Author Archives: debcowen

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

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.

Aernout Mik and the Culture of Speculative Security – a review by Marieke de Goode

Marieke de Goede

From 4 May to 25 August 2013, the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum showed Communitas, an overview of work by Dutch artist Aernout Mik. Marieke de Goode reviews the exhibit here.

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Interview with Lauren Berlant

Lauren Berlant, George M. Pullman Professor of English at the University of Chicago, has generated a path-breaking body of scholarship that has opened up and reinvigorated interdisciplinary conversations about citizenship, sex, law and neoliberalism for over two decades.

David Seitz, a Toronto-based writer and Ph.D. candidate in human geography and women’s and gender studies at the University of Toronto, recently interviewed Berlant about her take on contemporary queer and austerity politics, the political implications of powerful new book Cruel Optimism, and the insights of queer theory for the present. A shorter version of this interview recently appeared in Toronto Xtra! The full version is presented here.


MURDER IN PASSING: An Interview with filmmakers John Greyson and Chase Joynt

John Greyson is an award-winning filmmaker whose titles include Fig Trees, Urinal, Zero Patience, Lilies, Proteus and Uncut. He teaches at York University in film. Chase Joynt is a writer/ performer/ filmmaker whose titles include Everyday to Stay, Akin and I’m Yours. Chase is also decorated with awards, and is currently working towards a PhD alongside John. I recently interviewed the pair on their fascinating project, Murder in Passing.

Read the interview here.


Inspirational Urbanist, Compassionate Comrade: Neil Smith 1954-2012

A companion tribute by Gordon MacLeod to the open access memorial forum that appears in Volume 30, Issue 6 and the open access virtual theme issue bringing together some of Neil’s work. Neil Smith, Hong Kong, 2004

Gordon MacLeod, Durham University

Neil Smith was held in special regard by a range of communities: activist, political, scholarly, and student, as well through his numerous wide-ranging friendships. As the news broke about his passing on 29th September 2012, a sequence of warmly generous and heartfelt postings and tributes quickly appeared on the CUNY websites. It was notable how their connective tissue often ranged from local neighborhoods such as Harlem to ones that stretched globally to Asia and Latin America. Indeed in a poignant way they mirrored his own warm embrace and reflected how his open geographical sensibility tallied with an acute appreciation of spatial scale. It was a glimpse into how Neil meant so much for so many of us. Our collective sense of wretched disbelief was matched only by one of terrible loss and sorrow. But amid the grief, many also felt able to recognize the extraordinary contribution of a courageous and unique scholar-activist. In this brief tribute, I discuss Neil’s contribution to critical urban geographical inquiry. It will inevitably be shaped by my own awestruck encounters with Neil and his pioneering work. But I write it quietly confident that I am one of many across the world whose own humble endeavors to research the inconstant landscapes of uneven urban development, the politics of land-use and gentrification, and the rise of a revanchist political climate throughout metropolitan regions have been inspired by Neil’s brilliant writings and exhilarating conference presentations.

Continue reading here.


Militarism? A Mini Forum

Deborah Cowen, University of Toronto

Who cares about militarism? Well, ostensibly we do. As an interdisciplinary group of scholars who have met on several occasions to work on and through ‘cultures of militarism’, we certainly care about the politics and violence the term signifies. Our interest is marked by these brief reflections, which trace not simply a concern for empirical facts of ‘militarism’, but for the term’s meaning in scholarly and political debate. This is not a movement away from the ‘real stakes’ of organized violence, but a commitment to the cartographies of power and forms of futurity already at play in ‘militarism’s’ deployment.

‘Militarism’ grabs our attention; it asks us to take notice of something wrong. It flags the intrusion of the exceptional into the everyday. Militarism typically marks warfare in excess, creeping inwards to overwhelm civilian space. The problem of militarism is contingent on the problem of the modern military; an institution which came into being in its separation with police forces and in their respective authority inside and outside national territory. This is the trick of ‘militarism’; its discursive power lies in its critique of the trespass of a conceptual binary and spatial imaginary that it perhaps unavoidably relies upon and resurrects. ‘Militarism’ may thus reproduce a liberal fantasy of peaceful politics, and a colonial geopolitical vision that refuses the violence of its own historical becoming.

Our mini forum in part asks: can ‘militarism’ question or contest the ways in which war is always already in our peace? Can it orient us towards a spatiality and temporality that recognizes warfare and colonial violence as part of the architecture of everyday life, and not something against which ‘society must be defended’ (cf Foucault 1997)? Our conversation is concerned with war’s presence – its changing form and feel in civilian and military life. One thread is oriented towards the life of war in peace, be it through material culture, landscape, scientific knowledge, scopic regimes, technological forms, and governmentalities. The military genealogies of particular forms of vision and visual representation, calculative technologies, medical and professional techniques, and aesthetic forms, alternately intrigue us. If, in one of the most incisive critiques of militarism, Enloe (2000) asks ‘how do they militarize a can of soup?’ and questions how the pasta within assumes the shape of ‘star wars satellites’, then we are also interested in the central fact of the can. Like most other techniques of food preservation, canning was invented to support the battlefield; Napoleon commissioned its design to help feed his front. Thus, the can of soup was always already ‘militarized’, and bypassing the can for the noodles hides perhaps more than it reveals.

And yet, our mini-forum also questions the limits of this exposure. The incitement to ‘reveal’ militarism – to trace it through everyday life – may stem from a desire to disrupt the colonial and nationalist imaginaries that sustain geo and biopolitical violence. But does it contribute to cultivating alternative knowledge, vision and practice? In different ways, the contributors ask, what are the limits of ‘revealing’? Does this desire to expose reconstitute an exhausted and exhausting humanist political intervention? Does it move us beyond binaries, or recharge them? And in an era when it is increasingly difficult to discern police and military authority, when armed forces are centrally involved in ‘humanitarian’ operations, and when warfare is powerfully privatized- is the focus on things ‘military’ itself a relic of modernity?

These questions and others animate the brief reflections that follow. Authors were given a maximum of 700 words and a very short time to draft their contributions. We share them here with the hopes of provoking further conversation.

These pieces signify part of the vibrant discussion across 2011-2012 in the “Cultures of Militarization” Working Group funded by the University of California Humanities Research Institute (UCHRI). Other members of the Working Group that were not able to participate in this mini forum but whose conversation and scholarship has been inspiring include Paul Amar (UC Santa Barbara), Colin Milburn (UC Davis), and Minoo Moallem (UC Berkeley). 

JENNIFER TERRY, Entanglements of Militarization and Medicine

CAREN KAPLAN, Bomb Sight: The Visual Realism of Aerial Reconnaissance

KELLY GATES, Militarized Policing and Political Protest in the New Media Landscape

EMILY GILBERT, Militarism and Iris Scanning

TOBY BEACHAMP, Thinking Militarism and Exposure Through Transgender Studies

PETER LIMBRICK, After-effects

Works Cited

Enloe, C. (2000) Maneuvers: the international politics of militarizing women’s lives. UC Press: Berkeley.

Foucault, M. (1997) Society must be defended, Lectures at the College de France, 1975-6. New York: Picador.