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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Marijn Nieuwenhuis on “The Terror in the Air” at Open Democracy


Peter Gratton links Marijn Nieuwenhuis’s recent Open Democracy commentary to a piece on this site by Marijn, and Peter Sloterdijk’s ‘Airquakes’ piece, translated for the journal back in 2009 and available open access.

Originally posted on PHILOSOPHY IN A TIME OF ERROR:

An interesting article here. Nieuwenhuis previously had a piece on Society and Space‘s open site “Terror in the Air in Istanbul” earlier this year. Sloterdijk’s 2009 S&S article “Airquakes,” which provides some of the background to the two commentaries, is still available open access.

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The domestic uncanny and the geographical unconscious: two new reviews

Over the past few years the spatial, social and cultural dimensions of the uncanny and of the unconscious have attracted increasing interdisciplinary interest. Two new books on these themes are reviewed on the Open Site:

9781409467724.PPC_alternative mobilitesFirst is Carol Lipman’s Co-habiting with Ghosts: Knowledge, Experience, Belief and the Domestic Uncannyreviewed by Sara MacKian. Further information about this title can be found here.

Sara is the author of Everyday Spirituality: Social and Spatial Worlds of Enchantment (Palgrave, MacMillan 2012).






Second is Argyro Loukaki’s The Geographical Unconscious, reviewed by Christos Kakalis. For further information on the book, follow this link.







Both titles were published by Ashgate earlier on this year.

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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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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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.

Mapping The Politics of National Rankings in the Movement Against “Modern Slavery”

“A global politics of rescue”

By Siobhán McGrath and Fabiola Mieres

Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 12.25.53

Screen shot from 2014 Global slavery Index (see http://www.globalslaveryindex.org/)

Africa is bleeding red.

We refer to the first image on the webpage of Walk Free’s Global Slavery Index (GSI) 2014: a map depicting the estimated prevalence of “modern slavery” in 167 countries. “Modern slavery” is understood by Walk Free to include trafficking, forced labour and forced marriage. At a glance, the map shows the Middle East and most of Asia in shades of red and orange, faring hardly better than the African continent. Lighter shades in Latin America seem to indicate progress in comparison. In turn, Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand tend towards pale yellow. Such an image suggests the Global North metaphorically shedding light onto the dark parts of the world where slavery still flourishes. The image troubles us. It is replete with colonial overtones, ones which have been carried into the modern project of development. Thus, rather than providing an exhaustive critique of the methodology behind the GSI, in the rest of this brief commentary, we explore some of the politics of the report and of its methodology. Continue reading their commentary here

Readers might also be interested in Ben Rogaly’s Society and Space review of Judy Fudge and Kendra Strauss (Eds) Temporary work, agencies and unfree labour: insecurity in the new world of work

and Open Democracy’s Beyond Slavery https://www.opendemocracy.net/beyondslavery

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