Category Archives: Interviews

Interview with Maurizio Ferraris by Peter Gratton

Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 6.24.57 AMMaurizio Ferraris is one of the best-known and most important Italian philosophers writing today. A former student of Gianni Vattimo and collaborator with Jacques Derrida—he is perhaps best known to Anglophone audiences for their co-edited Taste for the Secret (Il gusto del segreto, first published in Italian in 1997)—Ferraris has been a longstanding professor of philosophy in the Department of Literature and Philosophy at the University of Turin. His work for some thirty years, dating to the early 1980s, developed through important interventions and reinterpretations of hermeneutics and then poststructuralist philosophy. (See a list of his dozens of works here.)

Peter Gratton, of the Department of Philosophy at Memorial University of Newfoundland, is a former co-editor and current editorial board member of Society and Space. His most recent book is Speculative Realism: Problems and Prospects (Bloomsbury, 2014), and he runs the blog Philosophy in a Time of Error.

The focus of the relatively short interview below is to introduce the controversial turn in Ferraris’ work to what he dubs a “new realism,” which finds him a kindred spirit to the speculative realists (Iain Hamilton Grant and Graham Harman have written forwards to the two English translations of his works this past year), as well as Markus Gabriel, whose realist theory of fields of sense has already made a mark in Germany, Italy, and elsewhere. Thanks to Sarah De Sanctis for translating the answers below.

Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 6.30.24 AMPeter Gratton: Both the Manifesto and Introduction are clearly written and often humorous expositions of your “new realism” (you are also well served by an able translator), but for readers who have not had the chance to find these works yet, I thought I’d first ask you to summarize what you mean by your “new realism” and how it would be differentiated by previous realisms.

Maurizio Ferraris: My realism differs from previous ones only because it specifically reacts to postmodernism. Other forms of realism reacted to other forms of antirealism: to name one, for example, the 1912 American new realism criticized neo-​​K​anti​ani​sm. Each realism has its own anti-realism and responds to specific historical circumstances. As per my new realism, it reacts against the indiscriminate constructivism typical of postmodernism. There was a time when, so to speak,​ everything, including lakes and mountains, was taken to be socially constructed. Now, I have no difficulty in admitting that​, say,​ an invoice is socially constructed; perhaps in some ways (not all) things like ​charisma or beauty are socially constructed, too​. However, lakes and mountains certainly aren’t: it makes no sense, and to say (or even just ​suggest) this is to deprive philosophy of a​ll​ seriousness, turning it into a futile fairy tale.

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Interview with Joseph Masco by Sonia Grant

Joseph Masco is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. He is the author of The Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexicowinner of the J. I. Staley Prize from the School for Advanced Research, the Rachel Carson Prize from the Society for the Social Studies of Science, and the Robert K. Merton Prize from the American Sociology Association. His current work examines the evolution of the national security state in the United States, with a particular focus on the interplay between affect, technology, and threat perception within a national public sphere.

Sonia Grant is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. Her work focuses on the environment and environmental regulations, and the rise of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the US, and her article “Securing tar sands circulation: risk, affect, and anticipating the Line 9 reversal” appears in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 32(6).  Sonia can be reached at soniagrant[at]

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 9.09.41 AMSonia Grant: Thank you for taking the time to talk about your new book, The Theater of Operations: National Security Affect from the Cold War to the War on Terror (2014). I’d like to start by getting a sense of what brought you to this project, and what kinds of continuities you see between it and your first book, The Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico (2006). Both books engage with Cold War national security culture, technoscience, and secrecy, among other key themes. How did The Theater of Operations, as a project, develop for you? Did it feel like an obvious ‘next step’ from your work on the Manhattan Project?

Joseph Masco: While I was concluding fieldwork on The Nuclear Borderlands, the September 2001 attacks occurred and provoked a massive U.S. military buildup while renewing national fears of a nuclear catastrophe. White House officials were quick to declare a “new normal” of counterterrorism, marked explicitly as a radical break from Cold War notions of security. This rejection of deterrence, combined with an amplification of existential threats, were central themes in what became a pretty shocking militarization of American society. The War on Terror – as a political project — was a systematic attempt to create amnesia about the 20th century security state (and its prior actions in Iraq and Afghanistan) while at the same time using the familiar Cold War notion of nuclear danger to foment an existential crisis, one enabling quite radical actions around the world.

Some of the first conversations I had in Los Alamos in the early 1990s concerned the future of the laboratory, and of the U.S. nuclear weapons program more broadly, in light of the demise of the Soviet Union. At that time, U.S. weapons scientists were already talking about nuclear terrorism, the threat of radical forms of Islam, and, above all, were positing the arrival of a violent global adversary that could not be deterred. So, in a sense, the counter-terror state project was articulated to me almost a decade before the 9/11 attacks.

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Interview with Arnold L. Farr by Margath Walker – On critical theory, liberation and Herbert Marcuse

Margath Walker’s article “Borders, one-dimensionality, and illusion in the war on drugs” appears in issue 1 of volume 33 of Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. In it, she interrogates the war and drugs across North and South America by deploying Frankfurt School theorist Herbert Marcuse’s concept of one-dimensionality. As a supplement to the article, the following conversation with Arnold L. Farr, a philosopher who has looked to Marcuse to examine issues of race and justice in the United States, explores some of the important theoretical contributions of Marcuse. Walker’s article is now open access for one month.

Margath Walker: I would like to begin with a conversation about Marcuse and the ways in which you have been instrumental in bringing him to the forefront of theoretical discussions both in your own work and through the International Marcuse Society. Why should critical theorists be interested in Herbert Marcuse?

Arnold Farr: So, who is he? Well, of course he is a member of the famous Frankfort School for Social Research that was formed in Germany in the 1920s, all of whom were exiled to the US when Hitler came to power. Their lives were in danger. Walter Benjamin lost his life en route. The others came to the US. After the war, most of them returned although I believe Erich Fromm stayed in Mexico. Marcuse and Leo Lowenthal stayed in the US. They are famous for fusing Marx and Freudian psychoanalysis. They were concerned with the following question: why does it seem to be the case that the people who benefit most from a Marxist revolution and social change are most likely to resist it? It was Freud that helped them understand the way in which capitalism and other forms of economic and social systems can shape one’s psyche so one accepts oppression. In addition, Marcuse was a scholar of Hegel in terms of what we call dialectical thinking. One of his most important essays-“ A Note on Dialectics”- published in the 1960 edition of his second book on Hegel, Reason and Revolution, explains what dialectical thinking is for him. To think dialectically is to look at one’s society at any given moment and see in tandem the development of forces for liberation whereby the possibility of liberation is already there, and the forces for further oppression. And so society is never this static thing that simply has the present structure. There is something always contained within itself which provides possibilities for it being otherwise.

MW: What is compelling to you as a philosopher about Herbert Marcuse?

AF: Well, one of the things that drew me into philosophy was the freedom to think, I felt liberated just reading philosophical texts and learning how to think and to think critically. And I’ve always been concerned with issues of justice and, of course being African American from the South there’s the race issue. I have always been attracted to the kind of philosophy that helps me think about day to day problems and issues. Being one who is concerned with oppression and social justice, the Frankfurt School seems to give me the theoretical lenses for grappling with those issues more than almost any other philosophy that I know of. And Marcuse is particularly interesting because of his very profound critique, a critique that goes so deep that sometimes it sounds pessimistic but it’s not because even as he explains the social mechanisms that are in place to prevent any kind of social change and liberation at the same time he’s quite aware of developing possibilities for liberation. So, he’ll write a book like One-Dimensional Man where he’s describing our society as one-dimensional and there are all these mechanisms for what he’ll call putting subjectivity or thought under erasure. Whereas he’ll then write a book like An Essay on Liberation focused on the mechanisms in our society that are mechanisms for liberation.

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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

Interview with Michael Watts – on Nigeria, political ecology, geographies of violence, and the history of the discipline

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

Stuart Elden: You went to northern Nigeria in 1976 for your doctoral research. The dissertation and book that resulted from this – Silent Violence: Food, Famine, and Peasantry in Northern Nigeria (University of California Press, 1983) – has recently been reissued by University of Georgia Press. I want to discuss your more recent work on Nigeria and contemporary politics in the country in a moment, but first, can I ask you to reflect a bit on the Silent Violence book? What made you chose Nigeria as a country to work on, and how did you feel returning to the material to write the introduction for the new edition of the book after thirty years?

Michael Watts: First of all Stuart, let me thanks you for providing an opportunity for you and I to discuss my work, and I hope, contemporary Geography on both sides of the Atlantic. A short answer to your question is that in the first case it was something of an accident and in the second Nigeria became for me, and many others who encountered it, a country – or a ‘profession as some commentators have said –a space of compelling interest and fascination. Yes, its a bit of a train wreck, endlessly dispiriting, always surprising, unpredictable – who knew that Nigeria would in the last few weeks be praised for its ‘world class response’ to the Ebola outbreaks in Lagos and Port Harcourt!! – and a country of such enormous and unrelenting energy and creativity that it has been hard to walk away from. It would be fair to say I’ve only worked in one place over the last thirty-five years, and indeed felt no need to work elsewhere (it is true I have dabbled a bit in California, Vietnam, The Gambia and India but these proved to be little more than diversions). I actually went up to University College, London in the late 1960s to read Geography. I was raised in a small village in the south west of England, neither of my parents pursued secondary education school after the age of sixteen and joining the professoriate never entered my consciousness until I moved across the Atlantic…

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The new urban question – A conversation on the legacy of Bernardo Secchi with Paola Pellegrini

2_Secchi_Milano_by%20Lambrecths_2006Bernardo Secchi (1934-2014) was an Italian urban theorist, renowned urban planner, Emeritus Professor of Urban Planning at the Istituto Universitario di Architettura (IUAV) of Venice and Dean of the Faculty of Architecture at the Polytechnic of Milano. For almost half a century, he was a central figure within European and Italian interdisciplinary debates on the contemporary city and urban design. His research was located within the wider discourses of space and societal transformations, influenced by post-’68 French theorists and nourished specifically by a wide investigation of European urban territories. In his practice, he developed plans and visions for small and large cities in Italy and Europe, including Milano, Jesi, Brescia, Pesaro, Siena, Ascoli Piceno, Bergamo, Prato, Pescara, Lecce, Madrid, Antwerp[1], Bruxelles and Moscow. In 2008 he was amongst the ten architects selected to develop a vision for Grand Paris[2]; his idea of ‘ville poreuse’ focused on the improvement of permeability and accessibility, as a strategy to ensure the fundamental right to the city. As a scholar and intellectual, he was fascinated by the multiple narratives and multidisciplinary nature of urban territories. In the books, Prima lezione di Urbanistica (2007), La città del ventesimo secolo (2008), La città dei ricchi e la città dei poveri (2013), regrettably not yet translated for English speaking scholars, he placed into creative tension the economic, political, and cultural dimensions of urbanism, informed by theoretical insights and underpinned by an engagement with spatial realities and design projects. He treated urban transformations with vivid, lucid and contemporary analyses that utilized theories as productive investigative tools to elucidate society and space rather than as merely self-referential intellectual gestures.

Secchi’s death in September marks a great loss for urbanism. The conversation below is a gesture towards bringing his work to a wider Anglophone audience, since little of his work has been translated into English. It reflects on his legacy by exploring his intellectual production[3], critical pedagogy and practice, with a special focus on the exploration of his idea of a ‘new urban question’ and the formation of his reflexive urban research praxis. The ‘new urban question’ was addressed most concertedly in his last book, and is concerned with the increasing social inequalities and spatial injustice. His urban research praxis, shaped by long-term practice and experience, voracious curiosity and acute observation, aimed to dismantle disciplinary boundaries and conventional scales, focusing on a certain idea of precision, accuracy and patience. We conducted an interview with Paola Pellegrini, urbanist and scholar, and Secchi’s associate for 12 years, and asked her to offer a personal and professional reflection on Secchi’s intellectual legacy.

Camillo Boano and Giovanna Astolfo

”The whole history of the city can be written keeping in mind the compatibility or incompatibility of the people […] Intolerance denies proximity, it separates and creates distance between activities, buildings, public spaces, their inhabitants and users” – B. Secchi[4]

Camillo Boano/Giovanna Astolfo: Bernardo Secchi wrote and reflected extensively on the democratization of urban space, the emergence of the ordinary, and, more recently[5], on the still fundamental issue of ‘comment vivre ensemble’ (how to live together), a topic you developed in recent work on proximity[6]. Can you explain it further?

Paola Pellegrini: The search for proximity is part of the patient search for the physical and feasible dimensions of individual and collective welfare, which was a major topic in Secchi’s work (see his ‘La città del XX secolo’ [7]) and can be described, in his own words, as an “attempt to give a concrete dimension, physically perceptible to individual collective welfare/wellbeing[8] and to its distribution among the various social groups”[9].

But it also goes beyond this search and refers to the idea that new individual practices and the consequences on the ways of living together – such as individualization and the search for some kind of network very well explained by Richard Sennett, Ulrich Beck and Zygmunt Bauman in recent and less recent years – are the basis of new ideas of the city and territory. The search for independent and individual rhythm in the community – Barthes’s comment vivre ensemble[10]and idiorrhythms-, the recent appearance of various ‘coexistence’ experiments in many European urban contexts, the revival of the notion of spatial proximity in urban design and planning practice are moments of this reasoning, trying to further articulate Webber’s idea of ‘urbanity without propinquity’ [11]. As an example of this revival, all of the participants to the plan for the great Paris metropolitan area in 2008-2009, in their different proposed models or solutions, claim the city must grow upon itself and densify; a renouvellement of the idea of concentration, density, compact city, direct relations…

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Eyal Weizman interview, film screening, Society and Space lecture and review of Forensis forthcoming

An interesting interview with Eyal Weizman, ahead of a screening of the film ‘The Architecture of Violence’at SOAS Khalili Lecture Theatre at 7.15pm on 5 December as part of the London Palestine Film Festival. After the documentary Weizman will be speaking on Architecture and Violence after Gaza.

Eyal gave the 30th anniversary Society and Space lecture at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) conference at the University of Edinburgh in 2012. A review essay by Gastón Gordillo of the  Forensis collection Eyal directed is forthcoming in the journal in 2015. Gastón has posted the introduction of this essay on his Space and Politics blog.

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.

Interview with Walaa Alqaisiya and Lisa Bhungalia by Mat Coleman and Mary Thomas

Photo credit: Dalal Amad This photo was taken on the 4th July in front of the martyrs house in Jersusalem, shortly before the body of Mohammed Abu Khdeir was brought to his parents house, and afterwards there was his funeral.

Photo credit: Dalal Amad
This photo was taken on July 4, 2014 in East Jerusalem in front of the house of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who had been kidnapped and killed by three Israelis days before. 

Walla Alqaisiya and Lisa Bhungalia are interviewed during their research in Palestine by Society & Space editors, Mary Thomas and Mat Coleman.

Walaa Alqaisiya and Lisa Bhungalia: On one hand we could argue, as you note here, that we have seen the elimination of a recognized civilian space in Gaza. Israel’s targeting of schools, hospitals, parks, residential buildings and urban infrastructure attests to the fact that Israel considers virtually any space in Gaza to be a legitimate military target. Yet even as we have seen the elimination of a recognized civilian space, the figure of the civilian, as you point out, remains…

The civilian death in this instance is mobilized for political gains on the part of Israel. It is in this sense that we could argue that the death of the Palestinian, rather than her life, is subsumed into politics turning biopolitics on its head. Continue to read their interview here

Gastón Gordillo, Rubble: The Afterlife of Destruction published (and link to interview)

Gastón Gordillo’s book Rubble: The Afterlife of Destruction has been published. You can read an interview with Gastón about this book and his work generally on this site.

978-0-8223-5619-6_prAt the foot of the Argentine Andes, bulldozers are destroying forests and homes to create soy fields in an area already strewn with rubble from previous waves of destruction and violence. Based on ethnographic research in this region where the mountains give way to the Gran Chaco lowlands, Gastón R. Gordillo shows how geographic space is inseparable from the material, historical, and affective ruptures embodied in debris. His exploration of the significance of rubble encompasses lost cities, derelict train stations, overgrown Jesuit missions and Spanish forts, stranded steamships, mass graves, and razed forests. Examining the effects of these and other forms of debris on the people living on nearby ranches and farms, and in towns, Gordillo emphasizes that for the rural poor, the rubble left in the wake of capitalist and imperialist endeavors is not romanticized ruin but the material manifestation of the violence and dislocation that created it.