Interview with Arnold L. Farr by Margath Walker – On critical theory, liberation and Herbert Marcuse

Margath Walker’s article “Borders, one-dimensionality, and illusion in the war on drugs” appears in issue 1 of volume 33 of Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. In it, she interrogates the war and drugs across North and South America by deploying Frankfurt School theorist Herbert Marcuse’s concept of one-dimensionality. As a supplement to the article, the following conversation with Arnold L. Farr, a philosopher who has looked to Marcuse to examine issues of race and justice in the United States, explores some of the important theoretical contributions of Marcuse. Walker’s article is now open access for one month.

Margath Walker: I would like to begin with a conversation about Marcuse and the ways in which you have been instrumental in bringing him to the forefront of theoretical discussions both in your own work and through the International Marcuse Society. Why should critical theorists be interested in Herbert Marcuse?

Arnold Farr: So, who is he? Well, of course he is a member of the famous Frankfort School for Social Research that was formed in Germany in the 1920s, all of whom were exiled to the US when Hitler came to power. Their lives were in danger. Walter Benjamin lost his life en route. The others came to the US. After the war, most of them returned although I believe Erich Fromm stayed in Mexico. Marcuse and Leo Lowenthal stayed in the US. They are famous for fusing Marx and Freudian psychoanalysis. They were concerned with the following question: why does it seem to be the case that the people who benefit most from a Marxist revolution and social change are most likely to resist it? It was Freud that helped them understand the way in which capitalism and other forms of economic and social systems can shape one’s psyche so one accepts oppression. In addition, Marcuse was a scholar of Hegel in terms of what we call dialectical thinking. One of his most important essays-“ A Note on Dialectics”- published in the 1960 edition of his second book on Hegel, Reason and Revolution, explains what dialectical thinking is for him. To think dialectically is to look at one’s society at any given moment and see in tandem the development of forces for liberation whereby the possibility of liberation is already there, and the forces for further oppression. And so society is never this static thing that simply has the present structure. There is something always contained within itself which provides possibilities for it being otherwise.

MW: What is compelling to you as a philosopher about Herbert Marcuse?

AF: Well, one of the things that drew me into philosophy was the freedom to think, I felt liberated just reading philosophical texts and learning how to think and to think critically. And I’ve always been concerned with issues of justice and, of course being African American from the South there’s the race issue. I have always been attracted to the kind of philosophy that helps me think about day to day problems and issues. Being one who is concerned with oppression and social justice, the Frankfurt School seems to give me the theoretical lenses for grappling with those issues more than almost any other philosophy that I know of. And Marcuse is particularly interesting because of his very profound critique, a critique that goes so deep that sometimes it sounds pessimistic but it’s not because even as he explains the social mechanisms that are in place to prevent any kind of social change and liberation at the same time he’s quite aware of developing possibilities for liberation. So, he’ll write a book like One-Dimensional Man where he’s describing our society as one-dimensional and there are all these mechanisms for what he’ll call putting subjectivity or thought under erasure. Whereas he’ll then write a book like An Essay on Liberation focused on the mechanisms in our society that are mechanisms for liberation.

Continue reading here.

Linnet Taylor – Towards a contextual and inclusive data studies: a response to Dalton and Thatcher

Linnet Taylor, University of Amsterdam, offers the following commentary as a response to Craig Dalton and Jim Thatcher’s piece on this site, “What does a critical data studies look like, and why do we care? Seven points for a critical approach to ‘big data.”


The social sciences are engaged in a trans-disciplinary debate on the meaning and use of new forms of digital data. One of the most important repercussions from Dalton and Thatcher’s call (2014) for a critical data studies has been an awareness that researchers need to continually sensitise themselves to the contextualities of data’s production and use (Kitchin 2014, Graham and Shelton 2013, Nissenbaum 2010). This short essay responds to this ongoing debate, laying out the case for such an awareness and asking how we might better operationalise it in data studies. If researchers working with the new data sources – and geographers in particular – can learn to think across contexts in a more inclusive way, it may take us further toward realising big data’s promise as a tool for social scientific research.

Like Dalton and Thatcher, I use the terminology of ‘big data’ as central to the process of imagining a more contextually aware data studies, since it is precisely because of ‘bigness’ that context tends to disappear. ‘Big’ can easily become a synonym for ‘universal’ in ways that can be both unreflexive and insidious. For instance, a focus on the analytical challenges of large and complex datsets tends to crowd out a more inclusive perspective in favour of a focus on the most active online population – the US – because it provides the greatest breadth of data. ‘Big’ is powerful, it is epistemologically deterministic (Cherlet 2013), and it suggests a truthiness that gets in the way of reflexivity.

Continue reading here.

Uneven trading: Gieseking on Harris

514Q9dxdL3L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Jen Jack Gieseking reviews Tina Harris’ monograph Geographical Diversions: Tibetan Trade, Global Transactions (University of Georgia Press, 2013).

Geographical Diversions is a well written ethnographic contribution to the study of mobilities, fixities, and trade, with a focus on trade routes in Nepal, Tibet (or Tibetan Autonomous Region, i.e. TAR), India, and China. In her first monograph, anthropologist and geographer Tina Harris traces the “properties, spatial origins, and trajectories of commodities” that serve to fix some geographies while rendering others mobile and free. Moving between ethnographic thick descriptions of traders’ precarious stop and start movements over dangerous and shifting routes, dull-yet-revitalized British colonial diaries, local and international newspaper clippings and archival records, and interviews with traders, the book is a dialogue between geocultural and geopolitical economies of those living and trading across national, regional, and local scales. Continue reading here.

Spatial Humanities: Promise and Peril

Spatial Humanities9780253011862_medGwilym Eades offers a double review of The Spatial Humanities: GIS and the Future of Humanities Scholarship, edited by David Bodenhamer, John Corrigan, and Trevor Harris (2010) and  Toward Spatial Humanities: Historical GIS and Spatial History, edited by Ian Gregory and Alistair Geddes (2014). Both volumes came out with Indiana University Press.

The transformation of GIS into GIScience was a de-reifying move in a succession of moves that have gradually brought geospatial tools and technologies into realms of scholarly reputability. It is now no longer a knee-jerk reaction to assume that the use of GIS as part of scientific, cultural, political, or economic inquiry must be part of a positivistic conspiracy to colonise (and ultimately degrade or destroy) geographic inquiry once and for all.  I will argue, through a review of two recent books from the University of Indiana Press (The Spatial Humanities and Toward Spatial Humanities), that, nonetheless, reaction (though now less knee-jerk) is still real, and that because of this reaction, reification of geospatial technologies often occurs through reduction of technologies and practices to sets of tools.  I will argue, further, that it is only through focus on geospatial practices (Wittgenstein, 2009; Hanna and Harrison, 2004) that continued de-reification of GIS, and subsequent productive uptake in sub-disciplines within geography or related disciplines, can occur. Continue reading Gwilym’s review here.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865): Anarchism and Geography- Federico Ferretti

The following essay is a supplement to Federico Ferretti’s “Anarchism, geohistory, and the Annales: rethinking Elisée Reclus’s influence on Lucien Febvre” that appears in issue 2 of the 2015 volume of Environment and Planning D: Society and Space.  The paper will be open access until 1st June 2015.

In a recently-published paper,[1] I present Pierre-Joseph Proudhon as one of the common references linking the anarchist geographer Elisée Reclus (1830-1905) and the French historian Lucien Febvre (1878-1957), who was a great Proudhon’s admirer and also collaborator of an important Proudhon’s scholar like Georges Gurvitch (1894-1965).[2]

In the last years, several researchers have progressively rediscovered the historical and epistemological links between Geography and Anarchism, addressing historical figures of anarchist geographers like Reclus and Peter Kropotkin (1841-1921):[3] thus, the aim of this text is to call the attention of English-speaking academic world to another historical figure of the French-speaking anarchist movement and to stimulate new research on these topics.

Proudhon is considered as one of the founders of anarchism, as he was the first person to ever declare himself an anarchist.[4] As I stated in the paper on Febvre and Reclus, Proudhon was a very important figure for the formation of left-libertarian and radical tendencies, influencing authors and political movements all along the 20th century,[5] including the French movement of Syndicalisme Révolutionnaire, very close to Anarchism, which especially interested Febvre.[6]

To continue reading, click here.


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Review of Jerusalem Unbound

9780231161961Oren Shlomo reviews Michael Dumper’s book Jerusalem Unbound: Geography, History and the Future of the Holy City (Columbia University Press, 2014).

The violent events of the summer of 2014 in Jerusalem were a tangible reminder of the explosive tension that characterizes inter-group relations in the contested city. Those events brought to life the lines between Israeli and Palestinian urban spaces, especially in the northern parts of the city, and highlighted them as rigid internal boundaries between the two communities. Michael Dumper’s book, written prior to those events, offers an outstanding and wide analytical overview of Jerusalem’s inner and external borders. Continue reading Oren’s review here.

A wet world: rethinking place, territory and time – Kimberley Peters and Philip Steinberg

The following photo essay is a supplement to Philip Steinberg and Kimberley Peters’ ‘Wet ontologies, fluid spaces: giving depth to volume through oceanic thinking’, that appears in issue 2 of the 2015 volume of Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. Here, Steinberg and Peters interweave extracts from the paper with autoethnographic reflections on the seas in their lives. The paper will be open access until May 27, 2015.

Plate 4KP


How does our perspective change when we think not only from the sea, but with the sea?

Over the past two decades, the sea has slowly crept into human geography. Together with colleagues in the emergent field of critical ocean geography, we have been making the argument, time and again, that geography has historically been a land-locked and terra-centric project. Geography is ‘earth-writing’, and earthliness has been taken very literally in shaping the spaces in which geographical study has taken place.

As we have been arguing, new geographical knowledge can be unearthed when thinking from the sea, and an increasing number of scholars are joining in this project. Studies from the sea are becoming more commonplace as we appreciate that ‘our world is an ocean world’ (Langewieche, 2001, 1). Subjects, objects, knowledges, and forces – seafarers, migrants, offshore protesters, fishermen (and women), naval officers, fish, ships, fossil fuels, consumer goods, laws, currents, and infrastructures have all featured in the numerous publications that now pay attention to life at sea.

This project is still ongoing.

Continue reading here.

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Lauren Berlant’s Society and Space lecture at the #AAG2015 – forthcoming in the journal

BerlantLaurent Berlant gave the Society and Space lecture at the Association of American Geographers meeting in Chicago on Friday 24 April 2015.  Entitled ‘Sensing the Commons’, it ranged from affect to political theory, infrastructure to austerity. There was a large audience for the dense, nuanced, and fascinating lecture, and some discussion time afterwards for questions and challenges. The lecture will appear in a future issue of the journal. Many thanks to Lauren for the wonderful event, and for all of you who came out to engage with feminist and queer thought and to support the journal.

Update: Jen Jack Gieseking has put together a Storify of the tweets about this talk.Crowd

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Lauren Berlant Society and Space lecture at the AAG

A reminder that Professor Lauren Berlant will give the Society and Space lecture at the AAG meeting in Chicago. It’s TODAY, Friday, April 24th from 3:20 PM – 5:00 PM in Grand E/F, Hyatt, East Tower, Gold Level.

The talk title and abstract have been updated, as follows:

Affects of the Commons

“The commons” is currently a prestige concept for redescribing and rebooting democracy. In political theory after Kant it points to an unbounded, universally sensed space for the political. There’s a romantic story about the commons too, a pastoral story of nature and human creativity. Both of these are unconflicted spaces. At the same time, the concept points to an anti-pastoral process, involving rage at exploitation, theft, loss, mourning, the prospects of resistance to the state and capital, and the need to protect people from each other’s possessiveness. This register constructs the encounter with the commons as an ambivalent one, in which relations of property and intimacy encounter each other frictionally. This segment of a longer work focuses on Ralph Waldo Emerson, Juliana Spahr, and Liza Johnson, and engages the propertied and affective resonances of the commons concept. But rather than cast it as an aspirational achievement, it values the commons specifically for its negative pedagogy, its pedagogy of unlearning normative infrastructures as such.


51ZloglmLWL._AA324_PIkin4,BottomRight,-53,22_AA346_SH20_OU15_Stuart Aitken reviews Psychoanalytic Geographies, a collection edited by Paul Kingsbury and Steve Pile (Ashgate, 2014).

For many of us who engage psychoanalytic theories to help understand the geographies of identity, day-to-day events and the spatialities of change and transformation, this book has been a long-time coming.  While not attempting to cover the complete range of psychoanalytic approaches used in geography, it nonetheless comes pretty close, and it certainly evokes an opus that makes important  connections between space, society, and the psyche by bringing together constituent parts in a credible and comprehensive way. Continue reading Stuart’s review here.


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