Category Archives: Book Reviews

Barry, Andrew 2013 “Material Politics: Disputes Along the Pipeline” reviewed by Kai Bosworth

51cxb9xGfyL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Kai Bosworth reviews Andrew Barry’s book “Material Politics: Disputes Along the Pipeline”

While many geographers and political theorists have argued that materials augment capacities for political experimentation, provoke public outrage, or shape power relations, others suspect that focus on the vague politics of matter is largely a force for rendering political contestation inoperable. In Material Politics: Disputes Along the Pipeline, Andrew Barry sidesteps both arguments, instead arguing that materials are bound up with the availability or transparency of information. Barry argues that the production of material information – lay and expert knowledge, documents, data and evidence of harm or injury – can often lead to new or more intense forms of dissent, especially over the frontier between public and clandestine information. Barry demonstrates this thesis through a wide-ranging and comprehensive account of the forces that attempt to demarcate where, how and which materials come to be disputed in the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline. Through an examination of a number of different sites and materials: landslides, beehives, concerned citizens and international NGOs, artistic practices, knowledge controversies, labor disputes, and archives of documents, Barry constructs a vast web of the relations and processes that come to matter (or don’t) in the political construction of a multinational energy infrastructure system.

Continue reading Kai Bosworth’s review here

Also on Society and Space by Kai Bosworth Notes towards a geological uprising by way of a dark feminism


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Casey, Edward. S. and Watkins, Mary. 2014 Up Against the Wall: Re-Imagining the U.S.-Mexico Border, reviewed by Eduardo Mendieta

Up against the wall“Walled in and without Home”

Edward. S. Casey and Mary Watkins, Up Against the Wall: Re-Imagining the U.S.-Mexico Border. University of Texas Press, Austin, 2014, 346 pages, $40.20 hardcover, $18.73 softcover. ISBN: 978-0-292-75841-4 (

I am writing this text in the shadow of President Obama’s speech, now christened “Come out of the Shadows”, as well as the partisan and exorbitant reaction by Republicans denouncing the President’s plan to “deal responsibly with millions of undocumented immigrants who already live in our country.” In other words, I write about Casey and Watkins’s very timely book, in the shadow of yet another staging of the US’s struggle with its imperial and racial history, on the one hand, and its project and promise to be a beacon of light for the ‘tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to be free’—to paraphrase—on the other hand. This book is a celebration, and invitation to a reaffirmation, of this project and promise. Continue reading Society and Space’s Editorial Board member, Eduardo Mendieta’s review here

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A Fractured Landscape of Modernity reviewed by Elizabeth Straughan

9781137287076Elizabeth Straughan reviews James Wilkes’ new book A Fractured Landscape of Modernity: Culture and Conflict in the Isle of Purbeck. The book came out with Palgrave Macmillan earlier on this year as part of the Language, Discourse and Society series. Futher information about the book can be found here.

Searching for the sublime in everyday life: Ryan on Quinney

downloadJames Ryan reviews Richard Quinney’s photographic book A Sense Sublime (Borderland Books, 2013).

Quinney is a sociologist by profession and he is known for his academic writings as well as for several books of autobiographical memoirs, which focus on his life in Illinois and Wisconsin. In this work, Quinney presents a series of photographs and short descriptive essays, or “field notes”, recording his life between 1983 and 2001 when he lived in the town of DeKalb in northern Illinois.  Through this combination of photograph and text, Quinney invites the reader on a journey through his hometown and familiar landscapes at the end of the twentieth century. This is a very personal story. As Quinney explains in his introduction, during 18 years he lived in DeKalb, he underwent a number of major life changes including treatment for chronic leukaemia; retirement from his university post at Northern Illinois University; the death of his mother; the end of one marriage and the beginning of another; becoming a grandfather, and, finally leaving for Wisconsin. The work, perhaps unsurprisingly given such personal experiences, is animated by a self-consciously spiritual tone. Quinney’s camera and field notes are thus used in his determination to seek out a transcendental sense of beauty, to experience, as Quinney puts it, “the sublime in everyday life” (page 7). Continue reading James’ review here.

See also Sophie Leroy’s recent review of Yi-Fu Tuan’s 2013 book Romantic Geography: In Search of the Sublime.


Cities of Tomorrow reviewed by Jonathan Rokem

CITIES OF TOMORROWJonathan Rokem reviews  ערי המחר – תכנון, צדק וקיימות היום/ Are ha-mahar: tikhnun, tsedek ve-kayamut ha-yom [Cities of Tomorrow: Planning, Justice and Sustainability Today], a new volume in Hebrew edited by Tovi Fenster and Oren Shlomo (Hakibbutz Hameuchad Publishing House, 2014).

How and to what extent can we make tomorrow’s cities more sustainable and just? The question is addressed by a wide range of leading Israeli researchers, activists and urban scholars from a variety of different backgrounds and institutions. Read Jonathan’s review here.

Another Hebrew urban title, In the Cement Boxes (by Pnina Motzafi-Haller), was recently reviewed for the Open Site by Michal Braier.




Khalili on Cowen’s Deadly Life of Logistics

image_miniLaleh Khalili reviews Deb Cowen’s new book The Deadly Life of Logistics: Mapping Violence in Global Trade (University of Minnesota Press, 2014).

Deborah Cowen’s The Deadly Life of Logistics is the first of its kind: an original, imaginative, and critical theorisation of the centrality of violence to the modern logistics business. The book beautifully illuminates the conjuncture between capital accumulation and practices of security and securitisation on a global scale, zooming down to specific places and moments to better illustrate the inner workings of this conjuncture. Continue reading Laleh’s review here.

See also Phil Steinberg’s review of Allan Sekula and Noël Burch’s film The Forgotten Space.

Italian literary mappings: new review by Tania Rossetto


Tania Rossetto from the University of Padua reviews Piani sul mondo: le mappe nell’immaginazione letteraria (Plans on the World: Maps in the Literary Imagination), a volume edited by Italian comparatists Marina Guglielmi and Giulio Iacoli and published by Quodlibet in 2013.

We are currently experiencing a period of robust revival of literary geography and of literary cartography in particular. Piani sul mondo has somehow been stimulated by the current re-emergence of the so-called cartography of  literature (i.e. the concrete mapping of literary settings or literary phenomena). This approach was championed by Italian literary scholar Franco Moretti in the late 1990s, with his seminal book Atlas of the European Novel 1800-1900, and is now embracing the digital transition in cartography while increasingly expanding internationally. In Italy, the occurrence of this phenomenon has been confirmed by the editorial enterprise of the Atlante della letteratura italiana (Atlas of Italian Literature) published by Einaudi in three volumes (2010-2012), and edited by Sergio Luzzatto and Gabriele Pedullà. Continue reading Tania’s review here.

Earlier on this year the Open Site hosted a virtual issue on Literary Geographies.

Ethnofiction: Augé’s No Fixed Abode reviewed

Layout 1Marc Augé’s book No Fixed Abode: Ethnofiction (Seagull Books, 2013) is reviewed by Dale Leorke from the University of Melbourne.

French anthropologist Marc Augé’s book No Fixed Abode follows the plight of Henri, a retired tax inspector and aspiring writer living in Paris. He has become homeless after his recent divorce left him unable to continue paying the rent for his flat. Balancing the modest income from his pension against the monthly spousal support he owes from his first failed marriage, he calculates that if he sells all of his furniture and begins sleeping in his car he will be able to get by. He watches as the antique dealers assess the financial value of each item in his flat and take them away one by one. He experiments with sleeping in his car parked in the garage at night, hoping that none of his neighbours catch a glimpse of him before he sneaks back to his almost bare apartment early in the morning. Soon the lease expires, all but his old Mercedes and most basic possessions have been auctioned off, and he no longer has a home. Henri must simultaneously adjust to his new life while attempting to maintain a façade of normalcy by keeping his condition from friends and former colleagues. He perpetually struggles to find a place to park his car (the “golden age” of streets with no parking meters are no more); he drifts from café to café to do his writing (he no longer owns a table or chair); contemplates where he will next be able to shower or use the toilet; and witnesses his savings gradually dwindle. He meets Dominique, an artist who is sympathetic to his circumstances and at first seems to offer an escape from them. But he comes to the realisation that this is a false hope and ultimately accepts the reality of his new life.

This synopsis might read like the plot of a novel or short story, or perhaps (if you are familiar with Augé’s earlier work) the opening anecdote of an ethnographic study of homelessness. In fact, it is neither of these. Augé’s book does not characterise itself as a novel, nor is this an ethnography. Rather, it is “ethnofiction”, an intermingling of the two, blending together both ethnographic research and fictional narrative. Continue reading Dale’s review here.

Further information about the book can be found here.

Peter Gratton, Speculative Realism – and links to journal articles on this theme

Society and Space board member and former co-editor Peter Gratton’s new book, Speculative Realism: Problems and Prospects is now published.


Speculative realism is one of the most talked-about movements in recent Continental philosophy. It has been discussed widely amongst the younger generation of Continental philosophers seeking new philosophical approaches and promises to form the cornerstone of future debates in the field.

This book introduces the contexts out of which speculative realism has emerged and provides an overview of the major contributors and latest developments. It guides the reader through the important questions asked by realism (what can I know? what is reality?), examining philosophy’s perennial questions in new ways. The book begins with the speculative realist’s critique of ‘correlationism’, the view that we can never reach what is real beneath our language systems, our means for perception, or our finite manner of being-in-the-world. It goes on to critically review the work of the movement’s most important thinkers, including Quentin Meillassoux, Ray Brassier, and Graham Harman, but also other important writers such as Jane Bennett and Catherine Malabou whose writings delineate alternative approaches to the real. It interrogates the crucial questions these thinkers have raised and concludes with a look toward the future of speculative realism, especially as it relates to the reality of time.

The journal has published some related work on these themes, including

Graham Harman, 2010, “I am also of the opinion that materialism must be destroyedEnvironment and Planning D: Society and Space 28(5) 772 – 790 [open access]

Quentin Meillassoux, 2012, “The contingency of the laws of natureEnvironment and Planning D: Society and Space 30(2) 322 – 334

Yusoff K, Grosz E, Clark N, Saldanha A, Nash C, 2012, “Geopower: a panel on Elizabeth Grosz’s Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the EarthEnvironment and Planning D: Society and Space 30(6) 971 – 988

There have also been some related posts on this site, including

Two reviews of Catherine Malabou’s books – Ontology of the Accident (2012), reviewed by Stacey Smith; and Changing Difference (2011), reviewed by Sarah Kuzuk.

Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter, reviewed by Noel Castree

Book Forum on Ben Woodard, On an Ungrounded Earth, reviewed by Kai Bosworth, Harlan Morehouse, Rory Rowan and Jordan Skinner

Sarah Radcliffe on Inca Sacred Space

andesSarah Radcliffe reviews Inca Sacred Space: Landscape, Site and Symbol, a volume edited by Frank Meddens, Katie Willis, Colin McEwan and Nicholas Branch (Archetype Publications, 2014).

The book results from an interdisciplinary project involving archaeologists, geographers, historians and ethno-historians, anthropologists and ethnomusicologists. A video on the project recently released by the British Museum can be viewed here.


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