Brown, Wendy Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution reviewed by Corey McCall

9781935408536_coverWendy Brown, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution. NY: Zone Books, 2015, 292 pages, $29.95 hardback. ISBN: 978-1-935408-53-6 ( reviewed by Corey McCall

In this engaging new book, Wendy Brown employs a careful reading and critique of Michel Foucault’s 1978-1979 lecture course The Birth of Biopolitics as a way to think about neoliberal government rationality in advanced democracies today. Her basic claim, as the title indicates, is that neoliberalism increasingly renders democratic political agency impossible. Rather than democratic political agency, individuals are construed (and increasingly construe themselves) simply as economic actors (or as entrepreneurs of themselves as Foucault puts it in The Birth of Biopolitics)The conclusion makes a case for what is lost when practices of democratic subjectivity have little more than formal significance and examines the role that sacrifice plays in neoliberal governmentality. Continue reading Corey McCall’s review here

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Society and Space free access period with new publisher

In May of this year, SAGE purchased Pion Ltd, the previous publisher of the Environment and Planning series of journals. We are pleased to announce that the new website of Environment and Planning D: Society and Space is now online, and that it currently offers the contents of the journal’s 2002-2014 volumes open access. The remainder of our archives, including the 1983-2001 and 2015 volumes will be added shortly. In the meantime, these contents are still available at the journal’s old Pion website.

Putting Urban Planning on the Couch: review forum on Westin’s The Paradoxes of Planning

9781409448037.PPC_Series 1357Jamie Doucette (University of Manchester) and Christian Abrahamsson (University of Oslo) organized an author-meets-critics forum on Sara Westin’s book The Paradoxes of Planning: A Psycho-Analytical Perspective (Ashgate, 2014) for the Chicago AAG earlier this year. Three reviews of the book are posted on the open site by Andrew ShmuelyJesse Proudfoot, and Mark Davidson, with an introduction to the forum provided by Jamie Doucette and Sara Westin’s reply.

Transnationalisms: two new reviews

Reviews of the following two books are now published on the Open Site:


First is Sofie Narbed’s review of Amanda Rogers’ new monograph Performing Asian Transnationalisms: Theatre, Identity and the Geographies of Performance (Routledge, 2015).

Second is Zhuyun Amy Zang’s review of Ato Quayson’s Oxford Street, Accra: City Life and the Itineraries of Transnationalism (Duke University Press, 2014).

Interview with Maurizio Ferraris by Peter Gratton

Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 6.24.57 AMMaurizio Ferraris is one of the best-known and most important Italian philosophers writing today. A former student of Gianni Vattimo and collaborator with Jacques Derrida—he is perhaps best known to Anglophone audiences for their co-edited Taste for the Secret (Il gusto del segreto, first published in Italian in 1997)—Ferraris has been a longstanding professor of philosophy in the Department of Literature and Philosophy at the University of Turin. His work for some thirty years, dating to the early 1980s, developed through important interventions and reinterpretations of hermeneutics and then poststructuralist philosophy. (See a list of his dozens of works here.)

Peter Gratton, of the Department of Philosophy at Memorial University of Newfoundland, is a former co-editor and current editorial board member of Society and Space. His most recent book is Speculative Realism: Problems and Prospects (Bloomsbury, 2014), and he runs the blog Philosophy in a Time of Error.

The focus of the relatively short interview below is to introduce the controversial turn in Ferraris’ work to what he dubs a “new realism,” which finds him a kindred spirit to the speculative realists (Iain Hamilton Grant and Graham Harman have written forwards to the two English translations of his works this past year), as well as Markus Gabriel, whose realist theory of fields of sense has already made a mark in Germany, Italy, and elsewhere. Thanks to Sarah De Sanctis for translating the answers below.

Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 6.30.24 AMPeter Gratton: Both the Manifesto and Introduction are clearly written and often humorous expositions of your “new realism” (you are also well served by an able translator), but for readers who have not had the chance to find these works yet, I thought I’d first ask you to summarize what you mean by your “new realism” and how it would be differentiated by previous realisms.

Maurizio Ferraris: My realism differs from previous ones only because it specifically reacts to postmodernism. Other forms of realism reacted to other forms of antirealism: to name one, for example, the 1912 American new realism criticized neo-​​K​anti​ani​sm. Each realism has its own anti-realism and responds to specific historical circumstances. As per my new realism, it reacts against the indiscriminate constructivism typical of postmodernism. There was a time when, so to speak,​ everything, including lakes and mountains, was taken to be socially constructed. Now, I have no difficulty in admitting that​, say,​ an invoice is socially constructed; perhaps in some ways (not all) things like ​charisma or beauty are socially constructed, too​. However, lakes and mountains certainly aren’t: it makes no sense, and to say (or even just ​suggest) this is to deprive philosophy of a​ll​ seriousness, turning it into a futile fairy tale.

Continue reading here.

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At the edges of the state: Bichsel on Reeves’ Border Work

reveesChristine Bichsel reviews Madeleine Reeves’ monograph Border Work: Spatial Lives of the State in Rural Central Asia. The book came out with Cornell University Press last year.

The cover picture of Madeleine Reeves’ book Border Work shows a wagon on wheels standing on a dusty roadside. The wagon is painted in military camouflage patterns. Its colours resemble those of an aerial photograph of the Ferghana Valley, with its green irrigated areas, brown dry hills, white snow-capped mountains, and blue bodies of water. “Kyrgyzstan” features in Cyrillic characters on the wagon’s road-facing side. On the back of the wagon is a barely visible inscription. It says that this is the border control post of Samarkandek, a village located on the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border. In the foreground we see two women and a man, probably waiting for a lift to visit relatives or friends. No border personnel are visible in the picture. We are left to wonder if this post is actually manned, and if control procedures are in place. There is no indication of where Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan respectively lie either. What is more, the picture conveys considerable uncertainty as to whether we would still find the wagon in the same place the next morning, or if it would have wheeled off to a different spot. Continue reading Christine’s review here.

The Spatial History: Maksakov on Yampolsky

JampolskijVladimir Maksakov reviews Пространственная история. Три текста об истории/ Prostranstvennaya istoria. Tri teksta ob istorii [The Spatial History. Three Texts on History] by Russian historian Mikhail Yampolsky. The book was published by Masterskaya Seans Press in 2013.

Spatial History, the title of Mikhail Yampolsky’s new book, evokes a vertical, rather than horizontal (or chronological), approach to history. The idea that historical process (and the writing of history) contains some focal points which allow one to take the gist of the events and deploy the logic of history in depth rather than in breadth is not new in principle. According to Yampolsky, the idea of progress at the basis of text teleology can be traced all the way back to ancient historians. Their aim was to show the history of the rise and exaltation of Rome, or, on the contrary, the decline of Greece. Here, textual coherence and narrative began to dictate their terms. Such works contained the concept of time at the level of plot, which implicitly led to a particular purpose. To avoid this in his own work, Yampolsky chooses an unconventional narrative. Spatial History consists of interconnected essays crafted from different materials from all areas of the humanities and are linked to major philosophers, historians, philologists, art historians, writers, poets, and architects. Continue reading Vladimir’s review here.


978-0-8223-5527-4_prLuca Follis reviews Janet Roitman’s book Anti-Crisis (Duke University Press, 2014).

We live in times of crisis, or so it would seem. News reports daily confirm the intractability of enduring geo-political predicaments (e.g., in Afghanistan and Iraq) and the emergence of new situations announced as historical turning points (e.g., Syria and ISIS, Greece and the EU, Ebola) to say nothing of the variegated, post-facto accounting of decision making and action during emergencies (e.g., the recent political wrangling over the USA Freedom Act or the US Senate’s Report on CIA Torture operations).  Political, institutional, financial and humanitarian crises abound and they proliferate at a seemingly unchecked pace. But is this global state of affairs merely a reflection of a historical, empirical moment or is it an expression of the ease and haste with which we label events as critical (and by extension the way we approach the broader category of crisis)? Continue reading Luca’s review here.

Cartographic mirages: Ferretti on Blais

9782213677620-X_0Federico Ferretti reviews Hélène Blais’ Mirages de la carte, l’invention de l’Algérie coloniale, XIXe – XXe siècle [Mirages of the Map: The Invention of Colonial Algeria, 19th-20th c.]. The book came out last year with Fayard.

Hélène Blais’ Mirages de la carte explores the geographical invention of Algeria during the French empire. The book interrogates the role of maps and surveys in the construction of a national image which was subsequently largely recovered by independent Algeria in the 1960s. This very rich and well-documented monograph is based on primary sources like maps and texts by French geographers and surveyors who worked in Algeria during the colonial period (1830-1962) and archive documents linked to their activities, mainly from the Archives Nationales d’Outre Mer and the Service Historique de la Défense. Drawing on French and international literature on geography and empire, Blais stresses the necessity to understand the field experiences through which “space practices take part in colonial politics” (page 10). The imposition of the imperial map, she argues, was not an all-powerful operation, but involved several conflicts and adaptations. Continue reading Federico’s review here.

Interview with Joseph Masco by Sonia Grant

Joseph Masco is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. He is the author of The Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexicowinner of the J. I. Staley Prize from the School for Advanced Research, the Rachel Carson Prize from the Society for the Social Studies of Science, and the Robert K. Merton Prize from the American Sociology Association. His current work examines the evolution of the national security state in the United States, with a particular focus on the interplay between affect, technology, and threat perception within a national public sphere.

Sonia Grant is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. Her work focuses on the environment and environmental regulations, and the rise of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the US, and her article “Securing tar sands circulation: risk, affect, and anticipating the Line 9 reversal” appears in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 36(6).  Sonia can be reached at soniagrant[at]

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 9.09.41 AMSonia Grant: Thank you for taking the time to talk about your new book, The Theater of Operations: National Security Affect from the Cold War to the War on Terror (2014). I’d like to start by getting a sense of what brought you to this project, and what kinds of continuities you see between it and your first book, The Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico (2006). Both books engage with Cold War national security culture, technoscience, and secrecy, among other key themes. How did The Theater of Operations, as a project, develop for you? Did it feel like an obvious ‘next step’ from your work on the Manhattan Project?

Joseph Masco: While I was concluding fieldwork on The Nuclear Borderlands, the September 2001 attacks occurred and provoked a massive U.S. military buildup while renewing national fears of a nuclear catastrophe. White House officials were quick to declare a “new normal” of counterterrorism, marked explicitly as a radical break from Cold War notions of security. This rejection of deterrence, combined with an amplification of existential threats, were central themes in what became a pretty shocking militarization of American society. The War on Terror – as a political project — was a systematic attempt to create amnesia about the 20th century security state (and its prior actions in Iraq and Afghanistan) while at the same time using the familiar Cold War notion of nuclear danger to foment an existential crisis, one enabling quite radical actions around the world.

Some of the first conversations I had in Los Alamos in the early 1990s concerned the future of the laboratory, and of the U.S. nuclear weapons program more broadly, in light of the demise of the Soviet Union. At that time, U.S. weapons scientists were already talking about nuclear terrorism, the threat of radical forms of Islam, and, above all, were positing the arrival of a violent global adversary that could not be deterred. So, in a sense, the counter-terror state project was articulated to me almost a decade before the 9/11 attacks.

Continue reading here

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