Spaces of Democracy

One of the enduring concerns of my work, going back to graduate work on postcolonialism and work on Derrida and deconstruction, is with thinking about the concept of representation, which I understand to refer to processes of claims-making of various sorts. This concern has become an explicit issue in my thinking about democratic politics, shaped in important ways by my ongoing experience of doing research in South Africa. My first book, Culture and Democracy, explored the relations between democratic theory and media theory. Around the same time, I co-edited a collection of essays (Spaces of Democracy) that sought to gather together for the first time the different strands of research on democratic politics in human geography. Through the 2000s, I continued to write about the strengths and limitations of the sorts of political theory that shows up in spatial disciplines like human geography and urban studies. My most recent book, The Priority of Injustice, explores the different spatial grammars of critical theories of democracy (of both ‘deliberative’ and ‘agonistic’ styles). The book does three things:

  • it elaborates on an ordinary understanding of the kind of concept that democracy is;
  • it seeks to redeem something of value from the knowing scholasticism of theories of ‘the political’;
  • it traces how the reconstruction of the idea of all affected interests in critical theory has contributed to an emergent strand of democratic though that gives priority to conceptualizing injustice, understood by reference to a norm of non-domination, in reorienting the self-image of critical theory.

The book is, in short, not just about theories of democracy, it is a reflection on the challenges of theorising democracy democratically.

Central themes from the book, including the processing of rights-claims around issues of vulnerability, are at the core of an ESRC-funded project that seeks to ‘apply’ the priority of injustice approach empirically: see Algorithmic Politics & Administrative Justice in the EU Settlement Scheme.

I am also pursuing the theme of thinking of democratic politics as ‘ethnographical emergent’ as part of the Reversing the Gaze project.

Key Publications:

Barnett, C. (1999). Broadcasting the rainbow nation: media, democracy and nation-building in South Africa. Antipode, 31, 274-303.

Barnett, C. (1999). The limits of media democratization in South Africa: politics, privatization, and regulation. Media, Culture and Society, 21, 649-671.

Barnett, C. (2003). Culture and Democracy: Media, Space and Representation. Edinburgh University Press and University of Alabama Press.

Barnett, C. and Low, M. (eds.), (2004). Spaces of Democracy: Geographical Perspectives on Citizenship, Representation and Participation. Sage.

Barnett, C. (2004). Media, democracy and representation: Disembodying the public, in C. Barnett and M. Low (eds.) Spaces of Democracy. Sage, pp. 185-206.

Barnett, C. (2004). Deconstructing radical democracy: Articulation, representation and being-with-others. Political Geography, 23, 503-528.

Barnett, C. (2005) Temporality and the paradoxes of democracy. Political Geography, 24, 641-647.

Barnett, C. and Scott, D. (2007). Spaces of opposition: activism and deliberation in post-apartheid environmental politics. Environment and Planning A, 39, 2612-2631.

Barnett, C. (2008). Convening publics: the parasitical spaces of public action, in K. R. Cox, M. Low, and J. Robinson (eds.), The Sage Handbook of Political Geography. Sage, pp. 403-417.

Barnett, C. (2008). Theorising democracy geographically. Geoforum 39, 1637-1640.

Barnett, C. (2012). Situating the geographies of injustice in democratic theory. Geoforum 43, 677-686.

Barnett, C. and Bridge, G. (2013). Geographies of radical democracy: agonistic pragmatism and the formation of affected interestsAnnals of the Association of American Geographers 103(4), 1022-1040.

Barnett, C. (2013). Political agency in-between urban and transnational spaces. In B. Maiguashca and R. Marchetti (eds.) Contemporary Political Agency: theory and practice. Routledge/GARNET Series, pp. 31-51.

Barnett, C. (2014). What do cities have to do with democracy? International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. 38(1), 1625-1643.

Barnett, C. (2016). Towards a geography of injustice. Alue ja Ympäristö (Finnish Society for Regional and Environmental Studies) 2016:1, 111-118.

Barnett, C. and Low, M. (2017). Democracy. In D. Richardson, N. Castree, M.F. Goodchild, A. Kobayashi, W. Liu, and R.A. Marston (eds.). The International Encyclopedia of Geography: People, The Earth, Environment and Technology. John Wiley and Sons.

Barnett, C. (2017). The Priority of Injustice: Locating Democracy in Critical Theory. University of Georgia Press (Geographies of Justice and Social Transformation Series).

Barnett, C. (2018). Geography and the Priority of Injustice. Annals of the Association of American Geographers

Barnett, C. (2019). The all too human geographies of justice. Political Geography <>

Barnett, C. (2019). The melancholy search for the political. Urban Geography <>