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.

Geography Books

screen-shot-2017-02-27-at-10-15-28It’s sad, I know, but one of my favourite places is the Bookbarn, in Somerset on the road from Bristol to Wells. It is, as the name suggests, a big barn full of old books (my partner refuses to ever come along with me, because the smell of second-hand books repulses her just a little). The books here seem to consist mainly of discontinued library stock, from everywhere from the Cleveland County Library and the former Bath College of Higher Education (precursor to Bath Spa) to the Seeley Historical Library in Cambridge. If you were so inclined, you could acquire pretty much any book written about the Royal Family in the last 60 years here, or, alternatively, construct your own personal archive of every single Open University social science course from The Dimensions of Society (1975) onwards.

The Bookbarn even has a whole Geography section, which is more than you can say about most academic bookshops these days. It’s about 12 square feet of shelves, containing books mainly from the 1960s and 1970s, with a sprinkling from  1990s and more recently. I was there on Saturday, and I could have bought all of my old school textbooks for both O and A level, but thought better of it. You could, too, collect a number of ‘classics’ of modern academic Geography, including Harvey’s Explanation in Geography, Haggett’s Locational Analysis, pretty much anything you might want by Dudley Stamp, Wilbur Zelinsky’s A Prologue to Population Geography, different editions of Wooldridge and East’s The Spirit and Purpose of Geography, the original version of Sparks’ Geomorphology, or the first Progress in Geography edited collection from 1969.

These shelves offer a snapshot of how Geography was represented in public life in the UK somewhere between about 1970 and the mid-1980s, in so far as the books acquired by school and University libraries but also by local public libraries are an indication of that. Standing there, in front of them all, you get a strong sense of the 1970s having been a little bit of a golden age for Geography publishing in the UK, with a wide range of book length research monographs and edited collections reviewing and promoting geography as a science, and in particular human geography as a social science (an age when publishers such as Heinemann, Croom Helm, Arnold, and Hutchinson all had important geography lists it seems). Many of the books on these shelves are ones I can remember, at least from the covers if not necessarily from actually reading them, from when I was an undergraduate in the late 1980s. They seemed a little dated even then, which might have been a design issue in some cases, but also had to do with the way in which the intellectual substance of many of the books you can find in the Bookbarn had, already by then, been framed as standing on one said of a divide between ‘radical’ and not-so-radical geography, which was overlain onto the mutually hostile methodological chauvinisms on both sides. I liked the radical stuff (the only book on the shelves at the Bookbarn which really counts as an influential one for my own intellectual formation is 1984’s Geography and Gender: An Introduction to Feminist Geography, by the IBG’s Women and Geography Study Group). Amazingly in hindsight, did an undergraduate degree in which one didn’t actually have to take any notice of ‘quantitative’ and statistical approaches at all if you didn’t want to (I don’t as a result share the antipathy towards those approaches often felt by people once forced to sit through what, way back when, were not very well taught classes promoting them; nor the sense of self-righteousness often attached to ‘qualitative’ approaches that is the flip-side of generation-shaping ‘Bad-Stats’ experiences). The books I have in mind (some of which I bought – they are dead cheap), are expressions of the “methodological ferment” that transformed Geography from the 1950s onwards, primarily through the adoption, development and refinement of statistical techniques and mathematical modelling to spatial patterns, processes and forms. You can trace the emergence of whole new sub-disciplines in the wake of this modernization in the books in the Bookbarn: of urban geography, for example, in Harold Carter’s The Study of Urban Geography, David Herbert’s Urban Geography: A Social Perspective, and Ron Johnston’s City and Society;  or of development geography, in Akin Mabogunje’s The Development Process: A Spatial Perspective or David Grigg’s The Harsh Lands; as well as the traces of approaches that sound suddenly contemporary again (e.g. The Political Geography of the Oceans). The books gathering dust on these shelves were, I guess, integral to the institutionalisation of geography-as-(social)science as higher education expanded during the 1970s, and are testament to what I can’t help thinking of as ‘IBG-Geography’, expressions of an assertive discipline framed in no small part by turning away from the associations of geography with merely descriptive accounts of far away places In his wonderful genealogy of modern social science in Britain, which is very geographical without saying much about Geography, Identities and Social Change in Britain, Mike Savage does identify human geography as exemplifying the adoption of social scientific expertise in what were traditionally conceived of and practised as humanities disciplines: “Foremost amongst these was human geography, which largely abandoned its focus on the culture and traditions of fixed regional spaces and forged close relationships with sociology and anthropology and self-identified as a social science.” It’s the books through which this process of self-identification was enacted that are all sitting in the Bookbarn. You can even find here evidence of that moment when it was possible to imagine human geography and physical geography having common intellectual grounds, and not only ones based in shared methodologies, but even in shared philosophical assumptions (I picked up a copy of Bob Bennett’s and Dick Chorley’s Environmental Systems: Philosophy, Analysis and Control, which is rather prescient in its presentation of the synthesizing promise of systems theory, now all the rage again in somewhat different, resilient, form).

screen-shot-2017-02-27-at-17-19-58Driving home (composing this blog in my head), it occurred to me that this ‘sample’ of books captures the becoming-relevant of geography in this period. You can pick up a copy of David Smith’s Human Geography: A Welfare Approach (with its great front cover) alongside his more technical Patterns in Human Geography, both of which explicitly question the sorts of problems geographers sought to address and the values they sought to advance in addressing them. You can find traces of the divisions between different images of the vocation of geography (stresses and strains captured in the very title of Michael Chisholm’s Human Geography: Evolution or Revolution?). The recurring focus is on issues of spatial analysis, where this involves the delimitation of distinctively spatial processes and spatial forms, but none of these books are aridly methodological – there is plenty of social theory embedded in these books, just not perhaps the sort of (post-)Marxist thought that had become so central to defining the meaning of social theory by the time I was an undergraduate. For example, the OU’s co-published Fundamentals of Human Geography reader, from 1978, includes a piece by Claus Offe on advanced capitalism and the welfare state, a fact which in no small part captures something of the taken-for-granted background of quite a lot of the substance held on these shelves. Assertions of the importance of a newly robust social scientific human geography – such as Studies in Human Geography, a 1973 collection edited by Chisholm and Brian Rodgers and sponsored by the Social Science Research Council as it was then, with the intention to “focus attention on the substantive contribution of geographers to several fields of study” and aimed as much at ‘non-geographers’ as at ‘practising geographers’ (I’m still practising) – were articulated in a context in which it was still assumed that a relatively stable institutional field of ‘planning’ and ‘regional policy’ existed into which geographers could speak with authority and influence. By the time I was an undergraduate, this stability no longer existed, and I was inducted into geography in a context in which it was the dissolution of that stable field which generated all the most exciting intellectual energies (you can pick up a copy of Martin and Rowthorn’s The Geography of De-Industrialisation at the Bookbarn too, from 1986, a book which pretty much captures the moment, as do the slightly later  of OU edited course books on The Economy in Question and Politics in Transition, which are also there). By the time I was a graduate student, in the early 1990s, as those stable fields of ‘relevance’ further dwindled, the sorts of “critical human geography” that I settled into was rapidly reshaped around theoretically sophisticated forms of analysis which were really good at identifying the possibilities of political purchase for academic analysis in situations where it seemed, at first look, to have disappeared (a pattern of analysis which continues to frame an awful lot of work in human geography, probably including most of mine).

My excuse for spending my Saturday afternoon leafing through books I mainly didn’t read 30 years ago and mainly won’t be reading now (with some exceptions), if I need one, is that I do have a professional interest in the more or less recent profile of Geography. Amongst many other things, I’m meant to be editing a Companion on the history and philosophy of geography (a rather daunting task; I’m not doing it on my own), so I am telling myself that all this browsing really counted as research, of a sort at least. It’s interesting, for example, to notice just how many of the old books you can find at the Bookbarn were concerned not merely with applying quantitative methods to spatial problems, but rather are explicitly engaged with the challenge of theorising issues that are “peculiarly geographical”. Not thinking of the spatial as just a residual, or as an externality, or merely contextual, remains a compelling issue across social science, and it is one theme that might well connect what are often still presented as incompatible qualitative and the quantitative ‘paradigms’ in geography (does anyone still use that word?). It’s not, for sure, an issue over which strands of quantitative geography and traditions of spatial analysis hold a monopoly, but my afternoon in the company of all these old books reminded me that it is this theoretical issue that was at the core of the process of making human geography from the 1950s onwards, and it’s this theoretical issue that might well remain central to a distinctively geographical imagination of the challenges of ‘spatializing the social sciences’ (and humanities, I suppose).

New Book: Political Street Art

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-17-55-14Newly published in the Routledge Research in Place, Space and Politics – Political Street Art: Communication, Culture and Resistance in Latin America, by Holly Eva Ryan:

“Recent global events, including the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings, Occupy movements and anti-austerity protests across Europe have renewed scholarly and public interest in collective action, protest strategies and activist subcultures. We know that social movements do not just contest and politicise culture, they create it too. However, scholars working within international politics and social movement studies have been relatively inattentive to the manifold political mediations of graffiti, muralism, street performance and other street art forms.

Against this backdrop, this book explores the evolving political role of street art in Latin America during the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. It examines the use, appropriation and reconfiguration of public spaces and political opportunities through street art forms, drawing on empirical work undertaken in Brazil, Bolivia and Argentina. Bringing together a range of insights from social movement studies, aesthetics and anthropology, the book highlights some of the difficulties in theorising and understanding the complex interplay between art and political practice. It seeks to explore ‘what art can do’ in protest, and in so doing, aims to provide a useful point of reference for students and scholars interested in political communication, culture and resistance.”

New Book: Psychological Governance and Public Policy

“There have been significant developments in the state of psychological, neuroscientific and behavioural scientific knowledge relating to the human mind, brain, action and decision-making over the past two decades. These developments have influenced public policy making and popular culture in the UK and elsewhere – through policies and emerging social practices focussed on behavioural change, happiness, wellbeing, therapy, resilience and character. Yet little attention has been paid to examining the wider political and ethical significance of the widespread use of psychological governance techniques. There is a pressing and recognised need to address the behaviour change agenda in relation to how our cultural ideas about the brain, mind, behaviour and self are changing.

This book provides a critical account of existing forms of psychological governance in relation to public policy. It asks whether we can speak of a co-ordinated and novel shift in governance or, rather, whether these trends are more simply pragmatic policy tools based on advances in scientific evidence. With contributions from leading scholars across the social sciences from the UK, the USA and Canada, chapters identify practical, political and research challenges posed by the current policy enthusiasm for particular branches of affective neuroscience, behavioural economics, positive psychology and happiness economics. The core focus of this book is to investigate the ways in which knowledge about the mind, brain and behaviour has informed the methods and techniques of governance and to explore the implications of this for shaping citizen identity and social practice.”

New Book: Popular Geopolitics and Nation Branding in the Post-Soviet Realm

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-16-45-42Newly published in the Routledge Research in Place, Space and Politics – Popular Geopolitics and Nation Branding in the Post-Soviet Realm, by Robert A. Saunders:

“This seminal book explores the complex relationship between popular geopolitics and nation branding among the Newly Independent States of Eurasia, and their combined role in shaping contemporary national image and statecraft within and beyond the region. It provides critical perspectives on international relations, nationalism, and national identity through the use of innovative approaches focusing on popular culture, new media, public diplomacy, and alternative “narrators” of the nation. By positing popular geopolitics and nation branding as contentious forces and complementary flows, the study explores the tensions and elisions between national self-image and external perceptions of the nation, and how this complex interplay has become integral to contemporary global affairs.”

New Book: Migration, Squatting and Radical Autonomy

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-16-36-25Newly published in the Routledge Research in Place, Space and Politics – Migration, Squatting and Radical Autonomy, edited by Pierpaolo Mudu and Sutapa Chattopadhyay:

“This book offers a unique contribution, exploring how the intersections among migrants and radical squatter’s movements have evolved over past decades. The complexity and importance of squatting practices are analyzed from a bottom-up perspective, to demonstrate how the spaces of squatting can be transformed by migrants. With contributions from scholars, scholar-activists, and activists, this book provides unique insights into how squatting has offered an alternative to dominant anti-immigrant policies, and the implications of squatting on the social acceptance of migrants. It illustrates the different mechanisms of protest followed in solidarity by migrant squatters and Social Center activists, when discrimination comes from above or below, and explores how can different spatialities be conceived and realized by radical practices.

Contributions adopt a variety of perspectives, from critical human geography, social movement studies, political sociology, urban anthropology, autonomous Marxism, feminism, open localism, anarchism and post-structuralism, to analyze and contextualize migrants and squatters’ exclusion and social justice issues. This book is a timely and original contribution through its exploration of migrations, squatting and radical autonomy.”

New Book: Architecture and Space Re-imagined

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-16-32-10

Newly published in the Routledge Research in Place, Space and Politics – Architecture and Space Re-imagined: Learning from the difference, multiplicity, and otherness of development practice, Richard Brewer.

“As with so many facets of contemporary western life, architecture and space are often experienced and understood as a commodity or product. The premise of this book is to offer alternatives to the practices and values of such westernised space and Architecture (with a capital A), by exploring the participatory and grass-roots practices used in alternative development models in the Global South. This process re-contextualises the spaces, values, and relationships produced by such alternative methods of development and social agency. It asks whether such spatial practices provide concrete realisations of some key concepts of Western spatial theory, questioning whether we might challenge the space and architectures of capitalist development by learning from the places and practices of others.

Exploring these themes offers a critical examination of alternative development practices methods in the Global South, re-contextualising them as architectural engagements with socio-political space. The comparison of such interdisciplinary contexts and discourses reveals the political, social, and economic resonances inherent between these previously unconnected spatial protagonists. The interdependence of spatial issues of choice, value, and identity are revealed through a comparative study of the discourses of Henri Lefebvre, John Turner, Doreen Massey, and Nabeel Hamdi. These key protagonists offer a critical framework of discourses from which further connections to socio-spatial discourses and concepts are made, including post-marxist theory, orientalism, post-structural pluralism, development anthropology, post-colonial theory, hybridity, difference and subalterneity.

By looking to the spaces and practices of alternative development in the Global South this book offers a critical reflection upon the working practices of Westernised architecture and other spatial and political practices. In exploring the methodologies, implications and values of such participatory development practices this book ultimately seeks to articulate the positive potential and political of learning from the difference, multiplicity, and otherness of development practice in order to re-imagine architecture and space.”

New Titles in Place, Space and Politics Series

bbEven more things to read at the start of the year! There is a flurry of new titles for 2017 now available in the Research in Place, Space and Politics Series published by Routledge – all sorts of things, from the interface between architectural theory and social science theories of space, to governing people’s brains, popular geopolitics in the post-Soviet world, political street are in Latin American to the radical potentials of squatting movements all over the place. I’m going to post separately for each of the new titles. If I may say so myself, the Series is developing as a nice window into the inter/multi/post-disciplinary scope of conversations focussed on issues of ‘space’, ‘place’, ‘spatiality’, ‘territory’ and the like. And there are more titles to come soon.

If you are interested in publishing in the Series,  here is further information about submitting proposals to the Series.

 

Elections as inference machines

bbElection results are wonderful things for generating piles of interpretation, since they are so informationally thin  (they only tell you how many people voted for each candidate in particular places, not why, or who they were, or anything else). Where would social science be without the secret ballot? But election results do provide just enough information to set-off all sorts of inferential flights of fancy, supported by waves of supplementary polling and survey evidence of different sorts. This might be one of the more important things that elections do for democratic politics – they generate deliberation after the fact, if not so much before! Getting your interpretation to stick is itself a political strategy, of course. The meaning of election results is nothing if not theoretically-overdetermined, one might say – give someone an election result, and they can use it to confirm their own favourite theory of what is going on in the world just now. It is even possible, for example, for some people to interpret Donald Trump’s election victory, secured quite legitimately by winning fewer votes than his opponent, but winning those votes in the right places, as “an unmistakeable rejection of a political establishment and an economic system that simply isn’t working for most people.” Never mind.

Anyway, on occasions like these, I tend to find myself thinking that I should either re-read, finish, or read for the first time certain things that I have kicking around the house, things like this:

Hannah Arendt, ‘Truth and Politics’, in Between Past and Future.

Ira Katznelson, Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Times.

Francis Fox Piven and Richard Cloward, Why Americans Don’t Vote.

Jan-Werner Muller, ‘Real Citizens‘, Boston Review.

Adam Phillips, Terrors and Experts.

Nick Clarke, Will Jennings, Jonathan Moss, Gerry Stoker, Anti-politics and the Left’, Renewal, 24, (2).

David Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory.