Must We Mean What We Do? Further Thoughts on Affect Theory

The second of two pieces I have written in appreciation, shall we say, of Ruth Leys’ book The Ascent of Affect, is now available online at the History of Human Sciences site, along with commentaries by Carolyn Pedwell, Rob Boddice, and Elizabeth Wilson, plus a response by Ruth. Thanks to Chris Millard and Felicity Callard for putting together the whole set, and inviting me to take part.

My piece in this review forum is entitled Must we mean what we do? and riffs on a theme in Ruth’s work, not just in the book but elsewhere too, about the importance of understanding ideas about pretending in making sense of intentionality, action, and related themes in philosophy, social theory, and cultural studies. It is, then, distinct from the piece in the nonsite review forum, in which I begin, at least, to elaborate on the theme of logical geographies of action – the ways in which arguments about agency, intention, behaviour, action, and so on are shaped by various spatial grammars of insides and outsides, relays, environments, and the like. There’s a connection between the themes in the two pieces, no doubt, and one day I might get enough time and space, and energy and enthusiasm, to write out in neat quite what it is. And whatever it is, it might also have something to do with the overlapping set of issues raised by Linda Zerilli in her engagement with criticisms of affect theory, including those of Leys, and specifically with different interpretations of the concept of intentionality.

The Priority of Injustice: Review Forum in AAG Review of Books

The second of two book review forums on The Priority of Injustice is now available online at the AAG Review of Books (here is the other review forum; there is a previous stand-along review of the book by Stephen Przybylinski in AAG Review of Books as well). The essays in this forum all come out of an Author Meets Critics session held at the Annual Meeting of the AAG back in 2018, in New Orleans, which now seems a long time ago. Huge thanks to Josh Barkan, Krisi Pauliina Kallio and Jenni Fluri for taking the time to take the book so seriously (as well as to Leila Harris who presented at the AAG session), and especially to my old comrade Michael Samers for organising the session and the review forum. A pre-publication draft of my own comments is available here. If you’d like a copy of the whole forum and can’t access the site, let me know.

 

Logical Geographies of Action: nonsite.org review forum on Ruth Leys’ The Ascent of Affect

The latest issue of nonsite.org includes a review forum on Ruth Leys’ The Ascent of Affect, with contributions from myself, Felicity Callard, Phil Hutchinson and James Russel, as well as a response from Ruth herself. My piece uses Leys’ genealogy of scientific research on emotions to propose an analysis of ‘logical geographies of action‘ in recent debates in cultural theory and philosophy of mind; it overlaps (but not too much) with my thoughts on Linda Zerilli’s book on democratic judgment, not least in addressing different understandings of the meaning, shall we say, of uses of the word ‘intentionality‘. I have another distinct piece entitled ‘Must we mean what we do’, forthcoming sometime soon in another review forum on Leys’ book in History of the Human Sciences.

Spaces of Tolerance: New Book in Place, Space and Politics Series

Here are details of a new edited collected, Spaces of Tolerance: Changing Geographies and Philosophies of Religion in Today’s Europe, published in Routledge’s Place, Space and Politics series. Edited by Luiza Bialasiewicz and Valentina Gentile, this is, I think, a genuinely innovative collection, not only drawing together scholars from geography and Politics/IR and related fields, but doing so while engaging with issues in normative political philosophy too. Here’s the blurb:

“This book offers interdisciplinary and cross-national perspectives on the challenges of negotiating the contours of religious tolerance in Europe.

In today’s Europe, religions and religious individuals are increasingly framed as both an internal and external security threat. This is evident in controls over the activities of foreign preachers but also, more broadly, in EU states’ management of migration flows, marked by questions regarding the religious background of migrating non-European Others. This book addresses such shifts directly by examining how understandings of religious freedom touch down in actual contexts, places, and practices across Europe, offering multidisciplinary insights from leading thinkers from political theory, political philosophy, anthropology, and geography. The volume thus aims to ground ideal liberal democratic theory and, at the same time, to bring normative reflection to grounded, ethnographic analyses of religious practices. Such ‘grounded’ understandings matter, for they speak to how religions and religious difference are encountered in specific places. They especially matter in a European context where religion and religious difference are increasingly not just securitised but made the object of violent attacks.

The book will be of interest to students and scholars of politics, philosophy, geography, religious studies, and the sociology and anthropology of religion.”

And here is the tables of contents:

Introduction. Spaces of tolerance: Theories, Contested Practices and the Question of Context

– Luiza Bialasiewicz and Valentina Gentile

PART I: Negotiating Freedom and Religion: Tolerance, Neutrality, Conviviality

Chapter 1. The Scope of Religious Freedom in Europe: Tolerance, Democratic Equality and Political Autonomy – Valentina Gentile

Chapter 2. Neutrality, Toleration, and Religious Diversity – Peter Balint

Chapter 3. Toleration and Tolerance: Between Belief and Identity – Peter Jones

Chapter 4. Infrastructures for Living with Difference – Dan Swanton

PART II: Securing and Securitizing Religious Tolerance

Chapter 5. Religious Toleration and the Securitization of Religion – Sune Laegaard

Chapter 6. Militant secularism versus Tolerant Pluralism. A critical assessment of the European Court of Human Rights – Margherita Galassini

Chapter 7. The Limits of Toleration towards Syrian Refugees in Turkey: From Guesthood to Ansar Spirit – Ayhan Kaya and Ozan Kuyumcuoğlu

PART III: Everyday Spaces of Tolerance

Chapter 8. Paradoxical Visibilities: Purpose Built Mosques in Copenhagen – Lasse Koefoed, Maja de Neergaard and Kirsten Simonsen

Chapter 9. Mediating (in)visibility and publicity in an African church in Ghent: religious place-making and solidarity in the European city – Luce Beeckmans

Chapter 10. Charity, hospitality, tolerance? Religious organizations and the changing vocabularies of migrant assistance in Rome – Luiza Bialasiewicz and William Haynes

Learning from other regions: new book on climate change initiatives in Cape Town

Here are details of a new book, co-edited by my friend and sometime co-author Di Scott, elaborating on collaborative urban policy initiatives to address climate change issues in and around Cape Town. The book is just one example of a wide range of innovative theoretical, empirical and applied research on urban issues emanating from South African ‘urban studies’, broadly defined.

Here’s a link to the flyer for the book, and here is the blurb:

“Cape Town’s drought crisis grabbed global headlines in 2018 and its causes and solutions were – and continue to be — hotly debated. But managing water shortages and other climate change impacts have been integrated into the city’s urban policy-making for some time, in response to rapid urbanisation and uncertainty about the exact nature, timing and magnitude of city-scale climatic changes. This book presents initiatives at the local government level, across a range of departments, from environmental resource management to housing, stormwater management, water management, energy management and spatial planning. In addition, it records the progress made and challenges faced in mainstreaming climate change into urban policies, processes, programmes and practices, a problem facing most urban areas around the world. The text was co-produced by academics and municipal officials, including economists, engineers, ecologists, geographers and planners, who worked collaboratively in a process of mutual learning. This hybrid process, where practitioner experience is coupled with an academic and research perspective, has produced an ‘insider’ view of urban development and climate change governance through the lens of theory. The result provides new practice-based knowledge for policy-making in the transition towards more sustainable cities in the face of climate change, particularly those in the global South.”

 

Intentionality and objectivity: Todd Cronan on Zerilli (and me)

I mentioned yesterday that my contribution to the Syndicate review forum on Linda Zerilli’s book touched upon the similarities and differences between her critique of affect theory and that developed by scholars associated with the ‘nonsite school’ of cultural criticism. In the spirit of dialogue encouraged by the Syndicate platform, Todd Cronan, one of the editors of nonsite.org, has posted a comment engaging with my own comments and Linda’s response, addressing ideas of intentionality, objectivity, interpretation and truth. Zerilli’s book elaborates on a political sense of objectivity indebted to Hannah Arendt, revolving around the theme of the conditions of sharing in a common world with others; Todd’s comment specifies some differences and clearly states the position associated with the nonsite school. The comment is a little hidden, so here it is in full:

“There is much to say here but there is one thing in particular–the question of objectivity–that makes what many of us at nonsite say unrecognizable. So there are several problems with the idea that “intentionality is closely associated with claims to objective truth.” The first is that, for us, intentionality is much more than closely associated with truth, it’s incomprehensible without it, and the second is that although Zerilli may think there’s some connection between truth and objectivity, we don’t; objectivity is not only not closely associated with truth, it’s not associated with truth at all. So on the one hand, there’s no meaning without intentionality and no meaning without truth, which is just to say that both meaning something and understanding something are normative–all interpretations must be either true or false (or some combination of the two). But on the other hand, no interpretations are objectively true or false.”

There’s much more to say around these issues, no doubt, not least, I suspect, some important disciplinary differences across fields of political theory and aesthetic theory. Some of these issues might well be further aired in a forthcoming ‘Tank’ in nonsite considering the significance of Ruth Leys’ recent book The Ascent of Affect. More on that when it appears.

 

The Priority of Injustice: Book Review Forum in Political Geography

Another day, another review forum, this time, on my own book, The Priority of Injustice. This one, in Political Geography, is the first of these forums to see the light of day (the other one is soon to appear in the AAG Book Review). Thanks to Sam Kinsley for coordinating this forum, as well as the ‘author-meets-critics’ conference session from last year out of which these commentaries emerged. And thanks to Jack Layton, Juliet Davis, Jane Wills, David Featherstone and Cristina Temenos, all of whom found things to like in the book and who each articulate in friendly tones the things they found wanting in it. If you have trouble accessing the forum, let me know. My response to the commentaries, ‘The all too human geographies of justice’, is also available here – it focusses on clarifying the sense of ‘structure’ (and by extension, of ‘critique’) and ‘the ordinary’ that are at work in the book.