Commentary by Sue Ruddick: Reading and writing in a materialist way

In academia these days the pressures are great to rely heavily on derivative works.  Imperatives to publish are stronger than ever, the fates of individuals or even departments (depending on where you work) rest on outputs.  Concepts and philosophers fall in and out of fashion.  The pressure to be “current” is strong – critical theorists of all stripes live and write under the tyranny of the new. In this context (whether you are working through Fanon or Spivak, Leibniz or Peirce, Heidegger or Spinoza, Butler or Marx), temptations to engage a range of derivatives but “sign” a paper with the “source” are perhaps more pressing than ever. Engagement with philosophical texts is not only fun, and thought provoking, it becomes a way to “sign” ones work, to exert authority in the field, to demonstrate gravitas. Scholars also struggle against the methodological legacy of their disciplines. Where philosophy has methodologically been intent on concept-creation, geography, on the other hand, or perhaps one strand of it, has historically been engaged in the naming and bounding of regions. In contemporary work this legacy often translates into a kind of herding together of concepts that are similar, that resonate with one another, but that are not identical objects. Critical theorists who work within the register of anthropology, sociology, or political science (to name a few others) will undoubtedly wrestle with other legacies.

But concepts matter.  They matter in their distinctions.  They make a difference, in the most literal sense that, in the act of philosophizing, in the invention, creation of a new concept, one is attempting to change sensibilities, provoke new perceptions and understandings, to make difference. This is why we must proceed with caution in attempts to make new or difficult concepts legible to a wider audience; we must be a careful not simply to appeal to a common sense understanding, lest we risk losing the very specificity of the concept in question. It is in this sense, I argue, that we cannot simply substitute a more commonly understood term for its less familiar concept. We cannot for example exchange “affect” for “emotion” (unless we want to launch a fully developed argument as to why they are equivalent) any more than we might substitute “price difference” for “surplus value”.  To paraphrase Deleuze, when a philosopher employs a distinctive term or concept, it is in principle because he or she has a reason to (Deleuze 1978).

Continue reading Sue Ruddick’s commentary here.

Tagged , , , ,

Financial markets, algo-rhythms, and cities – Borch, Hansen and Lange

This brief posting supplements the article by Christian Borch, Kristian Bondo Hansen and Ann-Christina Lange in Environment and Planning D: Society & Space, volume 33, issue 6. Titled ‘Markets bodies, and rhythms: A rhythmanalysis of financial markets from open-outcry trading to high-frequency trading’, it is free to access until January 6, 2016.

The tale of the wave of commercial ‘ingenuity’ in the financial sector, which undeniably played a profound role in blowing up the housing bubble that led to the 2007–8 financial crisis, has become the emblematic story of a financial sector being a little too creative. Concurrent with the development and proliferation of financial products such as collateralized debt obligations, credit default swaps and subprime mortgages, parts of the financial markets have experienced significant, but somewhat less-researched changes in the market infrastructure, from trader-mediated to fully automated markets. Whereas the financial crisis generated a broadly shared distrust in and suspicion towards innovative investment bankers, it seems to be the lack of an intermediary in financial transactions that marks the radical structural shift in as well as provokes worries about so-called algorithmic markets.

In our recent Environment and Planning D: Society and Space paper ‘Markets, bodies, and rhythms’, we study this transformation of financial markets. Specifically, we examine how the ‘machine room’ of financial markets has changed dramatically during the past decade or so.

Continue reading here.

West, Isaac 2013 Transforming Citizenships: Transgender Articulations of the Law – A Review Forum

West_Transforming Citizenships_coverThis review forum stems from an author-meets-critics session on Isaac West’s Transforming Citizenships: Transgender Articulations of the Law, organized by David K. Seitz at the 2015 Chicago AAG Meeting. Here are reviews by Derek Ruez, Petra L. Doan, and Amy A. Dobrowolsky, as well as a response from Isaac West.

The Frontiers of Cormac McCarthy – Adam David Morton

This commentary supplements the article entitled The warp of the world: Geographies of space and time in the Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy by Adam David Morton that appears in Environment and Planning D: Society & Space, volume 33, issue 5. The article is free to access until December 17, 2015.


Cormac McCarthy has been proclaimed as one of the greatest contemporary writers to herald from the United States and, also, as a writer that can be set historically alongside both John Williams (Butcher’s Crossing) and Oakley Hall (Warlock), in producing a pantheon of masterpieces addressing the borders, landscapes, and geographies of the American west. Such status could be conferred as much by Blood Meridian, marked by its twenty-fifth anniversary this year, as the novels that constitute The Border Trilogy including All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, and Cities of the Plain.

But for those interested in the political economy of space, literature has often received only passing commentary, as I have written elsewhere. Questions of literature and spatiality arise in David Harvey’s historical-geographical materialism but there are just a few references to the novel form within his spatial matrix. Yet the intersection of literature and daily life was held as highly significant for Henri Lefebvre in reflecting on the political economy of space. Persuasively, Lefebvre contends that it is through literature, among other forms, that the idea of everyday life and repetition in daily life enters our reflections. Conceptions of space and how the social relations of production shape society therefore maintain a spatial existence in and beyond literature. Moreover, it is Lefebvre that draws our attention to the unity of society and space and how the production of space is inclusive of the meaning, concepts and consciousness of space, which cannot be separated from the social relations of production of geographical space. Space is thusly regarded as co-implicated with time so that the frontiers of territory and geography maintain embeddedness in conditions of history and time. The result is a deeply spatio-temporal awareness of everyday life.

Continue reading here.

Animal performativity: exploring the lives of donkeys in Botswana – Martha Geiger and Alice J. Hovorka

This brief commentary and video supplements the article entitled Animal performativity: Exploring the lives of donkeys in Botswana by Martha Geiger and Alice J. Hovorka that appears in Environment and Planning D: Society & Space, volume 33, issue 6. The article is free to access until December 17, 2015.


Our manuscript on donkeys in Botswana was inspired by the pivotal role of working equids across the global south. Where motorized transport is unavailable or out of reach, communities depend on domesticated animals for livelihood tasks. Research within the fields of animal welfare, veterinary science, international development and human health show the improvement of human health and livelihoods through the use and ownership of especially working donkeys in marginalized communities. At the household level, donkeys are used to transport materials for sale, transport children to school, plough agricultural fields, and fetch water for cooking and livestock. At the community level, donkey transport facilitates access to resources such as hospitals, schools, government institutions and markets; all of which increase human capacity for improved health and wellbeing. Thus, if donkeys are healthy and provided care they are able to act as a vehicle for improving the human condition.

Our manuscript explores the human-donkey relationship in Botswana where smallholder farmers own donkeys as a means of subsistence and income generation. To examine this relationship we apply a feminist posthumanist iteration of performativity to capture who the donkey is, what they experience and how these performances are shaped within the context of Botswana.

Continue reading here

Society and Space Volume 33 Issue 6 now online

The December issue of Environment and Planning D: Society and Space is already up online. With this last issue in the 2015 volume, now is a good time to say THANK YOU to all of the reviewers and authors who help our editorial team realize our aim to publish empirically informed work that pushes the boundaries of theoretical debate and keeps the political and social justice imperatives of research and theory firmly in view.

Here are the contents of volume 33, issue 6, which can be accessed by subscription:

Spatial big data and anxieties of control Agnieszka Leszczynski 965-984
The affect of Jugaad: Frugal innovation and postcolonial practice in India’s mobile phone ecology Amit S Rai 985-1002
Between the metropole and the postcolony: On the dynamics of rights’ machinery from the northwestern tribal belt to the “mainland” Pakistan Muhammad Ali Nasir 1003-1021
Capitalist pigs: Governmentality, subjectivities, and the regulation of pig farming in colonial Hong Kong, 1950-1970 Kin Wing Chang and Byron Miller 1022-1042
Imagining society: Logics of visualization in images of immigrant integration Sanne Boersma and Willem Schinkel 1043-1062
Terminal experimentation: The transformation of experiences, events and escapes at global airports Anthony Elliott and David Radford 1063-1079
Markets, bodies, and rhythms: A rhythmanalysis of financial markets from open-outcry trading to high-frequency trading Christian BorchKristian Bondo Hansenand Ann-Christina Lange 1080-1097
Animal performativity: Exploring the lives of donkeys in Botswana Martha Geiger and Alice J Hovorka 1098-1117
Opposing the opposition? Binarity and complexity in political resistance Leonie Ansems de Vries and Doerthe Rosenow 1118-1134
Anxiety and phantasy in the field: The position of the unconscious in ethnographic research Jesse Proudfoot 1135-1152

Review forum of Jenna Loyd’s 2014 Health Rights Are Civil Rights

Society and Space Board member Shiloh Krupar organized this book review forum of Jenna Loyd’s 2014 book, Health Rights Are Civil Rights: Peace and Justice Activism in Los Angeles, 1963-1978 (University of Minnesota Press), with reviews by Javier Arbona, Paul Jackson, Becky Mansfield, and Katherine McKittrick, with an introduction Shiloh Krupar and a response from Jenna Loyd.

Bacchetta, El-Tayeb and Haritaworn – Queer of colour formations and translocal spaces in Europe

This is a shorter version of a commentary by Paola Bacchetta, Fatima El-Tayeb and Jin Haritaworn that appears in Environment and Planning D: Society & Space, volume 33, issue 5. The full version is accessible here, with subscription.

Our intervention engages with Queer People of Colour (QpoC) positionalities as a valuable lens through which to rethink the racial and colonial imaginaries of subjects and space in Europe. We bring together race, gender, class, colonialism and sexuality, inseparably, in a shared analytic. We address multiple erasures: of genders, sexualities and race from discussions of space; of QPoC in Europe from discussions of European subjects, race and space; and from US-centric QPoC studies. Europeans are generally presumed to be homogeneously white, while racialized subjects are generally presumed to be uniformly straight and cis. Rarely is space understood as a formation that is co-constituted through sexualities with other relations of power. Our intervention radically rethinks urban environments in their relation to race, subjects and agencies. It also puts QPoC in Europe on the map.

We recognize that the categories ‘queer’ and ‘of colour’ are contingent, contested and unfinished. They can reinforce US-centricity and erase differences among gender and sexually non-conforming collectivities anywhere. When the term ‘people of colour’ travels to Europe it sometimes keeps Europe white and the US hegemonic, and dismisses local antiracist and anti-imperialist struggles as inauthentic and derivative. Similarly, ‘queer’ often circulates in ways that universalize white colonial genders and sexualities, while erasing all others. Yet “queer” entered the academy and transnational flows as an alternative to homonormative identifyers largely via working-class dykes of colour in the U.S. (Anzaldúa 2007; Bacchetta, Falquet and Alarcon 2012; Bacchetta 2002). The assimilation of ‘queer’ (and often ‘queer of colour’) into white-dominated academic formations in Europe often leaves representations of racialized people as deficient, inferior and disentitled to life chances due to their failed genders and heterosexualities, in place (El-Tayeb 2003, Haritaworn 2005).

For this project, despite these indisputable problems, we mobilize both “queer” and “people of colour” to describe radical interventions of QPoC in a Europe from which they remain violently excluded. While identities and allegiances are multilayered and shifting, today the notion of “queer people of colour” allows European QPoC activists, and allows us as scholars coming out of this context, to trace connections that are more complex than dominant US- and Eurocentric narratives imply.

Continue reading here

Review Forum on Bobby Benedicto’s Under Bright Lights: Gay Manila and the Global Scene

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.07.15 PMStemming from an author-meets-critics session on Bobby Benedicto’s Under Bright Lights: Gay Manila and the Global Scene at the 2015 Chicago AAG meeting, here are reviews by Geraldine PrattDerek Ruez, and David Seitz, as well as a response from Bobby Benedicto.


Aylan Kurdi: Coming to Terms With an Image

The images of the body of Aylan Kurdi, who drowned off the coast of Turkey, have shaped global perceptions of refugees and refugee policy in Europe. This is a recording of a symposium which sought to encourage more sustained reflection on the nature and meaning of these images and the ethics and the politics of their use. How do we balance the emotions that the images evoke with our drive for sober and critical analysis? Can we establish a position on the subject that in some way does justice to the boy’s life, his family members and all those affected by the consistent failure to provide a humanitarian solution for refugees in Europe? The discussion, held at the Institute for Migration and Ethnic Studies at the University of Amsterdam aimed to provide staff and students with – not a definitive analysis – but some ways of charting their path through the questions at hand.

Speakers: Sébastien Chauvin, Polly Pallister-Wilkins, Darshan Vigneswaran, Hernan del Valle (MSF, Amsterdam, and Saskia Bonjour – not present, but with a textual contribution below: Amade M’charek (Anthropology, UvA)

Invoking the child as totemic image – Pallister Wilkins

Aylan Kurdi Symposium – Amade M’Charek

A Migration Scholar’s Responsibility – Saskia Bonjour


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,037 other followers