What matters? Materiality and the possibilities of artistic engagement with asylum – Jonathan Darling

Jonathan Darling’s article, “Another letter from the Home Office: reading the material politics of asylum”, appears in issue 3 of the 2014 volume of Society and Space. Open access until October 30, 2014, the piece draws from ethnographic research that he conducted within a UK asylum drop-in centre to examine the materiality of the politics of asylum processes, particularly through a look at letters sent by the UK Border Agency to communicate decisions on asylum claims.

As a supplement to the article, Darling provides this commentary. It furthers his examination of the materiality of asylum claims through discussion of an art exhibit that he collaborated on in Manchester titled One Thing.

-The Editors

RQ6A1440What are the materials of contemporary asylum? What objects, things and atmospheres constitute the processes through which citizenship and non-citizenship are governed, managed and maintained? We might think of the artefacts of bordering practices that have been diffused into everyday life, the biometric signatures, computer systems and algorithms, ‘safe country’ lists and legal documents that all play a part in performing the ‘management’ of forced migration. But we might also think of an expanded range of materials, of belongings lovingly protected across thousands of miles, of objects acquired along the way, of seemingly inconsequential ornaments imbued with memory and meaning and of documents that perform relationships of status, rights and identity.

Drawing from recent discussions of materiality and the politics of ‘new materialism’, I have recently sought to examine the material politics of asylum through focusing on the role that letters might play in both governing asylum seekers, and in exceeding the governmental intentions of their authors (Darling 2014a). I argue that we might consider asylum not as a process or a legal status, but as a material-discursive collective that takes shape differently across different spaces. The materials that constitute asylum – the forms, letters, certificates, bodies and belongings – take meaning and make meaning as they are enrolled in, and become part of, new spaces, discourses and practices. The importance of such a claim is to suggest that the perceptual frameworks that govern how we come to see and understand asylum, are constituted through the interaction of materials, discourses and spaces, without assuming a necessary primacy for any aspect of this triad. The governance of the citizen/non-citizen relation is accomplished as much through the banal employment of materials of distinction, such as legal documents, files, letters and forms, as it is through the discourses and categorisations that are maintained by those materials.

Continue reading here.

Farewell Kathy Wood; welcome Kiersty Hong

Kathy Wood

Kathy Wood

After eight years of work on the journal, we bid a fond farewell to Kathy Wood. Kathy works in the research office of Durham University’s Geography department and started work on the journal when Stuart Elden became editor in late 2006. As journal manager she has processed hundreds of manuscripts, and dealt with authors, referees and production staff at Pion. It’s a largely invisible role – few of the co-editors or board, let alone our authors,  have ever met her – but indispensable to the running of the journal. When Kathy was appointed, the journal moved from paper submissions (with mailed requests to referee) to an all electronic system; in the last couple of years she has been crucial to our shift to Manuscript Central for submission processing. We want to put on record our sincere thanks to Kathy for all of her hard work over these years, and to wish her good luck with her new role at Durham.

Kiersty Hong

Kiersty Hong

The journal’s editorial office has now moved to University of Toronto, and we are pleased to welcome Kiersty Hong as the new editorial manager. Kiersty was previously Undergraduate Program Assistant in Geography at University of Toronto; chief editor of a university newspaper; and a policy analyst intern with the Atlantic Council of Canada. She brings a wealth of academic, community and volunteer experience to the editorial manager role. Her work will include all of Kathy’s previous duties, but she will also be taking on an important role with our open site – www.societyandspace.com  We have been working with Kiersty over the last few weeks and are looking forward to future developments.

The new email address for all administrative issues is societyandspace@geog.utoronto.ca Papers should still be submitted in the usual way, through http://mc04.manuscriptcentral.com/societyandspace
Deborah, Stuart, Natalie, Mary

Jonathan P Allen comments on Matthew Wilson’s ‘Continuous connectivity’ article

Matthew Wilson’s article in Society and Space 32(3), “Continuous connectivity, handheld computers, and mobile spatial knowledge”, is available open access until October 26, 2014. In the article, Wilson examines what he calls the ‘logic of continuous connectivity’ and its implications for development of collective, spatial knowledge.

Jonathan P. Allen, Professor of Management at the University of San Franciso offers the following comments on the piece. 

Matthew Wilson’s paper introduces a new concept, “continuous connectivity”, to analyze the emergence of a new digital culture where people are always connected to a network. The main contribution of continuous connectivity is to open up for investigation both the origins of an always-connected culture, and the implications of this relentless connectivity for a future of shared, highly intimate information.

The paper ends with the phrase “the presumed normalcy of life always connected” (p. 552), which I think perfectly captures the need for this kind of contribution. A modern digital culture of continuous connectivity, as defined by Wilson, may appear natural to those most deeply immersed within it, but this particular form of cultural practice is a human accomplishment with historical roots, requiring continual maintenance as its rougher edges rub against other facets of human existence.

Despite its unproblematic appearance, a careful look at our current digital culture reveals that some rather unbelievable things have been commonplace. Continuous location tracking by government authorities has become tacitly accepted, or widely ignored. Personal location information is shared with friends, but also with strangers such as potential romantic partners. Product codes are openly scanned in local stores, to be purchased through a remote business online.

Continue reading here.

Translation of ‘Receding chronology, fragmented narratives’

Nadim Khoury’s recent commentary on this site, “Receding chronology, fragmented narratives”, which highlights the ways that Palestian histories are fragmented into short, separate narratives to facilitate occupation, has been translated into Arabic and republished on the As-Safir news site. Find the translation here.



Aiken reviews Koelsch’s Geography and the Classical World

koelschEdwin Aiken reviews William Koelsch’s Geography and the Classical World: Unearthing Historical Geography’s Forgotten Past. The book came out at the end of 2012 as part of IB Tauris’ Historical Geography Series. Further information about the book can be found here.

Koelsch has produced a monumental study to help populate the landscape of the history of historical geography with figures from classical geography, showing just how recently the practice of classical geography was a concern for scholars; indeed Koelsch points out that the special interest only really met its demise around the turn of the twentieth century. Continue reading Aiken’s review here.

Edwin is the author of Scriptural Geography: Portraying the Holy Land (IB Tauris, 2010)


Peck, Massey, Gibson & Lawson on The Kilburn Manifesto in Environment and Planning A (open access)

epaJamie Peck, Doreen Massey, Katherine Gibson and Victoria Lawson discuss the The Kilburn Manifesto in Environment and Planning A (open access). The Kilburn Manifesto was written by Stuart Hall, Doreen Massey, Michael Rustin and others and was published in print and online.

There are lots of other papers in the new issue of EPA including a theme issue on Performing Environmental Change – most require subscription.

Lefebvre’s beach: Gordillo on Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment

image_miniGastón Gordillo reviews Henri Lefebvre’s newly published book Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment (University of Minnesota Press, 2014). An interview with Lukasz Stanek, the editor of the book, is available here.

Henri Lefebvre (1901-1991) was one of the most incisive, original, and prolific philosophers of the twentieth century, and his wide-ranging books profoundly redefined our understanding of space as something material, produced, embodied, and disrupted by conflict and violence. Yet, it is only in 2014 that we finally have access to his masterfulToward an Architecture of Enjoyment, his most forceful meditation on the spatial utopia he aspired to. Written in 1973 and subsequently forgotten for four decades, the book is an extraordinary exploration of the affective dimensions of space, a topic that was uncharted territory in the 1970s. Lefebvre tackled it with the creative heterodoxy that always characterized him, blending his acute spatial gaze, the critical spirit of Marxist theory, phenomenology’s bodily sensibility, and a Dionysian, Nietzschean thrust. Continue reading Gordillo’s review here.

Gastón is the author of Rubble: The Afterlife of Destruction (Duke University Press, 2014) and was interviewed for the Open Site earlier this year.

Rupal Oza – India’s relations with Israel and Palestine: Tracing a tectonic shift

Rupal Oza’s 2007  Society and Space article, Contrapuntal geographies of threat and security: the United States, India, and Israelis currently open access as part of a virtual issue on Israel-Palestine. In it, she describes how India echoed US discursive constructions of Muslim males as dangerous after the attacks of September 11, 2001, and examines how this demarcation of ‘us against them’ created new political alliances between India, the United States and Israel. In her new commentary below, Oza expands and updates her analysis of India’s shifting relations with Israel and Palestine, and thus provides a critical take on India’s response to the recent devastation of Gaza.

-The Editors

As the Israeli attack on Gaza intensified in July 2014, a large poster made an appearance in front of some hotels in Mumbai that depicted icons of prominent U.S. products and read, “Indian Hoteliers boycott Israeli and U.S. products.” Boycott has a long history and political resonance in India dating back to anti-colonial struggles from the early 20th century and also from the anti-apartheid movement when India boycotted South Africa. This most recent boycott, however, does not have the same tenor or carry the same moral or ethical weight.

Nor is India’s recent vote in support of a United Nations resolution to launch a probe into Israel’s offensive into Gaza indicative of a shift in official policy towards Israel. India’s vote at the UN needs to be read in the context of the BRICS summit that had just occurred in Fortaleza, Brazil and was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first big external summit. The Fortaleza Declaration signed by all the BRICS countries held them to the goals and principles in the declaration, including one that dealt with Arab-Israeli peace and that committed the BRICS countries to sign the UN resolution. It was this international political position rather than an ethical or moral position that led to India’s UN vote. Indeed on August 16th 2014 the Prime Minister’s party, the BJP, organized a pro-Israeli rally in the former left stronghold of Kolkata that brought out twenty thousand people in support.

There has been a tectonic shift in India’s relationship with Palestine and Israel in the last 25 years.

Continue reading here.

Nadim Khoury – Receding chronology, fragmented narratives

Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 12.43.10 PM

Nadim Khoury is a lecturer in the Peace and Conflict Program at Bjorknes College, Oslo, Norway. Between 2012 and 2014, he was assistant professor and program head at the political science program at Al-Quds Bard Honors College in Palestine. In this commentary, he potently critiques the ways in which the ‘shrinking’ of Palestinian history works in tandem with the occupation and destruction of Palestinian geography. 

-The Editors

Settler colonialism, like other forms of domination, divides as it conquers. The further it penetrates into a territory it has appropriated, the deeper it manages a people it has subjugated, the more it partitions, segments, and breaks apart. In Israel/Palestine, this fragmentation is most visible in the landscape of the so-called future Palestinian state where settler roads and apartheid walls strangle autonomous enclaves that are themselves receding. The hundreds of checkpoints that currently divide the West Bank turn short distances into long ones, reconfiguring the nexus between time and space for an entire population.

The legal division of Palestinians is just as pernicious as its geographic fragmentation. Recently, the Israeli Knesset passed a law that recognizes Palestinian Christians living in the Galilee as a separate minority, one that no longer counts as Arab. In one day, Christian Palestinian families scattered across the West Bank and the Galilee were divided by geographic borders and an administrative abyss. Not only did they possess different legal identities—West Bank Palestinian and Israeli—they now belonged to different peoples—Arab and non-Arab. They were pigeonholed into a new and arbitrary category, one amongst the many Israel has created for Palestinians: Arab Israeli, West Bank Palestinian, Palestinian from Gaza, East Jerusalemite, internally displaced, refugee… As physical and legal walls close in, one people imposes its rule and the other becomes claustrophobic. Along the way, many lose sight of the larger picture.

With the latest war on Gaza, it is not only Palestinian geography, but Palestinian chronology that has receded. It is a whole history of dispossession that was divided into shorter and separate narratives.

Continue reading here.

Interview with Walaa Alqaisiya and Lisa Bhungalia by Mat Coleman and Mary Thomas

Photo credit: Dalal Amad This photo was taken on the 4th July in front of the martyrs house in Jersusalem, shortly before the body of Mohammed Abu Khdeir was brought to his parents house, and afterwards there was his funeral.

Photo credit: Dalal Amad
This photo was taken on July 4, 2014 in East Jerusalem in front of the house of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who had been kidnapped and killed by three Israelis days before. 

Walla Alqaisiya and Lisa Bhungalia are interviewed during their research in Palestine by Society & Space editors, Mary Thomas and Mat Coleman.

Walaa Alqaisiya and Lisa Bhungalia: On one hand we could argue, as you note here, that we have seen the elimination of a recognized civilian space in Gaza. Israel’s targeting of schools, hospitals, parks, residential buildings and urban infrastructure attests to the fact that Israel considers virtually any space in Gaza to be a legitimate military target. Yet even as we have seen the elimination of a recognized civilian space, the figure of the civilian, as you point out, remains…

The civilian death in this instance is mobilized for political gains on the part of Israel. It is in this sense that we could argue that the death of the Palestinian, rather than her life, is subsumed into politics turning biopolitics on its head. Continue to read their interview here


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