Urban Formalities in Berlin’s Allotment Gardens. Inspired by concepts of informality which have been generated across the global South, the book develops new perspectives on practices of housing governance in Berlin through the twentieth century: normative judgements, room for manoeuvre and ongoing minor acts of negotiation add up to a way to mobilise the concept of informality as “routine enactments of rules and regulations”. The panelists will respond to Hanna’s detailed ethnography of the technically illegal use of allotment garden structures as dwellings in Berlin, both at times of housing crisis and on an ongoing basis.
Hanna Hilbrandt is assistant professor of social and cultural geography at the University of Zurich. Her research explores marginality and exclusion in housing and urban development as well as socio-spatial inequalities in the context of global economic restructuring.
Julie-Anne Boudreau (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México)
Francesco Chiodelli (Università degli Studi di Torino)
Alex Vasudevan (University of Oxford)
Respondents: Matthew Gandy (University of Cambridge) and Dorothee Brantz (Technische Universität, Berlin)
Chair: Jennifer Robinson (University College London)
For further details, and to subscribe to the Urban Salon mailing list, please visit http://theurbansalon.com/
The Right to have Rights after Brexit
By Clive Barnett, Kuba Jablonowski and Sam Kinsley, University of Exeter
The United Kingdom’s formal departure from the European Union on 31st January 2021 involves the removal of rights of UK citizens to free movement and residence in EU member states. At the same time, for EU citizens already living in the UK, it involved the removal of their legal rights to residence previously assured by virtue of the UK’s membership of the EU. After Brexit, EU citizens already living in the UK are now subject to domestic immigration laws and border controls. In short, Brexit is an instance in which the fragility of the right to have rights is laid bare, precisely because it is a process in which the contingency of people’s status as bearers of rights is exposed to view.
The European Union Settlement Scheme (EUSS) is the policy framework and administrative procedure designed to transfer…
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