Kay Anderson on “Building Dignified Worlds: Geographies of Collective Action” by Gerda Roelvink

Gerda Roelvink, Building Dignified Worlds: Geographies of Collective Action, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2016, 232 pages, $25 paperback, $87 cloth, ISBN 0816683174.

roelvink_building dignified worlds_667_1000Building Dignified Worlds is the first in a series of works examining “Diverse Economies and Liveable Worlds” under the editorship of J.K. Gibson-Graham (among others). Tracing the making of such “worlds” by diverse forms of collective action, the book is interested not so much in documenting those forms according to a pre-set analytical template as eliciting the associations through which collective action enacts change.

With an exploratory more so than explanatory tone, Roelvink’s writing effortlessly carries the reader from beginning to end. It’s a style or disposition that achieves its affective intensity in working away from the “thinking techniques,” as she calls them, of “strong theory.” These are the “habits of critique” that the opening chapters carefully show (after the likes of Latour and Gibson-Graham) derive their logic by exposing a singular oppressive force behind manifestly variable instances of neo-liberalism. She avoids, then, the familiar critical maneuver of exposing the “deep-dark-below workings” of an apparently inexhaustible global capitalism that centers the working class as the heroic subject of resistance. Taking the view that such modes of critique stunt the knowing, imagining and creation of alternativesand so, paralyze not just intellectually-conjured options but also the actual embodied struggles of “concern groups”she sets about tracking various situated projects of socio-economic transformation that convey precisely the vulnerability rather than unrelenting stability of neo-liberalism.

This is the “reparative” stance of “weak theory,” which Roelvink defines as a mode or practice of “assembling and disassembling concerns, people and things in political space to generate new economic possibilities.” After Judith Butler, Eve Sedgwick, and Timothy Mitchell, among others, Roelvink emphasizes the performative, both in the constitution of social life and in the activity or practice of research itself. Specifically she wants to traceand through research participate in conveningrelationships as they bring “acts of concern” into being. This entails charting, and thus helping to enact, geographies as they are forged in ad-hoc and untested coalitions (more so than groups with traditionally clear political identities). Roelvink calls these collectives “experimental assemblies” that attempt to bring into being new economic agendas.

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Necessary Pause and Axiomatic Slippages by Jason Lim – Echoes of Cologne Forum

This article is part of the Echoes of Cologne forum. Click here to read the introduction and the other contributions.

Within days of the sexual assault of hundreds of women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve 2015, numerous commentaries had been penned decrying feminists for their purported silence about the attacks and, more broadly, for betraying the women whose interests feminists are deemed to be responsible for protecting. Further accusations came thick and fast. Feminists, it was said, were guilty of cultural relativism and of a double standard when it came to ‘rape culture’ – condemning it on university campuses but refusing to see it among migrants.

Throughout a large swathe of the public commentary on the events in Cologne, however, there was not simply an attribution of a specific rape culture to ‘migrants’. Rather, what was invoked was an imagination of an Islamic rape culture – part of a broader Orientalist discourse that deems Islam to be especially oppressive of women. In the first of several slippages of meaning I want to cover here, the assaults were widely used as a pretext to call for tighter controls on the numbers of migrants arriving in Europe having fled the current violence in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet, the perpetrators of the attacks were reported as being largely made up of men from longer-standing migrant or minority communities – possibly Moroccans and Algerians (or their descendants) living elsewhere in Europe. Being Muslim, it seems, was enough to unite these groups in the imaginations of many of the commentariat.

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Persevering in the new European climate of hate by Kathrin Hörschelmann – Echoes of Cologne Forum

This article is part of the Echoes of Cologne forum. Click here to read the introduction and the other contributions.

Fortress Europe: the transgression of its borders by refugees, who call upon Europe’s much proclaimed ‘responsibility to protect’, has revealed a crisis at the heart of the Fortress – terrifying for the rifts, contradictions and hypocrisies it is laying bare. Instead of tackling those contradictions in the interest of the safety and security of refugees, Fortress Europe is currently pulling up the drawbridges. Fences up, problem ‘solved’? Can the violence of drawing borders be so easily ignored?

For those now stranded in Greece or elsewhere, on multiple global refugee routes and in many refugee camps, or for those providing humanitarian aid that the ‘global community’ of states has (for many years) so insufficiently delivered, accepting the increasing erosion of asylum rights and the normalisation of Europe’s failure to uphold them, will not be easily possible. It will also not be easily possible for those journalists, activists, artists, scholars and others who seek to give voice to those stranded and drowning along Europe’s shores, to retain a critical consciousness of our connectedness to the devastation caused not just, but to a significant extent, by European (and NATO) politics.

It is difficult to know where to go from here. The scale of the problem can seem overwhelming, especially when our concerns extend beyond issues directly on our doorstep. Volunteers cannot make up for the lack of a coordinated, international humanitarian response and, even as states fail to deliver such a response, some forms of volunteer support have become criminalised.

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‘Welcome culture’ has ended in Europe. It never started in the U.S. by Caroline Nagel – Echoes of Cologne Forum

This article is part of the Echoes of Cologne forum. Click here to read the introduction and the other contributions.

New Year’s Day, 2016, brought news that hundreds of female New Year’s revelers in Cologne, Germany, had been encircled, robbed, and sexually assaulted by groups of ‘North African’ and ‘Arab’ looking men.  The news was a blow to the advocates of Willkommenskultur –an ethos of openness and care that took hold in Germany in the summer of 2015 as thousands of Syrians made their way through Europe in search of asylum.  Drawing parallels between the Syrian refugee crisis and the displacement of millions of Europeans after World War II, voluntary organizations (and some government officials) pushed back against anti-immigrant sentiment, positing refugees as deserving victims and as potential contributors to the German economy. Discourses of deservingness, however, have proven fragile in the wake of events in Cologne.  Opponents of refugee resettlement throughout Europe have seized upon this episode, and the terrorist attack in Paris in November 2015, as evidence of the great perils that await Europe if refugee flows continue.

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Colonial Myths, Border Technologies by Kathryn Medien – Echoes of Cologne Forum

This article is part of the Echoes of Cologne forum. Click here to read the introduction and the other contributions.

In March 2010 a landmark study, ‘Violence Against Women: An EU-Wide Survey’, was published by the European Union. The study found that violence against women was endemic across Europe, reporting that one in three women had experienced some form of physical or sexual abuse since the age of 15, while one in twenty women across the EU had been raped. This pattern of mass sexual violence is met with low prosecution rates; every year in the UK, for example, an average of 15,670 rapes are reported to the police, yet only 1,070 rapists are convicted of their crimes.

When news of the events that took place on New Years Eve in Cologne, Germany – reports of over 1,000 men of “North African and Arab origin” carrying out a mass sexual assault – reached me on New Years Day, I was filled with dread. Dread not only at the acts of sexual violence, but at the racist response that I knew would unfold. Having grown up in Europe’s Maghrebi diaspora, I am all too aware that rather than situating these events within the figures outlined above, the assaults would be attributed to the supposedly inherent barbaric and violent masculinity of northern African and Arab Muslims.

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Policing the Norm by Jessica S. Lehman and Bruce P. Braun – Echoes of Cologne Forum

This article is part of the Echoes of Cologne forum. Click here to read the introduction and the other contributions.

The streets of Cologne, Germany seem far from the windswept plains of North Dakota. Yet surprising parallels can be drawn. In our work, we’ve been exploring a sex panic that has unfolded in rural Western North Dakota, in the context of the biggest oil boom in the region’s history. While the circumstances are very different than those of Cologne, both became occasions for the ordering of social and political life, and opportunities to see societal anxieties laid bare.

In North Dakota, workers, mainly men, have flocked to oilfield jobs, which tend to be well-paying but risky. Many lost their previous jobs or homes in the 2008 economic recession, part of the shifting up of economic precarity to include more and more workers and families. Crew camps housed migrant workers by the thousands, while an even larger number crowded into existing housing stock in Williston and surrounding communities, enduring extortionist rents higher even than those found in Manhattan. There are many stories to tell about about the oil boom, but local, national and international media have focused almost obsessively on the strip clubs, prostitution, and sex trafficking that is presumed to have arisen in response to this influx of ‘unruly’ working-class men, far from families and friends, with time and money to spend.North Dakota’s Sex Panic in the News

North Dakota’s Sex Panic in the News

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Echoes of Cologne [Forum], Introduction by Angela Last

Photo by Wolfgang Rattay / Reuters

Photo by Wolfgang Rattay / Reuters

The echoes of the mass sexual assaults during the New Year’s Eve Celebrations in Cologne and other German cities continue to reverberate through international public, political and academic debates. In Germany, they represented a testing ground for the country’s refugee politics and ‘Willkommenskultur’, the much promoted welcoming attitude to refugees. For many Germans who swayed between skepticism about the chancellor’s ‘we can do it’ mentality and empathy with people fleeing war and inhuman conditions, the assaults tended to tip the balance towards outright rejection. For others, however, it became an incentive to step up and become more active in addressing both refugee issues and sexism—not refugee sexism, but sexism in general. Campaigns such as ‘ausnahmslos’ or an impassioned video by the Berlin based ‘satire califate’ Datteltäter attracted not only thousands of viewers and signatories but led to further public debate about the incidents’ implications.

The aim of the forum is to explore the meaning of the Cologne sexual assaults in relation to the diversity of topics that resonate with them: issues of patriarchy, racism, economic and geopolitical hierarchies, policing of borders and sexuality, and nationalism.

Continue reading the Introduction by Angela Last here

Forum Contributions

Policing the Norm by Jessica Lehman and Bruce Braun

Colonial Myths, Border Technologies by Kathryn Medien

‘Welcome Culture’ Has Ended in Europe by Caroline Nagel

Persevering in the new European climate of hate by Kathrin Hörschelmann

Necessary Pause and Axiomatic Slippages by Jason Lim

Race, Sex, and the Other by Amade M’charek [to be posted soon]

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Saba Mahmood 2016 AAG Society and Space plenary lecture now online

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 11.47.05 AMProfessor Saba Mahmood (University of California, Berkeley) delivered the Society and Space plenary lecture at the Association of American Geographers meeting on March 31, 2016. A video of her excellent talk, titled “Secularism, Sovereignty, and Religious Difference: A Global Genealogy?”, is now available on our publisher Sage’s website. A written version will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal.


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