How said to hear, via Derek Gregory at Geographical Imaginations, of the death of John Davey, long-time editor of a whole series of agenda-setting books, texts, and series in Geography going back more than four decades. I first met John when I was a graduate student, when he could sometimes be found immersed in intense rivalry with David Harvey over the Bar Billiards table in the Bookbinders Arms in Jericho. I remember learning from John just how peculiar, tenuous, but also central commercial publishing was to the growth of new academic fields. Twenty years or so ago, I sent him a proposal for an edited collection on the links between media theory, spatial theory, and theories of democracy – he suggested that it would be better if I wrote it myself, which was a tremendously important confidence booster for me at the time, so I did, coaxed along by him. He had moved to Edinburgh University Press at this stage, where he cultivated for a short time a remarkably strong Geography list, including titles by Harvey, David Smith and Marcus Doel. Another figure from a pivotal geographical generation who is done too soon.
The Sociological Review blog has a series of articles on what it calls Superstar Professors, including commentaries on thinkers such as Zizek, Giddens, and Bauman. There are some interesting thoughts raised in the posts published so far, including reflections on the relationship between MOOCs and academic celebrity, and on the relevance of recent debates in the sociology of ideas (the work of Cimic, Gross, and Baert for example) in accounting for the ‘success’ of certain strands of thought.
There is, though, a rather predictable tone to these pieces, in which the apparent ‘rise’ of ‘star authors’ is taken as a sign of standards of ‘scholarship and intellectual quality’ being undermined by the unfortunate pressures of commerce and the market. It’s actually a recurrent problem of trying to analyse seriously the relationship between ‘thought’ and its conditions, this temptation to fall back on a style of evaluation in which one identifies the instrumental and strategic calculations that shape academic life in an act of disapproving exposure.
I have an amateurish interest in these things, partly related to some current thinking about how to research the living histories of ideas, partly as a more general interest in understanding cultures of theory. Long ago, Murray Low and I wrote a paper in which we tried to conceptualise the relationship between what was then called French Theory and the changing dynamics of academic publishing (in the interim, one might be inclined to extend the analysis to investigating the formation over the last two decades of ‘Continental Philosophy’ as the name for a serious, canonical field of intellectual curiosity, as distinct from a term of abuse). Slightly less long ago, I also did some work on the complex relations between commercial dynamics, public institutions, and cultures of aesthetic evaluation that shaped the formation of a canon of post-colonial African literary writing.
I tend now to think of those projects as part of a wider, long standing interest in understanding the variable formation of public life. One thing I take for granted, on the basis of things learnt from these projects certainly, but it’s also a pretty basic feature of any decent account of the concept of the public sphere, is that the relationship between public life and markets, public life and commercial practices, public life and processes of exchange, is an internal, constitutive, and integral one. Contradictory, no doubt, often tragic in a Habermasian kind of way, but nevertheless, a type of relationship which requires a rather more careful style of analysis than the one provided by simple claims that the standards of intellectual life are menaced by such worldly matters.
The latest book in the Routledge Research in Place, Space and Politics series has been published – Externalizing Migration Management: Europe, North America and the spread of ‘remote control’ practices, edited by Ruben Zaiotti. Further details are available here.
The latest book in the Routledge Research in Place, Space and Politics series is now published (technically it is a 2016 book) – Space, Power and the Commons: The struggle for alternative futures is edited by Sam Kirwan, Leila Dawney and Julian Brigstocke, and is associated with the Authority Research Network. It’s an important addition to the literature on the theme of ‘the commons’, not least because it draws together discussions of high theory on this topic (Hardt, Nancy, Ranciere, etc) with empirical analyses of practices of ‘commoning’.
This is the second title to appear in the Place, Space and Politics series, after the collection on Urban Refugees. There are more titles in the pipeline. More details on the series, including guidelines for submitting proposals, can be found here and here.
I’m delighted that the first book in the Routledge Research in Place, Space and Politics Series has just been published – Urban Refugees: Challenges in Protection, Services and Policy, edited by Koichi Koizumi and Gerhard Hoffstaedter. Congratulations to the editors and all the contributors.
As Series Editor, I’ll also take this opportunity to remind anyone out there with a book idea, a half-finished book manuscript, or an edited collection in mind, to consider the series as a possible outlet – further details here. Do let me know if you have any questions about the series. Forthcoming titles in the Series include books that address a range of issues including ‘the commons’, migration and radical autonomy, and popular geopolitics; and beyond that, books addressing the politics of theatre, psychological governance, political street art, and the politics of architecture.