Category Archives: General

Doing Theory Slowly: more on media, practices and urban politics

Clive Barnett with some more detail about the conversation on ‘Slow Theory’, and how the project has developed.

Pop Theory

9484-aldabra-giant-tortoise-1920x1200-animal-wallpaperFollowing up on the link to the Society and Space page with the podcast of a discussion between myself, Scott Rodgers, Allan Cochrane and Tim Markham, I thought it would be useful to recall the ‘arc’ of the conversations that Scott, Allan and I have been having since 2007. The podcast mentions the idea of ‘slow theory’ (an idea we might have stolen from a former OU colleague, Mike Saward), which is one way of capturing the process of collaborative thinking that we have been involved in that time.

– This all started when Scott was an ESRC-funded post-doc at the OU, from 2007-8, and then in turn working at CCIG at the OU.

-As part of the initial project, we held a workshop on the theme of Mediapolis, in June 2008.

– That generated the first published output of the collaboration, an edited section of the

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Media Practices and Urban Politics: A Conversation about Slow Theory

The open site is pleased to offer a conversation moderated by Tim Markham of Birkbeck with the three authors of the current issue’s “Media practices and urban politics: conceptualizing the powers of the media-urban nexus.”  The paper is now open access for one month. The paper’s authors are Scott Rodgers, Clive Barnett, and Allan Cochrane.

Left to right: Scott Rodgers, Clive Barnett, Tim Markham, and Allan Cochrane. Photo by a fast-footed Scott Rodgers on self-timer.

Left to right: Scott Rodgers, Clive Barnett, Tim Markham, and Allan Cochrane discuss their paper’s arguments and backstory, and the merits of slow scholarship. Photo by a fast-footed Scott Rodgers on self-timer. The conversation was recorded at Birkbeck’s Media Services facility; many thanks to Mansour Shabbak for help facilitating this recording. Recording edited by Scott Rodgers.



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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

Peter Gratton, Speculative Realism – and links to journal articles on this theme

Society and Space board member and former co-editor Peter Gratton’s new book, Speculative Realism: Problems and Prospects is now published.


Speculative realism is one of the most talked-about movements in recent Continental philosophy. It has been discussed widely amongst the younger generation of Continental philosophers seeking new philosophical approaches and promises to form the cornerstone of future debates in the field.

This book introduces the contexts out of which speculative realism has emerged and provides an overview of the major contributors and latest developments. It guides the reader through the important questions asked by realism (what can I know? what is reality?), examining philosophy’s perennial questions in new ways. The book begins with the speculative realist’s critique of ‘correlationism’, the view that we can never reach what is real beneath our language systems, our means for perception, or our finite manner of being-in-the-world. It goes on to critically review the work of the movement’s most important thinkers, including Quentin Meillassoux, Ray Brassier, and Graham Harman, but also other important writers such as Jane Bennett and Catherine Malabou whose writings delineate alternative approaches to the real. It interrogates the crucial questions these thinkers have raised and concludes with a look toward the future of speculative realism, especially as it relates to the reality of time.

The journal has published some related work on these themes, including

Graham Harman, 2010, “I am also of the opinion that materialism must be destroyedEnvironment and Planning D: Society and Space 28(5) 772 – 790 [open access]

Quentin Meillassoux, 2012, “The contingency of the laws of natureEnvironment and Planning D: Society and Space 30(2) 322 – 334

Yusoff K, Grosz E, Clark N, Saldanha A, Nash C, 2012, “Geopower: a panel on Elizabeth Grosz’s Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the EarthEnvironment and Planning D: Society and Space 30(6) 971 – 988

There have also been some related posts on this site, including

Two reviews of Catherine Malabou’s books – Ontology of the Accident (2012), reviewed by Stacey Smith; and Changing Difference (2011), reviewed by Sarah Kuzuk.

Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter, reviewed by Noel Castree

Book Forum on Ben Woodard, On an Ungrounded Earth, reviewed by Kai Bosworth, Harlan Morehouse, Rory Rowan and Jordan Skinner

Republican Rep. Lamar Smith versus the National Science Foundation

Jeffrey Mervis of Science News reported yesterday that the US’s National Science Foundation has been forced to provide confidential files for dozens of research projects to staffers from the US House of Representatives.  Mervis writes, “The Republican aides were looking for anything that Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX), their boss as chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, could use to support his ongoing campaign to demonstrate how the $7 billion research agency is ‘wasting’ taxpayer dollars on frivolous or low-priority projects, particularly in the social sciences.”

Rep. Lamar Smith has requested information on 30 new files, including research projects led by the feminist geographers Kathleen O’Reilly (of Texas A&M University, for her CAREER grant titled “A Political Ecology Approach to Rural Sanitation in India”) and Anna Secor (University of Kentucky, for her collaborative research titled “The Veiling Fashion Industry: Transnational Geographies of Islamism, Capitalism, and Identity”).  The excel spreadsheet of grants requested by Smith can be downloaded from the Science News article.

Most grants under scrutiny involve research outside of the US and projects done through NSF’s social, behavioral, and economic (SBE) sciences directorate.

— The Editors

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Harvey’s Seventeen Contradictions reviewed

harvey-seventeen-contradictionsDavid Harvey’s new book Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism is reviewed by Ståle Holgersen from Linnaeus University, Sweden. The book was published by Profile Books earlier this year.

An interview with the author and other related videos are available here.

The problems of peer review

Another good posting on the ups and downs of peer review from the group blog, New APPS: Art, Politics, Philosophy, Science.  It’s a good prompt for us to remind readers about the process of peer review at Society and Space and, while recognizing the extraordinary demands made on scholars today, to consider the importance of peer review for maintaining the excellent quality of our authors’ papers.

At Society and Space, every initial submission is typically read by all four of the editors as part of a prescreening process.  We consider the paper’s fit with the broad aims of the journal, quality of the paper, its theoretical sophistication (i.e., the suitability of the approach for our readership), its empirical rigor, the appropriateness of length and style, and whether a redirection to another journal is a better route than peer review with us, given the answers to these considerations.  We then contact the author to redirect them to another journal, or we offer advice on how to get the paper into a state suitable for review with us, or we enter the paper into peer review.

We’re constantly working on ways to improve the review process, but at the heart of the process is every reviewer’s commitment to provide timely and detailed feedback for authors.  Stuart Elden wrote an editorial in 2008 about the “exchange economy” of peer review, explaining the need to provide at least three times the reviews as one’s own submission record.  At the time he wrote the editorial, the journal received about 150 submissions per year.  Now, we receive 250+ submissions every year.  If every paper put through to peer review generates the need for at least three referee reports, that means we have to ask at a minimum 375-450 referees per year or so.

That is a best-case scenario, and often it’s a goal not realized when people commit to doing a review and then don’t follow through.  We often have to make decisions to accept or reject papers with only two reviews, but we always seek to generate a third or fourth review when two referees differ. We might wait two or three months for a review that never materializes, only to have to start over with new invitations.  It’s usual to need to ask five or six people to review to get two or three final reports.  On the other hand, it’s not at all uncommon for us to have to ask ten or more people to review a paper, just to get two productive reviews. A few papers in the past year each have needed 15-20 invitations to referees, only to generate a final two reviews.

Another obvious issue is the quality of reviews. We most often get excellent and informative reviews from our referees, and we thank them for the wonderful labor they do for the journal and for authors.  Occasionally, however, we struggle with how to frame a one-paragraph review from a referee to an author, as the brevity contains precious little information on how to improve a paper’s theoretical argument or strengthen its writing.  The commitment to review a paper can be onerous, but the result is always a better paper or in the least vital feedback so that the author can try to rework a rejected paper for another publication outlet.  The journal always benefits from detailed and rigorous reviews, as does the community of scholars who read and contribute to Society and Space, and who engage with critical social/spatial theory more generally.

On our publisher’s guidelines for authors page, we state that any submission comes with an expectation that authors will accept requests to review in the future from us. This is the suggestion that Catarina Dutilh Novaes makes at the conclusion of the APPS posting, which generated many hearty comments. We welcome yours here.


An interview with Elizabeth Grosz “Ontogenesis and the Ethics of Becoming” by Kathryn Yusoff

liz-grosz-photo-1.240.337.sOntogenesis and the Ethics of Becoming: an interview with Elizabeth Grosz by Kathryn Yusoff

Elizabeth Grosz is a feminist philosopher and Professor of Women’s Studies at Duke University. Her work has been important for geographers because of its engagements with spatial practices, volatile and sexed bodies, and the arts of cosmic engagement. More recently, audiences have been turning to Grosz’ work because of its explicit engagement with the inhuman forces of the earth and the explication of the forms of “geopower“. In this interview Grosz discusses her new book about questions of ontology and ethics, which draws on the philosophies of the Stoics, Spinoza, Nietzsche to address materialist idealism.

Elizabeth Grosz: I am currently working on a book, sort of on ethics, but more directly about questions of ontology. The book will include a chapter each on the Stoics, Spinoza, Nietzsche (who I can’t seem to stop writing about), Deleuze, Gilbert Simondon and Raymond Ruyer. It doesn’t have a title yet but I am nearing the end, slowly. What I am interested in is thinking about ethics, not in terms of morality, a code of conduct or a set of principles to regulate conduct from the outside, but in terms of the exploration of becoming, what kind of a new ontology – an ontogenesis – we must develop in order to understanding the becomings that underlie and make being possible. Each chapter addresses a philosopher, or a group of philosophers (in the case of the Stoics) who articulates a world-view, an analysis of what is or can be, in which the question of the limits, mortality, and smallness of the human relative to the vast and powerful laws of the universe is the primary focus. Moreover, each of these philosophers, while appearing to be materialists, and addressing questions about the world through materialism, remain attached to a concept of the ideal, ideality, or conceptuality that is irreducible to anything material. Each can be considered, in the limited terms of any binarisation of mind and body, as an paradoxical idealist materialist or materialist idealist. In other words, each articulates what a pure materialism is unable to explain; each remains committed to the activity of ideas and their direct impact on and transformation of matter through their energetic and informational flows into forms of knowledge as well, without understanding or reducing ideas to simply bodily or neurological movements. Each thus established the non-material reality of ideas, the way in which the universe generates orders, orientations, directions or sense as it elaborates its own complexities. Taken together, these thinkers establish a kind of genealogy of thinking about informed matter and the relations to life forms that depend on it and extend it each in their own ways. Continue reading this interview here

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Towards a new geophilosophy, book forum on Ben Woodard’s “On an Ungrounded Earth”

Book Forum On an Ungrounded Earth, reviewed by Kai Bosworth, Harlan Morehouse, Rory Rowan and Jordan Skinner

‘The Door to Hell’, burning gas deposits in Derweze, Turkmenistan

‘The Door to Hell’, burning gas deposits in Derweze, Turkmenistan

Ben Woodard, On an Ungrounded Earth: Towards a New Geophilosophy New York, Punctum Books, 2013, 118 pages. ISBN-13: 978-0615785387. OPEN-ACCESS e-book + $12.00 [€11.00] in print. (

Ben Woodard’s On an Ungrounded Earth is an innovative work of philosophy with a powerful aesthetic allure. It is also a timely book situated at the intersection of two emerging trends in contemporary thought: so-called ‘speculative realism’ in Continental philosophy, and the ‘geological turn’ in the humanities and social sciences. Woodard leads his readers into dark and circuitous corridors, at turns subterranean and cosmic, through the Naturphilosophie of the German idealist F.W.J. Schelling, the mutant philosophies of Georges Bataille, Nick Land and Reza Negarestani, and the uncanny worlds of science fiction populated with Lovecraftian horrors and alien death stars, before resurfacing at a rather unsettling terminus: a planet Earth which is neither ‘whole world’ or secure ‘ground,’ but a clump of decaying matter, enslaved to the sun’s energy and indifferent to the plight of humanity. Continue reading here

Kai Bosworth, Notes towards a Geological Uprising by way of Dark Feminism

Harlan Morehouse, In Space no one can hear you philosophize

Rory Rowan, Undermining the Ends of the Earth

Ben Woodard, Response: Terrestrial Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness

In addition to this forum, Jordan Skinner offers a philosophical topology to locate the genealogy of Woodard’s ideas and forms.

Jordan Skinner, A Philosophical Topology



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Paradigms in Cartography reviewed by Eades

9783642388927Gwilym Eades reviews Azócar Fernández, Pablo Iván and Manfred Buchroithner’s brand new book Paradigms in Cartography: An Epistemological Review of the 20th and 21st Centuries. The volume has just come out with Springer.