Category Archives: Interviews

Michael Watts interview at Society and Space – fixed the broken link

Apologies for the earlier broken link to the interview – now fixed and available here

Michael Watts is Class of 1963 Professor of Geography and Development Studies at University of California, Berkeley. He is the author and editor of a number of important studies of Nigeria, geopolitics, political violence and ecology. He was awarded the Victoria medal of the Royal Geographical Society in 2004 “for research on political economy, culture and power”. He is interviewed by Society and Space editor, Stuart Elden, here.

Niger delta 2007

Niger delta 2007

Interview with Michael Watts – on Nigeria, political ecology, geographies of violence, and the history of the discipline

Michael Watts is Class of 1963 Professor of Geography and Development Studies at University of California, Berkeley. He is the author and editor of a number of important studies of Nigeria, geopolitics, political violence and ecology. He was awarded the Victoria medal of the Royal Geographical Society in 2004 “for research on political economy, culture and power”. He is interviewed by Society and Space editor, Stuart Elden, here.

Niger delta 2007

Niger delta 2007

Stuart Elden: You went to northern Nigeria in 1976 for your doctoral research. The dissertation and book that resulted from this – Silent Violence: Food, Famine, and Peasantry in Northern Nigeria (University of California Press, 1983) – has recently been reissued by University of Georgia Press. I want to discuss your more recent work on Nigeria and contemporary politics in the country in a moment, but first, can I ask you to reflect a bit on the Silent Violence book? What made you chose Nigeria as a country to work on, and how did you feel returning to the material to write the introduction for the new edition of the book after thirty years?

Michael Watts: First of all Stuart, let me thanks you for providing an opportunity for you and I to discuss my work, and I hope, contemporary Geography on both sides of the Atlantic. A short answer to your question is that in the first case it was something of an accident and in the second Nigeria became for me, and many others who encountered it, a country – or a ‘profession as some commentators have said –a space of compelling interest and fascination. Yes, its a bit of a train wreck, endlessly dispiriting, always surprising, unpredictable – who knew that Nigeria would in the last few weeks be praised for its ‘world class response’ to the Ebola outbreaks in Lagos and Port Harcourt!! – and a country of such enormous and unrelenting energy and creativity that it has been hard to walk away from. It would be fair to say I’ve only worked in one place over the last thirty-five years, and indeed felt no need to work elsewhere (it is true I have dabbled a bit in California, Vietnam, The Gambia and India but these proved to be little more than diversions). I actually went up to University College, London in the late 1960s to read Geography. I was raised in a small village in the south west of England, neither of my parents pursued secondary education school after the age of sixteen and joining the professoriate never entered my consciousness until I moved across the Atlantic…

continue reading here

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The new urban question – A conversation on the legacy of Bernardo Secchi with Paola Pellegrini

2_Secchi_Milano_by%20Lambrecths_2006Bernardo Secchi (1934-2014) was an Italian urban theorist, renowned urban planner, Emeritus Professor of Urban Planning at the Istituto Universitario di Architettura (IUAV) of Venice and Dean of the Faculty of Architecture at the Polytechnic of Milano. For almost half a century, he was a central figure within European and Italian interdisciplinary debates on the contemporary city and urban design. His research was located within the wider discourses of space and societal transformations, influenced by post-’68 French theorists and nourished specifically by a wide investigation of European urban territories. In his practice, he developed plans and visions for small and large cities in Italy and Europe, including Milano, Jesi, Brescia, Pesaro, Siena, Ascoli Piceno, Bergamo, Prato, Pescara, Lecce, Madrid, Antwerp[1], Bruxelles and Moscow. In 2008 he was amongst the ten architects selected to develop a vision for Grand Paris[2]; his idea of ‘ville poreuse’ focused on the improvement of permeability and accessibility, as a strategy to ensure the fundamental right to the city. As a scholar and intellectual, he was fascinated by the multiple narratives and multidisciplinary nature of urban territories. In the books, Prima lezione di Urbanistica (2007), La città del ventesimo secolo (2008), La città dei ricchi e la città dei poveri (2013), regrettably not yet translated for English speaking scholars, he placed into creative tension the economic, political, and cultural dimensions of urbanism, informed by theoretical insights and underpinned by an engagement with spatial realities and design projects. He treated urban transformations with vivid, lucid and contemporary analyses that utilized theories as productive investigative tools to elucidate society and space rather than as merely self-referential intellectual gestures.

Secchi’s death in September marks a great loss for urbanism. The conversation below is a gesture towards bringing his work to a wider Anglophone audience, since little of his work has been translated into English. It reflects on his legacy by exploring his intellectual production[3], critical pedagogy and practice, with a special focus on the exploration of his idea of a ‘new urban question’ and the formation of his reflexive urban research praxis. The ‘new urban question’ was addressed most concertedly in his last book, and is concerned with the increasing social inequalities and spatial injustice. His urban research praxis, shaped by long-term practice and experience, voracious curiosity and acute observation, aimed to dismantle disciplinary boundaries and conventional scales, focusing on a certain idea of precision, accuracy and patience. We conducted an interview with Paola Pellegrini, urbanist and scholar, and Secchi’s associate for 12 years, and asked her to offer a personal and professional reflection on Secchi’s intellectual legacy.

Camillo Boano and Giovanna Astolfo

”The whole history of the city can be written keeping in mind the compatibility or incompatibility of the people […] Intolerance denies proximity, it separates and creates distance between activities, buildings, public spaces, their inhabitants and users” – B. Secchi[4]

Camillo Boano/Giovanna Astolfo: Bernardo Secchi wrote and reflected extensively on the democratization of urban space, the emergence of the ordinary, and, more recently[5], on the still fundamental issue of ‘comment vivre ensemble’ (how to live together), a topic you developed in recent work on proximity[6]. Can you explain it further?

Paola Pellegrini: The search for proximity is part of the patient search for the physical and feasible dimensions of individual and collective welfare, which was a major topic in Secchi’s work (see his ‘La città del XX secolo’ [7]) and can be described, in his own words, as an “attempt to give a concrete dimension, physically perceptible to individual collective welfare/wellbeing[8] and to its distribution among the various social groups”[9].

But it also goes beyond this search and refers to the idea that new individual practices and the consequences on the ways of living together – such as individualization and the search for some kind of network very well explained by Richard Sennett, Ulrich Beck and Zygmunt Bauman in recent and less recent years – are the basis of new ideas of the city and territory. The search for independent and individual rhythm in the community – Barthes’s comment vivre ensemble[10]and idiorrhythms-, the recent appearance of various ‘coexistence’ experiments in many European urban contexts, the revival of the notion of spatial proximity in urban design and planning practice are moments of this reasoning, trying to further articulate Webber’s idea of ‘urbanity without propinquity’ [11]. As an example of this revival, all of the participants to the plan for the great Paris metropolitan area in 2008-2009, in their different proposed models or solutions, claim the city must grow upon itself and densify; a renouvellement of the idea of concentration, density, compact city, direct relations…

Continue reading here.

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Eyal Weizman interview, film screening, Society and Space lecture and review of Forensis forthcoming

An interesting interview with Eyal Weizman, ahead of a screening of the film ‘The Architecture of Violence’at SOAS Khalili Lecture Theatre at 7.15pm on 5 December as part of the London Palestine Film Festival. After the documentary Weizman will be speaking on Architecture and Violence after Gaza.

Eyal gave the 30th anniversary Society and Space lecture at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) conference at the University of Edinburgh in 2012. A review essay by Gastón Gordillo of the  Forensis collection Eyal directed is forthcoming in the journal in 2015. Gastón has posted the introduction of this essay on his Space and Politics blog.

Society and Space Lecture at the 2015 AAG: Professor Lauren Berlant

We are delighted to announce that Lauren Berlant will give the 2015 Society and Space Lecture at the AAG in Chicago. The talk is entitled:


Structures of Unfeeling: Mysterious Skin

This is a talk about how to read atmospheres propped not by melodrama and heightened impact but by recessive action and flat affect. The concept of a “structure of feeling” offered by Raymond Williams points to atmospheres shared among strangers but circulating beneath the surface of explicit life. How do we access that material when the shared affects are manifested in styles of being that occlude expressivity? Just as the Great Depression was thought to express and induce the affective state, are we now in a recession? “Structures of Unfeeling: Mysterious Skin” works with Scott Heim’s novel and Gregg Araki’s film to think about how scenes of “underperformed” encounter shift social norms of trust and aesthetic norms of the event: to do this, it implicates a history of aesthetic movements from twentieth century avant-gardes and theories of traumatic dissociation to the inside knowledges of sexual culture and the DIY aesthetics of punk and mumblecore.

Read David Seitz’s 2013 interview on the Open Site with Professor Berlant 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

Gastón Gordillo, Rubble: The Afterlife of Destruction published (and link to interview)

Gastón Gordillo’s book Rubble: The Afterlife of Destruction has been published. You can read an interview with Gastón about this book and his work generally on this site.

978-0-8223-5619-6_prAt the foot of the Argentine Andes, bulldozers are destroying forests and homes to create soy fields in an area already strewn with rubble from previous waves of destruction and violence. Based on ethnographic research in this region where the mountains give way to the Gran Chaco lowlands, Gastón R. Gordillo shows how geographic space is inseparable from the material, historical, and affective ruptures embodied in debris. His exploration of the significance of rubble encompasses lost cities, derelict train stations, overgrown Jesuit missions and Spanish forts, stranded steamships, mass graves, and razed forests. Examining the effects of these and other forms of debris on the people living on nearby ranches and farms, and in towns, Gordillo emphasizes that for the rural poor, the rubble left in the wake of capitalist and imperialist endeavors is not romanticized ruin but the material manifestation of the violence and dislocation that created it.

Gastón Gordillo interviewed by Léopold Lambert of The Funambulist

bulldozers3If you enjoyed the interview with Gastón Gordillo on this site a few weeks ago (available here); then you will also like the new podcast interview by Léopold Lambert of The Funambulist at The Archipelago. Gastón discusses more about his work on ruins, both in the forthcoming book Rubble: The Afterlife of Destruction and in a recent piece at The Funambulist on Albert Speer’s ruin theory of architecture.

An interview with Elizabeth Grosz “Ontogenesis and the Ethics of Becoming” by Kathryn Yusoff

liz-grosz-photo-1.240.337.sOntogenesis and the Ethics of Becoming: an interview with Elizabeth Grosz by Kathryn Yusoff

Elizabeth Grosz is a feminist philosopher and Professor of Women’s Studies at Duke University. Her work has been important for geographers because of its engagements with spatial practices, volatile and sexed bodies, and the arts of cosmic engagement. More recently, audiences have been turning to Grosz’ work because of its explicit engagement with the inhuman forces of the earth and the explication of the forms of “geopower“. In this interview Grosz discusses her new book about questions of ontology and ethics, which draws on the philosophies of the Stoics, Spinoza, Nietzsche to address materialist idealism.

Elizabeth Grosz: I am currently working on a book, sort of on ethics, but more directly about questions of ontology. The book will include a chapter each on the Stoics, Spinoza, Nietzsche (who I can’t seem to stop writing about), Deleuze, Gilbert Simondon and Raymond Ruyer. It doesn’t have a title yet but I am nearing the end, slowly. What I am interested in is thinking about ethics, not in terms of morality, a code of conduct or a set of principles to regulate conduct from the outside, but in terms of the exploration of becoming, what kind of a new ontology – an ontogenesis – we must develop in order to understanding the becomings that underlie and make being possible. Each chapter addresses a philosopher, or a group of philosophers (in the case of the Stoics) who articulates a world-view, an analysis of what is or can be, in which the question of the limits, mortality, and smallness of the human relative to the vast and powerful laws of the universe is the primary focus. Moreover, each of these philosophers, while appearing to be materialists, and addressing questions about the world through materialism, remain attached to a concept of the ideal, ideality, or conceptuality that is irreducible to anything material. Each can be considered, in the limited terms of any binarisation of mind and body, as an paradoxical idealist materialist or materialist idealist. In other words, each articulates what a pure materialism is unable to explain; each remains committed to the activity of ideas and their direct impact on and transformation of matter through their energetic and informational flows into forms of knowledge as well, without understanding or reducing ideas to simply bodily or neurological movements. Each thus established the non-material reality of ideas, the way in which the universe generates orders, orientations, directions or sense as it elaborates its own complexities. Taken together, these thinkers establish a kind of genealogy of thinking about informed matter and the relations to life forms that depend on it and extend it each in their own ways. Continue reading this interview here

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Interview with Łukasz Stanek about Henri Lefebvre, Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment

Łukasz Stanek is author of Henri Lefebvre on Space: Architecture, Urban Research, and the Production of Theory and editor of Team 10 East: Revisionist Architecture in Real Existing Modernism. A previously unknown manuscript of Henri Lefebvre’s, Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment has been edited by Łukasz and translated by Robert Bonanno, and will shortly be published by University of Minnesota Press. Łukasz kindly agreed to answer some questions about this book and its relation to Lefebvre’s work, and tells the fascinating story of the manuscript’s re-discovery after forty years of neglect.

imageStuart Elden: In your authored book, Henri Lefebvre on Space: Architecture, Urban Research, and the Production of Theory, you convincingly demonstrate that Lefebvre’s work on space and urban questions should be seen as much an engagement with planners, urban developers and architects, as with philosophers and theorists. Could you say something about that project, and how it led you to look at archival materials as much as Lefebvre’s published works and those of his academic interlocutors?

Łukasz Stanek: My interest in Lefebvre’s theory goes back to an empirical case: Nowa Huta, a new town constructed by the Polish socialist regime since the late 1940s close to Kraków. I was a student of architecture in Kraków in the early 2000s, and I was very intrigued by Nowa Huta, both because of its excellent urban plan and because of the fact that the development of this city was dependent on its mass media representations. In fact, since the beginnings of Nowa Huta and long after its inclusion into the administrative unity of Kraków, its development was defined by a logic of “catching up” with its mass media image as the young, airy, modern, humane, green, wealthy, atheist, socialist city. Yet after the end of socialism in 1989, this image of Nowa Huta clashed with an opposite one: that of the city of retired workers and unemployed youth, with crumbling infrastructure and an ecological catastrophe.

continue reading here.


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