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:

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.

Ron Johnston

I was sad to hear of the death of Ron Johnston, whose work has been so important in shaping the sense of professional identity of so many ‘Anglo-American geographers’ for many years. One of my prouder claims to fame is to have once taught a Political Geography course with Ron – when I worked at Bristol, responsibility for a Year 2 course on that sub-discipline fell to me (my take on cultural things wasn’t quite of the right sort). I was keen to cover electoral geography as part of the course, because it’s an important field of course, but also because Ron’s work with Charles Pattie and others is amongst the very best examples of why ‘geography matters’, in both senses of the phrase. I could have prepared and presented lectures on that topic myself, but it seemed a missed opportunity to not have the man himself do them. Ron wasn’t much involved in undergraduate teaching at that stage, but I asked him if he would ‘guest’ for a couple of weeks, and he said ‘Yes’ without hesitation. I’ve always thought of it as a little like the Marshall McLuhan moment in Annie Hall – “And here is the actual Ron Johnston”. As I recall, Ron’s lectures – clear and lucid and passionate about understanding political processes – focussed on the ways in which Labour in the 1990s had mastered the art of winning elections (and engaging effectively with the politics of boundary drawing). And, obviously, he talked to the students about Swindon (back then, with two Labour MPs – there won’t be another Labour government until they can win at least one of those seats back).

Ron occasionally sent me emails about a post on this blog, when it touched upon the recent history of geography for example, or on Swindon. I dare say that Ron was a little bit more ambivalent about the place than he let on – the last time I talked properly to him, about 4 years ago, we talked about places he remembered from growing up which were, then, for me places I lived around the corner from. I seem to remember him admitting that he actually grew up in Chiseldon, which is a small village on the outskirts of Swindon on the way to Marlborough, having been born and initially living slap bang in the middle of ‘new town’ Swindon, by the Town Hall. Most recently, he got in touch after I wrote about Swindon’s place in the history of post-war social science research, with an additional reference I had not mentioned, a fact about the political power wielded about David Murray-John (I’m not sure if this was the focus of his undergraduate dissertation), and ending with a recollection of hearing Howard Newby “on Radio 4 in the 1990s misquoting Johnson – ‘If you are tired of London you are tired of life, if you are tired of Swindon you have been there ten minutes’.”

Late last year, I found myself in a meeting of WEA tutors from across the South West, talking to a man from Tiverton, who amongst other things was actively involved in local associations of Ringers – so I asked, and Yes, he was referring to bellringers, and Yes, of course he knew who Ron Johnston was. Ron will be widely missed across many worlds I suspect.

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.