New Society and Space site!!

Dear readers, update your bookmarks! Today, is replaced by, a site with the same aims and content but a new design with better functionality and a new look and feel to better showcase the site’s essays, interviews, book reviews and more.

See our welcome announcement on the new site for more details on the redesign, and also for news of a new addition to our editorial team as Kate Derickson joins us as an Editor today!

This site, will be expired soon, replaced by a notice redirecting readers to the new site. In the meantime, if you are one of our 7000+ followers on the site, please do follow our new site! Note that our Facebook and Twitter feeds remain the same.

–Natalie Oswin, Managing Editor (on behalf of the Society & Space editorial team)


Camilla Hawthorne and Brittany Meché – Making Room for Black Feminist Praxis in Geography

Editors’ note – This is the third commentary in an ongoing series on Black Lives Matter solicited for this site. See also Deborah Cowen and Nemoy Lewis’ Anti-blackness and urban geopolitical economy: Reflections on Ferguson and the suburbanization of the ‘internal colony’ and Brian Jordan Jefferson’s Policing, Whiteness, and the Death-Wage.


Photo by Camilla Hawthorne

By this point, we have perhaps become accustomed to the inquiries from friends and family—“So, what do you study exactly?” The response—“Geography”—is often met by perplexed looks and polite smiles—“And, what do you plan to do with that?” For us, this dreaded question belies more than the familiar ritual of mid-twenty-something professional angst. For two black women geographers, striving in this post-recession milieu where social and economic precarity abound, these exchanges with family and friends reveal the intergenerational anxieties that higher education presents. And we wonder: will the sacrifices of time, mental, and emotional energy secure livelihoods more hopeful than the ones our parents and grandparents faced? Still, beyond these material considerations, a deeper and more vexing question persists: what can the field of geography contribute to the fashioning of a decidedly black “beloved community” (James and Sheftall, 2013)? What are we going to do with this?

As we write, our present moment has been profoundly shaped by a renewed attention to the deathly pervasiveness of racist police violence in the United States, the expendability of black life, and everyday forms of genocidal slow death. Our own discipline is deeply complicit in these anti-black state practices. Geography, much like its cousin anthropology, was born from European colonial expansion (Livingston, 1992) and was fundamental to the articulation of Enlightenment scientific racisms (Kobayashi, 2014). Today, through Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping, modern-day “expeditions,” (Bryan, 2010) and data-driven policing collaborations, geography is still directly implicated in processes of militarization and violence.

The institutional legacies of geography further manifest themselves in the underrepresentation of black graduate and undergraduate students and faculty, the failure of geography to take seriously questions of race and racism (Pulido, 2002), the invisibilization of black geographies, and the Eurocentric canon we are taught. We suggest that “impostor syndrome,” (Clance and Imes, 1978) originally defined as an internal, individual psychological experience of inferiority, can – following black feminist theories of embodiment (Spillers, 2003) – be better understood as a product of institutional structures and the attitudes of advisors and colleagues that work together to marginalize geographers of color, their experiences, and their research.

Continue reading here.

Society and Space 34(5) out now – including free to access forum on area studies and geography

The October 2016 issue of Environment and Planning D: Society and Space is out now! It contains a forum on ‘area studies and geography’ guest edited by James Sidaway, Elaine Ho, Jonathan Rigg and Chih Yuan Woon, plus five stand-alone articles.

The forum introduction and essays are free to access until October 14. Access to the articles requires subscription.

Forum on ‘Area Studies and Geography’ 

Area Studies and Geography: Trajectories and Manifesto James D Sidaway, Elaine LE Ho, Jonathan D Rigg, and Chih Yuan Woon 777-790.

Trans-Area Studies and the Perils of Geographical ‘World-Writing’ Sharad Chari 791-798
‘After’ Area Studies? Place-based Knowledge for our Time JK Gibson-Graham 799-806
Is a “Critical” Area Studies Possible? Natalie Koch 807-814
Unthinking the Nation State as Area: Interrogating Japan and Japanese Studies Chris McMorran 815-821
Italian Studies, Italian Theory and the Politics of Trans-lation Claudio Minca 822-829
Locating Caribbean Studies in Unending Conversation Pat Noxolo 830-835
The Entanglements of Transnational Feminism and Area Studies Rupal Oza 836-842
Feminist Care Ethics, Becoming Area Kamalini Ramdas 843-849
The Im/possibilities of Caribbean Area Studies Tracey Skelton 850-857

Regular Articles
Subject to Truth: Before and After Governmentality in Foucault’s 1970s Stephen Legg 858-876
The Survival of Non-capitalism Chris Hesketh 877-894
The Politics of Construction: Towards a Theory of Material Articulations Leandro Minuchin 895-913
Assembling Desires: Synthetic Biology and the Wish to Act at a Distant Time Ana Delgado 914-934
Exclusion and Reappropriation: Experiences of Contemporary Enclosure Among Children in Three East Anglian Schools Richard DG Irvine, Elsa Lee, Miranda Strubel, and Barbara Bodenhorn 935-953

Repo, Jemima 2016 The Biopolitics of Gender, reviewed by Martina Tazzioli

Jemima Repo, The Biopolitics of Gender, Oxford University Press, Oxford UK, 2016,232 pages, $49.95 hardback, ISBN 9780190256913.

repo_biopolitics of gender_500_700A genealogical approach to social science’s objects and categories helps in pushing further and partly displacing the very function of critical discourse: as Jemima Repo puts it, building on Foucault, “in a genealogical inquiry it is not enough to simply denaturalize and destabilize discourses […] the central stage of genealogy is to examine the condition of possibility for the emergence, expansion, intensification, transformation and destruction of discourses” (page 9). In The Biopoltics of Gender, Repo fully achieves this goal, retracing the emergence of gender theory and showing its centrality in mechanisms of contemporary biopolitical governmentality. Repo traces back to the 1950s the emergence of gender as a social, political and medical category that has been embedded from the very beginning in “logics of social control that reconfigured the sexual order of things” (page 25). Hence, her genealogical account shows that, far from originating within the feminist tradition, gender appeared firstly in the regulatory discourses of US sexological studies. Then, gender has been put to work by demographers with a purpose of social control and has functioned as a primary mechanism within contemporary biopolitics of populations. What clearly emerges from the book is that gender works through, and within, biopolitical technologies of government. Pushing this argument further, Repo shows that gender has not simply contributed to the affirmation of neoliberal biopolitics, but it also constitutes a “biopolitical apparatus” in itself, for regulating populations and governing life. By acting both upon populations and upon singular conducts, gender (similarly to dispositive of sexuality) represents a crucial hinge between the level of individuals and that of multiplicities. In fact, in The Will to Knowledge Foucault contends that sex “was at the pivot of two axes along which developed the entire political technology of life” (1998: 145). More precisely, according to Repo, “gender became invested with dangers, norms and vitalities that previously were terrain of sexuality” (page 73).

Continue reading here.

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Angharad Closs Stephens – National Atmospheres and the ‘Brexit’ Revolt

Counting the votes cast in Ceredigion constituency in the Euopean Community referendum, at Aberaeron sport hall in the early hours of the morning of the 24th June 2016. In Ceredigion the results were: Leave 45.4% 18,031 votes, Remain 54.6% 21,711 votes, on a turnout of 74.4% Overall in the UK the result was Leave 51.9% (Votes 17,410,742 ), Remain 48.1% (Votes 16,141,241) ©keith morris 07710 285968 01970 611106

Counting votes following the European Referendum in Ceredigion, Wales, UK. 23/24 June 2016.
Photograph by Keith Morris.

There is no shortage of opinion pieces claiming to know what the Referendum held on 23 June 2016 on the UK’s membership of the European Union represents. Yet in these early months, it is by no means clear what kind of an event this was and what might yet unfold from it. What is clearer is how this political moment has been felt, embodied and sensed, at least among many on the progressive Left. I know that I am not alone in feeling exhausted by emotions as well as by the intensified atmospheres of fear, shame and anger (Orbach, 2016). In this vote, a Right Wing English nationalism that erupts from time to time bloomed in a thousand tiny ways. The heightened nationalist atmosphere led to a marked rise in racist attacks and hate crimes against minorities. Following the initial impasse that came with the result, the UK now has a more Right Wing government than it had previously and a Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs that has a history of making racist statements. All this seems to have been legitimized, or grudgingly accepted, at least for the moment. How might we understand and place this revitalized nationalism, as well as the ways in which it circulated in and through this particular referendum campaign? What made this nationalist atmosphere possible and what does it mean for the politics of the Left?

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Brian Jordan Jefferson – Policing, Whiteness, and the Death-Wage

Editors’ note – This is the second commentary in an ongoing series on Black Lives Matter solicited for this site. See also Deborah Cowen and Nemoy Lewis’ Anti-blackness and urban geopolitical economy: Reflections on Ferguson and the suburbanization of the ‘internal colony’.

Photo by author.

Photo by author.

Recent videos of racialized police killings and the uprisings mounted in response have shaken the field of US politics to its core. During the past two years, at least 1,431 Black Lives Matter demonstrations have occurred across the country and beyond. What is more, the spectacle of these extraordinary mobilizations has been amplified by equally impassioned defenses of police executions, which has provided rallying cries for entire communities, and platforms for upcoming national elections. In times of such turbulence, the entire fields of public discourse and political rhetoric are upset. So too are the habits of the critical analyst.

During ordinary times, the analyst labors to stay ahead of the curve. Here, she unmasks concealed forms of exploitation and marginalization with an eye toward what lies ahead. That is, she focuses on the future implications of current trends, or searches for the means to secure a future that is qualitatively different from the present. But during extraordinary times, the analyst moves in the opposite direction. Now she is compelled to work backwards through history, and retrace the accumulation of forces that gave rise to the current state of affairs.

This essay attempts to articulate the historical significance of those defending racialized police violence. It asks: how has a phrase like “black lives matter,” so patently banal, become so politically explosive? How can the same factions revitalized by the mantra of “small government” defend the most extreme form of government intervention possible—killing its citizens? What is the critical analyst to make of the summer of 2016? The essay makes the case that underneath the rhetoric of crime, law, and order, and respect for the law, the vehement defense of police violence reflects a crisis spawned from internal contradictions in racial capitalism. It shows how similar reactions have occurred in the past, under comparable conditions. It chronicles how the defense of racialized police violence marks a repetition of history that, no matter how farcical, retains a tragic character.

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Deborah Cowen and Nemoy Lewis – Anti-blackness and urban geopolitical economy: Reflections on Ferguson and the suburbanization of the ‘internal colony’

Source: Maya Bankovic, cinematographer for "The Prison in Twelve Landscapes." Directed by Brett Story. 2016.

Source: Maya Bankovic, cinematographer, “The Prison in Twelve Landscapes.” Directed by Brett Story. 2016.

“I’m also looking at whether the Black Lives Matter movement opens up a broader opportunity to explore what black liberation looks like in the United States. Can this movement that’s narrowly fixated on police brutality become a much broader interrogation of American society?” – Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (2016)

The Black Lives Matter movement has declared an outright crisis of domestic life within the United States. Initiated through social media by Black queer women in response to a string of police murders on the streets of American cities, or in their back officesAmerican prisonsthe movement has grown into a powerful and more organized form that faces extraordinary challenges but holds equally extraordinary potential. Black Lives Matter insists that racial violence is not an accident of police acting badly, but the purpose of police force since its genesis. The formation of public and private police has roots in racial and colonial violence that dates back to the containment and capture of enslaved people and the protection of colonial infrastructures (Collins et al, 2015: 19-20; Reichel, 1988; Turner et al, 2006). Ruthie Gilmore’s (2007: 28) widely cited definition of racism as “the state-sanctioned or extralegal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death,” reminds us that the United States has always been a deadly force in the lives of Black people. For all the recent scholarly debate regarding the militarization of police, state and corporate surveillance, the “state of exception,” and perpetual war, these experiences are hardly new for Black people (Browne, 2015). Declarations of newness are thus fraught with positionality and privilege.

With this intervention we nevertheless suggest that there is newness in the operation of anti-Black violence in our present, but this newness does not lie in the fact of exceptional or militarized police force. We highlight shifts in the social order that policing actively supports, that are assembled through the geo-political economies of urban space. A vibrant body of work on race and urban space provides the broader ecology of our thoughts (Coates 2014; Cope and Latcham, 2009; Darden and Wyly, 2010; Dikec, 2006; McKittrick, 2006; Patillo, 2003; Shabazz 2015; D. Wilson, 2007; Wilson and Sternberg, 2012; W.J. Wilson, 1987; Wyly et al, 2009), yet we find particular insight in historical debates about “internal colonialism.” This literature explicitly locates the “Black ghetto” as a space of “colonial administration” within the domestic territory of U.S. empire, emphasizing at once the geo-politics and political economies of racial capitalism. These debates happened largely beyond the bounds of Geographic scholarship[1] yet offer a valuable racial analysis of political space. We flag transformations in the domestic face of empire – shifting geographies of Black dispossession through gentrification and the subprime crisis – in order to bring more attention to the relationship between repression and accumulation in the urban homeland of U.S. imperialism. We write in solidarity with Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s desire to see a “broader interrogation of American society” than a static focus on policing allows, yet we see anti-Black police violence as a fulcrum of empire from where such interrogation begins. Precisely this kind of interrogation seems to be increasingly explicit within Black Lives Matter’s spatial and coalitional practice.

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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.

Continue reading here.

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