Gerda Roelvink, Building Dignified Worlds: Geographies of Collective Action, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2016, 232 pages, $25 paperback, $87 cloth, ISBN 0816683174.
Building 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 alternatives—and 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 trace—and through research participate in convening—relationships 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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